I’m back again today to continue examining Spurgeon’s “Defense of Calvinism.” Spurgeon writes the following regarding the atonement:
“Some persons love the doctrine of universal atonement because they say, ‘It is so beautiful. It is a lovely idea that Christ should have died for all men; it commends itself,’ they say, ‘to the instincts of humanity; there is something in it full of joy and beauty.’ I admit there is, but beauty may be often associated with falsehood. There is much which I might admire in the theory of universal redemption, but I will just show what the supposition necessarily involves. If Christ on His cross intended to save every man, then HE INTENDED TO SAVE THOSE WHO WERE LOST BEFORE HE DIED. If the doctrine be true, that He died for all men, then HE DIED FOR SOME WHO WERE IN HELL BEFORE HE CAME INTO THIS WORLD, for doubtless THERE WERE EVEN THEN MYRIADS THERE WHO HAD BEEN CAST AWAY BECAUSE OF THEIR SINS. Once again, if it was Christ’s intention to save all men, HOW DEPLORABLY HAS HE BEEN DISAPPOINTED, for we have His own testimony that there is a lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, and into that pit of woe have been cast some of the very persons who, according to the theory of universal redemption, were bought with His blood. That seems to me a conception a thousand times more repulsive than any of those consequences which are said to be associated with the Calvinistic and Christian doctrine of special and particular redemption. To think that my Saviour died for men who were or are in hell, seems a supposition too horrible for me to entertain. To imagine for a moment that He was the substitute for all the sons of men, and that God, having first punished the substitute, afterwards punished the sinners themselves, seems to conflict with all my ideas of divine justice. That Christ should offer an atonement and satisfaction for the sins of all men, and that afterwards some of those very men should be punished for the sins for which Christ had already atoned, appears to me to be the MOST MONSTROUS INIQUITY THAT COULD EVER HAVE BEEN IMPUTED to Saturn, to Janus, to the goddess of the Thugs, or to the most diabolical heathen deities. God forbid that we should ever think thus of Jehovah, the just and wise and good!” (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Defense of Calvinism.” Quoted in the book “The Five Points of Calvinism: Defined, Defended, and Documented (Second Edition)” by David Steele, Curtis Thomas, and S. Lance Quinn. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004)
Yes, you read Spurgeon’s words above right—if Christ died for every man, then He died for men who were already citizens of Hell. But there are a few problems with this statement: first, it disregards the time the Father chose for the Incarnation of the Son. Read these words from Galatians:
4 But when the completion of the time came, God sent His Son, (D) born of a woman, (E) born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5, Holman Christian Standard Bible).
The Lord chose to send His Son at the time that pleased Him. It is not up to me to question that He sent His Son after two thousand years or so had passed. The point is, He did it because it was a part of His plan.
Next, Spurgeon overlooks the fact that the saints of the Old Testament were approved in the same way that the New Testament saints were approved: by faith in the Lord.
Hebrews 4 tells us that the Israelites received the same message as present believers:
1 Therefore, while the promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear so that none of you should miss it. [a] 2 For we also have received the good news just as they did; but the message they heard did not benefit them, since they were not united with those who heard it in faith (A) [b] 3 (for we who have believed enter the rest), in keeping with what [c] He has said:
So I swore in My anger,
they will not enter My rest. (B) (C)
And yet His works have been finished since the foundation of the world, 4 for somewhere He has spoken about the seventh day in this way:
And on the seventh day
God rested from all His works. (D) (E)
5 Again, in that passage [He says], They will never enter My rest. (F) 6 Since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news did not enter because of disobedience, (G) 7 again, He specifies a certain day— today —speaking through David after such a long time, as previously stated:
Today if you hear His voice,
do not harden your hearts. (H) (I)
8 For if Joshua (J) had given them rest, He would not have spoken later about another day. 9 A Sabbath rest remains, therefore, for God's people. 10 For the person who has entered His rest has rested from his own works, just as God did from His. (K) 11 Let us then make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall into the same pattern of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:1-11, HCSB).
As Hebrews 4 shows us, the Israelites received the SAME GOOD NEWS—but they did not obtain the promise because of unbelief. So they didn’t hear a different message than us! Contrary to modern thought, we are no more special or prized than God’s Israel of the Old Testament. And Paul tells us to be cautious lest we, like national Israel, experience God’s wrath (Romans 11:17-24).
