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Sufficent for all, efficient for the elect: abused and misused

September 11, 2007

I posted this before the big crash of August ’07. I thought it was lost. I repost it now. I am not sure, tho, if all the links are working still.

By way of post-script, I have now posted all of Ursinus, and all of Paraeus and most of Kimedoncius at the C&C blog. What I can now add here is that one should compare the wording of Ursinus with that of Aquinas. The expressions are near identical at points.
Reposted essay:

I was surfing the net the other day, following links that friends had shot my way, and I came across some comments that insisted or strongly implied that when Ursinus spoke of the sufficiency of Christ, he meant it in exactly the same way some modern calvinists have come to understand it. Today I want to do two things. I) I want to show that such a claim is very short-sighted and in terms of historical work. It is quite superficial and anachronistic to retroject the later construction of the “sufficient for all, efficient for the elect” formula from a later period in Protestant Orthodoxy, and beyond, into an earlier period.  2) I want to show that the revision of the formula is not just about semantics. I am convinced that sometimes advocates of high- and hyper-calvinism try to assert that the revision in the formula only entailed semantic changes. AA Hodge is one high-Calvinist who argues this. I think Owen was more up front and correct on this.

Now obviously to prove 1) I have to show that Calvinist historical scholars have already conceded that there was a revision of the formula. For as I said this recent assertions acts as if, or implies that there was nothing of theological distinction between Ursinus’ use, for example, of the formula and how some now use it. Secondly, I want to prove by recoursing more generally to specific theological markers within the theology of the revised formula, and compare them with corresponding disanalogical points in the theological expressions of the classic formula and its theology.  To that end, I will insert numeric symbols in square brackets in the quotations from a few High-Calvinist historians who have conceded that the formula was modified, and in so doing touch on critical theological markers that define the meaning and intent of the revised formula.

This is going to be a little complex, so I hope to make it as simple and painless as possible.

I don’t intend to cite Ursinus, as I want to post his material later. Rather I will cite Paraeus and Kimedoncius his colleagues, as well as others. My assumption is, if they so understood the formula as it originally stood, then with strong probability, so likewise Ursinus:–Such that an objector better have darn good evidence to the contrary. :-) Also, I am citing mostly German Reformed because I want to establish that within the German Reformed Community, this was the tradition. And Ursinus was part of this community.

For some housekeeping, I should note I have already done some work on this topic here: Sufficient for all, Efficient for the elect. I must say, I find that more often than not, the Protestant Scholastic types exhibited more clarity and precision than have some modern Calvinist writers on this formula have.

The quotes from High-Calvinist historical and systematic theologians:

1) Berkhof:

5. THE WIDER BEARING OF THE ATONEMENT. The question may be raised, whether the atonement wrought by Christ for the salvation of the elect, and of the elect only, has any wider bearing. The question is often discussed in Scottish theology, whether Christ did not die, in some other than a saving sense, also for the non-elect. It was discussed by several of the older theologian such as Rutherford, Brown, Durham, and Dickson, but was answered by them in the negative. “They held, indeed,” says Walker, “the [1]intrinsic sufficiency of Christ’s death to save the world, or worlds; but that was altogether irrespective of Christ’s purpose, or Christ’s accomplishment. The phrase that Christ died sufficiently for all was not approved, because the ‘for’ seemed to imply some reality of actual substitution.” Durham denied that any mercy bestowed upon the reprobate, and enjoyed by them, could be said to be [3] the proper fruit of, or the purchase of, Christ’s death; but at the same time maintained that certain consequences of Christ’s death of an advantageous kind must reach wicked men, though it is doubtful whether these can be regarded as a blessing for them. This was also the position taken by Rutherford and Gillespie. The Marrow-men of Scotland, while holding that Christ died for the purpose of saving only the elect, concluded from the universal offer of salvation that the work of Christ also had a wider bearing, and that, to use their own words, “God the Father, moved by nothing but His free love to mankind lost, hath made a deed of gift and grant unto all men of His Son Jesus Christ.” According to them all sinners are legatees under Christ’s testament, not indeed in the essence but in the administration of the covenant of grace, but the testament becomes effectual only in the case of the elect. Their position was condemned by the Church of Scotland. Several Reformed theologians hold that, though Christ suffered and died only for the purpose of saving the elect, many benefits of the cross of Christ do actually – and that also according to the plan of God – accrue to the benefit of those who do not accept Christ by faith. They believe that the blessings of common grace also result from the atoning work of Christ.  Systmatic Theology, 398-399.

