Stumbling Stones or Stair Steps?
"Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.” -- 1 Peter 2:6-8
We believe, according to the Scriptures, that the Lord Jesus Christ accomplished the redemption of God’s elect when he died as our Substitute under the wrath of God, that his blood paid our debt, satisfied the justice of God, and effectually put away our sins forever, that all for whom Christ died shall be with him in glory. However, there are many who do not believe the testimony of Scripture regarding the death of Christ. Rather than believing on him unto life everlasting, trusting Christ alone for redemption and righteousness, the vast majority of religious people in this world stumble over the gospel doctrine of the atonement and perish in their sins. As he is revealed in Holy Scripture, the Lord Jesus Christ is to reprobate, unbelieving, self-righteous men a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense. And this is by divine arrangement.
God has so written his Word that reprobate men will get tripped up by it, and stumble over the Scriptures as stumbling stones to hell. God has fixed it, so that those who are determined to cling to their own righteousness, who are determined not to submit themselves to the righteousness of God established by, revealed in, and found in Christ alone, will stumble over him and fall into hell. This is exactly what happened to those Jews described in Romans 9:31-33.
"But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumblingstone; As it is written, Behold, I lay in Sion a stumblingstone and rock of offence: and whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed."
Those very same Scriptures, which, by the blessing of God the Holy Spirit, are as stair steps to God’s elect, are stumbling stones to the reprobate and unbelieving.
In this study we will look at those texts of Scripture which Arminians most commonly wrest to their own destruction. I have neither the desire nor the inclination to answer the cavils of blaspheming men and women against the Word of God. But I do want to help you who know and worship God to understand his Word and the wonders of his grace more fully. I also want to set forth the teachings of Holy Scripture with clarity, so that any who read these lines, who are yet without faith in Christ, may be brought by the Spirit of God to faith in our Savior.
There is not even a hint of universal redemption in the Word of God. Read and interpreted contextually, there is not the slightest implication of the heretical doctrine that Christ died to redeem and save those who perish under the wrath of God in hell. Such doctrine is utter blasphemy. However, there are numerous texts of Scripture which are often pointed to, quoted, twisted, and perverted by dishonest blasphemers, and by those who are confused by their teachings to refute the blessed gospel doctrine of particular, effectual redemption. Those Scripture texts most often misinterpreted and perverted by men relating to the death of Christ and the atonement he made for God’s elect by his blood may be lumped into three categories:
1. Those texts where the word “all” is used to describe those for whom Christ died.
2. Those texts where the word “world” is used to describe the people for whom Christ died.
3. And those texts which seem to suggest, in the minds of some, that some for whom Christ died might yet perish under the wrath of God.
We will examine these three groups of Scripture texts, not to explain away the caviling objections of those who despise the gospel, but to seek by the teaching of God the Holy Spirit the message of grace contained in them.
Sometimes, when we try to teach people the gospel, explaining passages like John 3:16 and 1 John 2:2, they respond by saying, “‘All’ means all and ‘world’ means world. When the Bible uses the word ‘all’, it means everyone, every human being, without exception. When the Bible uses the word ‘world’ it means everyone every human being without exception.” But that simply is not the case. And the fact that that is not the case is obvious to any one who cares to look.
For example, in Luke 2:1 we read, "And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed." Obviously, the words “all” and “world” as they are used in this text refer to all within a specific, limited range, a specific group of people. They have absolutely no bearing upon or reference to you and me. With that in mind, I want us to look at these three categories of Scripture texts:
Those texts of scripture where the word “all” is used to describe those for whom Christ died never refer to all human beings without exception.
In John 1:7 we read, “The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.” John the Baptist, like all true gospel preachers, was sent as a messenger from God to men, to preach the gospel to lost sinners, so that all who believe the message of redemption and grace in Christ might be saved. If God sent no preacher none could be saved, because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. But John was not sent to everyone without exception. God never has sent his preachers to everyone without exception. There are many to whom God never sends a gospel preacher, some to whom God will not allow his servants to go, no matter how much they may desire to go (Acts 16:6-8). The word “all”, as it is used here, must mean all kinds of men, Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, male and female, bond and free.
When the Lord Jesus said, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me” (John 12:32), he certainly was not referring to all in an absolute, universal sense. That is obvious from the facts that many were already in hell when he made that statement, and many never have the gospel preached to them. The word “all” refers again to all kinds of men, not to all men universally.
“Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (Rom. 5:18). “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). – In these two passages, often quoted as proof texts for universal redemption, the Holy Spirit is declaring that All who were represented in Adam (the entire human race) died in him, and that all who are represented by the Lord Jesus Christ, the last Adam, are made alive by him. To suggest that the word “all” in these verses means all in an absolute sense is to assert that all shall be saved without exception. Such an interpretation is a denial of the fact that some shall forever suffer the wrath of God.
