Limited Expiation and The Well-Meant, Universal Gospel Offer: A Logical Problem

Here’s my attempt to state as clearly and succinctly as possible the logical problem that exists between limited satisfaction and the universal gospel offer. Note that this problem cannot be resolved by appealing to our ignorance of who is elect and non-elect in evangelism. What we know or do not know about the people around us has no bearing on the nature of this objection.

The Problem.

High Calvinists maintain that Christ’s death could have paid a sufficient price for the non-elect’s sins, but He didn’t. This means that Christ’s death is presently not sufficient for the non-elect, because He didn’t atone for their sins in any way. Nothing has been accomplished by way of atonement. Thus, sufficiency exists only in the realm of what could have been, if God so designed.

With this in mind, High Calvinists eventually turn around and say that since Christ could have paid for the sins of the non-elect, this allows the gospel to be offered to the non-elect.

This should immediately strike one as bizarre. Let’s say it another way to further highlight the disconnect between the ideas.

Christ could have provided a way of salvation for the non-elect, but He didn’t. And because He could have provided a way of salvation for them, we can offer a way of salvation to them.

See the problem? There is a logical problem here. The only way for the atonement to be presently sufficient for the non-elect is if Christ’s atoning work extends to them in some fashion. He had to actually pay a price. Otherwise we are left saying that He could have paid a price, but didn’t. Which is just to say that Christ’s death is not presently sufficient for them.1

Moreover, if He didn’t pay a price sufficient for the non-elect’s sins, then there is no gospel for them. There is literally no good news of any kind whatsoever, which is to say that there is literally nothing there for them, so far as the atoning work of Christ is concerned.

So here it must be asked, what is God offering the non-elect? It can’t be the gospel, if Christ’s atoning death doesn’t extend to them in any provisional sense.

Given this fact, limited satisfaction does not square with the well-meant, universal offer. A logical problem immediately arises between the two concepts. And so while the High Calvinist can preach to everyone, calling them to repent, the fact of the matter is that the gospel can’t be genuinely offered to the non-elect because they fall into the category of the non-died-fors (like the demons).2

Checking the Math

This logical problem should cause us to wonder if limited satisfaction is correct. But we can do more. We can further test the view to see if it is the right way to think about Christ’s satisfaction on the cross.

How might we do that?

We can check it in at least four ways:

  1. Since Christ infallibly knows who is elect and who isn’t, we could search the Scriptures for instances where He offers the non-elect eternal life. If we can find such passages, then it would mean that Christ’s death must extend to them in some provisional sense, otherwise how could eternal life be offered to the non-elect individual? This is a way to check the math, as it were, regarding limited satisfaction.

    • One might consider a few passages in John’s Gospel: John 5:33-36, 37-40; 6:27, 28-29, 32-36; 40+64, John 8, etc.

  1. We can look for passages that explicitly teach that Christ’s death paid a universal price/encompasses the totality of mankind. If such passages can be found, it would serve to undermine the limited satisfaction view.

    • Here one might consider this small sampling: John 3:16; 1 Timothy 2:4, 4:10; 1 John 2:2; 2 Peter 2:1

  1. We can also look for passages that demonstrate that the non-elect are in fact offered the gospel, or eternal life, or forgiveness, or any other such similar concept. Conversely, we can look for passages that demonstrate that the non-elect reject those same saving realities. Both of these, if found, will serve as a way of discerning the biblical inaccuracy of limited satisfaction.

    • In this respect, one might want to consider the following passages: 2 Thess 2:9-12; Acts 13:46; Romans 2:4-5; John 3:18; Acts 28:27-28; 2 Thess 1:8; Gen 4:5; Isaiah 30:15; Hebrews 3:19-4:2; 6:6; 10:26-30; John 5:33-36, 37-40; 6:27-29, Acts 3:26; Acts 7:51; Acts 13:38-41, 17:30, 18:6; Isaiah 1:19, 5:4, 30:15-16, 46:1-13, Matthew 22:-1-14, etc.

  1. Will the non-elect be held accountable, by God, at the great judgment, for rejecting the gospel of Jesus Christ? If so, then this would serve as yet another pointer. For how can someone be held responsible for rejecting something that was never offered them?

    • Here one might consider John 3:18 and the general logic that the command to repent and trust in Christ is something that should be obeyed, and that for those who do not obey, they will be held accountable for it. It is a sin.

I think all four of these points have direct biblical support, and if they are biblically true, this provides a strong defeater for the doctrine of limited satisfaction.

Therefore, I affirm, with Moderate Calvinists, that Christ did in fact pay a price sufficient for the sins of the whole world. This means that Christ’s death is presently sufficient for all. Truly and really. And as such, the gospel can objectively be offered to the non-elect. They will refuse this offer and trample under foot the work of the Lord to whom they will have to answer.

In all this, Christ’s death is (truly and presently) sufficient for all, but efficient for the elect.

[See also the following video I made highlighting this problem, as well as the comment I made penned to the top of the discussion on YouTube.]

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1 Appealing to the infinite value of Christ’s death does not solve the problem. Either the infinite value extends to them in some actual sense, or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, then it isn’t presently sufficient for them.

2 Note again that I am stressing the fact of the matter. A Christian can proclaim the gospel to someone who happens to be reprobate. That is true. But what is the reality surrounding such a proclamation? If the good news of the gospel is inextricably connected with the cross work of Christ (dying for our sins), which it surely is, then there is no actual gospel reality attached to, or behind, or undergirding the evangelist’s words to the non-elect. The evangelist doesn’t know he’s engaging in false advertising, but the reality is that he is.

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