2) Walker:

But further, and more particularly, in regard to the EXTENT of Redemption, or the extent of the merits of Redemption. It is implied in what has been already said, that Christ, in some altogether peculiar sense, was the Saviour of His people. But was there no other (improper) sense in which He might have been said to die also for others? Well, the subject is largely discussed. It is discussed by Rutherford, and Brown, and Durham, and Dickson, and Gillespie; and I think there can be no doubt that they hold, that in whatsoever sense Christ died for any of our race, in that same sense He died for all for whom He died. They held, indeed, the [1]intrinsic sufficiency of Christ’s death to save the world or worlds; but that was altogether irrespective of Christ’s purpose, or Christ’s accomplishment. ,Tile phrase that Christ died sufficiently for all was not approved, because the “For” seemed to imply some reality of actual substitution. Yet the Scottish theological mind was evidently greatly exercised upon the subject in many aspects, and once and again we have discussions in connection with it, which are little known, and not without their interest… The Theology and Theologians of Scotland, 79-80.

Durham has an essay, in which he considers whether any mercy bestowed upon the reprobate, and enjoyed by them, may be said to be the [3]proper fruit of, or purchase of, Christ’s death. And he answers decisively in the negative. The native fruits of Christ’s death, he says, are not divided, but they all go together. So that for whom He satisfied and for whom He purchased anything in any respect, He did so in respect of everything. There may be certain consequences of Christ’s death of an advantageous kind  which reach wicked men. – But that is a mere accident. Nay, to the wicked there may be given common gifts, by which the Church is edified and the glory of the Lord advanced; but these belong to the covenant redemption, as promised blessings to God’s people. It is argued further, that it is very doubtful whether, looked at in every point of view, it can well be said that it is a blessing to men who yet reject the Son ofGod, that they have the morally purifying influences of Christianity, and are more or less affected by them in their character, or by any such blessing as can be said to fall from the tree of life. So, too, thought Gillespie, and so thought Rutherford.  The Theology and Theologians of Scotland, 83-84.

3) Cunningham:

There is no doubt that all the most eminent Calvinistic divines hold the infinite worth, or value of Christ’s atonement,–its full sufficiency for expiating all the sins of all men.

A distinction was generally employed by the schoolmen, which has been often adverted to in this discussion, and which it may be proper to explain. They were accustomed to say, that Christ died sufficiently for all men, and efficaciously for the elect,–suffcienter pro omnibus, eficaciter pro electis. Some orthodox divines, who wrote [2]before the extent of the atonement had been made the subject of full, formal, and elaborate discussion,–and Calvin himself among the rest,–admitted the truth of this scholastic position. But [2]after controversy had thrown its full light upon the subject, orthodox divines generally refused to adopt this mode of stating the point, because it seemed to ascribe to Christ a purpose or intention of dying in the room of all, and of benefitting all by the proper effects of His death, as an atonement or propitiation; not that they doubted or denied the [1]intrinsic sufficiency of His death for the redemption of all men, but because the statement whether originally so intended or not–was so expressed as to suggest the idea, that Christ, in dying, desired and intended that all men should partake in the proper and peculiar effects of the shedding of His blood. Calvinists do not object to say that the death of Christ–viewed objectively, apart from His purpose or design–was sufficient for all, and efficacious for the elect, because this statement in the first clause merely asserts its infinite [1]intrinsic sufficiency, which they admit ; whereas the original scholastic form of the statement,–namely, that He died sufficiently for all,–seems to indicate that, when He died, He intended that all should derive some saving and permanent benefit from His death. The attempt made by some defenders of universal atonement to prove, that a denial of the universality of the atonement necessarily implies a denial of its universal [1]intrinsic sufficiency, has nothing to do with the settlement of the state of the question, but only with the arguments by which the opposite side may be defended: and, therefore, I need not advert to it. Historical Theology, 2:331-332.

4) AA Hodge:

The question, then, (1) does not  relate to the SUFFICIENCY of the satisfaction rendered by Christ  to secure the salvation of all men. The Reformed Churches uniformly taught that no man has ever yet perished, or ever will perish. for want of an atonement. All Calvinists agree in maintaining earnestly that Christ’s obedience and sufferings were of infinite [1]intrinsic value in the eye of law, and that there was no need for him to obey or to suffer an iota more nor a moment longer in order to secure, if God so willed, the salvation of every man, woman, and child that ever lived. No man can have a moment’s thought upon the subject who acknowledges the supreme divinity of the glorious Victim. It is insisted upon by Turretin, Witsius, and by John Owen,” as earnestly as it is by Jenkyn or Barnes. It is consequently utterly irrelevant to the question in hand, when Barnes closes his argument to prove that Christ died in order to make the salvation of all men  indiscriminately possible, with the plea that after eighteen hundred years the stream of Atonement is found unexhausted alike in its volume and its virtues. Surely this is even less than the glorious truth. It will be none the less true after eighteen millions of years. But this question as never heen debated by the Reformed Churches. We unite with all other Christians in glorying in the infinite sufficiency of the satisfaction of Christ to reach and to save all men who have been or who will be created or creatable. The Atonement, 328-329.

