Imagine two men sitting at the bottom of two pits. They love the filth and darkness and are more troll like than human. In short time, both will die in their diseased pits.
Because of God’s love for both of the men, He drops a rope down to them and calls out, “Grab the rope! Grab hold, and I will save you.”
One man, Joe non-elect, bats the rope away angrily. “Get that out of here!” he says. “I don’t want it! It is no better up there with you. Actually worse!”
The other man, Ryan elect, likewise bats away the rope, spilling forth vile blasphemies.
The voice from above echoes down to both, “For God so loved the men in pits that He sent His Son to make a rope so that whosoever grabs the rope will not perish but have eternal life.”
Both men curse the statement.
After providing many invitations, commands, and offers, God leaves Joe non-elect to die in his pit.
However, for wise and holy purposes, and because of a special love He chose long ago to bestow on Ryan, God opens the eyes of Ryan elect, filling his mind and heart with new and wondrous visions of the goodness of the outside world, and a sudden distaste for the grime and darkness of the pit. God gives Ryan a new heart.
Coming to his senses, Ryan looks around and thinks, “What am I doing here?” This is so foolish! Why die in this filth when I can be saved and washed and given a new home with God in the world of light above?”
God calls down again, “Take the rope. My Son made it specially for you. I will pull you out. Grab on!”
Grabbing the rope, Ryan clings for dear life, trusting in God and the strength of the rope to hold him.
Ryan is saved.
God’s general John 3:16 love is like both ropes being dropped down to both men. Christ’s universally sufficient death on the cross is the rope. If Christ’s atoning work doesn’t encompass Joe non-elect in any provisional sense, then it would follow that there would be nothing to lower down to Joe non-elect. No rope could be offered. Moreover, there would be nothing there for Joe non-elect to bat away and refuse, and there would be nothing for God to tell him to grab a hold of.
God is going to judge Joe non-elect for his filthy life in the pit and his refusing to grab the rope. But of course, if there is no rope, then how can he be judged for rejecting the rope? It would be like God calling down to Joe non-elect, “Grab the rope!” when there is no rope dangling before him. And if one imagines Christ going to great lengths to create the rope, then it would make Joe non-elect’s disdain for the rope all the more heinous (Romans 2:4-5). But again, if there isn’t an objective rope before him, then how can Joe non-elect reject the rope?
In all this, a real love is shown towards the non-elect. But it’s not effectual love. It is God’s prerogative to extend effectual grace to whom He wills. “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” Joe non-elect cannot demand such grace. It is grace after all.
So the point in all this, so far as the death of Christ is concerned, is to illustrate the need for Christ’s death (in terms of a sufficient price paid) to actually extend to the non-elect in a provisional sense, lest God’s universal well-meant offer be rooted in nothingness for the non-elect.
As Jonathan Edwards affirms in one place,
“Christ did die for all in this sense, that all by his death have an opportunity of being [saved]; and he had that design in dying, that they should have that opportunity by it. For it was certainly a thing that God designed, that all men should have such an opportunity, or else they would not have it; and they have it by the death of Christ.” Edwards, The Freedom of the Will (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1996), 328–329.
“Out of a special love to his people, and with the design of securing their salvation, He has sent his Son to do what justifies the offer of salvation to all who choose to accept of it. Christ, therefore, did not die equally for all men. He laid down his life for his sheep; He gave Himself for his Church. But in perfect consistency with all this, He did all that was necessary, so far as satisfaction to justice is concerned, all that is required for the salvation of all men. So that all Augustinians can join with the Synod of Dort in saying, “No man perishes for want of an atonement.” Systematic Theology, Pages 555-557.
It is, therefore, a peculiar challenge for strict particularists who affirm limited expiation to account for the objective existence and offer of a rope for the non-elect. I would say that it cannot be solved, given limited expiation, and that the discord created between the two concepts should cause High Calvinists to reevaluate this particular aspect of their view.