Is the Atonement sufficient for all ?

civic

Well-known member
Among those who generally accept the doctrine of a definite or limited atonement, it is often heard by way of explanation that "the atonement is sufficient for all, but efficient only for the elect." In fact this terminology may be found in some of the most respected Reformed theologians such as Hodge, Shedd, Buswell and others. While no Calvinist would deny the intrinsic sufficiency of Christ's death for the redemption of all men had God so designed and intended it, I find the use of such phraseology dubious.

Maintaining the infinite intrinsic value of Christ's death is not the same as saying "He died sufficiently for all men and efficiently only for the elect." The latter seems to ascribe to Christ a purpose or intention to die in the place of all men, and to benefit all by the proper effects of His death as an atonement or propitiation. This inference is not supported by a scriptural view of the nature of the atonement or by the Calvinistic understanding of limited atonement. My purpose here is to show that this phraseology is ultimately meaningless and fails to adequately perceive the nature of the atonement. In the final analysis, it does not distinguish a definite atonement from a general or universal atonement.1

Why is the term "sufficient for all" used in discussing the atonement?​


It is with some interest that we look at some of the probable reasons why such language has become rather common in discussions of this matter. Primarily, the use of this terminology seems to be an attempt to soften the impact of the doctrine of limited atonement on the natural mind, for it is indeed no simple matter of understanding. Most people don't want a theological treatise as an explanation, they just want a simple answer (and in no more than three minutes, if you please). So we say, "His death was sufficient for all, but efficient only for the elect." This may be brief and easy to remember, but accuracy and integrity have been sacrificed for the sake of brevity. Its use anticipates objections to the doctrine and pretends to diffuse those objections by declaring a universal application of the atonement. Rather than providing a real answer, however, it only deflects the potential objections and often leaves the questioner unsatisfied or at least scratching his head, wondering what it really means.

This statement has been used by good solid Calvinists who have no intention of giving way on the doctrine of limited atonement, but that does not make it valid or advisable phraseology. There appear to be several underlying reasons why this statement has been used. I believe the following are representative of those reasons:
  • There is a fear that God might be charged with injustice if an atonement is not somehow provided for all.
  • A universal aspect of the atonement is perceived as necessary for a bona fide offer of the gospel to all men.
  • The atonement must somehow be designed for the non-elect in order to render them inexcusable for their unbelief.
  • Since Christ in His person is divine and infinite, so must be His work on the cross; therefore His death is sufficient for all

Considered together there may be some semblance of rationale for the "sufficient for all" statement, but I hope to show that considered separately, the reasons are either invalid or the concern can be and should be answered another way. Let's take a look at these reasons individually.

First, that there is a fear that God might be charged with injustice if an atonement is not somehow provided for all.

Answer: Mercy extended to some but not all, is not to be perceived as injustice. As R. C. Sproul has suggested, all the potential acts of God may fall under two categories: justice and non-justice. Under non-justice, however, we have the sub categories of injustice and mercy. Mercy is not justice, but it is certainly not injustice. God cannot be charged with injustice. We seem to think that if God doesn't treat everyone exactly the same, and provide mercy to all alike, then He is unjust. This is simply false reasoning and a good example of the effect of the Fall on man's ability to think straight. It fails to stand up to either the Scriptures or logic.

Secondly, that a universal aspect of the atonement is perceived as necessary for a bona fide offer of the gospel to all men. Answer: The truth of the gospel is to be proclaimed to all men. For example, "All men are under condemnation and hell bound because of their sin. There is no escape apart from faith in Christ. By the grace of God, all who believe in him are forgiven and shall be saved. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved!" Now this truth is not dependent on a universal aspect or universal intent to the atonement. In fact, the extent of the atonement and its sufficiency or efficiency have no direct bearing on the message.