The Schoolmen mere accustomed to affirm that Christ died sufficienter pro omnibus, efficienter pro e1ectis; and this form of expression was adopted by Calvin [Commentaries, 1 John 2:2] and by the early Reformed theologians, [2]previous to the thorough sifting of this subject occasioned  by the speculations of the French theologians Cameron, Amyraldus, Testardus, &c. This scholastic expression is inaccurate and inadequate rather than false. Christ did die sufficienter pro omnibus, but as an element of his design this otherwise inoperative and futile purpose must have been in thought, precisely as it is in execution, altogether subsidiary as a means to an end to his real–because actually accomplished–purpose of effecting the salvation of his elect. In other words, the actual ends effected are the exact measure of the real ends designed. The Atonement, 333

5) Owen:

Hence may appear what is to be thought of that [2]old distinction of the schoolmen, embraced and used by divers protestant divines, though by others again rejected,—namely, “That Christ died for all in respect of the sufficiency of the [4]ransom he paid, but not in respect of the efficacy of its application;” or, “The blood of Christ was a sufficient price for the sins of all the world;”—which last expression is corrected by some, and thus asserted, “That the blood of Christ was sufficient to have been made a price for all;” which is most true, as was before declared…

“To die for them,” holds out the intention of our Savior, in the [4]laying down of the price, to have been their redemption; [4]which we deny, and affirm that then it could not be but that they must be made actual partakers of the eternal redemption purchased for them, unless God failed in his design, through the defect of the ransom paid by Christ, his justice refusing to give a dismission upon the delivery of the ransom… Works, 10:296.

I now want to highlight the markers:

Marker 1: Note the stress on the intrinsic sufficiency. We all know by now (see my post on Vermigli and the Sufficiency) that Owen made a distinction between the expiation’s intrinsic and extrinsic sufficiency. These terms correspond to his language of internal and external sufficiency. Internally, the expiation is infinite in value and so sufficient to save worlds upon worlds, had God so willed to include them in the scope of the expiation. Externally, however, it is not sufficient for all as it stands now, for it was not a payment laid down for all, ie, paid for all.

What many do is assume, is that because it is true, that with regard to the internal sufficiency, that as this element was continuous with the Medievals and the early Reformers with the later Protestant Scholastic construction, that somehow that simple point of continuity exhausts the intent of the formula as used by the early Reformers and the Protestant Scholastics. This is critical. Modern Calvinists, just assume that Calvin, et al, when they used the formula, simply meant to likewise speak of the expiation’s intrinsic sufficiency, with no substantively different meaning or intent than when it was used by the later Protestant Scholastics.
Thus, when one does try to point out the differing implications of either construction (their respective theological concommitants), many will downplay the significance, such that any discontinuity ceases to exist. I believe Muller and Nicole do this specifically. The may downplay this impact of the revision claiming that it was only a revision at the semantic level, nothing more.

Marker 2: Is the recognition that the Medieval Scholastics and the early Reformers and Reformed held to the traditional construction, and that it was not until after certain debates was the formula revised. This point is simple: for this reason alone, it becomes absurd to assert that Ursinus’ expression simply meant what the later construction meant to entail. Of course, one could counter that the changes were only semantic. But then that rightly points us back to  marker 3.

Marker 3: For the revised formula, all held that Christ did not purchase or merit redemption or salvation for any but the elect. The reprobate are not the proper recipient of any purchased or merited goodies. Durham is wonderful in his clarity on this, as is Owen. Anything that the reprobate do receive are accidental, ie., indirect, benefits. Needless to say, if it can be shown that the early Reformation theologians did hold that certain things were directly and properly purchased for the reprobate, then the changes in the formula did not merely entail simple semantic corrections.

Marker 4, points to the claim that Christ either did or did not lay down a ransom price for all men.

Having shown that 1) is at least true, that the formula was modified, it now comes to showing that the markers within the new version actually negate the markers in the old version. Negate is a the chosen word here. The words are not refined, retooled, honed, etc, but negation, excision, and removal.

