“If you die in unbelief, Christ did not die for you.”

Ambrose of MilanI’ve seen Calvinists quote this (along with others like it) to demonstrate that the notion of limited atonement didn’t originate with Calvin or his followers. But I’m having a hard time tracking down the source. Neither Logos Bible Software nor the Internet have been able to get me any earlier than 1979.

Michael Horton quoted it twice in Putting Amazing Back into Grace: Embracing the Heart of the Gospel (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002). Unfortunately, he didn’t cite his source. Even worse, he attributed it to two different people: Ambrose of Milan (c. 337–397) and Anselm of Canterbury (c. 1033–1109).

Ambrose, a church father, said, “If you die in unbelief, Christ did not die for you.” Don’t think that didn’t make people think twice about the offer of Christ! (118)

Anselm lost a lot of friends over this one:

If you die in unbelief, Christ did not die for you. (247)

Prior to Horton, Erwin Lutzer referenced it in The Doctrines That Divide: A Fresh Look at the Historic Doctrines That Separate Christians, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1998).1 He attributed it to Anselm, but likewise didn’t cite his source—and curiously treated it not as an exact quotation but as his own wording and syntax (an unfortunate but all-too-common example of unintentional plagiarism).

Did anyone hold to the doctrine of particular atonement before the Synod of Dort? Yes, there are statements that imply that this doctrine was held by men such as Justin Martyr and Cyprian. Anselm said that if you die in unbelief, Christ did not die for you. Tyndale wrote that the blood of Christ puts away only the sins of the elect. (187)

Even earlier, Authur Custance quoted it in The Sovereignty of Grace (Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1979). He attributed it to Ambrose, but didn’t cite his source either.

Ambrose was surely right when he exclaimed, “If you die in unbelief, Christ did not die for you.” Christ died for no one in vain.

Google Books also turns up a result in Cyprian Davis, The Church: A Living Heritage (Morristown, NJ: Silver Burdett, 1982), but doesn’t let you see inside.

Elsewhere on the Internet, you’ll find this statement attributed to both Ambrose (3x) and Anselm (15x)—no doubt the result of Horton’s mistake. If a source for the quotation is given, it’s Horton (7x).

I have four questions that I’d like help answering:

  1. Who is the original source of this statement? Ambrose? Anselm? Someone else?
  2. Is it an exact quotation or a paraphrase?
  3. Where did Horton, Lutzer, and Custance find this? (And why didn’t they cite their source?)
  4. Why is there no apparent trail of this prior to 1979?

If you have any suggestions, please share them. I’d love to look at this statement in its original context.

Update: Thanks to Dax and Todd for the sources. Here’s are some updated points:

  1. Ambrose is the source of the statement, not Anselm.
  2. The Latin reads, “Si non credis, non descendit tibi non tibi passus est.” The source of the Latin is De fide 4.2.27.
  3. The full paragraph reads, “Grande ergo mysterium Christi quod stupuerunt & angeli. Et ideo uenerari debes, & domino famulus derogare non debes: ignorare non licet, propterea enim descendit ut credas. Si non credis, non descendit tibi non tibi passus est. Si non uenissem, inquit, & locutus suissem his, peccatum non haberet. Nunc autem excusationem non habent de peccato suo. Qui me odit, & patrem meu odit. Quis igitur odit Christum, nisi qui derogat? Sicut enim amoris est deferre, ita odn est derogare. qui odit, quæstiones mouet: qui amat, reuerentiam desert.”
  4. The English translation in the ECF reads, “If thou believest not, He has not come down for thee, has not suffered for thee.” It comes from Exposition of the Christian Faith, IV, II, 27. Ambrose of Milan, “Exposition of the Christian Faith,” trans. H. de Romestin, E. de Romestin and H. T. F. Duckworth in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume X: St. Ambrose: Select Works and Letters, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1896), 265.
  5. The full paragraph reads, “Great, therefore, is the mystery of Christ, before which even angels stood amazed and bewildered. For this cause, then, it is thy duty to worship Him, and, being a servant, thou oughtest not to detract from thy Lord. Ignorance thou mayest not plead, for to this end He came down, that thou mayest believe; if thou believest not, He has not come down for thee, has not suffered for thee. ‘If I had not come,’ saith the Scripture, ‘and spoken with them, they would have no sin: but now have they no excuse for their sin. He that hateth Me, hateth My Father also.’ Who, then, hates Christ, if not he who speaks to His dishonour?—for as it is love’s part to render, so it is hate’s to withdraw honour. He who hates, calls in question; he who loves, pays reverence.”
  6. Jerome Zanchius (aka Hieronymus Zanchius or Girolamo Zanchi) quotes Ambrose as saying, “si non credis, non tibi passus est” (notice the unidentified omission of non descendit tibi) and summarizes it “if you are an unbeliever, Christ did not die for you.” Jerom Zanchius, The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination Stated and Asserted, trans. Augustus Toplady (New York: George Lindsay, 1811), 81. He gives the source as Ambros. Tom. 2. de fid. ad. Grat. 1. 4. c. i.
  7. John Owen cites Ambrose in The Death of Death as saying, “Si non credis, non descendit tibi Christus, non tibi passus est.” And he translates it, “If thou believe not, Christ did not descend for thee, he did not suffer for thee.” Notice the insertion of Christus/Christ. John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold (Edinburg: T&T Clark), 10:423.
  8. Horton, Lutzer, and Custance quote a different English translation altogether, and it doesn’t line up well with the Latin. I’m still not sure where that version of Ambrose’s statement originated.
It appears that theologians are at times sloppy in how they handle their sources, resulting in variation and sometimes making it difficult to trace a quote to its original source.


  1. The first edition was published in 1989.

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4 Responses to “If you die in unbelief, Christ did not die for you.”

  1. Dax March 13, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    Hi Phil,

    Hey… this might help!

    Don’t have an original source, but one much earlier than 1979. Jerome Zanchius, in the 1500’s, attributed the phrase to Ambrose, in its latin form: si non credis, non tibi passus est.

    You can see the source in Toplady’s 1811 Translation on Google books of The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination Stated and Asserted, Chapter “Observations on the Divine Attributes,” Position 9.


    Lest you think I just know that (I don’t), I read it here: http://turretinfan.blogspot.com/2008_02_10_archive.html.

    In Him,

  2. Dax March 13, 2012 at 12:08 pm #

    Oh, and Zanchius does, I think, give a footnote on where he got the Ambrose statement from.

  3. Todd Phillips March 13, 2012 at 2:20 pm #

    It’s in Ambrose’s writings (De fide 4.2.27) in the Early Church Fathers (NPNF2 v10, pg 265), though the wording in that translation is different:

    “if thou believest not, He has not come down for thee, has not suffered for thee.”

    You can see the original Latin in Google books at this link: http://bit.ly/ynz6DW

  4. Phil Gons March 13, 2012 at 6:34 pm #

    Thanks, Dax and Todd. Nice research. That clears up a couple of my questions. The quote is a bit different from a literal rendering of the Latin, which doesn’t mention anything about dying in unbelief. I wonder what the source is for the present day rendering of the quote.