For Whom Christ Died

“The love of Christ constraineth us,” Paul says, “because we have thus judged, that one died for all, therefore all died.” Those are rather strange words, when you come to think of it—“One died for all, therefore all died.” How does the second of these two propositions follow from the former? Why should we draw from the fact that one died for all the inference that therefore all died? A very different inference might conceivably be drawn. It might be said with more apparent show of reason: “One died for all, therefore all did not die; one died for all, therefore all lived.” When one man dies for others, the usual purpose of his dying is that those others may not have to die; he dies that those others may live.

Yet here we have it said that one died for all and then all died. Apparently the death of Christ did no good to those for whom he died. Apparently he did not succeed in rescuing them from death. Apparently they had to die after all.

It might look at least as though Paul ought to have recognized the contradiction. It might look as though he ought to have said: “One died for all, nevertheless all died.” But he does not recognize the contradiction at all. He puts the death of Christ not as something that might conceivably prevent the death of others, but as something that actually brought with it the death of others. He says not: “One died for all, nevertheless all died,” but: “One died for all, therefore all died.” The thing might seem strange to the unbeliever; it might seem strange to the man who should come to this passage without having read the rest of the Bible and in particular the rest of the Epistles of Paul. But it does not seem at all strange to the Christian; it does not seem at all strange to the man who reads it in connection with the great central teaching of the Word of God regarding the Cross of Christ.

Christ died for all, therefore all died—of course, that is so because Christ was the representative of all when he died. The death that he died on the cross was in itself the death of all. Since Christ was the representative of all, therefore all may have been said to have died there on the cross outside the walls of Jerusalem when Christ died.

We may imagine a dialogue between the law of God and a sinful man.

“Man,” says the law of God, “have you obeyed my commands?”

“No,” says the sinner, “I have transgressed them in thought, word and deed.”

“Well, then, sinner,” says the law, “have you paid the penalty which I have pronounced upon those who have disobeyed? Have you died in the sense that 1 meant when I said, ‘The soul that sinneth it shall die’?”

“Yes,” says the sinner, “I have died. That penalty that you pronounced upon my sin has been paid.”

“What do you mean,” says the law, “by saying that you have died? You do not look as though you had died. You look as though you were very much alive.”

“Yes,” says the sinner, “I have died. I died there on the cross outside the walls of Jerusalem; for Jesus died there as my representative and my substitute. I died there so far as the penalty of the law was concerned.”

“You say Christ is your representative and substitute,” says the law. “Then I have indeed no further claim of penalty against you. The curse which I pronounced against your sin has indeed been fulfilled. My threatenings are very terrible, but I have nothing to say against those for whom Christ died.”

That, my friends, is what Paul means by the tremendous “therefore,” when he says: “One died for all, therefore all died.” On that “therefore” hangs all our hope for time and for eternity.

For Whom Did Christ Die? But what does he mean by “all”? “One died for all,” he says, “therefore all died.” He seems to lay considerable emphasis upon that word “all.” What does he mean by it?

Well, I suppose our Christian brethren in other churches, our Christian brethren who are opposed to the Reformed Faith, might be tempted to make that word “all” mean, in this passage, “all men”; they might be tempted to make it refer to the whole human race. They might be tempted to interpret the words “Christ died for all” to mean “Christ died for all men everywhere whether Christians or not.”

But if they are tempted to make it mean that, they ought to resist the temptation, since this passage is really a very dangerous passage for them to lay stress on in support of their view.

In the first place, the context is dead against it. It is rather strongly against the view that “Christ died for all” means here “Christ died for all men.” All through this passage Paul is speaking not of the relation of Christ to all men, but of the relation of Christ to the Church.

In the second place, the view that “Christ died for all” means “Christ died for all men” proves too much. The things that Paul says in this passage about those for whom Christ died do not fit those who merely have the gospel offered to them; they fit only those who accept the gospel for the salvation of their souls. Can it be said of all men, including those who reject the gospel or have never heard it, that they died when Christ died on the crass; can it be said of them that they no longer live unto themselves but unto the Christ who died for them? Surely these things cannot be said of all men, and therefore the word “all” does not mean all men.

Perhaps, indeed, it will be said that Paul is speaking only of the purpose of Christ in dying for all men, without implying that that purpose was accomplished. Perhaps, it will be said, he means only that Christ died for all men with the purpose that all men might live to him who died for them, without at all implying how many of those for whom Christ died actually accomplished that purpose by living in that way.

Well—quite aside from the difficulty of supposing that God’s purposes ever fail—I can only say that if that meaning be attributed to the passage the force of the passage is, to say the least, seriously impaired. Did Christ upon the cross die merely to make possible my salvation? Did he die merely for the great mass of humanity and then leave it to the decision of individuals in that mass whether they would make any use of what Christ purchased for them at such cost? Was I, in the thought of the Son of God when he died there on Calvary, merely one in the great mass of persons who might possibly at some future time accept the benefits of his death?

I tell you, my friends, if I thought that-if, in other words, I became a consistent Arminian instead of a Calvinist—I should feel almost as though the light had forever gone out of my soul. No, indeed, my friends, Christ did not die there on Calvary merely to make possible Our salvation. He died to save us. He died not merely to provide a general benefit for the human race from which we might at some future time draw, as from some general fund, what is needed for the salvation of our souls. No, thank God, he died there on the cross for us individually. He called us, when he died for us, by our names. He loved us not as infinitesimal particles in the mass of the human race, but he loved us everyone.

Do you ask how that could be? Do you ask how Christ when he died could have in his mind and heart everyone of the millions of those who had been saved under the old dispensation and who were to be saved in the long centuries that were to come? I will tell you how it could be. It could be because Christ is God. Being God he knows us everyone, with an intimacy that is far greater than the intimacy of the tenderest mother’s love.

People say that Calvinism is a dour, hard creed. How broad and comforting, they say, is the doctrine of a universal atonement, the doctrine that Christ died equally for all men there upon the cross! How narrow and harsh, they say, is this Calvinistic doctrine—one of the “five points” of Calvinism—this doctrine of the “limited atonement,” this doctrine that Christ died for the elect of God in a sense in which he did not die for the unsaved!

But do you know, my friends, it is surprising that men say that. It is surprising that they regard the doctrine of a universal atonement as being a comforting doctrine. In reality it is a very gloomy doctrine indeed. Ah, if it were only a doctrine of a universal salvation, instead of a doctrine of a universal atonement, then it would no doubt be a very comforting doctrine; then no doubt it would conform wonderfully well to what we in our puny wisdom might have thought the course of the world should have been. But a universal atonement without a universal salvation is a cold, gloomy doctrine indeed. To say that Christ died for all men alike and that then not all men are saved, to say that Christ died for humanity simply in the mass, and that the choice of those who out of that mass are saved depends upon the greater receptivity of some as compared with others—that is a doctrine that takes from the gospel much of its sweetness and much of its joy. From the cold universalism of that Arminian creed we tum ever again with a new thankfulness to the warm and tender individualism of our Reformed Faith, which we believe to be in accord with God’s holy Word. Thank God we can say every one, as we contemplate Christ upon the Cross, not just: “He died for the mass of humanity, and how glad I am that I am amid that mass,” but; “He loved me and gave Himself for me; my name was written from all eternity upon His heart, and when He hung and suffered there on the Cross He thought of me, even me, as one for whom in His grace He was willing to die.”

Dr. J. Gresham Machen, founder of Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, delivered a sermon on the opening day of the Second General Assembly of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church on II Corinthians 5:14,15, a part of which we reproduce here because it bears directly on a subject still very much in dispute in the Reformed community.