To respond to markers 1 and 4:

Examples from:


The death of the cross, a new kind of sacrifice, is therefore a new altar. He fastened to the cross the handwriting of the decree which was against us and triumphed over his foes. This is the triumphal chariot of Christ. The cross was the balance on which the blood of Christ weighed. The price was paid for the whole world, and if it had not been more precious than the whole world, it would not have redeemed the world. Peter Martyr Vermigli, “On the Death of Christ from Saint Paul ‘s Letter to the Philippians,” in  Life, Letters and Sermons, trans., by John Patrick Donnelly, (Kirksville, Missouri: Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies, 1999), vol 5, p., 243


In the same way also our sins are forgiven and we may come to God on the strength and efficacy of the suffering which Christ endured once, for us and all persons. So costly and precious it is before God that it has become for all eternity the pledge and price for all humankind by which alone they may come to God. Zwingli,  Exposition and Basis of the Conclusions or Articles Published by Huldrych Zwingli, 29 January 1523, vol 1, p, 94.

But now I come to the words I quoted [Jn. 6:53]: “Except ye eat,” i.e., except ye firmly and heartily believe that Christ was slain for you, to redeem you, and that His blood was shed for you, to wash you thus redeemed (for that is the way we are in the habit of showing bounty and kindness to captives–first freeing them by paying a ransom, then when freed washing away the filth with which they are covered), “he have no life in you.” Since, therefore, Christ alone was sacrificed for the human race, He is the only One through whom we can come to the Father. Zwingli, Commentary on True and False Religion, (Labyrinth Press), p., 128.

I have clearly and sufficiently shown (as stated above), that Christ should and could have been sacrificed once only. It is appropriate to him alone, who offered himself up to God, to be sufficient ransom for the sins of everyone for all eternity… For Paul explains in the same context how Christ, though offered up once only, has become forever a gate and valid offering for the sins of everyone.  Zwingli,  Exposition and Basis of the Conclusions or Articles Published by Huldrych Zwingli, 29 January 1523, Pickwick Publications, vol 1, p, 103 and104.

In the same way also our sins are forgiven and we may come to God on the strength and efficacy of the suffering which Christ endured once, for us and all persons. So costly and precious it is before God that it has become for all eternity the pledge and price for all humankind by which alone they may come to God. Zwingli,  Exposition and Basis of the Conclusions or Articles Published by Huldrych Zwingli, 29 January 1523, vol 1, p, 94.


Wherefore our Lord Jesus Christ, being both God and man, was a fit Mediator for both parties. Which thing the apostle witnessing saith: “One God, and one Mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself the price of redemption for all [1 Tim 2:5,6.]  Decades, 1st Decade, Sermon 7, vol 1, p., 131

It remaineth therefore that Christ is the only intercessor. Hithertoo do now pertain the testimonies of Scripture. Paul saith: “There is one God, and one reconciler (or mediator) of God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself the price (or ransom) for the redemption of all [1 Tim 2.]. And although the apostle speak expressly of redemption, yet notwithstanding these words are placed in the midst between the disputation of the invocation upon God which is done by Christ, who is the only mediator of redemption and intercession. For he alone redeemed us, so doth he alone even now command us, being redeemed, unto the Father. Decades,  Decades, 4th Decade, Sermon 5,  vol 2, p., 215.


Thirdly, the Minor of the argument is false: for he that has acknowledge knows himself to believe, as before has been shown. And whosoever believes, is partaker of the merits of the death and humiliation of our Lord Jesus Christ, and he says: “this is my body which is given for you: and this is my blood, the blood the of the New Testament, which is shed for you (Luke. 22; Matth. 26). Why says he “for many”? Because albeit the blood of Christ be shed for all as touching the sufficiency: yet it was shed for the regenerate only as touching efficiency, as I have shown before out of Innocentius. Jacob Kimedoncius, The Redemption of Mankind: Three Books: Wherein the Controversy of the Universality of the Redemption and Grace by Christ, and his Death for All Men, is Largely Handled, trans., by Hugh Ince, (London: Imprinted by Felix Kingston, 1598), 169.

Now we come to the confirmation of true doctrine. And that is, that albeit the death of the son of God our Lord Jesus Christ, as touching the greatness of the price, be the redemption of whole mankind, none excepted: yet the propriety of redemption belongs to those, who are not now the vessels of the devils, but the members of Christ, by faith and the grace of regeneration: the rest, who live without faith and regeneration, not belonging to this redemption from sin and death. And because faith and regeneration pertain not to all but the elect, it is truly also avouched that redemption belongs to them and not to the reprobates. Jacob Kimedoncius, The Redemption of Mankind: Three Books: Wherein the Controversy of the Universality of the Redemption and Grace by Christ, and his Death for All Men, is Largely Handled, trans., by Hugh Ince, (London: Imprinted by Felix Kingston, 1598), 177.


