The death of Christ was intended either for all people or some people. If the former be true, then Christ's death did not actually secure salvation for any; rather, it merely made salvation possible for all. However, the scriptures teach that Christ came to accomplish definite salvation for a definite number of people (Mt 1:21, Lk 19:10, Jn 6:37, Jn 17:1). Accordingly, the scriptures teach Christ was victorious unto this end (Rom 8:32, Rom 5:10, 2Cor 5:14, 2Tim 2:11).
If the death of Christ were intended for all people, then the fact not all people will be saved proves that conditions apart from the death of Christ are needful for salvation. The various denominations differ in their claims as to what these conditions are; however, all of the proposed conditions are sadly alike in one important regard; namely, not all people have had the opportunity to comply with them. It is inconsistent to claim God loved all people to the extent He would die for their salvation, but that He did not love all people to the extent He would give all opportunity to procure the benefits of this death.
Critics of special atonement frequently claim that God would be unfair if He did not give all men opportunity to be saved. Such reasoning fails to appreciate the fact that God is under no obligation to save anyone, and that salvation is therefore a gift of grace. Furthermore, if God is obligated to provide opportunity to all, then it follows that He is also obligated to give equal opportunity to all, yet experience plainly shows God has not done this.
The claim that God loved all men to the extent that Christ died for all men is inconsistent with what the scriptures teach about the love of God. This inconsistency occurs at several points:
1) Though God never deals unjustly with any man, the scriptures clearly teach that His grace is not extended in equal degrees to all men (Mt 11:25, Mt 20:1-16, Lk 4:25-27, Rom 9:11-24, 2Thes 2:13). In as much as grace derives from the love of God, varying degrees of grace imply varying degrees of love.
2) The scriptures teach God's corrective chastisement is upon all He loves. But the scriptures also teach not all are under this chastisement (Ps 93:12-13, 1Cor 11:32, Heb 12:6-8, Rev 3:19).
3) The scriptures teach God's love is effectual in the sense it produces change in those receiving it; however, in no case is the effect universally observed; therefore, the cause cannot be universally applied (1Jn 4:19, Tit 3:3-5, Eph 2:4-5).
4) God's love is presented as an assurance of salvation (2Tim 2:19, Rom 8:32, Rom 8:38), yet it could be of no assurance at all if others under this same love will finally be damned. Salvation is assured by God's love because He changes not (Is 49:15, Jer 31:3, Mal 3:6, Heb 13:5, Heb 13:8). The unchangeableness of His love implies that if He ever loved one to the extent that He would die for them and save them, then He will continue to love them to this same extent through all eternity.
Scriptures which refer to God loving the world or to Christ being given to the world (Jn 3:16, 1Jn 2:2) do not encompass all people without exception. Instead, such scriptures are intended to teach that God's love extends beyond the bounds of the Jewish people unto every nation, kindred, people and tongue (Rev 7:9). The term world is used repeatedly in the scriptures in a limited sense; however, this fact seldom receives proper recognition. In the Gospel of John alone there are such usages in: Jn 6:33, Jn 8:12, Jn 8:26, Jn 12:19, Jn 14:19, Jn 15:18, Jn 16:20, Jn 17:9, Jn 17:14, Jn 18:20. It is unfortunate that the few texts which are misinterpreted as teaching universal atonement are not interpreted in light of the many texts which describe Christ's work as being for a special group of people (Mt 1:21, Jn 10:11, Jn 11:51, Jn 15:13, Jn 17:1, Rom 8:32-33, Eph 5:25, Tit 2:14, Heb 9:15).