Many And Few

Q – Hey Jim – Do you think if Matthew 7:13 is true that it ties in and explains particular atonement?

Jim – Mat. 7:13,14 reads –

“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”

First off, being in that these are Jesus’ words, I certainly assume them to be true. But, I know you agree with that. Does it “tie in” with Particular Atonement? Yes, absolutely. Does it explain it? Well, it doesn’t actually explain it, but it is utterly dependent on it. In other words, this verse only makes sense if Particular Atonement is true…as you’ve said. There is so much going on in Mat. 7:13 that it’s practically staggering. The implications are enormous.

For instance, before the inception of the Church, prior to His atoning work, Jesus declared categorically that few (as compared to “many”) would enter eternal life. He was unconcerned with notions of Universalism or Freewill. He knew in advance that only a “few” would reap the benefits of His work. It was an amazingly restrictive bit of prophecy.

I’ve often pointed out that prophecy “works” because the future is definite. Christ left no room for the possibility of mass conversion. He did not leave the door open just in case “most” of the human race “decided” to take advantage of His offer of salvation. He stated very decisively that most people would miss it altogether.

He could not have been so didactic about it unless He was confident that He was the deciding factor in the whole equation and that He would only take a limited number of people to Himself. If it were left up to the will of every individual (whose sins were all paid for at Calvary), then Christ could not have known in advance how many people would take Him up on the deal. But, he was decisive in His proclamation. There’s no chance that the equation will be turned upside down. The One who has all the power stated His decision to take only a few. And, that fact makes Particular Atonement an absolute necessity.

Q – I mean, I believe Particular Atonement, but haven’t found any direct scriptural proof on it yet (only just started digging).

Jim – Scriptural proofs are many. I listed several in By Grace Alone. You’re also reading Lorraine Boettner’s “The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination.” That book was very influential on my thinking. Ignore his Presbyterianism, though. It’s a good apology for the Doctrines of Grace. Another good, more modern book is “Putting Amazing Back Into Grace” by Michael Scott Horton. Again, you have to ignore his final chapters on infant baptism and his Presbyterian Covenantal theology, but it is a very “approachable” defense of the Calvinistic view. And, of course, Arthur Custance is solid stuff. Most of his material has been reprinted on the web.

Q – If it’s true that the gate is wide that leads to destruction, there must logically be many more people in hell than in heaven. And the only way that could be called a victory in Scripture (as in ‘Christ triumphed over sin and death’) is if God did that on purpose. But, wouldn’t the fact that Satan had more souls in hell be a victory for him over God and for free will?

Jim – I assume you are stating this argument in order to work through it, not because you think it is a convincing point of debate against Limited Atonement.

The primary problem with such an argument is that it assumes that God is, can be, or should be held to some standard above and beyond what He, Himself, deems appropriate. But, there is no standard above God. His Sovereign decisions and decrees create the standard of what is right, wrong, just, righteous, or sinful. Manmade concepts of fairness, rightness, or victory have no bearing on the will of the Almighty.

So, even though you are repeating one of the classic arguments promoted by those who oppose Particular Atonement, it’s really a moot point. Righteousness, fairness, and victory are determined by what God does. Our human notions of “fairness” depend on numbers, like balancing a scale. But, the argument you’ve cited above starts with a faulty theological construct – which is why it leads to an unsatisfying conclusion.

If you believe that God was determined to save the human race, all of mankind, then He failed miserably. Satan, indeed, has triumphed over God, has the superior power, and deserves credit, if not worship. And, if Christ triumphed over sin and death on behalf of each and every individual who ever lived, then – yes! – many, many people were plucked from His grasp and pulled into Hell by the triumphant Devil.

But, if God sees all of mankind as sinful and desperately depraved (the Biblical view), then He is under no obligation to save anyone at all. Mankind deserves wrath, punishment, and eternal judgment. But, if God ‘plucks some brands from the fire,’ whether that’s one person, two hundred people, or a number no man can count, it is still an act of unfathomable, undeserved kindness and mercy. If the number He saves is ultimately less than the number He damns, He is well within His rights in satisfying His justice, Holiness, and righteousness. If He punishes sin in all mankind, then all mankind gets exactly what they deserve. But, if He punishes sin for some people via His Son’s vicarious atonement, His gracious acceptance of those people is a decisive, planned, exacting activity. It is not random, and thereby it is not a failure. It is exactly in accordance with His plan.