According to J. I. Packer, "Preaching the gospel is not a matter of telling people that God has set His love on each of them and Christ has died to save each of them. The knowledge of being the object of God's eternal love and Christ's redeeming death belongs to the individual's assurance . . . which is to be inferred from the fact that one has believed, not proposed as the reason one should believe."2

Or, as John Owen has said, "There are none called by the gospel even once to enquire after the purpose and intention of God concerning the particular object of the death of Christ, everyone being fully assured that His death shall be profitable to them that believe in him and obey him."3 The preacher's task is to explain man's need of Christ, His sufficiency to save, and His offer of Himself as Savior to all who truly turn to Him. If you are proclaiming a gospel message that demands a universal provision in the atonement, you are not proclaiming the gospel of the Scriptures.

Thirdly, that the atonement must somehow be designed for the non-elect in order to render them inexcusable for their unbelief. Answer: If Christ did not provide an atonement sufficient for all without exception, wouldn't we still be to blame for our perishing? Wouldn't we still be forced to say, "We are without excuse?" Why must we think that it is the provision of an atonement that renders men inexcusable? The Apostle Paul never discusses atonement in terms of rendering men inexcusable or as a basis for condemnation! The atonement is not designed to render men inexcusable, but rather it is designed to save some of those who already stand before God without excuse. The particularity of the atonement needs no more apology than the particular nature of the effectual call or unconditional election. Can you imagine using the same phraseology with these doctrines? -- "The effectual call is sufficient for all but efficient only for the elect." Or, "God's unconditional election is sufficient for all but efficient only for the elect." Here I think we see a little of the meaningless nature of such a statement.


 

civic

Well-known member
Continued :


Fourthly, that since Christ in His person is divine and infinite, so must be His work on the cross; therefore His death is sufficient for all. Answer: "It is a non sequitur to move from the deity of the sacrifice to the sufficiency for every individual person. Such a conclusion assumes that the Deity can perform nothing by measure."4 In His feeding of the five thousand, Jesus multiplied the loaves by a divine act. Yet all the loaves in the world were not multiplied, only the ones He handled and blessed for the five thousand. Again, it was a divine act (and thus infinite) that raised Lazarus from the grave. Yet this was limited to Lazarus. To say that the raising of Lazarus was sufficient for all but efficient for Lazarus makes little sense if any. It is obvious that Christ had the power to raise whomever He chose. The fact is He chose to raise only Lazarus, and His divine actions were limited to that.

Perhaps more to the point, Christ's nature, being divine and thus infinite, does not increase the intensity or quantity of that which was laid on Him at the cross. However, His nature does enable Him to bear whatever it might have been. Our sins are not infinite, and we are not infinite; it is Christ who is infinite. Christ bore the penalty for the sins of a finite number of people. His divine nature ensured that He would successfully bear the eternal wrath due to those sins, no matter how great or how many. His atonement is sufficient for all whom it was intended. It is sufficient for all whose sins were laid on Him, no matter how many. The question is, Was Christ a real substitute for, and did He bear the punishment due to, all men or some? The doctrine of limited atonement says some, the elect, or else all would be saved. To say that His death was sufficient for all, or that His atonement was sufficient for all, certainly implies otherwise.

While our motive may be to help someone understand a particular truth regarding the doctrine of atonement, I don't think the use of such language is the way to do it. If the above reasons for using this terminology are not valid, which I have attempted to show, then the term "sufficient for all" is unnecessary. In fact it is not only unnecessary but inappropriate. It is inappropriate because there is a tendency for error to be introduced by such language. If we use language that is theologically inaccurate, which is true of the case at hand, then we will soon find ourselves entertaining erroneous theological ideas in order to explain our dubious terminology. In this case, how does one explain the rational difference between an atonement that is "sufficient" for all men and one that is "efficient" for those who are saved?

What errors are there in the "sufficiency for all" view?​


One error of this view is found in its lack of precise distinction between atonement and the effectual call. By maintaining that Christ's death was sufficient for all, but efficient for the elect, there is a tendency to define the extent of the atonement in terms of personal application by the Holy Spirit.

