The Atonement Provides Common Grace Benefits for the Reprobate

“…false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them”

2 Pet. 2:1

“O foolish people and unwise [visible Israel]? is not He thy father that hath bought thee?”

Deut. 32:6

“Thou in thy mercy hast led forth the people [the nation of Israel] which thou hast redeemed: thou hast guided them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation.”

Ex. 15:13


Christ bought and intended non-saving benefits in the Atonement to the reprobate, as all the reformed theologians below affirm.  This doctrine is consistent with Limited Atonement which asserts that Christ paid for only the sins of the elect (and not the reprobate) in the Atonement.

 For the Biblical proof of this doctrine, see the second section of this article.  For the clearest exposition of this doctrine, see Cunningham and Dabney below.



Order of Quotes  (16)

The Westminster Assembly  1644
John Ball
John Preston
William Ames
Thomas Blake
Samuel Rutherford
James Durham
Stephen Charnock
Francis Turretin
Herman Witsius
J.J. Janeway  †1858
William Cunningham
Robert Candlish
Robert Dabney
Herman Bavinck
Geerhardus Vos
G.H. Kersten
Louis Berkhof
R.A. Finlayson



The Westminster Assembly, 1644-1646

From Alexander Mitchell and John Struthers, Minutes of the Sessions of the Westminster Assembly of Divines (London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1874), p. lix

“A committee, apparently of English members only, prepared and brought up for discussion (p. 369) the following questions and answers:–

‘Q. Do all men equally partake of the benefits of Christ?

A. Although from Christ some common favors redound to all mankind, and some special privileges to the visible Church, yet none partake of the principal benefits of His mediation but only such as are members of the Church invisible.

Q. What common favors redound from Christ to all mankind?

A. Besides much forbearance and many supplies for this life, which all mankind receive from Christ as Lord of all, they by him are made capable of having salvation tendered to them by the gospel, and are under such dispensations of Providence and operations of the Spirit as lead to repentance.’

These questions and answers were first agreed to be discussed, and then referred back to a Committee with which the Scotch Commissioners were associated.”

[Mitchell and Struthers have a footnote that says “The answers to these questions have rather a marked similarity to the following paragraph” of John Ball.  Ball’s quote is listed immediately below.  The proposed questions and answers did not end up in the Larger Catechism.  There were various changes and modifications to them until the fruit of the discussions appeared finalized as LC # 68.]


John Ball

The following quote may have had an influence on the thought of the Assembly, per the editorial comment immediately above.  According to Mitchell and Struthers, Ball’s work “was held in high esteem by the Puritans, and recommended by Reynolds, as well as Calamy and several other members of the Westminster Assembly.”  From Ball’s Treatise of the Covenant of Grace, 1645, p. 205-6. 

“The second sort of divines (Contra-Remonstrants) [that is, those against the Arminians] distinguish the sufficiency and efficiency of Christ’s death.  In respect of the worth and greatness of the price, He died for all men: because it was sufficient for the redemption of every man in the world if they did repent and believe; and God might, without impeachment of justice, have offered salvation to every man in the world had it been his pleasure.  In the efficiency, as every man or any man has fruit by the death of Christ, so Christ died for him.  But this is not of one kind: some fruit is common to every man; for as Christ is lord of all things in heaven and earth, even the earthly blessings which infidels enjoy may be termed fruits of Christ’s deathOthers proper to the members of the visible Church, and common to them, as to be called by the word, enjoy the ordinances of grace, live under the covenant, partake of some graces that come from Christ, which, through their fault, be not saving; and in this sense Christ died for all that be under the covenant.  But other fruits of Christ’s death, according to the will of God and intention of Christ as Mediator, be peculiar to the sheep of Christ, his brethren, them that be given unto him of the Father, as faith unfeigned, regeneration, pardon of sin, adoption, etc.; and so they hold Christ died efficiently for his people only, in this sense,–namely, so as to bring them effectually to faith, grace, and glory.” 



