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Herman Witsius on the Revised Sufficient-Efficient Formula

March 5, 2008

We therefore conclude, 1st. That the obedience and sufferings of Christ, considered in themselves, are, on the account of the infinite dignity of the person, of that value, as to have been sufficient for redeeming not only all and every man in particular, but many myriads besides, had it so pleased God and Christ, that he should have undertaken and satisfied for them.

Herman Witsius, The Economy of the Covenants, 2.9.2; 1:256.

[Note: In English, there is a type of subjunctive which is called the hypothetical contrary-to-fact subjunctive. Examples of this type of subjunctive are: “Had Joan studied more, she would have passed the exam,” or “Had Robert just reached out, he would have been saved.” Joan did not pass and Robert was not saved. Here we see that Witsius is locating the sufficiency purely in its internality or intrinsicality, not in its externality or extrinsicality. (C.f , Owen.) The redemption could have been sufficient for all men, had it pleased God to have Christ to undertake for all men. What Witsius is saying is that the expiation and redemption are not actually sufficient for all the men of this world, only that it could have been. In this revised formula, theologically, the sufficiency is actually collapsed into the efficiency: as it is only extrinsically or externally sufficient for those for whom it is efficient. Or another way of descibing it, the redemption is only hypothetically sufficient for all men. This separation of the redemption’s intrinsic and extrinsic sufficiency has its roots, most probably, in Beza, but it was the definition of choice for the majority of the Protestant Scholastics. However, it is a clear modification from the classic Lombardian formula, as subscribed to by Calvin, Luther, Bullinger, Musculus, Vermigli, et al. And so, the revision of the formula is not simply about tweaking semantics as some have alleged.]

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