Charles Spurgeon strongly affirmed the doctrine of definite atonement. This truth teaches that Christ died exclusively for those chosen by the Father and, thus, actually secured the salvation of all those for whom He died. Such a definite redemption stands in contrast to the Arminian view, which claims that Christ did not actually save anyone in particular by His death, but merely made salvation possible for everyone. Spurgeon adamantly rejected this vague position: “A redemption which pays a price, but does not ensure that which is purchased—a redemption which calls Christ a substitute for the sinner, but yet which allows the person to suffer—is altogether unworthy of our apprehensions of Almighty God.” Such a nebulous belief, he insisted, grossly dishonors God, especially His justice, and distorts the saving purpose of Christ in His substitutionary death.
With clear thinking, Spurgeon summarized the unbiblical, illogical Arminian position with these words:
The Arminian holds that Christ, when He died, did not die with an intent to save any particular person. And they teach that Christ’s death does not in itself secure beyond doubt the salvation of any one man living. They believe that Christ died to make the salvation of all men possible; and that by the doing of something else, any man who pleases may attain unto eternal life. Consequently, they are obliged to hold that if man’s will would not give way and voluntarily surrender to grace, then Christ’s atonement would be unavailing. They hold that there was no secure particularity and specialty in the death of Christ. Christ died, according to them, as much for Judas in hell as for Peter who mounted to heaven. They believe that for those who were consigned to eternal fire, there was as true and real a redemption made as for those who now stand before the throne of the Most High.
Spurgeon strongly denied the idea that Christ died for all men: “If it were Christ’s intention to save all men, how deplorably has He been disappointed!” He added:
Some insist that Christ died for everybody. Why, then, are not all men saved? Because all men will not believe? That is to say that believing is necessary in order to make the blood of Christ efficacious for redemption. We hold that to be a great lie.
Elsewhere, he wrote:
Some say that all men are Christ’s by purchase. But, beloved, you and I do not believe in a sham redemption which does not redeem. We do not believe in a universal redemption which extends even to those who were in hell before the Savior died, and which includes the fallen angels as well as unrepentant men.
Such a defeatist view of Christ’s death had no part in Spurgeon’s gospel preaching.
To the contrary, Spurgeon held that Christ accomplished the saving mission for which He came into the world. He believed that Jesus came to save a definite number of sinners, namely, those the Father chose and gave to Him before time began. Spurgeon insisted that Jesus was not frustrated at the cross. In other words, Christ did not die in vain for any who die in unbelief. Rather, Spurgeon said, Jesus died triumphantly for all whom the Father had given Him:
We hold that Christ, when He died, had an object in view; and that object will most assuredly and beyond a doubt be accomplished. We measure the design of Christ’s death by the effect of it. If anyone asks us, “What did Christ design to do by His death?” we answer that question by asking him another—”What has Christ done?” or, “What will Christ do by His death?” For we declare that the measure of the effect of Christ’s love is the measure of the design of the cross. We cannot so belie our reason as to think that the intention of Almighty God could be frustrated, or that the design of so great a thing as the atonement, can by any way whatever, be missed.
It is clear that Spurgeon understood that the intent of Christ’s death defined its extent. He explained:
Christ came into this world with the intention of saving ‘a multitude which no man can number;’ and we believe that as the result of this, every person for whom He died must, beyond a shadow of a doubt, be cleansed from sin, and stand, washed in the blood, before the Father’s throne.
He added: “What! Did Christ at one tremendous draft of love drink my damnation dry, and shall I be damned after that? God forbid! What! Shall God be unrighteous to forget the Redeemer’s work for us and let the Savior’s blood be shed in vain?” Jesus did not die in vain, for none for whom Christ died will ever perish in hell.
Though some call this doctrine “limited atonement,” Spurgeon insisted that both Arminians and Calvinists limit the atonement. Those who teach that Christ’s death made salvation possible limit its effect, while those who believe in a definite atonement limit its extent. Put another way, the former see an unlimited extent but a limited effect. The latter see a limited extent but an unlimited effect. Spurgeon explained it this way:
We are often told that we limit the atonement of Christ, because we say that Christ has not made a satisfaction for all men, or all men would be saved. Now, our reply to this is, that, on the other hand, our opponents limit it: we do not. The Arminians say, Christ died for all men. Ask them what they mean by it. Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of all men? They say, “No, certainly not.” We ask them the next question—Did Christ die so as to secure the salvation of any man in particular? They answer “No.” They are obliged to admit this, if they are consistent. They say “No; Christ has died that any man may be saved if”— and then follow certain conditions of salvation. Now, who is it that limits the death of Christ? Why, you. You say that Christ did not die so as to infallibly secure the salvation of anybody. We beg your pardon, when you say we limit Christ’s death; we say, “No, my dear sir, it is you that do it.” We say Christ so died that He infallibly secured the salvation of a multitude that no man can number, who through Christ’s death not only may be saved, but are saved, must be saved, and cannot by any possibility run the hazard of being anything but saved. You are welcome to your atonement; you may keep it. We will never renounce ours for the sake of it.
Summing up his reasons for holding to definite atonement, Spurgeon said, “I would rather believe a limited atonement that is efficacious for all men for whom it was intended, than a universal atonement that is not efficacious for anybody, except the will of men be joined with it.” Simply put, he held “that Christ came into the world not to put men into a salvable state, but into a saved state.” Spurgeon believed that the atonement was accomplished by an utterly triumphant death.
This article is part of the Charles Spurgeon on Calvinism collection.