John Preston, 1587-1628

This is John Ball’s (1590-1659) narrative of Preston’s debate with the Arminian Francis White (1564-1638).  From Ball’s, The Life of the Renowned Doctor Preston, ed. by E. W. Harcourt (London: Parker and  Co., 1885), p. 135.  This quote was compiled by Tony Byrne. 

“Dr. Preston answered that Christ was in himself sufficient to save all; and might be said to be provided for that end and use; as a medicine is to cure infected poison, though it cures none actually but those that drink it. “Habet in se quod omnibus prosit, sed, si non bibitur, non,” as in 1 John 5:11-12. But many did not thus apply Christ, because they had him not so offered and exhibited as others had, Matt 11:21Luke 10:13, for God gave some faith and repentance, as I have showed.  The serpent (Moses was commanded to make), was in itself sufficient to cure those that were bitten, Num. 21:8-9, yet cured none but only those who looked on it.  “So, as Moses lifted up the Serpent in the wilderness, shall the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believed in Him should not perish but have everlasting life,” John 3:14-15.”



William Ames

David Lachman, The Marrow Controversy, Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 1988, p. 28-29

“While William Ames is willing to say that ‘in respect of that sufficiency which is in the mediation of Christ, He can be said to have satisfied for all, or everyone,’ he restricts both the purchase and application of redemption to the elect.  ‘The redemption of Christ is applied to all and only those, for whom it was obtained by the intention of Christ and the Father.’ [William Ames, The Marrow of Sacred Divinity. (London: Edward Griffin for John Rothwell, n.d.), pp. 69-70]  Thus, though it is true that various temporal benefits are given to others as well, ‘it is rightly said: Christ did only satisfy for those that are saved by Him.’ [Ibid., pp. 100-101.]  Reflecting this, the offer of Christ in the gospel ‘is an objective propounding of Christ, as of a means sufficient and necessary to salvation.’  Although Christ is able to save all who come to Him, and the promises of Christ ‘are propounded to all without difference, together with a command to believe them,’ [Ibid., pp. 110-111.] the offer which is often propounded promiscuously, by special propriety belongs to and is directed to the elect, for whom Christ was intended by the Father. [Ibid., p. 102]”



Thomas Blake

Vindiciæ Foederis, or, A treatise of the Covenant of God (London, 1658), ch. 17, pp. 98-99

“A farther difficulty here offers itself:  Objection: …If the covenant, or second covenant (as opposite to that of works) be in Christ, and grounded on the work of reconciliation, then it is commensurate with it and of no greater latitude; and only the elect and chosen in Christ, the called according to God’s purpose, being reconciled, only these are in Covenant.

[Yet] When the Scripture (as shall be, God willing, made good) confines not this covenant within the limits of the invisible Church, known only to God, but it is as large as the Church-vi­sible.

To this I answer that the Prophetical office of Christ, as Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, and so much of his Kingly office as consists in a legislative power, hath its foundation (as well as the Covenant) in this work of reconciliation.  Had not this been undertaken by Christ for mankind, man had never enjoyed that light, man had never had an oracle, or an ordinance as the fruit of his prophetic office, yet, these ordinances are not commensurate with reconciliation, nor of equal latitude with ele­ction; So neither is the covenant, but either of both in order towards it.

As ordinances therefore are Christ’s gift from Heaven, as the fruit of his death and resurrection, when yet all that par­take of these ordinances do not yet die or rise with Christ; So, is the covenant, when yet all in covenant are not steadfast in it, nor obtain the graces of it.

Therefore I know not how to admit that which a divine, singularly eminent, hath laid down, that all the effects of Christ’s death are spiritual, distinguishing and saving, seeing [that] gifts of Christ from his Father’s right hand are fruits of his death, yet not spiritual, distinguishing and saving.

