In English Baptist circles John Gill was noted for taking a high Calvinist position, and this eventually led, among some Baptists, to Hyper-Calvinism – the belief that the gospel should only be preached to those who show some signs that they might be elect, and that faith is possible only after salvation. Hyper-Calvinism, in turn, was opposed by Andrew Fuller, who stressed the free offer of the gospel.
A major part of the problem is that the discussion about the extent of the atonement took place in the context of a broader discussion about God's eternal decree. The inherent difficulty here is that this involves probing into the mental processes of the Deity to discern His exact purposes in redemption. It can be argued that any attempt on the part of a finite human being to plumb the depths of the infinite wisdom of God is ludicrous on the face of it. All that we can really know about God's intentions is what He has been pleased to reveal to us in His Word, and He has undoubtedly not chosen to reveal everything. And it should be apparent that the inscrutable counsel of God cannot be broken down into a neat outline of interrelated decrees.
How are we to understand the atonement, then? The biblical answer is to understand it in terms of union with Christ. Christ died at a specific time and place in history, and His death is of infinite worth and value – sufficient to atone for the sins of the entire human race. On this everyone agrees. The entire human race is then invited to repent and believe on Christ, and to receive the forgiveness of their sins. But no one actually receives the benefits of Christ's death until he personally believes on Christ. It is at this point that he is united to Christ, and participates vicariously n Christ's death, burial and resurrection. His guilt is imputed to Christ, and Christ's righteousness is imputed to him. In other words, even though Christ died 2,000 years ago, the justification of the individual sinner does not actually take place until that sinner personally repents and believes. The death of Christ then becomes vicarious by virtue of the believer's union with Christ.
Thus, when viewed from eternity, the orthodox Calvinist position makes perfectly good sense. Christ died in the place of the whole body of the elect – all those who would eventually become united with Him by faith. He acted as their substitute and covenant head. But there is also much to be said for the Amyraldian position as well. God has a general love for all mankind, and has invited all to receive the forgiveness of their sins on the condition of faith.
It should also be pointed out that it is entirely possible that God might have more than one purpose in the death of Christ. One purpose is obviously to secure infallibly the salvation of the elect. But might not another purpose be to render the wicked utterly inexcusable in the Day of Judgment, by freely offering them a salvation which they in turn reject? We think that this is likely so.
So then the atonement is an actual redemption of the elect. It is a real substitution and it is a real payment of a debt. But it is also a bona fide offer of salvation to the entire human race. Consequently we believe that both particular redemption and the free offer of the gospel are taught in the Bible, and together they form the twin pillars of evangelistic preaching.