Responding to the Servant
“Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon” (vv. 6–7).- Isaiah 55
Particular atonement, more popularly known as limited atonement in the TULIP summary of Reformed soteriology (doctrine of salvation), affirms that Christ’s death actually saves His people. He did not make a general atonement for all people that may or may not elicit the response of faith from those to whom the gospel is preached. Instead, Jesus died for a particular people, His atonement guaranteeing the response of faith from those for whom He died. We find this doctrine throughout Scripture, including Hebrews’ presentation of the sufficiency of Christ’s death in light of the insufficiency of animal sacrifices (Heb. 9:1–10:18), the angel’s declaration that Jesus would save “his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21), and the Suffering Servant’s full satisfaction with the results of His work (Isa. 52:13–53:12). To put it bluntly, the Messiah will not be eternally depressed because He died to atone for the sins of all people, some of whom reject Him, frustrating His intent to save all; rather, He will be perfectly satisfied because everyone for whom He died will certainly believe on Him and be saved.
All of this is not to say we are entirely passive in the process. We are passive in regeneration—the Holy Spirit acts monergistically in us to change our hearts (John 3:1–8). That is, He reaches in and renews our minds and spirits without asking us for an invitation, without our help, and before we even know what He is doing. We are passive in that none of our works merit our right standing before God (Titus 3:4–7). Still, our Creator has ordained the means of faith for us to receive His redemption. We must trust in Him to be saved, though even our faith is His gift to us (Eph. 2:8–10).
God elicits this faith in us through the preaching of His Word, which calls us to trust in Him. Thus, in today’s passage, in the context of all the Messiah does for His own (Isa. 52:13–53:12), Isaiah calls the Lord’s people to seek His pardon (55:6–7). He knew the exiles would be tempted to believe they could buy or merit salvation through their faith and deeds, but that buys what is unprofitable—attempting to earn heaven can never satisfy us, for we cannot do enough to get God’s pardon (v. 2a). Instead, we must “buy wine and milk without price” (v. 1). The Bread of Life, Isaiah teaches, is free for the taking. Given the choice between an unsatisfying salvation we work for and a satisfying salvation that is absolutely free for the taking, it is obvious which we should choose.
God works through means. In justification, the sole instrumental means He uses is the faith He gives us to lay hold of Christ’s perfect righteousness—the sole ground of our being declared righteous before Him. We must trust Jesus alone to be saved. Yet salvation remains a free gift, one we do nothing to earn and to which we contribute nothing. It is all of grace, and we must not tire of proclaiming that glorious truth. We can be assured of our redemption only if it is the entirely free gift of the Lord.
Passages for Further Study
1 Peter 5:5b