That they are in some sort spiritual, I dare grant that is, in ordine ad spiritualia [in order unto those things which are spiritual], (if I may so speak) they have a tendency to a spiritual work.  That they are distinguishing from the world (as it is taken in op­position to the Church-visible) I yield, for I do not enlarge the fruit of Christ’s death to all man-kind, assenting to Master [John] Owen and Master [John] Stalham (d. 1677) in the grounds that they lay, of God’s respite [delay] of the execution of the whole penalty on man, with the continu­ance of outward favors not to be upon the account of Christ, but for other reasons; yet I know not how to affirm, that ordinan­ces which yet are fruits of his death, are all saving, spiritual and distinguishing, seeing they neither confer salvation, nor saving grace on all that partake of them, so that Christ is a Mediator of this covenant and yet those enter into it that have not reconciliation by Christ Jesus; The Ephesians that were afar off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:13), that is, brought into a visible Church-state in the fruition of ordinan­ces, made free of that city whose name is, ‘The Lord is here’ (Eze. 48:35).”



Samuel Rutherford

Examination of Arminianism, pp. 421-422  c. 1638-1643

“We distinguish and teach that in this sense they [reprobates] are made to be reconciliable by the death of Christ, by which Prosper says (Response to the Little Head of the Gauls, ch. 9): “Christ is the Savior of the whole world on account of his true undertaking of human nature and communion in the ruin of the first man.” Hence, it is not allowed that Christ has died for the reprobate, yet by the death of Christ they have been made reconciliable in this sense:

3. Because the grace of the preaching of the Gospel has been procured [impetrata est] by the death of Christ to reprobates born in the visible Church, and the sacrifice of Christ has been made approved and of simple complacency to them. Wherefore they are called to the Supper (Mt. 22; Lk. 14:16) and are called to Christ (Mt. 11:16; 23:37-38; 1 Cor. 1:18,23; [sic] Acts 14:46; Prov. 1:24-25; Isa. 6:10-11; 65:2-3). These previous things cannot be said of devils.”



James Durham

Christ Crucified: The Marrow of the Gospel in 72 Sermons on Isaiah 53 (Dallas, TX: Naphtali Press, 2001), 343-344.  This quote was compiled by David Ponter.

Doctrine Two.  We may consider Christ’s sufferings and death in the fruits of it, either as they respect common favors, and mercies, common gifts, and means of grace, which are not peculiar and saving, but common to believers with others, being bestowed upon professors in the visible Church; or as they are peculiar and saving, such as faith, justification, adoption, etc.  Now when we say that Christ’s sufferings and death are a price for the sins of his people, we exclude not the reprobate simply from temporal and common favors and mercies that come by his death; they may have, and actually have, common gifts and works of the Spirit, the means of grace, which are some way effects and fruits of the same covenant.  But we say, that the reprobate partake not of saving mercy and that Christ’s death is a satisfaction only for the elect, and that none others get pardon of sin, faith, repentance, etc. by it, but they only; it was intended for none others.  And this we clear and confirm from, and by, these following grounds and arguments, which we will shortly hint at.


Stephen Charnock

“On God’s Patience,” in The Existence and Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 2:482, 1682.  This quote was compiled by Tony Byrne.

“Had not Christ interposed to satisfy the justice of God, man upon his sin had been actually bound over to punishment, as well as the fallen angels were upon theirs, and been fettered in chains as strong as those spirits feel.  The reason why man was not hurled into the same deplorable condition upon his sin, as they were, is Christ’s promise of taking our nature, and not theirs.  Had God designed Christ’s taking their nature, the same patience had been exercised towards them, and the same offers would have been made to them, as are made to us.  In regard of the fruits of his patience, Christ is said to buy the wickedest apostates from him: 2 Peter 2:1, ‘Denying the Lord that bought them;’ such were bought by Him as ‘bring upon themselves just destruction, and whose damnation slumbers not,’ ver. 3; He purchased the continuance of their lives, and the stay of their execution, that offers of grace might be made to them.”



