Sufficient for All, Efficient for Believers?

I certainly agree that the death of Jesus Christ is the only and entirely complete judicial satisfaction for the sins of anyone. But this satisfaction was never intended to be enough for the sins of the non-elect. It’s not enough to talk about the guaranteed success of the atonement for the elect, because we need to talk about the justice of the atonement and to do that we need to talk about God’s imputation of the sins of the elect to Christ.

It might sound rhetorically neat to say that Christ’s death is enough for the non-elect, but until somebody can tell me what Christ’s death did for the non-elect, all you have is deceptive language.

I Peter 1:18–“knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. 20 He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you 21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.”

The Bible uses “commercial” language to talk about the blood of Christ being precious. One death once for all time is the only death Christ had to die for those whose sins were imputed to Him. God’s justice demanded the death of Christ because certain specific sins had been charged to Him by God the Trinity. This is not to say that Christ would have had to die twice if there had been more elect.

The old formula from Lombard was used in the political compromise of the Synod of Dordt, “sufficient for all, efficient for the elect”. In our day many who think themselves more prudent than God don’t want to talk about the word “elect” so instead they say— sufficient for all, efficient for the believer.

What we really need to see is not only the extent of the atonement but its nature. You can’t understand the nature of the atonement without knowing about its extent. But you can know about the extent and still not know about the justice of the atonement. What do people mean by “sufficient for the elect”?

If we don’t understand how Christ’s death is enough for the elect, denying that Christ’s death works for the non-elect will not explain the gospel. Why did Christ need to die for the elect?

The regeneration of the elect does not satisfy God’s justice. Nor is it the Holy Spirit’s application of benefits from Christ’s death which appeases God’s wrath. God’s wrath has already been appeased or not, and justification is what happens when the elect are legally joined to that death. There is no “union” which is more “real” than this legal counting. The legal counting is based on the elect being eternally united to Christ by election and by Christ’s real death for their sins alone.

We need to talk about Christ being “made sin” (II Cor 5:21) by the imputation of all the sins of the elect, and not only about Christ being made a “sin-offering”. The atonement has commercial and legal merit, not only because Christ can and does do things by measure (healing some but not others) but also because the Bible speaks about being bought by blood from the accusations of the law..

One good discussion in print on this is by Tom Nettles in By His Grace and For His glory and his chapter on “Christ Died for our Sins, According to the Scriptures.” Nettles questions the formula (sufficient/ efficient) used by Dordt while at the same time being honest about the history of its use.

Nettles quotes Andrew Fuller: “We could say that a certain number of Christ’s acts of obedience becomes ours as that certain number of sins becomes his. In the former case his one undivided obedience affords a ground of justification to any number of believers; in the latter, his one atonement is sufficient for the pardon of any number of sins or sinners.

Nettles explains that Fuller “misconceives the biblical relation of imputation. Justification should not be considered as analogous to atonement but rather to the imputation of Adam’s sin”.

I encourage you to read more of Nettles. Error one: the tradition leading from Edwards to Andrew Fuller tends to identify regeneration and effectual calling as the “real union” and then it tends to identify this “application” with the atonement itself. What many Calvinists mean by definite atonement is that the “real union” makes the atonement definite. Thus they make the Spirit’s work to be the real difference instead of Christ’s death. These same folks tend to question the traditional tulip. See for example the new book by Todd Billings on “union”

Nettles: “A second error is subtle in nature and involves a shift in the understanding of the sacrificial death. Although Jesus’ death is spoken of as passive obedience–and though the concepts of reconciliation and propitiation are defined as activities accomplished in the Father’s setting forth God the Son–when the sufficiency of the death of Christ arises, the emphasis shifts from the Son’s passive obedience to what he actively accomplished by his infinite divine nature.”

