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Calvin and Calvinism » Sufficient for All, Efficient for the Elect

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1) Q 20. Are all men, then, as they perished in Adam, saved by Christ? Ans: No; only those engrafted into him, and receive all his benefits by truth faith.

Having explained the mode of our deliverance through Christ, we must now inquire carefully who are made partakers of this deliverance, and in what manner it is effected; whether all, or only some are made partakers thereof. If none are made partakers of it, it has been accomplished in vain. This twentieth question is, therefore, preparatory to the doctrine of faith, without which neither the Mediator, nor the preaching of the gospel, would be of any advantage. At the same time it provides a remedy against carnal insecurity, and furnishes an answer to that base calumny which makes Christ the minister of sin.

The answer to this question consists of two parts:–Salvation through Christ is not bestowed upon all who perished in Adam; but only upon those who, by a true faith, are engrafted into Christ, and receive all his benefits.

The first part of this answer is clearly proven by experience, and the word of God. “He that believes not the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” “Not every one that says unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.” “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:36; 3:3; Matt. 7:21.) The reason why all are not saved through Christ, is not because of any insufficiency of merit and grace in him–for the atonement* of Christ is for the sins of the whole world, as it respects the dignity and sufficiency of the satisfaction which he made–but it arises from unbelief; because men reject the benefits of Christ offered in the gospel, and so perish by their own fault, and not because of any insufficiency in the merits of Christ. The other part of the answer is also evident from the Scriptures. “As many as received him to them, gave he power to become the sons of God.” “By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many.” (John 1: 12. Is. 53 : 11.) The reason why only those who believe are saved, is, because they alone lay hold of, and embrace the benefits of Christ; and because in them alone God secures the end for which he graciously delivered his Son to death; for only those that believe know the mercy and grace of God, and return suitable thanks to him.

The sum of this whole matter is therefore this: that although the satisfaction of Christ, the mediator for our sins, is perfect, yet all do not obtain deliverance through it, but only those who believe the gospel, and apply to themselves the merits of Christ by a true faith. Zacharias Ursinus, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, trans., G.W. Willard (Philipsburg, New Jersey: P&R, 1994), 106. [*Expiation is the better translation here, rather than atonement.]

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Hague Conference

4. That to this end He has first of all presented and given to them his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, whom He delivered up to the death of the cross in order to save his elect, so that, although the suffering of Christ as that of the only-begotten and unique Son of God is sufficient unto the atonement of the sins of all men, nevertheless the same, according to the counsel and decree of God, has its efficacy unto reconciliation and forgiveness of sins only in the elect and true believer.

“The Counter Remonstrance (1611)” in, Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, ed., James T. Dennison, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books, 2014), 4: 46-47.[underlining mine and footnotes mine]

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Obj. It is said, Christ died for all; “‘he is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world,” John i. 29., how doth this consist with God’s truth, when some are vessels of wrath, Rom. ix. 22.”

Ans. 1. We must distinguish of world. The word is taken either in a limited sense, for the world of the elect; or in a larger sense, for both elect and reprobates. “Christ takes away the sins of the world,” that is, the world of the elect.

A. 2. We must distinguish of Christ’s dying for the world. Christ died sufficiently for all, not effectually. There is the value of Christ’s blood, and the virtue; Christ’s blood hath value enough to redeem the whole world, but the virtue of it is applied only to such as believe. Christ’s blood is meritorious for all, not efficacious. All are not saved, because some put away salvation from them, Acts xiii. 46., and vilify Christ’s blood, counting it an unholy thing, Heb. x. 29.

Thomas Watson, “A Body of Practical Divinity,” in The Select Works of Thomas Watson (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 71-72. [Some reformatting.]