Francis Turretin

‘Statement of the Question:  Nor whether it Conveys Some Blessings to Reprobates’, pp. 124-125  in ch. 5, ‘The Extent of the Atonement’ in On the Atonement of Christ



Herman Witsius

The Economy of the Covenants, Volume 1, Book 2, Chapter 9, Section 4, p. 259-260, 1677

“IV.  3rdly, The suretiship and satisfaction of Christ, have also been an occasion of much good, even to the reprobate.  For it is owing to the death of Christ that the Gospel is preached to every creature, that gross idolatry is abolished in many parts of the world, that wicked impiety is much restrained by the discipline of the word of God, that they obtain at times many and excellent though not saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, that ‘they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, 2 Pet. 2:20.  And who can in short enumerate all those things which they enjoy, not through accident only, and beside the intention of God, and of Christ, but by the appointment of God?  Not indeed with a design and purpose of saving them according to the testament; but from a view to make known His long-suffering towards the vessels of wrath, that is, those who are to perish, who dwell among those who are to be saved.  For nothing falls out by accident, with respect to the intention of God; every thing being according to His determinate counsel.” 



Jacob Janeway  †1858

Janeway was an Old School Presbyterian, ministerial colleague of Dr. Ashbel Green, and the president of the board of Princeton Seminary from 1849-58.  His 24 page tract defending Limited Atonement from scripture is one of the best there is.

The Scriptural Doctrine of the Atonement Illustrated and Defended, in A Series of Tracts on the Doctrines, Order and Polity of the Presbyterian Church, vol. 1, pp. 15-6

The Extent of the Atonement

If the view given of the nature of the Atonement [that of a penal and vicarious substitution] be adopted, one can hardly go aside from the truth in regard to its extent [that its limited to the elect alone]: or if on this point, he were to differ from us, we should feel little disposition to dispute the matter with him.  All he could say would be this: “Christ in a certain sense died for others besides his chosen people;” which, on examination, would be found to be a mere verbal difference.

Not so the advocates of indefinite [general] atonement.  They affirm that Christ died for all and every man; and that He made atonement as much for Judas who perished, as for Peter who was saved.  This we cannot believe.  It militates with what we have seen to be the true nature of the Atonement.

Nor do we hesitate to admit, that all mankind, as well as those who live under the gospel’s light, have been benefited by the Redeemer’s deathBlessings have flowed from this precious fountain of mercy to our sinful world, that would, if Christ had not died, have been withheld.  But when the question is proposed, what is the extent of our Savior’s atonement? for whom did He satisfy Divine justice? In whose place did He lay down his precious life? We answer: for all to whom his atonement shall be applied; for all believers; for all who shall be saved; for all whom his Father gave Him to redeem…



William Cunningham

Historical Theology  (1863), vol. 2

Section VIII, ‘Extent of the Atonement’, pp. 328-9

“The doctrine of a universal atonement necessarily implies, not only that God desired and intended that all men should be benefitted by Christ’s death, for this, in some sense, is universally admitted, but that, in its special and peculiar character as an atonement, that is, as a penal infliction, as a ransom price, it should effect something bearing favorably upon their spiritual welfare.

This could be only by its purchasing for all men the pardon of their sins and reconciliation with God, which the Scripture plainly represents as the proper and direct results or effects of Christ’s death.”


‘Extent of Atonement & Gospel Offer’, p. 332-334, 343-348

“Secondly, It is not denied by the advocates of particular redemption, or of a limited atonement, that mankind in general, even those who ultimately perish, do derive some advantages or benefits from Christ’s death; and no position they hold requires them to deny this.  They believe that important benefits have accrued to the whole human race from the death of Christ, and that in these benefits those who are finally impenitent and unbelieving partake

Many blessings flow to mankind at large from the death of Christ, collaterally and incidentally, in consequence of the relation in which men, viewed collectively, stand to each other.  All these benefits were of course forseen by God, when He resolved to send His Son into the world; they were contemplated or designed by Him, as what men should receive and enjoy.  They are to be regarded and received as bestowed by Him, and as thus unfolding His glory, indicating His character, and actually accomplishing His purposes; and they are to be viewed as coming to men through the channel of Christ’s mediation, of His sufferings and death. [There is a footnote to Witsius, Economy of the Covenants, Book 2, Ch. 9, Section 4]

