A recent article by David Ponter got me thinking about some of the differences between election and atonement in God's sovereign plan of salvation. Here are a few important distinctions that came to mind . . .
Election is supra-historical (it took place outside of time as we know it, or what we call "history").
Atonement is a historical event (it happened at a specific time in history)
Election happened outside the world, in eternity, before the creation of the world.
Atonement happened in the world.
Role in Salvation
Election is essentially a plan and a decision to save
Atonement is the means by which the plan is executed
Relation to Sin
Election does not prevent sins or remove guilt
Atonement is the remedy for sin that has been committed (or will be committed) and the means of removing the resulting guilt.
Election took place in secret and outside the possibilities of empirical verification
Atonement took place in public and was verifiably witnessed
Election is totally free of human involvement, being God's choice alone
Atonement occurred through a compatibilistic action of God's will through the sinful choices of fallen humans, and by the righteous act of the incarnate God-Man.
Relation to the Incarnation
Election occurred independent of the incarnation, however it rendered the incarnation necessary
Atonement could not occur apart from the incarnation
Election only benefits believers
Atonement benefits everyone, and especially believers
Election is preached primarily to believers
Atonement is preached to everyone
Intended Effect of Preaching
The preaching of election is meant to encourage, edify and comfort believers
The preaching of the atonement is meant to induce initial repentance in unbelievers, and to edify believers
Primary Revelatory Purpose
Election reassures believers of God's eternal love
Atonement tells the whole world of God's love and justice
Relation to Human Will
Election is not offered, but decreed from eternity, and cannot be accepted or rejected
Atonement is offered to all people, to be accepted or rejected.
*Note that apart from the effectual call, the offered atonement is always rejected.
Relation to the General Call of the Gospel
Election has no bearing on the the general call of the Gospel, except that it guarantees that call will reach all of the elect
Atonement is the essential subject matter of the general call
Relation to the Effectual Call
Election determines who will receive an effectual call, and thus respond to the general call
Atonement is the essential subject matter of the effectual call, the fountain of irresistible grace
Relation to God's Will (Part A)
Election reflects God's specific choice to save particular sinners
Atonement reveals God's general desire to save sinners, by telling all sinners a way has been made for their salvation, yet it is also the means by which His particular will to save the elect is put in to effect
Relation to God's Will (Part B)
Election is a hidden decree of God
Atonement expresses God's revealed will to offer salvation to all, and is the means by which He fulfills His hidden decree to actually save some.
God is perfect in planning and in executing the plan.