/ Nathan Eshelman

Christ's Atonement: Not Universal in Application

James Durham (1622–1658) interacts extensively with universal atonement--the idea that Christ died for all men without distinction--in his sermon series Christ Crucified: The Marrow of the Gospel. Sermons 31-33 contain fragments that are worth placing into a basket for meditation and reflection. Durham argues that "Christ did not suffer and die for all" and that it would not be gracious but "absurd" to think and believe this.

Durham would give five evidences of his argument that Christ did not suffer and die for all, which is contrary to grace.

One: "It makes grace a common thing." He goes on to explain how there would be men in hell that are as "much obliged to Christ" as in heaven. When grace is "made so large, free-will is made to have dominion over it." This grace, in the Word of God, is not common, but saving when applied to sinners.

Two: It makes grace less in the minds of God's people. Durham said that it "breeds in [the people of God] a fearlessness of hell and of God's wrath." This lessening of grace quiets consciences that ought not to be quieted.

Three: This view of grace "diminishes man's thankfulness." When looking to the cross as merely a possibility of application concerning grace, who will worship as he or she ought? Durham reminds his hearers that there is only one who is worthy to open the Book of Life, and that is because of particular redemption.

Four: Universal atonement leaves men "altogether comfortless." What type of savior would the Lord Jesus be if there were men and women in hell for whom Christ died. What comfort would there be that your redemption is secure? We need a savior which gives us "solid ground of consolation by fleeing to him."

Five: This view of universal atonement "overturns and overthrows the whole covenant of redemption and particular love." The wisdom of God is "obscured" through this error.

Durham concludes this discussion with saying that "this error always leaves men to be masters and carvers of God's decree, and of Christ's purpose and design, in the work of redemption, and suspends the benefit of his death, mainly, if not only, on the consent of man's free will."

Meditating on what Christ's atonement did not do aids the worshiper in growing in a biblical understanding of grace. Grace offered by Christ in the Gospel is a precious thing--not common--and the sinner is invited to come and receive that grace. With grace properly understood, the Christian will grow in both humility and worship.

What a glorious Christ we serve.

Nathan Eshelman

Nathan Eshelman

Pastor in Orlando, studied at Puritan Reformed Theological & Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminaries. One of the chambermen on the podcast The Jerusalem Chamber. Married to Lydia with 5 children.

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