In Hebrews 4:5, we are told that the Jews failed to enter the Promised Land—and thus, “it remains for some to enter it…” The same rest that they were supposed to enter is now open to us to enter it. What this tells us is that, while we tend to think of the Promised Land as just physical territory, the Promised Land was Heaven. For the writer of Hebrews says the following about Abraham leaving his home:
9 By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, co-heirs of the same promise. (H) 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:9-10, HCSB)
So, while Abraham did enter the “land of promise,” the physical territory that God desired to give him, he anticipated a different territory altogether: a heavenly one. This is why the writer of Hebrews says, “He was looking forward to the city that has foundations, WHOSE ARCHITECT AND BUILDER IS GOD.” And what territory is this? Heaven. Paul described our immortal form in this manner:
1 For we know that if our earthly house, (A) a tent, (B) [a] is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house [b] not made with hands, (C) eternal in the heavens. (2 Corinthians 5:1, HCSB).
The new incorruption will be made by God, just as the heavenly territory has been built by God. He promised to go away to prepare a place for us—and He promised to return to take us to be with Him (John 14:2-3).
Last but not least, Hebrews 11 gives us “The Roll Call of Faith,” which shows us all the faithful gone on before us who pleased God by faith.
Let’s examine the Old Testament saints:
4 By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain [did]. By this he was approved as a righteous man, because God approved his gifts, and even though he is dead, he still speaks through this. (C) 5 By faith, Enoch was taken away so that he did not experience death, and he was not to be found because God took him away. (D) For prior to his transformation he was approved, having pleased God. (E) 6 Now without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and rewards those who seek Him. 7 By faith Noah, after being warned about what was not yet seen, in reverence built an ark to deliver his family. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (F) 8 By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and went out to a place he was going to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was going. (G) 9 By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, co-heirs of the same promise. (H) 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (I) 11 By faith even Sarah herself, when she was barren, received power to conceive offspring, even though she was past the age, since she [e] considered that the One who had promised was faithful. (J) 12 And therefore from one man—in fact, from one as good as dead—came offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as innumerable as the grains of sand by the seashore. (K) 13 These all died in faith without having received the promises, but they saw them from a distance, (L) greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth. (M) 14 Now those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been remembering that land they came from, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But they now aspire to a better land—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. (N) (Hebrews 11:4-16, HCSB).
From Abel forward, faith was always required. Notice that in Genesis 4 we are told that “The Lord had regard FOR ABEL and his offering” (Gen. 4:4b, HCSB). Verse 13 tells us that the roll call of faith “DIED IN FAITH without having received the promises.” They embraced the promises of God even though they didn’t live to see them fulfilled. Because of their faith, however, “God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” They will receive the reward for their faith and endurance. Even Noah became “an heir of the righteousness that is by faith.”
We know that they received the same message (as we’re told from Hebrews 4), and that, like us, they had to respond to it in faith. But how can those of the Old Testament have received the same message if Christ hadn’t come to earth in the Incarnation yet? Peter answers this superbly:
10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets (AB) who prophesied about the grace that would come to you searched and carefully investigated. 11 They inquired into what time or what circumstances [e] the Spirit of Christ (AC) within them was indicating when He testified in advance (AD) to the messianic sufferings (AE) [f] and the glories (AF) that would follow. [g] 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you concerning things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you (AG) by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. (1 Peter 1:10-12, HCSB)
The prophets had “the Spirit of Christ within them” when they prophesied of Christ’s sufferings and His glory. The Old Testament is full of references to Christ’s suffering and glory. For instance, there are the Suffering Servant passages of Isaiah 52-53. Psalm 22 is another regarding Christ’s sufferings. And Peter’s sermons in Acts are full of Old Testament prophecy concerning Christ. So within the Old Testament writers, the Spirit lived and used them to testify of Christ, the One who was to come.
In short, the Old Testament humanity heard the same message that we hear—except they heard of what was TO COME, we hear of what HAS ALREADY COME!
So when Spurgeon says that Christ couldn’t have died for all because of those who already died in their sins, I have to respond that those who died in wickedness made their choice—against God and His righteous standard. Their spending eternity in Hell, then, is the consequence of their choices.
To conclude this post, I would like to use some of the narrative of Luke 16 regarding the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. The rich man lived in luxury, while Lazarus sat at the gate, eating crumbs and begging for mercy. But when the two died, Lazarus ended up in heaven while the rich man went to hell. The rich man, understanding how wrong he was, finally wants to help his relatives who are still alive:
27 " 'Father,' he said, 'then I beg you to send him to my father's house— 28 because I have five brothers—to warn (AL) them, so they won't also come to this place of torment.'
29 "But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the prophets; (AM) they should listen to them.' (Luke 16:27-29, HCSB)
The Old Testament humanity had the prophets to listen to, who foretold of Christ and His suffering and glory. If that didn’t do it, nothing else would. Today we have those called by God to teach and preach the Word; if we don’t listen to the Word, then nothing else will do—even if someone should rise from the dead and tell us that it is all true.