Christ’s victory over death and sin on behalf of His people in no way reduces the punishment deserved by the world. Christ’s personal victory is completely in keeping with His character, nature, and Person. But, His willingness to share that victory with any person, or people, is utterly an act of His Sovereign Grace. His victory over Satan remains His victory over Satan, whether He shares it or not.

Remember that the salvation of humans is not God’s ultimate glory, despite the Church’s attempts to make themselves the “crown of creation.” Christ is the Crown. And, all things redound to His glory! The purpose of human life is God’s glorification of Himself. If His glory demands the destruction of every individual and animal in the world (as with the flood), that still redounds to His glory! If he saves eight souls and two of each animal, that redounds to His glory! If He destroys the world with fire (as He will) and throws the world into torment, that redounds to His glory! If He saves a few people, and makes “trophies of grace” out of miserable worms, that redounds to His glory!

If He saves a million people and burns 100 million people, it redounds to His glory. If He introduces evil into His creation (as He did), and uses Satan as a tool to implement the fall of mankind (as He did), and He saves some people who deserve His wrath (as He did), and then He tosses the devil and his angels into the Lake of Fire, along with all those who followed him and remained – by God’s will – in their sinful, rebellious estate it all redounds to His glory!

That’s the point. And, if people see that imbalance (“the many versus the few”) as failure, they are looking at it upside down. God’s justice, Holiness and righteousness demand judgment, punishment and destruction of every sinful creature. But, God’s redemption of some people, bringing a bride – a particular people – to His Son, is a glorious victory of grace!

And, one last word (I promise!) – if God saved the majority, our natural tendency would be to think that we were in that majority because we deserved to be, or that we were saved despite our sins because God was obligated to save the greater number of people. But, if God only saves a remnant while punishing the vast majority, we will always know that He was under no obligation to save us as He passed over others. We always and forever worship Him as our King of Grace.

Q – I agree. I mean, if Satan has the victory by having more souls, he somehow beat God out of the game by keeping perfectly intelligent people from believing what God wants them to believe.

Jim – Do you know any “perfectly intelligent people”? I don’t.

Human minds are clouded by sin, blinded by lusts and fleshly desires, and incapable of understanding the most elemental parts of God. Their hearts are desperately wicked, and their thoughts only serve to excuse themselves from the evil they do.

But, here’s the more important theological point – Satan does not keep people (perfectly intelligent or otherwise) from believing what God wants them to believe. Just the opposite. God keeps people from believing what God does not want them to believe. He may use the devil as an intermediary agency in accomplishing that end, but it is still Sovereign God’s doing.

When Jesus was asked by his disciples why he always spoke to the crowd in parables, He said it was because they (the disciples) had been given the ability to understand, but it had not been given to the crowd. So, He spoke in parables to keep them from being converted by their own wills and attempting to obligate Him to save them.

“And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.” (Matt 13:10-16)

Or, on a larger scale, God has blinded Israel and put scales over their eyes. Why did the Jews reject their savior? Because that’s what God required of them in order to cause the Atonement. Satan did not kill Jesus. God killed Jesus. Jesus said that no man took His life from Him. He had the power to lay it down and the power to take it back up again.

So, it is all of God. Judgment and mercy are of God. Understanding and darkness are all of God. Our job is to get in line with that.

Let me put it another way. Are you saved?

You would answer, “Yes!”

Okay, who or what are you saved from?

Most people say, “From my sins.” But, your sins can’t hurt you. They’re past; they’re over. You need to be saved from the judgment of God against your sins!

Or, people say, “From Hell.” But, Hell can’t jump up and grab you. God sends people to Hell. You have to be saved from the judgment of God that would condemn you to Hell.

Or, people say, “From judgment.” Yeh? Well, whose judgment??? God’s judgment!

Or, people say, “From the devil.” Okay, so who is in charge of the devil? God! And, who will send you to the Lake of Fire that was created for the devil and his angels? God!

Are you getting the drift? You’re biggest fear in life is the righteous judgment of God. And, that’s exactly what you need to be saved from. The rest are simply aspects of that one, prevailing reality – you need to be saved from the hands of an angry God! That’s what salvation is!

In the end, the people in the Lake of Fire are just as tormented as the devil is. The devil isn’t winning anything – he’s losing for all eternity! And, how many people lose with him is up to God. He saves and He condemns.

Again, it’s all about Him.