The truth of this position has been considered as affording some warrant for saying, in a vague and indefinite sense, that Christ died for all men; and in this sense, and on this account, some Calvinists have scrupled about meeting the position that Christ died for all men with a direct negative, as if they might thus be understood as denying that there was any sense in which all men derived benefit, and in which God intended that they should derive benefit from Christ’s death

The advocates of universal atonement, then, have no right to charge us with teaching that none derive any benefit from Christ’s death except those who are pardoned and saved; we do not teach this, and we are not bound in consistency to teach it.  We teach the opposite of this; and we are not deterred from doing so by the fear lest we should thereby afford to those who are opposed to us…”



Robert Candlish

An Inquiry into the Completeness and Extent of the Atonement, with Especial Reference to the Universal Offer of the Gospel, and the Universal Obligation to Believe, 1845, p. 4-6

I.  In point of fact, the death of Christ, or his work of obedience and atonement, has procured for the world at large, and for every individual–the impenitent and unbelieving as well as the chosen, and called, and faithful–certain definite, tangible, and ascertainable benefits (if we may use such words to designate their reality and their specific character), among which, in particular, may be noted these two: 

first, A season of forbearance–a respite or suspension of judgment–a period of grace (Rom. 3:25); and that, too, in subserviency, and with direct reference, to the plan of saving mercy (ibid., and Rom. 2:4; and 2 Pet. 3:15); and,

secondly, A system of means and influences fitted to lead men to God, and sufficient to leave them without excuse (Acts 14:15-17, and 17:22-31; Rom. 1:18, and 2:15).  This, since the promulgation of the gospel includes all the ordinances of God’s worship, with the accompanying common operations of the Spirit in them.

Nor does it affect this statement, as to the actual obligation under which mankind at large, including the finally lost, lie to Christ and his work, for benefits, in point of fact, real and valuable, that this season of long-suffering, and this system of means, are extended to them all indiscriminately, mainly and chiefly for the sake of the elect who are among them.  For

in the first place, It does not appear that this can be established from scripture, to be the only reason which God has for such a mode of dealing with the world.  It is true, indeed, that the elect are the salt of the earth, whose presence would procure a respite even for a Sodom; and when they are gathered in, and not a soul remains to be converted, the end will come.  But this does not prove that God may not have other ends to serve, besides the salvation of his elect people–and ends more closely connected with the individuals themselves who are thus spared and subjected to salutary influences, though in vain–when He extends to them his goodness for a time.  And,

secondly, whether directly or indirectly–mediately or immediately–for their own sake’s or the elect’s–the fact, after all, is the same–and it is important and significant–that the forbearance granted to every sinner, and the favor shown in such a way as should lead him to repentance, must be ascribed to the interposition of Christ, and his sacrifice on the cross.  May not this consideration, of itself, go far to explain not only the strong and touching appeals made generally to sinners, as forsaking their own mercies (Jonah 2:8), but even such awful denunciations as that uttered by the Apostle Peter respecting apostates bringing in damnable heresies, that they deny the Lord that bought them? (2 Pet. 2:1)–not to speak of a still more terrible sense in which even the reprobate may be truly said to be bought by Christ, inasmuch as, for his obedience unto death, he has received the right, and power, and commission to dispose of them, and deal with them, as it may seem meet, for the honor of his Father’s name, and the salvation of his people.  (Ps. 2; John 17:2 [see also Col. 1:20]) 

It may be observed, in passing, that there is a double sense in which we may speak of Christ’s purchase;

first, Strictly and properly, when we regard Him as purchasing men; and

secondly, More improperly, when we consider Him as purchasing benefits for men.  