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We have Redemption, i.e. the faithful, God’s elect, which are members of Christ’s mystical body. The Angels, which fell from that pure estate wherein they were created, could never attain unto it again. But such was the rich favor of God towards Man, that he united human nature to Christ’s divinity, and gave to men that dignity, to be called his sons. Shall we think, that God has endued man with so many excellencies more, not only than any, but than all the creatures of the world besides, to leave them in such estate, that they had been happier if they had never been born. We have a righteous judge, and rather than he proceeded in rigor of judgement, he will provide a sacrifice for himself, to be offered up in our names, and all the benefit shall redound to us and our posterity. Yet all men are not redeemed but some of all sorts. Christ died sufficiently for all, but effectually only for some. In his death he intended a price of such extent in value and worth, as should be of power to save all, and therefore should be offered indifferently to all, but in his eternal counsel and love, he paid this price only for them, to whom in love he intends the fruit and benefit thereby. There is a world of men, of whom John 17. verse 9, Christ says, “I pray not for the world, but for them that thou hast given me out of the world.” If all men had the gifts of grace, and the merits of Christ’s passion, where were God’s justice? If no man had redemption, an hope of salvation, where were his mercy? Deus in suâ misericordiâ voluit per Justitiam. In his mercy he might save all, but in his justice he could not. Neither is God the cause why any man does perish. For Christ is the sufficient sacrifice to save all men. But death and destruction came from the incredulity and unbelief of man. As the sun is in itself sufficient to enlighten all men, yet the blind for want of sight cannot enjoy the use thereof. So Christ’s death was a sufficient ransom for all, but the reprobate (for want of faith) cannot apprehend it. An easy condition of so great a benefit. He requires us not to earn peace, but to accept it of him. What could he give more? Would could he require beside of us? With men, it is a good rule to try, and then to trust. With God, it is contrary: We must first trust him (as most wise, omnipotent, merciful) and try him afterwards.

Joseph Perkins, The Redemption of Mankind by the Passion of Our Lord. A Sermon Preached on Palm-Sunday at Kintbury, in the County of Berks (London: Printed, and are to be Sold by Randal Taylor, near Stationers-Hall), 7-8. [Some reformatting; some spelling modernized; and italics original.]

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R.C. Sproul (1939-) on the Revised Sufficiency-Efficiency Formula

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism


My point is that there is confusion about what the doctrine of limited atonement actually teaches. However, I think that if a person really understands the other four points and is thinking at all clearly, he must believe in limited atonement because of what Martin Lurher called a resistless logic. Still, there are people who live in a happy inconsistency. I believe it’s possible for a person to believe four points without believing the fifth, although I don’t think it’s possible to do it consistently or logically. However, it is certainly a possibility given our proclivity for inconsistency.

To begin to unravel the misconceptions about this doctrine, let’s look first at the question of the value of the atoning sacrifice ofJesus Christ. Classical Augustinianism teaches that the atonement of Jesus Christ is sufficient for all men. That is, the sacrifice Christ offered to the Father is of infinite value. There is enough merit in the work of Jesus to cover the sins of every human being who has ever lived and ever will live. So there is no limit to the value of the sacrifice He made. There is no debate about this.

Calvinists make a distinction between the sufficiency and the efficiency of the atonement. That distinction leads to this question: was Jesus’ death efficient for everybody? In other words, did the atonement result in everyone being saved automatically? Jesus’ work on the cross was valuable enough to save all men, but did His death actually have the effect of saving the whole world?

This question has been debated for centuries, as noted above. However, if the controversy over limited atonement was only about the value of the atonement, it would be a tempest in a teapot because the distinction between the sufficiency and efficiency of the atonement does not define the difference between historic Reformed theology and non-Reformed views such as Semi-Pelagianism and Arminianism. Rather, it merely differentiates between universalism and particularism. Universalists believe that Jesus’ death on the cross did have the effect of saving the whole world. Calvinism disagrees strongly with this view, but historic Arminianism and dispensationalism also repudiate universalism. Each of these schools of thought agrees that Christ’s atonement is particular and not universal in the sense that it works or effects salvation only for those who believe in Christ, so that the atonement does not automatically save everybody. Therefore, the distinction between the sufficiency and efficiency of Jesus’ work defines particularism, but not necessarily the concept of limited atonement.

R.C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Orlando, Florida: Reformation Trust, 2007), 142-144.

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