In this excerpt from his systematic theology text, Lewis Chafer explains that the cross is not the only saving instrument God employs to redeem His people. He argues against limited redemption partially on this basis:1
It is one of the points most depended upon by the limited redemptionists to claim that redemption, if wrought at all, necessitates the salvation of those thus favored. According to this view, if the redemption price is paid by Christ it must be exagoradzo or apolutrosis, rather than agoradzo, in every instance.
It is confidently held by all Calvinists that the elect will, in God’s time and way, every one, be saved, and that the unregenerate believe only as they are enabled by the Spirit of God; but the question here is whether the sacrifice of Christ is the only divine instrumentality whereby God actually saves the elect, or whether that sacrifice is a divine work, finished, indeed, with regard to its scope and purpose, which renders all men savable, but one applied in sovereign grace by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit only when the individual believes.
Certainly Christ’s death of itself forgives no sinner, nor does it render unnecessary the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. Any one of the elect whose salvation is predetermined, and for whom Christ died, may live the major portion of his life in open rebellion against God and, during that time, manifest every feature of depravity and spiritual death. This alone should prove that men are not severally saved by the act of Christ in dying, but rather that they are saved by the divine application of that value when they believe. The blood of the passover lamb became efficacious only when applied to the door post.
The fact that an elect person does live some portion of his life in enmity toward God and in a state in which he is as much lost as any unregenerate person, indicates conclusively that Christ must not only die to provide a righteous basis for the salvation of that soul, but that that value must be applied to him at such a time in his life as God has decreed, which time, in the present generation, is almost two thousand years subsequent to the death of Christ. By so much it is proved that the priceless value in Christ’s death does not save the elect, nor hinder them from rejecting the mercies of God in that period of their life which precedes their salvation.
The unlimited redemptionist claims that the value of Christ’s death is extended to all men, but the elect alone come, by divine grace wrought by an effectual call, into its fruition, while the nonelect are not called, but are those passed by. They hold that God indicates who are the elect, not at the cross, but by the effectual call and at the time of regeneration.
It is also believed by the unlimited redemptionists that it pleased God to place the whole world in a position of infinite obligation to Himself through the sacrifice of Christ, and though the mystery of personal condemnation for the sin of unbelief when one has not been moved to faith by the Spirit cannot be solved in this world, the unregenerate, both elect and nonelect, are definitely condemned for their unbelief so long as they abide in that estate (John 3:18).
There is nothing more clarifying in connection with this agelong discussion than the recognition of the fact that while they are in their unregenerate state, no vital distinction between the elect and the nonelect is recognized in the Scriptures (1 Cor. 1:24 and Heb. 1:14 might suggest this distinction along lines comparatively unimportant to this discussion).
Certainly, that form of doctrine which would make redemption equivalent to salvation is not traceable when men are contemplated in their unregenerate state, and that salvation which is delayed for many years in the case of an elect person might be delayed forever in the case of a nonelect person whose heart God never moves.
Was the objective in Christ’s death one of making the salvation of all men possible, or was it the making of the salvation of the elect certain? Some light is gained on this question when it is thus remembered that the consummating divine acts in the salvation of an individual are wrought when he believes on Christ, and not before he believes.
1 Lewis S. Chafer, Systematic Theology, 8 vols. (Dallas: DTS, 1948), 3:193-194.