An example can be found in the work of W. G. T. Shedd, an eminent Calvinist theologian of the nineteenth century who adopts the "sufficient for all" view. In Shedd's discussion of the extent of the atonement he differentiates between passive and active meanings. Passively, he claims, "the extent of the atonement is unlimited." Actively, which he says denotes the act of extending, it is limited. Shedd goes on:

The extent of the atonement in this sense [active] means its personal application to individuals by the Holy Spirit. The extent is now the intent. The question, What is the extent of the atonement? now means: To whom is the atonement effectually extended?5

This essentially identifies the doctrine of effectual calling with atonement! It removes any efficacy from the atonement itself and makes Christ's work on the cross merely tentative! If He has died for all sufficiently and the only particularity is in the personal application by the Spirit, then I cannot see how one distinguishes this from the universal atonement of the Arminians, who claim that Christ died for all men, with its benefits accruing only to those who believe. The difference between the two does not lie in the atonement, but in the Spirit's effectual calling.

Shedd's problem is that he has decided to say "Christ's death is sufficient for all" and now he must try and explain what he means by it. While his particular reasoning may be somewhat unique, his basic solution is not. In order to find some significant difference between sufficiency and efficiency he turns to the application work of the Spirit. This is a typical problem for the "sufficiency" view, and the solution in this case is erroneous.

In another attempt to explain how Christ's death is sufficient for all, Alexander Hodge has taken a different approach. He states that the atonement has objectively "removed the legal impediments out of the way of all men."6 This explanation has become quite popular, but it is not without its inherent problems.

If all legal obstacles to a man's salvation have been removed then what hinders his being saved? You say his unbelief? Logically then, the only reason men are condemned is unbelief. But is not unbelief a sin for which Christ suffered the legal penalties? Certainly, for even the elect were guilty of unbelief at one time. Do we then say that persistent unbelief is in a different category as some have suggested? What then about the man who never had the opportunity to disbelieve? If all the legal obstacles to his salvation have been removed and he never hears of Jesus, then certainly no just reason remains why he should be condemned. Is he then saved? If so, it is better that I tell no one the gospel. If not, then for what is he condemned? I have yet to hear a satisfactory answer.

In addition, if every legal obstacle is removed for all men, there is no basis for the wrath of God continuing upon any man. To remove the legal obstacles is to satisfy God's justice and His wrath. Why then does Scripture persist in teaching otherwise? "For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come," Col. 3:6. And again, "because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience," Eph. 5:6. The answer is that the legal obstacles have not been removed for all men but for the elect, all those for whom Christ died, so that "He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus," Rom. 3:26. The wrath of God and the justice of God are satisfied for those for whom Christ was a substitute, and that is not all men, but by His grace it is some.

That Christ was entirely capable in His person and by His death of gaining satisfaction for all the sins of all men is not in question. But to say that the actual atonement was sufficient for all men, in all that is meant by the word atonement, must be questioned. To present the atonement as being sufficient for all will prevent understanding its nature in terms of a real satisfaction and a real penal substitution. This is seen in many contemporary treatments of the atonement which seek to interpret Christ's death with little or no reference to God's law, justice, or holy wrath. In fact, many have entirely rejected the specific penal substitution concept as antiquated or immoral or both. Also, "to remove the necessary connection between atonement and satisfaction of divine justice denudes Christ's death of all its moral sublimity and reduces it to an amazing piece of romantic extravagance."7

Therefore, if we, as Calvinists, confidently affirm the substitutionary and legal-penal aspects of the atonement, we must resist applying this concept to all men without exception by saying it is sufficient for all. To do so relegates the atonement to a non-effectual state and necessarily contains elements of non-substitution.

 

civic

Well-known member
Continued :

Concluding Remarks​


To say that Christ's death on the cross provided an atonement sufficient for all is to specifically suggest that He has atoned for the sins of all men, which is essentially a universal atonement. This is a false conception and makes us, along with those who hold to a universal atonement, say the opposite of what we mean. As J. I. Packer has aptly stated,

We want (rightly) to proclaim Christ as Savior; yet we end up saying that Christ, having made salvation possible, has justify us to become our own saviors. It comes about this way. We want to magnify the saving grace of God and the saving power of Christ. So we declare that God's redeeming love extends to every man, and that Christ has died to save every man, and we proclaim that the glory of divine mercy is to be measured by these facts. And then, in order to avoid universalism, we have to depreciate all that we were previously extolling, and to explain that, after all, nothing that God and Christ have done can save us unless we add something to it; the decisive factor which actually saves us is our own believing. What we say comes to this-that Christ saves us with our help; and what that means is this-that we save ourselves with Christ's help.

