1) The exhibiting of the Mediator is that, whereby the Son of God being born a man in the fulness of time, does pay the price of redemption to God for the sins of men. The virtue and efficacy of this price being paid, in respect of merit and operation is infinite, but yet it must be distinguished, for it is either potential or actual. The potential efficacy is, whereby the price is in itself sufficient to redeem every one without exception from his sins, albeit there were a thousand worlds of men. But if we consider that actual efficacy, the price is paid in the counsel of God, and as touching the event, only for those which are elect and predestinated. For the Son does not sacrifice for those, for whom he does not pray: because to make intercession and to sacrifice are conjoined: but he prays only for the elect and for believes, Joh. 17:9, and by praying he offers himself to his Father, vers. 19. William Perkins, “A Christian and Plaine Treatise of the Manner and Order of Predestination, and of the Largenes of Gods Grace,” in The Works of that Famous and Worthy Minister of Christ in the Universitie of Cambridge (Printed at London by Iohn Legatt, Printer to the Univeritie of Cambrdge, 1616), 2: 609[b]. [Some spelling modernized.]

2) Whereas Paul says, that all men with all that proceeds from them, is shut under sin, he teaches that all actions of men unregenerate are sins. “The wisdom of the flesh,” that is, the wisest cogitations, counsels, inclinations of the flesh, “are enemies with God,” Rom. 8:5, “To the unclean all things are unclean,” Tit. 1:15, “An evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit,” Matt. 7. It may be objected, that natural men may do the works of the moral law, as to give alms, and such like, Rom. 2:14. Answ. Sins to be two sorts. One is, when anything is done flat against the commandment of God. The second is, when the act or work is done which the law prescribes, yet not in the same manner which the law prescribes, in faith, in obedience to the glory of God. In this second regard moral works performed by natural men, are sins indeed. Hence it follows, that liberty of will in the doing of that which is truly good, is lost by the fall of Adam: and that man cannot by the strength of natural will, helped by grace, apply himself to the calling of God.

Whereas Paul says, that “the promise is given to believers,” it is manifest, that the promise is not universal in respect of all mankind, but only indefinite and universal in respect of believers. Wherefore their doctrine is not sound, that teach the redemption wrought by Christ, to be as general as the sin wrought by Adam. Indeed, if we regard the value of the sufficiency of the death of Christ, it is so: but if we respect the communication and donation of this benefit, it is not. For though all be shut under sin, yet the promise is only given “to them that believe.” It is objected, that “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself,” 2 Cor. 5:19. Answ. The text in hand shows that by “the world,” we are to understand all believers through the whole world. And whereas Paul says, “God shut up all under unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all,” Rom. 11:32. His meaning is here set down, that he shut both Jews and Gentiles under unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all that believe, both Jews and Gentiles. William Perkins, A Commentarie or Exposition Vpon the fiue first chapters of the Epistle to the Galatians (Printed at London by Iohn Legatt, Printer to the Vniversitie of Cambridge, 1617), 196. [Some reformatting; some spelling modernized; footnotes mine; and underlining mine.]

[Notes: 1) Jonathan Moore1 presents a compelling case that Perkins held to a limited expiation and satisfaction. However, there are some indications within Perkins’ writings which demonstrate that Moore’s summary does not quite capture the complexity and nuance within Perkin’s theology. A more likely situation is that Perkins represents theological language and categories in transition. That is, following Beza, Perkins retains certain categories reflective of classical Augustinian-Lombardian theology,2 but with emphasis shifting to the decretal intentionality as a theological starting point and governing principle which regulates and delimits the nature and extent of the death of Christ. The starting point for Calvin, Bulinger and Musculus, for example, was the revealed will of God, and not decretal speculations. 2) This interpretation, then, allows for continuities and discontinuities in expression between Perkins and Beza, on the one side, and men like John Owen and Francis Turretin, on the other. 3) This means that we can trace the development of “particularist” emphasis in Beza and Perkins, which becomes more and more prominent in men like Ames, then John Ball, down to Owen and Turretin. Further, the “deceretalism” of Perkins and Beza, thereby, comes to full expression in Owen and Turretin especially as both the lapsarian speculation Beza and Perkins fuses with emergent Federalist categories. 4) And this interpretation is further confirmed by the reality that by the time of Owen and Turretin, the sufficiency of Christ’s satisfaction is well and truly collapsed into the efficiency of the satisfaction: properly speaking, the death of Christ is sufficient only for the elect in actuality, and only for all men by means of a bare hypothesis alone. 5) With regard to Perkins, however, he can still use the traditional Lombardian wording regarding the classic “sufficient for all, efficient for the elect” formula, while yet inserting strong decretalist intentionality which restricts the work of Christ as a mission to die for, to redeem, and to expiation the sins of the elect alone. 6) Lastly, these notes and the comment from Perkins are readily offered provisionally in that increased understanding and further research may later sustain or challenge this interpretation of Perkins.]


1Jonathan D. Moore, English Hypothetical Universalism: John Preston and the Softening of Reformed Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Errdmans, 2007).

2As also embodied in the 39 Articles.

This entry was posted on Friday, October 21st, 2011 at 11:57 am and is filed under Sufficient for All, Efficient for the Elect. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 comments so far

Martin T

Am I the only one who finds Perkins position incoherent? On the one hand the ‘price is itself sufficient to redeem every one’ yet on the other hand the “price is paid … only for those which are elect”???
To put it another way he seems to be saying that Christ’s death, in and of itself, is unlimited in extent but, in so far as God accepts it as a satisfaction to divine justice it extends only to the elect. Or, to put it yet another way, the price is sufficient for all but was only accepted as a payment for the elect. Is that fair? If so, his position appears little different to the hypothetical sufficiency of Owen: the price would have been sufficient had it been paid for more than the elect. Would you agree?

Also, I take it this is the only pre-Dort modification of the formula you have found?

Many thanks,

December 29th, 2011 at 5:41 pm

Hey Martin,

I have to type out some more from Perkins on this. I found a good solid section which expands his thought. He clearly was transitional, at best–inchorent, at worst. He wants an unlimited price for all, following the classic Anselmian-Lombardian pattern of though, but with the idea that Christ only ‘satisfies for,’ ‘dies for,’ the elect alone. I can only conclude that he was attempting to hold on to two conflicting trajectories, the classic and the high. I think he wanted to make concessions to historic orthodoxy, thereby demonstrating his Augustinian-Anselmian orthodoxy credentials, but at the same time, and this is where he heart was truly was, sustain a consistent polemic for limited expiation and imputation of sin.

Part of this is that tension as various Reformed theologians of this period sorted through the respective paradoxes and tension points. And as you know, the settlement, for the limited expiation and imputation wing, was the rejection of the Anselmian-Lombardian language in the final analysis.

Being Transitional, I think Perkins is like Beza and like Sibbes, Sclater, Ball, and others following Perkins, by reflecting this transitional complexity of language.

Thanks for reading,

January 6th, 2012 at 11:49 am

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