In 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 we read, “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” The apostle here declares that all for whom Christ died died with him. We were crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20). The Son of God died for us that we might live unto God. It is the love of Christ, revealed and experienced in particular, effectual redemption, which motivates, compels, and constrains us in all things spiritual (1 Cor. 6:9-11, 19-20). The “all” for whom Christ died are the all who died with him at Calvary and live with him in grace, his sheep, his church, the many sons he shall bring to glory. All for whom the Lord of glory died, shall, as the sure result of his death, be made to live unto him by his grace.
1 Timothy 2:4-6 declares that the Lord God “will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” God is no respecter of persons. His grace does not come to anyone because of their earthly connections, family tree, or worldly position. The “all” referred to means all sorts of men. God has his elect everywhere, in every rank of society. The Lord Jesus Christ gave himself a ransom for all God’s elect, for whom he is the Mediator, for whom he makes mediation (John 17:9, 20). The objects of his priestly intercession and the objects of his priestly sacrifice are the same.
In 1 Timothy 4:10 we are told that the Lord our God is “the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.” Our great and glorious God and Savior is that One who is the Savior of all men in the sense that it is he who preserves all men in life, providing all things necessary for life and maintaining life for and in all. In him we live, and move, and have our being. But he is “specially” the Savior of those who believe. He saves all in providence, to serve their ordained purpose for the saving of his own elect (Isa. 43:1-5). The sons of Ham are kept in life for a while, that they might serve the sons of Shem and Japheth (2 Pet. 3:9). It is not our believing that makes him our Savior “specially”, but his being “specially” our Savior that makes us believe. Being our Savior “specially”, the Lord God loved us with an everlasting love, chose us in eternal election, redeemed us with the precious blood of Christ, called us from death to life by the omnipotent power of his grace, gave us faith in Christ, preserves us in grace, and will bring us to glory in the end.
“For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Tit. 2:11-12). This passage is often cited to refute the gospel doctrine of particular and effectual redemption; but that is precisely what it teaches. The grace of God has appeared to all men. That is to say, Christ has appeared to all men, or the gospel has appeared to all men. But the “all men” to whom the grace of God has appeared must be understood in a relative sense. There are multitudes that have never even seen a Bible or heard the gospel. The grace of God has appeared to men in a general sense, and appears to all who hear the gospel. However, it comes effectually to those who are taught of God and converted by its power.
Hebrews 2:9 is cited by many who would deny the gospel, as a proof that Christ died for all men without exception. “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.” The word man is not the original. The verse ends with the word “every.” The writer means for us to understand and rejoice in the fact that Christ tasted death for every one of those who are saved by his grace, as the context indicates: -- every son, -- every heir, -- every one of Abraham’s seed, -- every one for whom the Son of God intercedes, -- every one he calls brother, --every one in his church.
“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). There is no indication of universal redemption here. According to the context, the longsuffering of our God is “to usward;” and his longsuffering “is our salvation” (v. 15).
Those texts of scripture in which the word “world” is used to describe those for whom Christ died do not contradict the plain revelation of the gospel. They do not teach the doctrine of universal redemption.
In John 1:9 we read, “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” That does not mean that he gives saving light to all. If he did, all would be saved. Christ is the Light of the world. He gives the light of creation and conscience to all men (Rom. 1:18-20; 2:14-15). He gives the light of Holy Scripture and the light that comes by the preaching of the gospel to many. But he gives the saving light of grace only to his elect.
When John the Baptist declared, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), he was not asserting that Christ takes away all the sins of all men throughout the world. If that were the case, none could ever be lost. Would God punish men for sin who have no sin? John was simply declaring what is declared throughout the New Testament. – The Lord Jesus Christ came to save and has effectually redeemed his people out of every nation in the world. He is not the Savior and Redeemer of Jews only, but of God’s elect among the Gentile nations as well (John 3:16; 4:42; 6:51; 2 Cor. 5:19; 1 John 2:1-2; 4:14). Those meant by the world, which was reconciled to God by the blood of Christ, are the same as those whose sins God would not impute to them. It is the world of his elect, Jew and Gentile, black and white, bond and free, male and female.
Though saved by the grace of God, God’s elect in this world are sinners still. The sweet, good news of the gospel is this: -- When we sin we have an Advocate with the Father. Our sins, horrible as they are, can never change our standing before or relationship with God our Father because of who our Advocate is and what he has done. Our mighty Advocate with the Father is Jesus the Christ, the Righteous One. And he is the justice satisfying, wrath consuming propitiation for our sins, for all the sins of God’s elect in every age and throughout all the world.
