Our thanks to 3rd Millenium Ministries for the below…
In Reformed theology we affirm the doctrine of definite atonement, which is sometimes called particular redemption, effective atonement or limited atonement (“limited” is not in reference to the power or value of Jesus’ death, but in reference to the number of people for whom Christ purchased salvation). Definite atonement is to be distinguished from two other prominent views of the atonement: universalism and general ransom. All three views, including definite atonement, affirm that Christ’s sacrifice is of infinite worth. General ransom and definite atonement both affirm that the free offer of the gospel comes genuinely from God to all those who hear the Good News of Christ. Universalism insists that everyone is saved, regardless of whether or not he or she responds positively to the gospel.
These three views can be most easily distinguished by looking at two different aspects of the atonement: (1) Jesus’ work on the cross by which he obtained salvation and (2) the Holy Spirit’s application of salvation to individuals. Universalism claims that Christ obtained salvation for everyone in the world and that the Holy Spirit applies salvation to everyone in the world so that all are saved. General ransom holds that although Christ obtained salvation for everyone in the world, the Holy Spirit applies salvation only to those who come to faith so that only these are actually saved. Definite atonement holds that Christ obtained salvation only for the elect and that the Holy Spirit applies salvation only to the elect.
According to general ransom, while Christ’s death made salvation possible for everyone in the world (both the elect and the reprobate), it did not make anyone’s salvation certain. Definite atonement, however, insists that the Holy Spirit will necessarily apply salvation to everyone for whom Christ died so that all for whom Christ died must eventually be saved.
Scripture speaks of God as having chosen for salvation a great number from the fallen human race (these are the “elect”) and as having sent Christ into the world to save them (John 6:37-40; 10:27-29; 11:51-52; Romans 8:28-39; Ephesians 1:3-14; 1Pe 1:20). Christ is regularly said to have died for particular groups or persons, with the clear implication that his death fully secured their salvation (John 10:15-18,27-29; Ro 5:8-10; 8:32; Galatians 2:20; 3:13-14; 4:4-5; 1John 4:9-10; Revelation 1:4-6; 5:9-10). Facing his suffering on the cross, Jesus prayed only for those whom the Father had given him, not for the “world” (i.e., the rest of humanity; John 17:9,20).
Nevertheless, it is also important to affirm the free offer of Jesus Christ in the gospel alongside the doctrine of definite atonement. It is a certain truth that whoever comes to Christ in faith will find mercy (John 6:35,47-51,54-57; Romans 1:16; 10:8-13). Those whom God has chosen hear Christ’s offer, and through hearing it, they are effectually called by the Holy Spirit. Both the invitation and the effectual calling flow from Christ’s sin-bearing death. Those who reject the offer of Christ do so because they choose to (Matthew 22:1-7; John 3:18), so their final perishing is their own fault. Those who receive Jesus learn to thank him for the fact that his blood fully cleansed them from all unrighteousness, for they know that without this working of his grace, all hope would have been lost.