I have found it difficult to understand precisely what Reformed circles mean in the "doctrine of Limited/Definite Atonement / Particular Redemption". Descriptions or statements of the doctrine are often a bit vague, and can vary to some extent among those who identify as proponents of the doctrine; and I think the lack of clarity is not helped when theologians seemingly employ the Fallacy of Equivocation when attempting to logically justify their positions.
The "doctrine of Limited Atonement" is typically expressed/summarised something like as follows:
"Christ did not die for everyone, but only for the elect; and this death for His elect purchased for them actual redemption as opposed to the mere potential for redemption."
My main question is how this vague preposition "for" is meant to be interpreted in the sentence "Christ did not die for everyone". I can think of several senses in which this could reasonably be intended, and I am wondering if it is intended to be interpreted in all of these senses. If not, then surely those who use this phrasing need to add caveats that preclude reasonable but unintended interpretations. In other words, they surely have to be willing to say that, in some senses, Christ did die for everyone.
Question: Is the statement that "Christ did not die for everyone" in the typical Reformed doctrine of Particular Redemption intended to include all of the following aspects of how His death could be regarded as not being "dying for everyone"? In other words: How many of the following five statements would a typical self-identifying adherent of Particular Redemption be willing to affirm?
Regarding the pre-eternal plan of atonement:
[Particularity in underlying motivation] The motivation behind God giving Christ as an atonement for sin (as in, e.g., John 3:16) did not include: (a) salvation-desiring love directed to humanity as a whole, i.e. a corporate love upon the race of descendants of Adam leading to a general desire for salvation of its members; nor (b) salvation-desiring love directed personally to each and every sinner that would ever live. Rather, the salvation-desiring love that motivated God's plan of atonement was exclusively in connection with His elect people throughout the world (both corporately and individually).
[Particularity in intended purpose] The aims that were in view in the plan of atonement did not include opening any kind of potential to every person to have their sins propitiated in the atonement. The aim did, however, include ensuring that all the elect would have their sins propitiated in the atonement.
Regarding the substance of the atonement:
[Particularity in the actual exchange] Christ's sacrifice was of infinite value, sufficiently great to be able to pay for all the sins ever committed. Nonetheless, the wrath under which Christ suffered was not wrath against the collective sin of the human race, nor did it include God's wrath against all sin ever committed by humans. It consisted exclusively of God's wrath against all sin that was against the account of elect people.
[Particularity in those to whom a channel of redemption was opened] Just as Christ's atoning sacrifice did not create any means of redemption open to angels that have sinned, so likewise Christ's atoning sacrifice did not create any means of redemption open to unelected people. The only legal possibility of justification that was created by the atoning work is that which was also guaranteed by the atoning work to be realised.
Regarding the command to trust Christ for salvation:
- God has placed a moral obligation on all people, elect and unelect alike, to trust in Christ for forgiveness and redemption from their sins through His death. This moral obligation does not contradict the unavailability in actual substance of a channel of redemption to unelect people, since in God's design only elect people will be brought to obedience to this moral obligation.
Of course, I recognise that the answer to my question will not necessarily be uniform among all those who profess to hold to Particular Redemption, or even among all those who are willing to use the phrasing "Christ did not die for everyone but only for the elect". But perhaps there is a general trend/most common position among self-identifying adherents of the doctrine? Or not?
Some additional context: Another possible view, which I suspect that some self-identifying "five-point Calvinists" hold to, would be something like as follows.
- One major and central facet of the atonement is that, by God's design arising from His love for the race of descendants of Adam, Christ, in His death as a Man, died sacrificially as a Representative of mankind before God, thereby legally purchasing the availability to all men and women of having their sins exchanged for Christ's righteousness, if they will only repent and trust in Christ.
- Another important facet of the atonement is that when God in eternity past set affection on all those whom He would in due course call to Himself, He designed that Christ would die as a propitiation to "buy their forgiveness" in the sense of buying for them the actuality that their sins are no longer held against them—this forgiveness coming into effect through the repentance and faith in Christ that God in due course grants them.
I suspect (but am not sure) that John Piper holds to a view approximating the above pair of points, and that he regards the earliest 'Calvinists' of the Reformation as also having held to something approximating the above pair of points.
But in opposition to this, it seems that many Reformed theologians find objectional any concept of "payment for sin" whereby the availability of forgiveness can be purchased for people who will not ultimately be forgiven.