Nettles quotes John Dagg and Abraham Booth against the “sufficient” general view of the atonement. Booth’s Divine Justice Essential to the Divine Character, book 3:60

“While cheerfully admitting the sufficiency of Immanuel’s death to have redeemed all mankind, had all the sins of the whole human species been equally imputed to Him, we cannot perceive any solid reason to conclude that his propitiatory sufferings are sufficient for the expiation of sins which he did not bear, or for the redemption of sinners whom he did not represent. For the substitution of Christ, and the imputation of sin to him, are essential to the scriptural doctrine of redemption by our adorable Jesus…

And from Dagg’s Manual of Theology, p330: “Some have maintained that, if the atonement of Christ is not general, no sinner can be under obligation to believe in Christ, until he is assured that he is one of the elect. This implies that no sinner is bound to believe what God says, unless he knows that God designs to save him.”

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12 Comments on “Sufficient for All, Efficient for Believers?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    hough Andrew Fuller affirmed a particular atonement in a certain sense– in that the atonement will procure faith for only the elect–he is not willing to say that Christ was only the propitiation for the elect alone. Instead of telling that plain truth, that Christ either already died for a sinner or already did not, Andrew Fuller wanted to say that Christ died for all sinners in some sense. This universal sense advocated by Andrew Fuller has to do with the nature of propitiation. He denies that Christ in the past propitiated the Trinity for the sins of any specific person. Rather, Andrew Fuller teaches that Christ died to make an offer of propitiation to every sinner.

    According to Andrew Fuller, what’s important is the “covenantal design and intent” of what Christ did, that there could be propitiation now if the Holy Spirit were to cause a sinner to accept the offer of propitiation and thus join themselves to Christ through faith .

    Fuller asserted an universal conditional sufficiency in Christ’s death for all sinners. It is an old and subtle doctrine, but Andrew Fuller was a very subtle man, much like John Wesley, using words like “imputation” in ways meant to mislead those who had a different meaning for the words.

    What does Andrew Fuller accomplish by shifting from what Christ DID back then over there to who Christ Is and what He “Can” do here and now if the Spirit helps a sinner to take up the “offer”?

    Andrew Fuller changes the meaning of the propitiatory death of Christ. With the Arminians, he makes the propitiation to be dependent on the sinner having faith. The subtle “hybrid” part though is that (with the Calvinists) Andrew Fuller also makes the having faith be dependent on what God obtained by means of Christ’s death.

    Andrew Fuller ends up putting the emphasis on grace as opposed to justice. God is sovereign now to give faith to elect sinners because of Christ’s death. The idea that God has already been JUSTLY propitiated for a sinner (or not) is no longer in the picture. Andrew Fuller’s notion of “sovereign grace” is opposing the gospel of God being justified in justifying the ungodly. He is opposing justice in the name of grace.

    Two comments. First, even though Fullerites want to say that the only way to be consistent in teaching a definite propitiation (what Christ WAS as laying down his life) is to teach an eternal justification, where the elect only subjectively find out that they were always justified, I do not (and Abraham Booth did not) teach that any unbeliever is justified.

    All the justified elect are people who believe the gospel. Belief in the gospel is an immediate consequence (not a condition) of God’s imputation of Christ’s death to the elect (not of God’s imputation of the elect’s sins to Christ).

    “Through faith” in Romans 3:25 does not mean “conditioned on faith”. Faith for the elect is what justice demands AFTER righteousness is imputed to them. I do not say it “their right” but it is Christ’s right because of what Christ WAS AND DID. Once sins were imputed to Christ, then Christ died by the law because of these sins, and now Christ is free and justified before the law.

    So I can and do say to any unbeliever, unless you believe the gospel, you are not yet justified. But I also say to those unbelievers: your believing is not something you can or will do unless Christ died for you, and you will never know if Christ did until you believe the gospel.

    Second comment. Look at what Andrew Fuller is saying with his distinction between what Christ is as opposed to what Christ was. Fuller is teaching that God is governmentally sovereign and therefore God can do whatever God wants to do now with what Christ did then.

    If so, why did Christ die? To make it possible? So that propitiation “might” happen? To ask such questions leads to another question. If God is so sovereignly superior to justice in His government, why did Christ need to die at all? If the meaning and effectiveness of the propitiation was only to be assigned later, is that meaning a matter of justice or only arbitrary?

