Friday, July 4, 2008

The Atonement in Point of Power and Design

A letter in full by Joseph Kinghorn, pastor of St. Mary’s Baptist Church, Norwich, England, to a friend who had criticized his understanding of the gospel. He wrote an earlier letter to her (April 29 and May 1) and then followed it up with this letter, explaining his understanding of the extent of the atonement of Christ.

May 11th, 1826

I am not sure that my remarks in my last went to the bottom of the subject, but as far as they went consider them. Perhaps you are afraid that such a plan of reasoning will run across the redemption by Jesus Christ and make it of that general kind that will lead to Arminianism. Our best Calvinistic writers have not thought so. This, you will say, is mere authority—granted. I would then ask, do either the scriptures or reason applied to the principles of the scriptures lead us to conclude, that suppose the number of the elect was greater than it is, the atonement made by the death of Christ would be insufficient for their salvation?

Should you say, as some have done, that there was so much atonement made for sinners precisely, and no more, I would ask you to pause a moment, and say, how can you prove it? Since it was the character of the sufferer that gave weight to both his obedience and suffering, how are we to throw a line round infinity and measure that which is beyond measure? What then, you may ask, limits the redemption of sinners and draws the line of distinction between that general idea of redemption, which, by taking in everybody, makes it especially applicable to nobody; and the opinion of the highest Calvinists, viz.—so much atonement and no more?

I reply, the election of grace; so that the Lord came to fulfil a plan; making an atonement, which in point of power would have saved more, had more been included in the plan, but in point of design, and ultimately in point of application, was made for those who were given him.

This is a very brief sketch, and I cannot conceive it new to you; but I direct your attention to it, to show that the limits of the Calvinistic system go further than they are sometimes supposed, and that we need not be afraid of going to the extent, if only we know where to stop. If you purchase an estate you know you have a right to cultivate it, up to the last inch. Some good people are so afraid of being Arminians, that they leave a large piece of their territorial inheritance to the briars and thorns of the wilderness.


The Life and Works of Joseph Kinghorn, by Martin Hood Wilkin, reprinted by Particular Baptist Press, 1995, p. 416.

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