Part 1

Section 57—1 John 2:2.

And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for
the sins of the whole world

A very considerable argument for the universal extent of Christ's death is thought to arise[1] from this passage of scripture, as well as from all those which represent Christ as the Savior of the world;and it is observed, that whereas these scriptures are all, save one, in the writing of St. John, the sense which the world beareth in St. John's gospel and epistles, must be esteemed., in reason, the proper import of the word, where it never signifies the elect only, in opposition to the wicked of the world, but the wicked of the world in opposition to the faithful Christian.[2] To which I answer,

I. That there would be some weight in this observation if the word world was always used in one uniform and constant sense in the writings of the apostle John, whereas it admits of a variety of senses; and, therefore, the sense of it in one place cannot be the rule for the interpretation of it in another, which can only be prefixed as the text or context determine: sometimes it signifies the whole universe of created beings, (John 1:10); sometimes the habitable earth (John 16:28); sometimes the inhabitants of it, (John 1:10); sometimes unconverted persons, both elect and reprobate, (John 15:19); sometimes the worse part of the world, the wicked, (John 17:9); sometimes the better part of it, the elect, (John 1:29; 6:33, 51); sometimes a number of persons, and that a small one in comparison of the rest of mankind, (John 12:19); in one place it is used three times, and in so many senses, (John 1:10); he, that; is,Christ, was in the world,the habitable earth, and the world,the whole universe, was made by him, End the world,the inhabitants of the earth, knew him not; and which is not to be understood of them all, for there were some, though few who did know him: and I will venture to affirm, that the word world is always used in the apostle John's writings, in a restricted and limited sense, for some only, unless when it designs the whole universe, or habitable earth, senses which are out of the question, for none will say Christ died for the sun, moon, and stars,for fishes, fowls, brutes, sticks, and stones; and that it is never used to signify every individual of mankind that has been, is, or shall be in the world; in which sense it ought to be proved it is used, if any argument can be concluded from it in favor of general redemption.

II. It is most manifest that the word world,used by the apostle John when speaking of redemption and salvation by Christ, is always used in a limited and restrained sense, and signifies some persons only, and not all the individuals of human nature, as will appear from the consideration of the several passages following, as when the Baptist says (John 1:29), Behold the lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world!By the world cannot be meant every individual of mankind; for it is not true, it is not fact, that; Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, takes away the sin or sins of every individual man, since there are some who die in their sins, whose: sins go beforehand to judgment,and others they follow after,for which they will be righteously and everlastingly condemned; which can never be, if Christ taken away their sin Should it be said,[3] as it is, "That the Baptist speaks this in allusion to the lambs daily offered up for the sin of the whole Jewish nation; and, therefore, intimates, that as they were offered up to expiate the sins of the whole nation, so was this Lamb of God offered to expiate the sins of the whole world in general;"I reply, that as the lambs daily offered were typical of Christ, the Lamb of God, so the people, for whom they were offered, were typical, not of the whole world in general, but of the true Israel and church of God, for whom Christ gave himself an expiatory sacrifice, and whose sins he so takes away as they shall not be seen any more.

When our Lord says, that God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16),—by the world he cannot mean every son and daughter of Adam; for this world is represented as the object of God's love,even of his special love, which all men are not: as such to and for whom God has given his only-begotten Son,which is not true of all mankind; who are brought to believe in Christ, in consequence of God's love, and the gift of his Son, but all men have not faith; as such who shall never perish,though it is certain that some men will; and as such who shall have everlasting life,whereas some will go into everlasting punishment, and die the second death. The similitude of the brazen serpent lifted up for the preservation of the Jews, is insufficient to prove the redemption of all mankind: nor is it supposed, of this world, so beloved of God, that some would not believe, and therefore perish; and that others would, and be saved; for the phrase whosoever believeth,does not design a division of different persons, but a distinction of the same persons; who, in their unconverted state, believe not, but, through the power of divine grace, are brought to believe in Christ for life and salvation; and so it points out the way in which they are secured from perishing, and have everlasting life. Nor win it be the condemnation of infidels among the Heathens that they believed not in Christ, but their transgressions of the law of nature; nor of the unbelieving Jews, that they believed not Christ dies for them, but because they did not believe him to be the Messiah: nor do these words, taken in the universal sense, more magnify the love of God than when taken in a more restrained one; since according to this general scheme, men may be the objects of God's love, and have all interest in the gift of his Son, and yet finally perish, and come short of everlasting life. The words in the following verse (John 3:17; John 12:47), and which are elsewhere in the same manner expressed, that Christ came into the world not to condemn it,but to save it, are designed to point out the different ends of Christ's first and second coming. Again,

