The term inappropriately employed to define the Calvinistic view of the extent of the atonement made by Christ. A better and more precise term is particular redemption. It involves no limitation of the virtue or value of Christ’s atonement to say, as Calvinists do, that the Saviour offered Himself as a sacrifice with the purpose of saving His elect. In so doing, He perfectly accomplished what He purposed. The truly limited view of the atonement is the Arminian view, which postulates that Christ intended by His death to save all men without exception, for obviously He does not save all men. Unless Arminians adopt the heresy of universal salvation (see Universalism), their theory of the atonement exposes the work of Christ to the charge of wholesale failure. To hold the theory of universal atonement without accepting universal salvation as its necessary corollary leads to the inevitable conclusion that Christ’s atonement did not actually secure the salvation of those for whom He offered it. This is the theory that truly deserves to be termed “limited atonement.”
The Calvinistic view repudiates the possibility of Christ’s making atonement without His actually securing the salvation of all for whom He died. There is no failure in the work of Christ. What He accomplished is precisely what He intended, and that is the redemption of His people.
Cairns, A. (2002). In Dictionary of Theological Terms. Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International.
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