    Romans 5:11 “We rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the atonement.”

    Galatians 4:5-6 –”to redeem those who were under the law, so that we would receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

    Edwards and Andrew Fuller use the concept of “covenantal union” to say that the atonement which really matters is the application of Christ’s death. They deny that the “union” is legal. They insist that the legal is “based on the union”. The logic leads to the “atonement” not being what Christ did to satisfy the law, but instead the application of “the covenantal intent”.

    It’s one thing to say that Christ’s death will be effective, and another to say WHY Christ’s death must be effective. Christ’s death saves not only because of God’s sovereign will but also because of God’s justice.

    Although the gospel teaches that God only imputed the sins of the elect to Christ, the gospel does not teach that all the elect were justified as soon as Christ bore those sins. Romans 6 explains how the elect must come into legal union with Christ’s death. Until the elect are “placed into” that death, they remain under the wrath of God.

    But folks like Andrew Fuller use “union” talk to change the meaning of the atonement and accuse the rest with thinking there is no need for faith. If the substitution for sins has already been made, they say, then all for whom it was made should logically already be justified. If the righteousness has already been obtained, then all for whom it was earned should logically already be justified by it.

    There is no justification apart from faith. Faith in the gospel is NOT a mere recognition that we were already justified. But those who follow Andrew Fuller tend to deny any distinction between the atonement and the legal application of the atonement.

    At the end of the day, these folks locate the efficacy of the atonement not in Christ’s propitiation itself but only in the efficacy of regeneration and faith to “covenantally unite” people with that propitiation. Though they may formally agree to some “legal aspect” to “union”, for all practical purposes they ignore or deny the reality that God already imputed the sins of only the elect to Christ.

    In this way, the followers of Andrew Fuller make way for the idea of some “universal sufficiency” in Christ’s propitiation. And when it turns out that this ‘sufficiency” is not enough to save the non-elect, they answer: “well, you can’t say that there’s double jeopardy until after a person has been married to Christ by faith. Then, and only then, they say, could you say that a person was dying for the same sins twice.”

    The followers of Andrew Fuller teach universal sufficiency and an offer (to everybody I guess who is not already dead) . They claim that we can teach everybody that “Christ is dead for you” without that meaning that Christ has died for your sins, because according to Andrew Fuller, Christ’s death for sinners is not the same thing legally as Christ’s death to pay for the specific sins of sinners. God did not really impute specific sins, according to Fuller, Edwards and the New England Theology.


    David Allen, Whosoever Will, 2010, p 83—Redemption understood as literal payment makes the atonement secure its own application.”

    Andrew Fuller–”if the specificity of the atonement be placed in the atonement itself, and not in the sovereign will of God, it must have proceeded on the principle of PECUNIARY satisfactions. In commercial payments, the payment is equal to the amount of the debt, and being so, it is not of sufficient value for more than those who are actually liberated by it.
    letter to Ryland #3, 2:708

    For Andrew Fuller, Christ’s death is specific only because of God’s sovereignty not because of God’s justice, and not because of the nature of the atonement.. Fuller makes a distinction between the nature of the atonement and its design and application.

    But unless we believe in eternal justification, don’t we all make a distinction between the atonement and its legal application? Yes, there is a time gap, but the question remains about the imputation of specific sins to Christ and the nature of the justice of Christ’s death at the cross.

    btw, Dabney is no better than Andrew Fuller on this point. Dabney claims: “Satisfaction was Christ’s indivisible act, and infinite vicarious merit, the whole in its unity, without numerical division, subtraction or exhaustion. ,,The expiation is single and complete, and in itself considered, has no more relation to one man’s sins than another….Only as it is applied in effectual calling, does the expiation become personal and receive a limitation.” Systematic , p 528

  3. markmcculley Says:

    Every conditionalist I know would agree that faith is not the cause of salvation. But, if the death of Jesus is sufficient to save the non-elect, then saving faith cannot be a result of Christ’s death. And when that is so, you are left with an evangelism in which union with “Christ” (the false one who died for everybody) because of faith becomes everything.

