But is it not the case that the atonement in any case IS limited? Because we know that all are NOT saved . . . .
The question here seems to be whether atonement is limited in EXTENT or POWER? Not whether or not it is limited. If Jesus came and died so that ALL might be saved, then his saving work is clearly limited in its extent . . . because all are not saved. Yet, to me this view also would appear to limit his power to save as well. He wanted all to be saved . . . but . . . apparently man's free will is more powerful to resist despite His intention or will? So His power is limited along with the extent, according to the Arminian perspective.
However, if Jesus came for His sheep and His church specifically . . . and it is written that He will not lose a single one that the Father has given Him . . . then both the extent and power of His atonement are perfectly completed . . . . The extent of His will is achieved.
In the context of scripture and with scripture interpreting scripture, I can understand that when It says He died for "all men" and for "the whole world" . . . it does not mean each and every single individual . . . ie., Judas and Pharaoh . . . BUT for Jews AND gentiles alike--"the whole world" . . . NOT just the Jews as was previously believed. And His elect come from every nation and tongue. They are scattered throughout the whole world, within every race, each sex, all tribes. Which is why mission work is so blessed and important. As God decrees/WILLS both the END AND THE MEANS of salvation, He sends His disciples--His servants into the world to gather the lost sheep.
I can tell you plainly and honestly that the more convicted I have become of God's Sovereign Grace (His superior free will to create an "elect" people) . . . it has not made me more casual or unconcerned about the Great Commission call to "make disciples of all nations"--to seek and save the lost. On the contrary, I have never been more concerned, felt more compelled, nor filled with the flame of urgency than I am now.
Looking at it from the "Arminian" side, I know that it appears as if believing in election would cause a person to be more lax and shrugging, saying, "why bother trying to save if God has His elect?" But it simply does not go that way! As the Holy Spirit gains more influence in the believer's life and as one becomes more and more conformed to the will and purposes of God, it follows that HE increasingly works in the person to spread the Good News, seek the lost, testify, and overall labor in the vineyards He has created for such purposes!
Do we see that the great Reformed preachers and missionaries of the past were lax in their efforts to reach and teach and save? Hardly . . . .
Jonathan Edwards, who is practically the figurehead of the First Great Awakening, surely was not sitting on his "saved" laurels, as he stewarded revivals of whole towns and worked in hardship among the Mohawk Indians . . . .
What about Spurgeon, who preached to thousands for years and who even today has wide and deep influence? George Whitefield is considered one of the most zealous and effective of the Great Awakening preachers who came to believe and teach election . . . . In fact, the "modern missionary" movement was begun largely by "Calvinist "Baptists" such as William Carey, who, in 1792 took the Gospel to India, "founded 26 churches and 126 schools, and translated the Bible into 44 languages including Sanskrit."
I think it is no paradox or anomaly that the strongest arguments by Paul for election (in Romans 9) precede his greatest exhortations to evangelism in Romans Chapter 10 . . . .
It simply doesn't follow in experience, in reality, that so-called "Calvinism" destroys missionary zeal. History doesn't show it. Further, my own experience hasn't been such--in fact, quite to the contrary. Nor has it instilled new pride or a conception of being "better." Indeed, I find I am pleasantly destroyed in humility and gratitude and awe and righteous trembling at the mighty holiness and sovereignty and free will of God, knowing that I have done NOTHING . . . . NOTHING! to merit being "chosen" or in having some special ability to love and choose God where others have failed at the command . . . .
If I were to succumb to a type of the fairly common vitriol I hear when Arminian followers tirade against "Calvinism" . . . I might instead suggest that it is the "libertarian free will" proponents who are prone to egotism, pride, self righteousness and idolatry of man as they profess that man is the one who gets himself saved, who isn't ALL bad, and that the ones who do "choose" salvation . . . are more holy and intelligent than those who don't . . . .
While scripture says there are none good, no not one and none who seek after God. Sooo . . . . . ?
I believe and observe that is quite possible for sincere devotees of either side of the debate to respect one another's strongly held position, such as the mutual respect and friendship I've seen between ie., Dr. Michael Brown ("Arminian") and James White (Reformed Baptist) . . . . I am myself a fan in many respects of a few (otherwise:) fine Biblical preachers on the other side . . . .
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Here is an interesting tale of the great evangelist George Muller describing his stubborn realization of the truth of these things . . . quite similar to other stories I have heard from those who once rejected the reformed understanding . . . .
"When he first encountered the doctrines of grace (such as mankind’s total depravity and God’s sovereign election), Müller tried to reject them. He would later describe his initial distaste in his autobiography, “Before this period I had been much opposed to the doctrines of election, particular redemption, and final persevering grace; so much so that . . . I called election a devilish doctrine.”
But as he continued to study God’s Word, Müller reached an unexpected conclusion. He wrote:
I went to the Word, reading the New Testament from the beginning, with a particular reference to these truths. To my great astonishment I found that the passages which speak decidedly for election and persevering grace, were about four times as many as those which speak apparently against these truths; and even those few, shortly after, when I had examined and understood them, served to confirm me in the above doctrines.Müller initially feared that embracing the doctrine of election would quench his passion for evangelism. But he soon found it had the opposite effect. Consequently, he noted:
In the course of time . . . it pleased God then to show to me the doctrines of grace in a way in which I had not seen them before. At first I hated them, “If this were true I could do nothing at all in the conversion of sinners, as all would depend upon God and the working of His Spirit.” But when it pleased God to reveal these truths to me, and my heart was brought to such a state that I could say, “I am not only content simply to be a hammer, an axe, or a saw, in God’s hands; but I shall count it an honor to be taken up and used by Him in any way; and if sinners are converted through my instrumentality, from my inmost soul I will give Him all the glory;” the Lord gave me to see fruit; the Lord gave me to see fruit in abundance; sinners were converted by scores; and ever since God has used me in one way or other in His service.That perspective fueled Müller’s evangelistic zeal — from the 10,000 orphans he helped to care for in England to the over 200,000 miles he traveled as an itinerant evangelist, taking the gospel to dozens of foreign nations. Müller’s example is one of many powerful answers, from history, to those who would allege that an affirmation of God’s sovereignty in salvation kills evangelism."