When the Samaritans declared their belief in Christ, that he was the Savior of the world (John 4:43; 1 John 4:14); and the apostle John says,that we have seen and do testify, that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world;by the world,cannot be intended every man and woman that has been, is, or shall be in the world, since every one is not saved; and Christ cannot be the Savior of more than are saved. Besides, was he the Savior of the world in this universal sense, he must be the Savior both of believers and unbelievers, contrary to his own words; He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned (Mark 16:16). Moreover,

When Christ says, The bread of God is he that cometh down from heaven and giveth life to the world (John 6:33); no more can be designed by the world than those to whom this bread of God gives life. Now it is certain, that spiritual life here, and everlasting life hereafter are not given to all men, and therefore all men cannot be intended here; only such who are quickened by the Spirit of God, and shall enjoy eternal life; and these are the world, for the life of which Christ promised to give his flesh,in this same chapter (John 6:51). Now from this consideration of all these passages, it will appear how weak, trilling, and inconclusive is the argument taken from hence in favor of universal redemption. But,

III. It may be said, if the world does not include every individual person in it, yet surely the phrase, the whole world,must: and when the beloved disciple says, And he is the propitiation for our sins and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2); these, his words, will not admit of a restrained sense, but must extend to all men.[4] To which I reply:

1. The phrase, the whole world,is frequently used by the Jews in a limited and restrained sense; as when they[5] report, "That it happened to a certain high priest, that when he went out of the sanctuary, aml[ ylwk, the whole world went after him;" which could only design the multitude in the temple; and where[6] it is said, " aml[ ylwk, the whole world has left the Misnah and gone after the Gemara;"which at most can only intend the Jews, and perhaps only a majority of their doctors; and in another[7] place, aml[ ylwk,the whole world fell upon their faces; but Raf did not fall on his face;" where it means no more than the congregation. Once more,[8] It is said, "When R. Sirecon Ben Gamaliel entered, that is, into the synagogue, aml[ ylwp, the whole world, that is, all the synagogue, stood up before him." Such phrases as these ygylp al aml[ ylwk, the whole world does not dissent; ydwm aml[ ylwk, the whole world confesseth; and yrbs aml[ ylwk, the whole world are of opinion, are frequently met with in the Talmud; by which is designed an agreement among the Rabbins in certain points; nay, sometimes two doctors only are meant by amy[ ylwk, the whole world.[9]

2. This phrase in scripture, unless where it signifies the whole universe, or habitable earth, is always used in a limited and restrained sense; a decree went out theft all the world should be taxed;which was no other than the Roman empire, and such countries as were subject to it. The faith of the church at Rome, was spoken of throughout the whole world,that is, throughout all the churches, and among all the saints in the world. All the world is said to become guilty before God by the law;which can be said of no more than were under that law, and so not true of all mankind; who, though all guilty by the law of nature, yet not by the law of Moses. The apostle tells the Colossians, that the gospel was come into all the world, and bringeth forth fruit;which, can design only real saints and true believers, in whom alone it brings forth fruit. An hour of temptation is spoken of, which shall come upon all the world, to trig them which dwell upon the earth;who can be no other than such who will then be in being, and cannot be thought to include all the individuals that have been in the world. All the world wondered after the beast;and yet there were some who did not receive his mark, nor worship him. Satan deceiveth the whole world;and yet it is certain, that the elect cannot be deceived by him. The whole world will be gathered together to the: battle of the great day of God Almighty;who are distinct from the saints, whom they will oppose (Luke 2:1; Romans 1:8; 3:19; Col. 1:6; Rev. 3:10; Rev. 12:9, 13:3).

3. This phrase in the writings of the apostle John, is used in a restrained sense, and does not extend to every individual of human nature, that has been, is, or shall be in the world, as it should be proved it does, to conclude an argument from it in favor of universal redemption. Now it is used but in one place besides the text under consideration, when it designs men, in all his writings, and that is in 1 John 5:19. And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness;where the whole world lying in wickedness, is manifestly distinguished from the saints, who are of God, and belong not to the world; and consequently the whole world is not to be understood of all the individuals in it. And it is easy to observe the like distinction in the text before us; for the sins of the whole world are opposed to our sins,the sins of the apostle, and others to whom he joins himself; who therefore belonged not to, nor were a part of the whole world, for whose sins Christ was a propitiation, as for theirs. That the whole world, for whom Christ is a propitiation, cannot intend every man and woman that, has been, is, or shall be in the world, appears from his being their propitiation;for whose sins he is a propitiation, their, sins are atoned for and pardoned, and their person: justified from all sin, and so shall certainly be glorified; which is not true of the whole world, taken in the large sense contended for. Besides, Christ is set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood (Rom. 3:25). The benefit of his propitiatory sacrifice, is only received and enjoyed through faith; so that in the event, it appears that Christ is a propitiation only for believers, a character which does not agree with all mankind. Add to this, that for whom Christ is a propitiation, he is also an advocate (v. 1), but he is not an advocate for every individual in the world; yea, there is a world he will not pray for, and consequently is no propitiation for. Once more, the design of the apostle in these words, is to comfort his little children,who might fall into sin through weakness and inadvertency, with the advocacy and propitiatory sacrifice of Christ; but what comfort would it yield to a distressed mind, to be told that Christ was a propitiation, not only for the sins of the apostles, and other saints,but for the sins of every individual in the world, even of those that are in hell? Would it not be natural for persons in such circumstances, to argue rather against than for themselves; and conclude, that inasmuch as persons might be damned, notwithstanding Christ's propitiatory sacrifice, that this might and would be their case? But,

