Reflecting on what J. J. Murray and I. H. Murray affirmed, I searched the Doctor’s published sermons on Eph.4 where Paul deals with the doctrine of the church, especially her unity. I was disappointed not to find any reference there to Christ dying for the church in that chapter. I then read the entire letter of Paul to the Ephesians and there discovered that he dealt with the issue of the atonement within the context of Christian marriage. The atonement was not his major focus in these expositions, however; his focus was on the Christian understanding of marriage. This was positioned within the immediate context of the Christian’s responsibilities as a wife, husband, child and employee. Even when dealing with a subject as practical as marriage, Paul cannot exclude the consideration of doctrine, especially the doctrine of salvation.
Among the very first things he preaches on Eph.5:25-33 is his understanding of the love of God. He sees it both in particularistic terms and in its universalistic sense. He writes, “It is the same sort of love wherewith Christ loved the church; indeed, wherewith God loved the world.” He draws attention to the fact that this is the same Greek root that is used for God’s love (αγαπαω) both in Jn 3:16 and in Eph.5:25. The love with which Christ loved the church is identical to the love with which God loved the world. DML-J demonstrates particularism and universalism in his choice of words. The love with which God loved the world is a love that loved the ugly, the vile, the ungodly, the sinful, the weak, the guilty and condemned. It was a love that moved outward to another. This is not a sentimental love, but a love that acted for the good of another/others; it was a love that gave.
So to teach how husbands are to love their wives, Paul uses the illustration of how Christ loved the church – he gave and gave and gave again. Christ’s love is a giving love, an outgoing love, a redemptive love. His love has a particular object – the church. Christ had already loved the church and had given Himself for her. God loved the world and gave His only begotten Son for it, indicating that it was precisely the same love each time. What He did for the world, He did also for the church, and vice versa. Personalising what He did for the church by giving Himself for her salvation, DML-J proceeds to apply this to the individual, adding, “[Y]es but also ‘for me’, for every one of us as individuals.” “Every one of us as individuals” is included in Christ’s atoning work on Calvary.
Bearing in mind that the context here is Christian marriage and the character and quality of the love that a husband ought to show to his wife, DML-J reiterates what he describes as “supreme doctrine ... no higher doctrine.” A Christian husband is to love his wife sacrificially and without consideration for himself or his welfare. His love for her is to be exclusive of all others, particular. I remember hearing Dr John MacArthur translating 1 Tim.3:2 on the qualifications of an elder, that he should be “a one woman man,” more familiarly, “the husband of one wife.” The relationship is to be exclusive. DML-J says, “- all that the Lord Jesus Christ did, he did for the church.” There is no dispute here on either side of the soteriological debate, and DML-J is accurately reflecting what the great apostle Paul had written. He continues, “He died for the church; He died for nobody else.”
These are clear and strong words from the Doctor, and, out of their context, they spell out an equally clear particularist understanding of the atonement. But again his purpose in writing this is to demonstrate from the highest possible source the quality of love with which husbands ought to love their wives. It is to be a particular love that is focused on their chosen spouses. Christian men are to choose their love, and then to love their choice – exclusively. That there is a particularity in God’s and Christ’s love is not disputed, and Paul brings this out here. By extension, there is also to be a particular love of a husband for his wife. Election undergirds what the apostle is writing, and election has to do with prior choice.
It is important to note that when DML-J speaks about Christ dying for the church, he nowhere denies that Christ died only for the church, although the accompanying phrase, “nobody else,” in this sermon context has the potential to point in that direction. Why, then, did he use this form of words here? It was to teach these Ephesians, and therefore us, the exclusivity and particularity of marriage love.
He uses this term in the sense that those whom Christ loved with this particular love and for whom He died effectually received incalculable benefits from that atoning death – they had their sins and guilt atoned for. Wives also receive great benefits from being loved in that way by their husbands.
This is not to deny that DML-J believed exclusively in an atonement that benefitted only the elect. It is the quality of the divine love that is emphasised here. Husbands are to show quality love to their wives – that’s the Doctor’s focus in these sermons.