This last view [the second], as we have hinted, is rather figurative and metaphorical than real and literal; for the idea of his purchasing benefits from the Father for mankind, must ever be understood in consistency with the Father’s sovereignty, and his pre-existing love to the children of men.  The Father is not induced or persuaded to bestow benefits on men by a price paid to Him; but being antecedently full of compassion to all, and having a purpose to save some, He appoints and ordains–He decrees and brings in–this death of his Son as a satisfaction to divine justice, and a propitiation for human guilt, that He may be justified in showing forbearance to and kindness to the world, as well as in ultimately and gloriously saving his one elect.  In this view, as it would seem, it may be said, with equal fitness, and equal truth, that Christ purchased the benefits implied in the long suffering of God for all, and that He purchased the blessings of actual salvation for his elect; inasmuch as, so far as appears from Scripture, his death is no less indispensable a condition of any being spared for a season, than it is of some being everlastingly saved.

In regard, again, to the other light in which Christ’s purchase may be viewed as a purchase, not of certain benefits for men, but of men themselves [the first view], there is room for an important distinction.  In right of merit, his service, and his sacrifice, all are given into his hands, and all are his.  All, therefore, may be said to be bought by him, inasmuch as, by his humiliation, obedience and death, He has obtained, as by purchase, a right over all–He has got all under his power.  But it is for very different purposes and ends.  The reprobate are his to be judged; the elect are his to be saved.  As to the former, it is no ransom or redemption, fairly so called.  He has won them–bought them, if you will–but it is that He may so dispose of them as to glorify the retributive righteousness of God in their condemnation; aggravated, as that condemnation must be, by their rejection of Himself.  This is no propitiation, in any sense at all–no offering of Himself to bear their sins–no bringing in of a perfect righteousness on their account; but an office or function which He has obtained for Himself by the same work–or has had entrusted to Him for the sake of the same shedding of blood–by which He expiated the sins of his people, as their true and proper substitute, and merited their salvation, as their representative and head–an office or function, moreover, which He undertakes solely on his people’s behalf, and which He executes faithfully for their good, as well as for His Father’s glory.

II.   In addition to this general benefit, in point of fact, resulting to mankind at large from the interposition of Christ, or rather, perhaps, as included in it, may be mentioned the manifestation which the death of Christ is fitted to give to all men, universally, and to every individual alike, of the divine character and the divine plan of salvation.  In this view, Christ is the light which, coming into the world, lights every man [John 1:9].  Lifted up upon the cross, Jesus reveals the Father, and the Father’s provision for reconciling the exercise of mercy towards the guilty with the maintenance of law and justice; and this service is rendered, not to the elect specially, but to men generally and universally.



The Atonement, pp. 358 f., as quoted by Louis Berkhof below.

“the entire history of the human race, from the apostasy to the final judgment, is a dispensation of forbearance in respect to the reprobate, in which many blessings, physical and moral, affecting their characters and destinies forever, accrue even to the heathen, and many more to the educated and refined citizens of Christian communities.  These come to them through the mediation of Christ, and coming to them now, must have been designed for them from the beginning.”




Robert Dabney

Systematic Theology, Ch. 35, The Nature of Christ’s Sacrifice, 1878

8.  The Relation of Limited Redemption To the Universal Call.

(3).  God’s Design and Result Exactly Co-Extensive.




Herman BavinckReformed Dogmatics

3:470-475, this quote was compiled by David Ponter.

[407] Although vicarious atonement as the acquisition of salvation in its totality cannot therefore be expanded to include all persons individually, this is not to say that it has no significance for those who are lost.  Between the church and the world there is, at this point, not just separation and contrast.  It is not the case that Christ has acquired everything for the former and nothing for the latter.