This is a hollow anticlimax. But if we start by affirming that God has a saving love for all, and Christ died a saving death [sufficient] for all, and yet balk at becoming universalists, there is nothing else that we can say. And let us be clear on what we have done when we put the matter in this fashion. We have not exalted grace and the cross; we have cheapened them. We have limited the atonement far more drastically than [consistent] Calvinism does, for whereas Calvinism asserts Christ's death saves all whom it was meant to save, we have denied that Christ's death, as such, is sufficient to save any of them.8

Endnotes​

1 Thomas J. Nettles has expressed this same viewpoint as part of a larger argument in By His Grace and for His Glory (Baker, 1986, pp. 305-315). I have borrowed several thoughts and examples from him, not all of which are footnoted.
2 J. I. Packer, Introductory Essay to John Owen's, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, Banner of Truth, pp. 18-19. Italics mine.
3 John Owen, Ibid., p. 296.
4 Nettles, Op. cit., p. 308.
5 W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 2:464. Bracket mine.
6 A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, p. 417.
7 Nettles, Op. cit., p. 313.
8 J. I. Packer, Op. cit., pp. 16-17. Inserted brackets mine.
Copyright 1995 by Jim Ellis

hope this helps !!!
 
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TomFL

Guest
Continued :

Concluding Remarks​


To say that Christ's death on the cross provided an atonement sufficient for all is to specifically suggest that He has atoned for the sins of all men, which is essentially a universal atonement. This is a false conception and makes us, along with those who hold to a universal atonement, say the opposite of what we mean. As J. I. Packer has aptly stated,

We want (rightly) to proclaim Christ as Savior; yet we end up saying that Christ, having made salvation possible, has justify us to become our own saviors. It comes about this way. We want to magnify the saving grace of God and the saving power of Christ. So we declare that God's redeeming love extends to every man, and that Christ has died to save every man, and we proclaim that the glory of divine mercy is to be measured by these facts. And then, in order to avoid universalism, we have to depreciate all that we were previously extolling, and to explain that, after all, nothing that God and Christ have done can save us unless we add something to it; the decisive factor which actually saves us is our own believing. What we say comes to this-that Christ saves us with our help; and what that means is this-that we save ourselves with Christ's help.

This is a hollow anticlimax. But if we start by affirming that God has a saving love for all, and Christ died a saving death [sufficient] for all, and yet balk at becoming universalists, there is nothing else that we can say. And let us be clear on what we have done when we put the matter in this fashion. We have not exalted grace and the cross; we have cheapened them. We have limited the atonement far more drastically than [consistent] Calvinism does, for whereas Calvinism asserts Christ's death saves all whom it was meant to save, we have denied that Christ's death, as such, is sufficient to save any of them.8

Endnotes​

1 Thomas J. Nettles has expressed this same viewpoint as part of a larger argument in By His Grace and for His Glory (Baker, 1986, pp. 305-315). I have borrowed several thoughts and examples from him, not all of which are footnoted.
2 J. I. Packer, Introductory Essay to John Owen's, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, Banner of Truth, pp. 18-19. Italics mine.
3 John Owen, Ibid., p. 296.
4 Nettles, Op. cit., p. 308.
5 W. G. T. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 2:464. Bracket mine.
6 A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology, p. 417.
7 Nettles, Op. cit., p. 313.
8 J. I. Packer, Op. cit., pp. 16-17. Inserted brackets mine.
Copyright 1995 by Jim Ellis

hope this helps !!!
The original Lombard formula references a real sufficiency meaning there was an atonement for all

that got changed later by Calvinist theologians to a hypothetical sufficiency

That is if Christ had died for the non elect his blood would have been sufficient for them

