Many think that, by extending the death of Christ to include one and all of the human family, a wider and more effectual door is opened for the return of sinners to God – more effectual than by representing His death as exclusively for His people, and His life as laid down as a ransom for His Church. If the sinner is taught that something has been done for him by Christ; yea, if he is assured that nothing less has been done for him by a dying, suffering Redeemer than has been done for the saints around the throne; if he is told that, in all Christ’s work of expiation and suffering unto death, he was as much in the eye and heart of the Redeemer as any of the great multitude now clothed in white robes; then, it is thought, the opposition of his heart will be far more easily disarmed, and a great and serious obstacle will be taken out of his way to the foot of the cross. Hence the zeal with which many now preach the doctrine of Christ dying for all.
Yet, after all, what does this universality amount to? Teach a man that Christ died for all, purchased and redeemed all, and it appears at first as if you gave new expansion to his hopes, conferred upon him some new and great boon. But is not this boon, he begins to reflect, common to me with souls now lost? Has it not been theirs as well as mine? What assurance then can it give me that I too may not be lost – that if others for whom Christ died have perished, why may not I? Some better assurance he must therefore have – some part and lot with Jesus which, though the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, will secure for him a lovingkindness that shall never depart, and a counsel of peace that shall never be removed.
Such an assurance is given in the true universality of the gospel message. That message comes not with the vague general announcement that Christ has accomplished some work for all men, has come to help and assist all to take some step towards salvation. It proclaims a Christ dying, not that some, but that all things a sinner needs shall infallibly be made his when he believes – all things needful to conduct him from sin to grace, and from grace to glory. It proclaims a Saviour, not to help, but to heal; not partially to save, but wholly to crown with salvation – a Saviour, the Alpha and the Omega in salvation, the beginning and the ending; and where the Alpha, also the Omega. It knows indeed of nothing, it tells of nothing, of Christ’s in which the sinner has any part or lot whilst unbelieving; but, sending wide its proclamation, addressing itself to all and to each of the children of men, crying aloud throughout a lost world, it assures each guilty and ruined inhabitant thereof that, if he will only obey the call – believe on the name of the Son of God – all things are his, for then he is Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. This is the true universality of the gospel, the only universality profitable to man and honourable to God – the universality of its proclaimed blessings, so that whosoever will may partake of its waters of life freely.
And, whilst this is the true, scriptural view of the universality of the gospel, it is the only one that brings honour to Christ, or comfort to them that would commit themselves to Him. We feel it would be more consistent with what we have ever esteemed the special honour and glory of Christ, to believe that He had never redeemed one soul than to believe that He thought so lightly of His own agony and sacrifice as to lose sight of one soul He had redeemed, and to suffer it to perish. It would be less of a sacrifice of our thoughts of Him to believe He had never loved any unto death than that, having loved unto death, He should yet think so little of His own love as to suffer eternally to perish the very souls for which He had died. Where shall we find such a Christ as this? How shall we honour such a representation of His work? This could not be the Christ, the wisdom of God and the power of God – the wisdom of God in devising a work consistent in all its parts, and the power of God capable of executing in all its parts the work He had devised. This is not the Christ who loves from the first of time and loves to the last – the same yesterday, today and for evermore – the Christ who sees of the travail of His soul and is satisfied.
It is the only view also that can satisfy a soul that would commit itself to Christ. The great question with a soul in earnest is not, May I have some benefit from Christ? but, May I have such favour from him as He beareth to His own? May I be put amongst His children and have a place – the lowest it may be – but still a place in His kingdom, and receive at last from His own lips the welcome, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”?
Does it answer these great desires of the awakened soul to be told, in the language of the doctrine of universal atonement, that Christ, having died for all men, must therefore have died for it? It would answer its great desires if, in Christ dying for it, were included all the blessings needful for its eternal salvation. But when told that these are not included – that many are the souls lost for which Christ has died; yea, that more are the lost for which He has died than the saved – it turns from such a doctrine, dissatisfied with a death that concludes nothing and that leaves it in as great danger of perishing as ever. The inquiry of such a soul still is, Tell me where I will find a Saviour ample as my great necessities, complete as my soul’s wants, who undertakes to remedy all, and out of my guilty state to conduct me to pardon, purity and glory. Such a Saviour the truly awakened soul demands; and such the Redeemer presents Himself. “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things.”
The inquirer, indeed, may still be distracted with the question: But do I believe? He may be in trouble regarding his own faith, even after he has seen the fulness that is in Christ – yea, the more troubled and the more fearfully tossed from the very greatness of the blessings treasured up in Him. Still hold fast, thou awakened inquiring soul, or thou doubting and troubled believer, by that glorious anchor of hope: with Him God freely giveth all things. Tossed thou mayest be for a time as to thine own faith; many questionings thou mayest have whether thou believest; but lose not sight of the glorious heritage that will be thine on believing – the all things that will come to thee through Christ. The very fulness and perfections of the blessings, the very completeness of the offered Christ, will stir up thy soul to lay hold of Him – and the Spirit’s compassion to lay hold of thee – till at the feet of Jesus thou castest thyself, as the poor man in the Gospel, crying, “Lord I believe, help Thou mine unbelief”.
1. This is the last head of a sermon by the Disruption minister of Leith. It has been reprinted, with some editing, from The Free Church Pulpit, vol 2. The sermon was preached in opposition to the Arminian theory that Christ died for everyone. It bore the title: Universal Redemption Subversive of the Assurance of Salvation.