And also his work has value for all, even for those who have not believed and will never believe in Him.  For though it is true that Christ did not, strictly speaking, acquire the natural life by his suffering and death, yet the human race was spared on account of the fact that Christ would come to save it.  Christ is not the head of all human beings, not the prophet, priest, and king of everyone, for He is the head of the church and has been anointed king over Zion.  Yet all human beings owe a great deal to Christ.  The light shines in the darkness and illumines every person coming into the world.  The world was made through him and remains so, though it did not recognize him.  Also as the Christ, He gives to unbelievers many benefits: the call of the gospel, the warning to repent, historical faith, a virtuous life, a variety of gifts and powers, offices and ministries within the church, such as, for example, even the office of an apostle in the case of Judas.  “Without Jesus Christ the world would not exist, for it would necessarily either be destroyed or be a hell” (Pascal).  Even hanging from the cross, He still prays for forgiveness for the appalling sin being committed by the Jews at that very moment.


4:37-8, this quote was compiled by Tony Byrne

5. Although through this call salvation becomes the possession of only a few, as everyone must admit, it nevertheless retains its great value and significance also for those who reject it…  Frequently, even for those who harden themselves in their unbelief, it is a source of various blessings.  The enlightenment of the mind, a taste of the heavenly gift, partaking of the Holy Spirit, enjoyment of the Word of God, the experience of the powers of the age to come–these have sometimes even come to those who later fell away and held the Son of God in contempt (Heb. 6:4–6).



Geerhardus Vos

“The Scriptural Doctrine of the Love of God,” 1902, from The Presbyterian and Reformed Review, 13:1-37p. 19

It must be granted, however, that, altogether apart from the exegesis of these passages, some sort of reference of the atonement to every man may be affirmed; and inasmuch as this reference is a beneficial one, we are led to posit back of it a form of love equally comprehensive and effective, which will have to be coordinated with the three other forms of universal love previously distinguished [ (1) ‘this indiscriminate goodness in the sphere of nature,’ (2) ‘the collective love which embraces the world as an organism,’ (3) ‘the love of compassion which God retains for every lost sinner’].  The Bible gives us no right to say that Christ in His atoning work acted as the legal substitute of every individual human being.  But certainly neither does it require us to assert that for the non-elect the atonement is void of all benefit or significance.  Every man is indebted for great privileges to the cross of Christ.  The continued existence of the race in spite of sin, but for it [the cross of Christ], would have been impossible.  The atonement by its universal sufficiency renders the gospel a message which can be preached to every human being, and the offer of the gospel illumines the entire earthly existence of every one to whom it comes by the hope that he may find himself through faith one of the actual heirs of redemption. It makes an immense difference whether our present life be spent in the consciousness of this hope or without it.  This may be best realized by making clear to ourselves what a tremendous change the withdrawal of the offer of the gospel would produce in the entire outlook upon life, even for those who do not accept its terms.  On the other hand, the love from which these universal benefits of the atonement flow should never be so defined as to obscure the fact that it falls short of the intention to bestow efficacious grace.  We must also remember that as it embodies itself in the offer of the gospel it can be called universal in a qualified sense only, since its field is circumscribed by the actual spread of the gospel at any given time.



G.H. Kersten

Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, p. 369, this quote was compiled by Andrew Myers.

Indeed, God not only calls to all who hear His Word, but He also communicates various gifts to them.  Speaking of persons who do not come to conversion, the apostle says that they were once enlightened, have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come. (Heb. 6:4,5)  God sometimes grants to reprobates special gifts, also relating to His Word, giving a certain pleasure in it, which nevertheless does not lead to salvation.



Louis Berkhof

Systematic Theology, 1950

VI. The Purpose and Extent of the Atonement

5. THE WIDER BEARING OF THE ATONEMENT. The question may be raised, whether the atonement wrought by Christ for the salvation of the elect, and of the elect only, has any wider bearing…  

Several Reformed theologians hold that, though Christ suffered and died only for the purpose of saving the elect, many benefits of the cross of Christ do actually — and that also according to the plan of God — accrue to the benefit of those who do not accept Christ by faith.  They believe that the blessings of common grace also result from the atoning work of Christ.