I would agree a hypothetical sufficiency is no real sufficiency

However scripture over and over points to Christ having died for all


Christ died for all verse list



John 3:14–16
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 1:7
The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.
John 4:42
And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.
John 6:33
For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.
John 12:32
And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.
Romans 5:18
Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.
1 Corinthians 15:3–11
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; 4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: 5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: 6 After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. 7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. 8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me. 11 Therefore whether it were I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.
2 Corinthians 5:14–15
14 For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: 15 And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.
2 Corinthians 5:18–21
18 And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. 20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God. 21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
1 Timothy 2:4–6
4 Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; 6 Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.
1 Timothy 4:10
For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.
Titus 2:11
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men,
Hebrews 2:9
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.
Hebrews 9:28
So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.
2 Peter 2:1
But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
2 Peter 3:9
The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
John 11:51
And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation;
1 John 2:2
And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 Timothy 4:10
For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.
1 John 4:14
And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.
John 12:47–48
47 And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. 48 He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.
Isaiah 53:6
All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned every one to his own way; And the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.


Exported from Logos Bible Software, 2:35 PM September 04, 2021.
 

ReverendRV

Well-known member
@civic the OP is very persuasive and this is the first time I have heard it presented this way. I will have to reread it a few times and study this topic more in depth . Thank you .
Consider that Jesus tells us in the Parable of the Sower, that if the Seed were not removed from the Trodden Soil, Jesus would have had to Heal it. If Jesus would have had to Save the Reprobate Believer, would he have needed to be Crucified again since the one blood Atonement is insufficient for the Reprobate?
 
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TomFL

Guest
@civic the OP is very persuasive and this is the first time I have heard it presented this way. I will have to reread it a few times and study this topic more in depth . Thank you .
Scripture should be more persausive

 

ReverendRV

Well-known member
Scripture should be more persausive

Since all Scripture is good for Doctrine, isn't it true that Doctrine is persuasive?
 

civic

Well-known member
Scripture should be more persausive

It was persuasive as there were 8 passages referenced in the OP
 
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TomFL

Guest
It was persuasive as there were 8 passages referenced in the OP
There were far more than that teaching an unlimited atonement

With a quick look I saw about 3 and one allusion

Not one spoke of who Christ died for

so even if there were 8 how many actually addressed the subject
 
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TomFL

Guest
Since all Scripture is good for Doctrine, isn't it true that Doctrine is persuasive?
Not when it has so few scriptures which actually address the issue

Fact is there is not a single verse which actually states Christ died for the elect alone
 
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TomFL

Guest
Carbon can't do it

Does it not seem strange to you that approximately two dozen verse must be explained away (all does not equal all, the whole world is not the whole world, every man is not every man, any man is not any man)

and that there are no verses which state Christ died for the unconditionally elect alone
 

civic

Well-known member
Carbon can't do it

Does it not seem strange to you that approximately two dozen verse must be explained away (all does not equal all, the whole world is not the whole world, every man is not every man, any man is not any man)

and that there are no verses which state Christ died for the unconditionally elect alone
1-What does Jesus mean when He said that He lays down His life for the sheep ?

2-What does it mean when Paul says that Jesus loved the church and gave His life for her ?

3-What did Paul means when he said the sufferings of Christ were for His bodies sake, the church ?
 

Johnnybgood

Well-known member
1-What does Jesus mean when He said that He lays down His life for the sheep ?

2-What does it mean when Paul says that Jesus loved the church and gave His life for her ?

3-What did Paul means when he said the sufferings of Christ were for His bodies sake, the church ?
Those passages make the atonement appear to be limiting it to the body of Christ, His church.
 

ReverendRV

Well-known member
Carbon can't do it

Does it not seem strange to you that approximately two dozen verse must be explained away (all does not equal all, the whole world is not the whole world, every man is not every man, any man is not any man)

and that there are no verses which state Christ died for the unconditionally elect alone
Carbon can't; because you won't allow him a corner in the Arena of Ideas. See; you say there are no Verses. That's why I say you don't let people in the Arena of Ideas; Atheists say the same thing, there are no Verses...

Let him in...
 
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