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The Scriptures tell us:

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead. - Acts 17:30-31 ESV (emphasis mine)

And yet:

...the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. - Matthew 7:14 ESV

The unavoidable conclusion is that most people that hear the call to repentance, either ignore, resist or reject it (this sadly, also accords with our experience).

A common Reformed argument* (e.g.) against the doctrine of General Atonement, is that a non-efficacious (in terms of it's intended scope) Atonement is not consistent with the Sovereignty of God - on the surface, a reasonable argument, particularly from a Reformed perspective of the Sovereignty of God that rests on Unconditional Election and Irresistable Grace. From a Reformed perspective, how is a non-efficacious (again, in terms of it's intended scope) call to repentance any different in this respect? Why isn't that equally inconsistent with the Sovereignty of God?

If a King bids a man to come, and the man comes not, is this not an affront to the King's sovereignty?

*Edit: Ok, so maybe it's not as common as I thought, and possibly not strictly logical, but here is some evidence that it is advanced by people who should be able to articulate a consistent position:

  • "Unlimited atonement is inconsistent with the sovereignty of God." - Rev. Steven Houck, Immanuel Protestant Reformed Church Lacombe, Alberta. source

  • "Proponents of limited atonement often make a fifth argument, which is that unlimited atonement cannot be reconciled with God's sovereignty." - p200 Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach By Kenneth Keathley. source

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I'd say it's a good question. It asks for a specific understanding of the Bible, and in this case, Reformed. –  Double U Jun 1 '14 at 19:26
possible duplicate of What is the Biblical basis for Limited Atonement –  curiousdannii Jun 1 '14 at 22:34
Is this a question about the different wills of God? –  curiousdannii Jun 2 '14 at 5:18
@Zoe I'm not trying to define Sovereignty, my question in a different form is this: Given that the Reformed definition of Sovereignty leads to limited (as opposed to general) atonement (if you wish to dispute this, go ahead and I'll stand corrected), why doesn't the Reformed definition of Sovereignty lead to a limited (as opposed to general) call to repentence? –  bruised reed Jun 2 '14 at 12:33
@Zoe Or another way yet again: Why is opposing the will of God in regard to the former (i.e. rebellious man making the precious blood shed for him of no effect toward his salvation) impossible, but possible with the latter (ignoring, resisting or rejecting the call to repentence)? If you find any of these re-formulations more clear, please let me know and I can edit my question accordingly. –  bruised reed Jun 2 '14 at 12:34

1 Answer 1

The reformed view would believe both those types of verses you have quoted but would add a third type to ensure the whole picture in presented:

"For many are called, but few are chosen." (ESV Matt 22:14)

So what we have are three things:

  • God offers the gospel to all
  • Only some respond
  • Those who do respond are 'the elect'

God is sovereign in his unalterable decree that all predestined will be called and saved. People who reject the general call do not contradict God's sovereignty just as the Devil who always rejects God's will does not contradict God's sovereignty.

Regarding the concept of limited atonement, the idea is more along the lines that although Christ is offered to all and his death is capable of forgiving all, technically his death was theoretically/speculatively only for some in this sense: God punished actual sins in Christ not conceptual ones so it only the elect that he technically dies for. God would be punishing sins twice in the case of those who do not believe and who bear there on built in eternity which contradicts his omniscience not his sovereignty.

'Effectual calling' by the Spirit does not override human will it only persuades free choice to be directed infallibly. This means a believer may have first heard about the call many times (and rejected it) but then at God's timing His spirit made the call effectual making such a strong impression o the mind that humanly speaking one can't resist. Imagine that a poor person on the street was given 1,000,000 dollars. How many would refuse it? Well there might be a few percentage, but then what if you knew what else they really wanted and offered that as well? Eventually the offer would be irresistible to every person. Yet each person theoretically could still refuse the offer but nobody would. That is kind of what is imagined in the effectual call, God offers free agents a gift and by His Spirit makes the glory of it very clear to the mind making every man unable to resist the free choice of receiving it.

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Thanks Mike! A very much to-the-point answer. Would you go so far as to say that people who argue that general atonement is inconsistent with His sovereignty are wrong to do so? –  bruised reed Jun 2 '14 at 13:49
@bruisedreed This answer is the closest to what I meant. I was on my phone so could not do a well rounded research. I think the 'people who argue against...' just got the general idea of sovereignty wrong. God is infallible but He gave us freewill, too. –  Zoe Jun 2 '14 at 13:54
@bruisedreed - I do not see how it makes sense. To be honest I have read arguments for limited atonement and it had more to do with the practical aspects of omniscience and justice in punishing sin. I do not recall sovereignty having anything to do with it (aside from of course that the elect will be saved no matter what). Maybe sovereignty is brought in by those who explain 'why' some are chosen but I am the breed of reformer that does not attempt to explain the 'why' but reserves that point to the unknowable from a human standpoint. (A little more like Luther then Calvin on this point). –  Mike Jun 2 '14 at 13:59
@Mike ok, thanks for the clarification. I've probably only seen that argument from people who didn't know their Beza from their Beelzebub. If I can find an authoratative Reformed source that advances the argument I'll edit my question to include it, otherwise delete/close seems the way to go. –  bruised reed Jun 2 '14 at 14:09
@Mike Ok, got a couple. Further research seems to indicate that it's kind of a double-predestination view (some call this Hyper-Calvinism) which I know many Calvinists would disavow. I take it you don't believe in double-predestination? –  bruised reed Jun 2 '14 at 14:51

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