4. For the better understanding the sense of this text, it should be observed, that the apostle John was a Jew, and writes to Jews,as Dr. Whitby himself observes,[10] and them chiefly, if not altogether, who were distinguished from the Gentiles, commonly called the world: now, says the apostle, He is a propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only,the sins of us Jews, but also for the sins of the whole world,the Gentiles. Nothing is more common in the Jewish writings,[11] than to call the Gentiles aml[, the world; and µlw[ lk, the whole world; and µlw[j twmwa, the nations of the world; hence the apostle Paul calls them ko>smov, the world, in Romans 11:12,15. It was a controversy agitated among the Jewish doctors, whether when the Messiah crone, the Gentiles, the world, should have any benefit by him; the majority was exceeding large on the negative of the question, and determined they should not; only some few, as old Simeon and others, knew that he should be a light to lighten the Gentiles, as well as the glory of the people of Israel.The rest concluded, that the most severe judgments and dreadful calamities would befall them; yea, that they should be cast into hell in the room of the Israelites.[12] This notion John the Baptist, Christ, and his apostles, purposely oppose, and is the true reason of the use of this phrase in the Scriptures which speak of Christ's redemption. Thus John the Baptist, when he pointed out the Messiah to the Jews, represents him as the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world,the Gentiles as well as the Jews; for by the blood of this Lamb, men are redeemed to God, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.When our Lord was discoursing with Nicodemus, one of their Rabbins, he lets him know that God so loved the world,the Gentiles, contrary to their rabbinical notions, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever of them that believeth on him, should not perish, as they had concluded every one of them should; but have everlasting life:and that God sent not his Son into the world, to conform the world,the Gentiles, as they imagined, but that the world through him might be saved.When the Samaritans believed in Christ, they declared him to the Savior of the world,the Gentiles, and so of themselves, who were accounted by the Jews as Heathens; Christ sets forth himself as the bread of life,preferable to the manna,among other things, from its extensive virtue to the world, the Gentiles: and here the apostle John says,that Christ was not only the propitiation for the sins of the Jews,but for the sins of the whole world,the Gentiles (John 1:29; 3:16,17; 4:42; 6:33; 1 John 2:2). This puts me in mind of a passage I have met with in the Talmud,[13] a saying of Rabbi Jochanan," We, says he, twmwal lsw[h, to the nations of the world, who are lost, and they know not that they are lost; whilst the sanctuary stood, the altar atoned, or was a propitiation for them; but now who shall be a propitiation for them?" Blessed be God, we know who is the propitiation for us, the nations of the world, one that was typified by the altar, and is greater than that, even the Lord Jesus Christ.


[1] Remonstr. in Coll. Hag. art. 2:p. 133; Curcellaeus, p. 358; Limborch, p. 321.

[2] Whitby, p. 127, 128. 184; ed. 2. 124,125,131.

[3] Ibid. p. 134.

[4] Whitby, p. 132; ed. 2. 129.

[5] Talmud. Roma, fol. 7l. 2.

[6] Bava Metzia, fol. 33.2.

[7] Megilla, fol. 22. 2.

[8] Horaiot fol. 13. 2.

[9] Vid. Mill. Formul. Talmud, p. 41,42.

[10] Page 466; ed. 2. 446.

[11] Talmud, Rabbet, and Zohar. Vid. Jarchi in Isaiah lilt. 5. Vid. Shemot Rabba, fol. 98. 3, and 99. l,: Shirhash, Rab. fol. 24.1.; Jarchi and Kimchi, in Zechariah 9:1.

[12] Vid. Shemot Radda, fol. 98. 3, and 99. 4: Shirhash, Rab. Fol. 24. 1; Jarchi and Kimchi, in Zechariah 9:1.

[13] Succa, fol. 55. 2.

Gill Index