  4. markmcculley Says:

    D A Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, Crossway, 76—-”If one holds that the Atonement is sufficient for all and effective for the elect, both sets of texts and concerns are accommodated.

  5. Craig Kennedy Says:

    Are the non-elect responsible to repent and believe the Gospel given that no atonement has been made for them? You have done a fine job through many articles and postings in convincing me that the ‘sufficient for all, efficient for the elect’ (Lombardian formula) view of the death of Christ is flawed and you have convinced me, beyond doubt. that Christ’s death is sufficient and efficient for the elect alone! However, in the light of this do we command the non-elect to repent and believe?

  6. markmcculley Says:

    I am not a “hardshell”. I think the gospel is instrumental and necessary in salvation, indeed, it is the “power of God unto salvation”. God does not save anybody apart from the gospel. I teach the duty of every sinner to believe the gospel. Every sinner is to be taught the gospel, and without any qualification or preparation or hesitation about it.

    The hardshells teach that some “anonymous Christians” are born justified and never hear the gospel. That is a million miles from my position. It is also the opposite from that which is taught by Engelsma and the folks in the Protestant Reformed church.

    The basic question is never about who should hear the gospel. The concern is –what is the gospel. God shall justly save all for whom Christ died, and not one of the elect will be lost because we use the word election.

    Abraham Booth, Glad Tidings

    p 247 “Now the question is: Do the Scriptures lead us to conclude that the mind and the conscience are brought into the new state by an immediate divine energy, without the medium of either the law or the gospel? I think not. It is written: by the law is the knowledge of sin.

    p 249 “For an ‘awakened sinner’ to be persuaded that regeneration is effected without the instrumentality of divine truth, is to give an injurious direction to his prayers and expectations.”

  7. markmcculley Says:

    Since regeneration is without means, hardhsells argue, then it has no temporal connection whatsoever with repentance and belief of the gospel. Thus, they believe that a person can go for a period of hours, days, weeks, or even years between being regenerated (saved, born again) and being converted (repenting, believing the gospel). They believe that a regenerate person can go for hours, days, weeks, or even years being ignorant of the only basis of salvation that is revealed in the gospel and even being openly hostile to the gospel. They say that this glorifies God’s sovereignty in salvation. They say that to believe that conversion is an immediate and inevitable fruit of regeneration is to believe that God cannot save someone without the means of the gospel, thus denying God’s sovereignty.

    However, to say that God does or does not do things in a certain way is not a denial of God’s sovereignty; in fact, it establishes the truth of God’s sovereignty. God, the sovereign Creator and Controller of the universe, has revealed to us in His Word how He glorifies Himself in the salvation of sinners.

    God will not “save” a sinner and then “leave him” (actually cause him to be) in unbelief even for a second, because this does not glorify Him. When God saves someone, He i glorifies Himself in the heart of that person by causing that person to repent of his dead works and fruit unto death and to believe the true gospel of salvation conditioned on the atoning blood and imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ alone, giving all the glory to God for his salvation. Not only will he not be an atheist; he will not even be an Arminian.

    The Hardshells say that this “limits God.” But it does no such thing. It acknowledges that God glorifies Himself in the hearts of His people as He says in His Word. It is actually the hardshells who are limiting God by saying that He is unable or unwilling to cause His people to believe in Him and give Him all the glory in their salvation at the time He regenerates them.

    “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is [the] power of God to salvation to everyone believing, both to Jew first, and to Greek; for in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; even as it has been written, But the just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:16-17). Hardshells do not believe that the gospel is the power of God to salvation to everyone believing.

    “Brothers, truly my heart’s pleasure and supplication to God on behalf of Israel is for [it] to be saved. For I testify to them that they have zeal to God, but not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to the righteousness of God. For Christ [is] the end of Law for righteousness to everyone that believes” (Rom. 10:1-4).