But, and returning more directly to the atonement, DML-J had a great place in his evangelist’s heart those who made up the rest of mankind. He goes on to teach that Christ also had a real, compassionate love for all men, and for these He died sufficiently and made atonement for their sins too. To enter into the benefits of that atonement, they had to trust the Saviour. For DML-J, Christ’s death was not a mere commercial transaction, a mere pecuniary act on His part; rather it was essentially forensic in character because it dealt with personal debt and guilt; pecuniary transaction dealt only with the impersonal. In fact, in the same paragraph, DML-J uses the Lombardian paradigm to explain what he meant by these particularistic remarks. Let him speak for himself.
His death, as Calvin and other expositors remind us, because it was eternal and because He is the Son of God, is sufficient for the whole world; but it is efficient only for the church. His purpose in dying was to redeem the church. He gave Himself for the church, for all who belong to her when she will be complete and perfect and entire. All was known to God from eternity, and the Son came, and gave Himself for the church.
It was in this sense, and in this sense alone, that “He died for nobody else.” Paul here safeguards the proper breadth of the Gospel, and DML-J does likewise. Selective reading of the DML-J corpus is natural to dogma-driven theologians but it is essentially disingenuous and unjust for them to do so. To infer from this that he believed about the atonement what Owen believed is quite erroneous, if not mischievous. DML-J’s soteriology is balanced and gives due weight to the particular and universal emphases that are found in the actual text with which he is dealing. This demonstrates his methodology when expounding the text of Scripture. He sticks to his text and says all it has to say. And he does this with every text he handles, thus bringing out the due emphasis of that text in proper biblical balance. It is interesting that J. J. Murray and I. H. Murray could only identify his exposition of two passages that they say indicate that DML-J taught limited atonement, and even this is open to question. A careful reading of his sermons will demonstrate otherwise. Great care must always be taken that we do not read into another man’s beliefs what we would wish was there, and isn’t.
It is unfortunate that DML-J went beyond what was written when he made this statement, “He died for nobody else,” a practice against which he constantly warned and a principle which at this point he contravened. It is at least arguable that he allowed his mind to run off on a tangent, preaching as he did from the scantiest of notes; this does happen to preachers at times, especially those who speak in an extempore manner. This is the only place that I know of where he has made such an extreme and uncharacteristic statement on the death of Christ, despite DML-J's ubiquitous universalism.
Further, it is of particular note that DML-J sees our salvation as something that God does for us and as something that actually happens to us. It is experiential in character and is described in this sermon in terms of our being “rescued” and “redeemed.” Had it not been for the sufficiency of Christ’s death for all and its efficiency for the church, we would still be in our sins. Once the sinner trusts in Christ’s finished work on Calvary, he experiences God’s gracious salvation. Because election and predestination are not experiential in nature, it is not these that bring the sinner into possession of the benefits of the redemption purchased by Christ; it is the requirement that God has for faith in Christ that does it. DML-J believes that it was the “precious blood” of Christ that purchased redemption for the world, but it does not become the possession of the elect automatically. The salvific benefits of Christ’s blood have to be applied by the Holy Spirit and appropriated by the sinner by faith, which is the conduit for receiving it.
Given that the vast majority of DML-J material on the atonement points in the universalistic direction, this very rare statement in fact proves the thesis I am presenting, and is the exception that proves the rule.
Dr Alan C. Clifford, who knew the Doctor quite well for no less than eighteen years, explained why he thought DML-J used this uncharacteristic language (“He died for nobody else.”) in his exposition of Eph.5:25 which was delivered in 1959/1960. At this time the high orthodox Banner of Truth Trust was just being set up, and DML-J was most keen to avoid any rifts with this new Reformed movement. In an email to me, Clifford suspects that such caution drove him at this juncture. “Whatever he published on paper, it remains true that he was 'uncomfortable' with LA [limited atonement]. In short, he didn't really believe it.
So, the two passages alleged by J. J. Murray and I. H. Murray to support the view that DML-J believed and preached limited atonement have been found to prove nothing of the sort. Taken out of context, it could be argued that this is what he believes and teaches. But kept firmly within the context of his preaching and of these sermons, it has been shown that there was a breadth and width in DML-J’s soteriology that neither of these men would embrace. Hence, it is pushing language much too far to claim that they and DML-J are on the same side of this controversy.
 Selection #107.
 The meeting was held in Belfast, Northern Ireland in the early 1990s.
 1974:145, 146.
 Dr Alan C. Clifford in an email dated 17 August 2013.
 These undergird and guarantee the success of the Gospel in the world.
 Clifford, dated 27th July 2013.