[Cf. Witsius, De Verbonden II, 9.4; Turretin, Loc. XIV, Q. 14, Sec. 11; Cunningham, Hist. Theol. II, p. 332; Hodge, The Atonement, 358 and elsewhere; Grosheide in the Evangelical Quarterly, April, 1940, p. 127. Cf. also Strong, Syst. Theol., p. 772.]



The question naturally arises, whether the manifestation of common grace is in any way connected with the atoning work of Christ….

Reformed theologians generally hesitate to say that Christ by His atoning blood merited these blessings for the impenitent and reprobate.  At the same time they do believe that important natural benefits accrue to the whole human race from the death of Christ, and that in these benefits the unbelieving, the impenitent, and the reprobate also share.  In every covenant transaction recorded in Scripture it appears that the covenant of grace carries with it not only spiritual but also material blessings, and those material blessings are generally of such a kind that they are naturally shared also by unbelievers.  Says Cunningham:

“Many blessings flow to mankind at large from the death of Christ, collaterally and incidentally, in consequence of the relation in which men, viewed collectively, stand to each other.”  [Hist. Theol. II, p. 333]

And it is but natural that this should be so.  If Christ was to save an elect race, gradually called out of the world of humanity in the course of centuries, it became necessary for God to exercise forbearance, to check the course of evil, to promote the development of the natural powers of man, to keep alive within the hearts of men a desire for civil righteousness, for external morality and good order in society, and to shower untold blessings upon mankind in general.  Dr. [Charles] Hodge expresses it thus:

“It is very plain that any plan designed to secure the salvation of an elect portion of a race propagated by generation and living in association, as is the case with mankind, cannot secure its end without greatly affecting, for better or for worse, the character and destiny of all the rest of the race not elected.”

He quotes Dr. [Robert] Candlish to the effect that

“the entire history of the human race, from the apostasy to the final judgment, is a dispensation of forbearance in respect to the reprobate, in which many blessings, physical and moral, affecting their characters and destinies forever, accrue even to the heathen, and many more to the educated and refined citizens of Christian communities. These come to them through the mediation of Christ, and coming to them now, must have been designed for them from the beginning.”  [The Atonement, pp. 358 f.] 

These general blessings of mankind, indirectly resulting from the atoning work of Christ, were not only foreseen by God, but designed by Him as blessings for all concerned.  It is perfectly true, of course, that the design of God in the work of Christ pertained primarily and directly, not to the temporal well-being of men in general, but to the redemption of the elect; but secondarily and indirectly it also included the natural blessings bestowed on mankind indiscriminately.  All that the natural man receives other than curse and death is an indirect result of the redemptive work of Christ.

[Cf Turretin, Opera, Locus XIV, Q. XIV, par. XI; Witsius, De Verbonden, B. II, Kap. 9, s. 4; Cunningham, Hist. Theol. II, p. 332; Symington, Atonement and Intercession, p. 255; Bavinck, Geref. Dogm. III, p. 535; Vos, Ger. Dogm. III, p. 150.]



R.A. Finlayson  was an eminent professor of the Free Church of Scotland during the mid-1900’s

Reformed Theological Writings of R.A. Finlayson, 1996, Christian Focus Publications, p. 252

It must not be forgotten, however, that though the saving benefits of the death of Christ are restricted, its common benefits are not so, but flow to the world at large in the form of Common Grace.  In this respect He is ‘the Savior of all men, but especially of them that believe’. [1 Tim. 4:10]  All humanity is debtor to the death of the Lord Jesus Christ, for God’s forbearance and for manifold blessings in this life, and He is in a very real sense what the Scriptures declare Him to be, ‘the Savior of the World’.  The doctrine of Particular Redemption lies side by side on the Scripture page with the doctrine of Common Grace, and both flow from the death of Jesus Christ, the one for time, and the other for time and eternity.





“For the bread of God is He which comes down from heaven, and gives life unto the world.”

John 6:33

 “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, for the rebellious also, that the Lord God might dwell among them.”

Ps. 68:18



Related Pages

The Sincere Free Offer of the Gospel

Common Grace

The Atonement