Q – We agree again. The idea that Satan is triumphing in bringing more souls to destruction contradicts the scripture that says that Christ by His death destroyed the devil who held the power of death, and freed those who were held in slavery (Hebrews 2:14-15, bad paraphrase).

Jim – I’m inclined to agree – it’s a pretty bad paraphrase. 🙂

The point of Heb. 2:14-15 is that the children of God were made of flesh and blood, so Christ also took on flesh and blood so He could -through fleshly death – overcome the devil who used the threat of death as a tool to keep people in bondage. After all, if you’re afraid to die, then the devil could use death as a method to engender fear – as opposed to faith. But, Christ’s fleshly death and resurrection conquered Satan’s domain, and destroyed the fear of death, resulting in hope and faith. The devil is plainly alive and active, even after the resurrection and ascension. And, he will remain active until the final judgment, after the millennium. But, again, he is only acting according to God’s will.

If Jesus intended to utterly destroy Satan at Calvary, He failed. But, Christ did remove the power of death from Satan and take it to Himself. That’s why Christ is judge both of the quick and the dead. And, that’s why Christ can raise to life those who were dead in devilish sin.

There is no contradiction.

Q – And, reading farther down in Matthew 7, what the heck would Jesus have been talking about when he said, “Not everyone who calls me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven“? If he paid the sins of all men and these men called on his name, what in the world kept them from being saved? Is that just too obvious?

Jim – That’s using the old noodle!

Let’s answer your question. What in the world keeps them from being saved?

He does!

Jesus’ point was in response to people who called Him Lord, but did not follow His commands (sort of like the people who think that they “make Jesus their Lord and Savior,” thus obligating Him to save them by virtue of their willing response). He went on to describe the people who would not enter. They bragged about all they had done for Him, prophesying, casting out demons, and doing great works “in your name.” But, He said that their works were iniquity, and cast them out because “I never knew you!”

That’s Sovereign.

But, more to the point, they bragged on their works. Your works cannot save you — including the work of “making Jesus Lord and Savior.” Anything you can point to as your contribution to your salvation lessens or negates the full and finished work of the Lord of the quick and the dead.

So, yes — to you and I, it is terribly obvious that Christ neither paid for their sins, intended to convert them, nor showed them the true path to righteousness and eternal life by grace. Still, despite His plain declaration, people fail to understand His intention.

Q – When I read that little scripture, it did more for me to just say, “Oh. Okay, I get it. Christ died for those He meant to die for, the rest perish, and scripture supports that by saying that’s exactly what would happen – many would find the broad gate.”

Jim – Exactly. You know, I have a book (actually a booklet) in which the author – ostensibly a theologican – said that Mat. 7:13 was not meant as a contrast or comparison. He believed in “The Church Triumphant.” We talked about that notion yesterday morning. The Bible never teaches the triumph of the Church, it teaches the triumph of Christ. The Church accompanies Him as He triumphs. But, if you believe that the Church will one day overtake the whole world, you have to ignore Scripture like Mat. 7:13 – or, say something foolish, like that it’s not meant to be a contrast between the many and the few. But, if language means anything at all, Christ was constructing a clear and obvious contrast. Man! The lengths some people will go to in support of their traditions!

Q – I don’t know that I explained that very well but it just clicked kind of violently in my head that it could be no other way. What do you think?

Jim – I think you’re a very bright human who is searching the Scriptures, as you are commanded to do, in search of the truth. I wish there were many, many more people like you!

It’s funny how Scripture works. It will beat you in the side of the head when you least expect it, and instantly open up whole new avenues of thought that you never saw prior to that moment. That’s why it’s a “living” word. It has a life all its own. And, the Spirit that dwells in us agrees with the Spirit that wrote the book. So, the Spirit does its job of teaching us through the Word.

I agree with your conclusion – it can’t be any other way. Jesus died for the elect. That’s what He came to do, and that’s exactly what He accomplished. Our salvation is eternally secure in the finished work of the One who died on our behalf. God’s not angry with us. God’s law, judgment, Holy wrath and righteous indignation are no longer a problem for us. They were poured out on our substitute and we pass – graciously! – from life to life.

That, my dear friend, is truly good news!

You know, Particular Atonement is the doctrine I wrestled with the longest. But, I ended up saying, “It just can’t be any other way!” David Morris was essential in my thought process and ultimate conclusion. I will always be indebted to him for being brave enough to tell the truth, against all pressure and tradition to the contrary. Now, I’m trying to live up to the responsibility that comes with knowing the truth.

Yours for His sake,

Jim Mc.