Two: his satisfaction, whereby he fulfilled the law, and paid the ransom for the sins of the world (Matt. 20:28). In respect of which part of his office, he is called a Redeemer (Matt. 10:28, Gal. 3:13), and a Saviour (Isa. 25:8-9 & 53:4-6, John 3:17), and a Lamb or a sacrifice.  And his intercession, whereby Christ does instantly desire that his sacrifice may continually prevail with God his Father, for the reconciliation of his elect. William Bucanus, Institutions of Christian Religion, Framed Our of God’s Word, and the Writings of the Best Divines, Methodically Handled by Questions and Answers, Fit For All Such as Desirous to Know, or Practice the Will of God, trans., by Robert Hill (Printed in London by George Snowden, 1606), 24.


Christ carried, dissolved, expiated the sins of all, if we consider the magnitude of the price or sufficiency of the ransom, but only the faithful and not of all, if we consider the efficacy, fruit and application of the ransom. Irenicum, Source: G. Michael Thomas, The Extent of the Atonement, (Cumbria, UK: Paternoster: 1997), 116.

To respond to marker 3:


 For just as he died, so also he willed to die. Therefore, as he died for all, in respect to the sufficiency of his ransom; and for the faithful alone in respect to the efficacy of the same, so also he willed to die for all in general, as touching the sufficiency of his merit, that is, he willed to merit by his death, grace, righteousness, and life in the most abundant manner for all. Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, 223.

Paraeus citing Aquinas with approval:

Lastly, the orthodox Fathers and Schoolmen, also distinguish and restrict the above passages of Scripture as we have done; especially Augustine, Cyril and Prosper. Lombard writes as follows: “Christ offered himself to God, the Trinity for all men, as it respects the sufficiency of the price; but only for the elect as it regards the efficacy thereof, because he effected, and purchased salvation only for those who were predestinated.” Thomas writes: “The merit of Christ, as to its sufficiency, extends equally to all, but not as to its efficacy, which happens partly on account of free will, and partly on account of the election of God, through which the effects of the merits of Christ are mercifully bestowed upon some, and withheld from others according to the just judgment of God.” Other Schoolmen, also, speak in the same manner, from which it is evident that Christ died for all in such a may, that the benefits of his death, nevertheless, pertain properly to such as believe, to whom alone they are also profitable and available  Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism, 224.


As for example, behold the Turks, which cast away the grace which was purchased for all the world by Jesus Christ: the Jews do the like: the Papists, although they say not so openly, they show it in effect. And all they are as well shut out, and banished from the redemption which was purchased for us, as if Jesus Christ had never come into the world. And why so? For they have not this witness, That Jesus Christ is their redeemer: and although they have some little taste, yet they remain always starved, and if they hear but this word, Redeemer, it brings them no substance, neither get they any profit by that which is contained in the Gospel. And thus we see now, how men are not partakers of this benefit, which was purchased them by our Lord Jesus Christ. And why so? For they receive not the witness… So then let us mark, that in this Saint Paul’s handling of the matter, we have set out unto us, that the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ were unprofitable to us, unless it were witnessed to us by the Gospel. For it is faith that puts us in possession of this salvation: although we find it not but in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ shall be (as it were) strange to us, and all that he has suffered, shall not profit us one whit, as indeed, it belongs not to us. This is a profitable doctrine: for there is no man but confesses, that it is the greatest benefit which Jesus Christ has brought us, but there are a very few that take the right way… Therefore we must weigh that that Saint Paul says here, so much the more, to wit, that then we enjoy the redemption purchased by the death of Jesus Christ, when God bears witness that he is with us: when such a benefit is presented to us: and we can receive it by faith, thus we enjoy it. And this is the reason, why there are so few nowadays, that are reconciled to God, by the death and passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. For we see how a great part of the world deprives itself of this witness, and we see how other[s] cast it away, or at the least, profit so little by it, that Jesus Christ dwells not in them by faith, to make them partakers of all his benefits.  Calvin, Sermons on Timothy, Sermon 15, 1Tim 2:5-6, p., 177 and 178.

These quotations could be multiplied again and again. Surely an impartial mind must see that the theology behind the formula was changed, such that ideas implied in the use of the original formula, were later excised and removed. If anyone claims that none of these quotations mean anything, and/or that the advocacy of the earlier version of the formula does not entail that later there were sweeping category changes, such a person is being naive at best, irresponsible at worst. :-)

To be continued….  and revised I am sure.

Hopefully, this will keep the conversation going,

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