    Hardshells do not believe that all who are ignorant of the righteousness of God revealed in the gospel, who are seeking to establish their own righteousness, and who do not submit to the righteousness of God, are unregenerate.

  8. markmcculley Says:

    One book worth buying from Crossway is Precious Blood: The Atoning
    Work of Christ, especially the chapter by Carl
    Trueman on “Post-Reformation Developments in the Doctrine of the
    Atonement.”, p196
    “Socinius says if Trueman’s sin have been punished on the cross, it is not mercy for God to forgive Trueman but justice. But Grotius says, if the punishment on the cross is merey an equivalent of Trueman’s sins, then it is still possible to build mercy into the equation…If
    Trueman’s sins are not imputed to Christ, then it’s possible that Christ’s righteousness is not imputed to Trueman. That fits well with an Arminian view of justification, but I can assure you that Trueman has a problem with it.”
    I don’t propose to address the theology of Edwards and the New England
    theology or Andrew Fuller which claimed him as its father. But to answer why gospel coalition folks associate with Driscoll who denies definite atonement. John Piper teaches particular atonement, but in claiming to believe everything Arminians believe about the atonement (and more-died to purchased extra for the elect), John Piper leaves room for a governmental view. It’s one thing to say that Jesus was punished for sins. It’s quite another to say that God imputed the sins (not simply punishment) of the elect to Christ. It’s very difficult to find that in Piper. After all, he’s an evangelical. Piper believes everything Billy Graham and Rick Warren believe. And More. No antithesis.

  9. markmcculley Says:

    the non-elect will be destroyed because Christ never died for them

    Christ’s death is inadequate for the non-elect, not enough for them

    and the non-elect will be destroyed for this reason

    i know the infras insist no, the non-elect die only for their own, not fault of Christ’s death

    but since the elect do not die for their sin, the sin of the non-elect is not the only factor

    the non-election of the sinner is not conditioned on the sinner

    no sin will count against as many as believe the gospel

    each and every sin will count for as many as don’t believe the gospel (not only the sin of unbelief of the gospel but all sins)

    but yes, it’s a sin not to believe the gospel

    and all those for whom Christ died will believe the gospel, Christ having died to obtain this gift for them

    so Christ’s death is not adequate to give the non-elect faith, because Christ never died for the non-elect

  10. markmcculley Says:

    Don’t look for Bible for any of this Lent stuff

    Traditionalist —Christ didn’t suffer eternally. Jesus also was not annihilated. So in either case, Jesus’ punishment does not equally demonstrate the punishment of the wicked.While I do not holistically disagree with the conclusion, I also do not fully agree with the premise.

    Jesus experienced God’s wrath for us on the cross. The punishment was not solely death, but suffering God’s wrath

    Jesus should have died long before He hung on that cross because of the way He was beaten. But because He was sinless, and had not yet had sin imputed and placed upon Him the body He had was not yet ready to die.

    Why would Jesus have to experience the Father’s wrath if the punishment is truly realized in His death as some teach?

    It was only after sin was was imputed and laid upon He that He could cry, “It is finished!” And this was before he died physically. Jesus was able to endure sufficiently God’s wrath.

    Because of who Jesus was, just one tiny drop of blood spilled from an open wound inflicted upon Him would have been sufficient to save infinite legions of depraved sinners. He could have just had His throat slit like the lambs of the Old Testament. He could have had a swifter execution. But instead He chose one of the most excruciating death, with torture.

    Jesus was more than a substitute. He was THE Surpassing Substitute.. He didn’t just suffer a little of God’s wrath, but endured as much as was necessary to appease and satisfy His justice as a propitiation for our sins. And this was still infinitely more than He deserved. He endure more suffering, more pain, more sorrow, more agony not because of how long He was on the cross, but because He was on the cross!

    The punishment was not exactly what we should have received in its duration. But it was way more than we’ll ever experience, because He was innocent. This finite duration of punishment was of infinite value. in a finite amount of time

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