Blessed be God, there is a Savior! But there is only one Savior for the whole world. Christ is the Way -- the only Way. Christ is the Truth -- the only Truth. Christ is the Life -- the only Life. Christ is the Savior -- the only Savior.
That Some for Whom Christ Died Might Perish Under The Wrath of God
There are some passages of Holy Scripture which seem to suggest to many that some for whom Christ died might yet perish in hell under the wrath of God. Of course, that cannot be. God is just, righteous, and true. He cannot and will not violate his own character. He cannot send anyone to hell for whom his justice has already been satisfied by the sacrifice of his own darling Son.
Romans 14:15 is frequently cited to assert the absurd, that some will perish for whom the Son of God paid the ransom price at Calvary. “If thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.” The word “destroy” in this passage means to corrupt, mar, or defile. We must take great care not to use our liberty in Christ at the expense of corrupting the consciences of our weaker brethren for whom Christ died. If Christ died for you, it is a very small thing for me to refrain from any earthly pleasure for you. But what I do, while it may be of great harm to your present peace and stability, can never thwart the purpose of God, destroy the grace of God, or make the blood of Christ of non-effect.
1 Corinthians 8:11-12 must be interpreted in much the same way. “And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ.”
I have not found a better, more sensible explanation of this text than that given by John Gill. He asserted that the word “perish” here “intends, not the perishing of his immortal soul; or of his perishing eternally in hell; which can never be the case of any for whom Christ died; for then the death of Christ would be so far in vain; and not be a security from condemnation; contrary to Romans 8:33.” If that were the case, the death of Christ could not be a full satisfaction to justice”. Else, “God must be unjust, to punish twice for the same offence”. Rather, the word “perish” speaks of “the perishing of his peace and comfort for a time; and is explained by ‘defiling’ and ‘wounding’ his conscience, and making him to ‘offend’, through the imprudent use of Christian liberty, in those who had stronger faith and greater knowledge (1 Cor. 8:7,12,13). Every believer should take great care, therefore, not to offend his weaker brother or sister in Christ. They are “as near and dear to Christ, since he died for him, as a stronger brother is.”
Many are outwardly sanctified by professed faith in Christ who have never been inwardly sanctified by the experience of grace. In time they forsake Christ and the gospel, bringing upon themselves even greater condemnation than they are under by nature. That is what Hebrews 10:29 declares. -- “Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?”
2 Peter 2:1 is a remarkable declaration of Christ’s absolute sovereignty over all men, not an admission of failure, frustration, and defeat on his part, as the Arminian would have us believe. -- “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.” The word “Lord” in this verse would be better translated, and should be translated, “despot”. The word “bought” is not the word that means, “to buy out of” or “deliver”. Rather, it is the word that means, “to purchase”.
If I were purchasing a house, I would use the word translated “bought” in this passage. The house would be mine. I would take possession of it. But I would not move the house. If I went into the local pawnshop to redeem a treasured pocket watch I had previously pawned, the word used for redeem would be another word. It would be the word commonly translated “redeem” in the New Testament, when speaking of the work of Christ at Calvary. It is a word which means, “to deliver by the payment of a price.”
That is what the Son of God did as our God-man Mediator for his elect. He delivered us from the curse of the law and the wrath of God by the ransom price of his own life’s blood. He did not deliver the reprobate or the false prophets described in 2 Peter 2:1. He did, however, as a man, as our God-man Mediator, purchase and take possession of them and of the entire world as a sovereign despot. As a man, he bought the right to rule over and dispose of all flesh, that he might give eternal life to God’s elect (John 17:2; Rom. 14:9; Phil. 2:9-11). He sold all that he had (2 Cor. 8:9, and bought the field of God’s creation, that he might get the treasure of God’s jewels hidden in that field (Matt. 13:44).
It is a great pity that men and women will deliberately pervert and twist the Word of God, rather than acknowledge their total depravity and trust the work of Christ alone for acceptance with God. But we must not allow ourselves to get caught in the snare of debate with infidels. If we do, we rob ourselves of the joy of these holy things. Rather than trying to answer all the carpings of reprobate men, let us simply take God at his Word, rejoicing in the great and glorious gospel doctrine of particular, effectual redemption. Take these very texts, which are stumbling stones to the reprobate, and use them as stair steps to glory. From these verses we are taught great things.
1. Redemption by Christ is glorifying to all the character of God.
2. Redemption could never be accomplished or obtained in any other way.
3. Christ has obtained and holds redemption for all God’s elect.
4. The redemption obtained by Christ is an eternal redemption.
5. All who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, by the gift of his grace, through his Spirit, were redeemed by him at Calvary (Gal. 3:13-14).