06 November 2010

Sufficient for All, Efficacious for the Elect

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "Rivers of Water in a Dry Place," a sermon preached on Sunday morning 11 July 1875 at the Met Tab in London.

NOTE: Arminians and high Calvinists alike often misunderstand or misconstrue the point Spurgeon is making in this weekend's excerpt (black text below). Spurgeon was an unabashed Calvinist—a full five-pointer. He emphatically rejected the notion that Christ died for all persons alike. From the start of his ministry to the end he believed in the Calvinistic doctrine of particular redemption. Here is his critique of the Arminian view:
The Arminian holds that Christ, when He died, did not die with an intent to save any particular person; and they teach that Christ's death does not in itself secure, beyond doubt, the salvation of any one man living. They believe that Christ died to make the salvation of all men possible, or that by the doing of something else, any man who pleases may attain unto eternal life; consequently, they are obliged to hold that if man's will would not give way and voluntarily surrender to grace, then Christ's atonement would be unavailing. They hold that there was no particularity and speciality in the death of Christ.

Christ died, according to them, as much for Judas in Hell as for Peter who mounted to Heaven. They believe that for those who are consigned to eternal fire, there was a true and real a redemption made as for those who now stand before the throne of the Most High.

Now, we believe no such thing. We hold that Christ, when He died, had an object in view, and that object will most assuredly, and beyond a doubt, be accomplished.

We measure the design of Christ's death by the effect of it. If any one asks us, "What did Christ design to do by His death?" we answer that question by asking him another—"What has Christ done, or what will Christ do by His death?" For we declare that the measure of the effect of Christ's love, is the measure of the design of it.

We cannot so belie our reason as to think that the intention of Almighty God could be frustrated, or that the design of so great a thing as the atonement, can by any way whatever, be missed of. We hold—we are not afraid to say that we believe—that Christ came into this world with the intention of saving "a multitude which no man can number;" and we believe that as the result of this, every person for whom He died must, beyond the shadow of a doubt, be cleansed from sin, and stand, washed in blood, before the Father's throne.

We do not believe that Christ made any effectual atonement for those who are for ever damned; we dare not think that the blood of Christ was ever shed with the intention of saving those whom God foreknew never could be saved, and some of whom were even in Hell when Christ, according to some men's account, died to save them.

Nevertheless, Spurgeon also despised the view of those high Calvinists who insist that the sufficiency of the atonement can be no greater than its efficacy. He held to the classic Dordtian formula that "The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin, and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world."

Spurgeon was annoyed with pedantic high Calvinists who believed the particularity of the atonement could be properly defended only by denying its infinite sufficiency. Here is his response to that brand of Calvinism:

esus is as rivers of water, because he is full of grace and truth. It would be a very difficult thing to calculate the body of water to be found in the Thames, but in rivers such as our American friends are favored with it must be almost beyond the power of mind to conceive the mass of water that must come rolling down into the sea. Gallons and hogsheads seem quite ridiculous by the side of the Mississippi and the St. Lawrence.

I always feel very fidgety when theologians begin making calculations about the Lord Jesus. There used to be a very strong contention about particular redemption and general redemption, and though I confess myself to be to the very backbone a believer in Calvinistic doctrine, I never felt at home in such discussions. It is one thing to believe in the doctrines of grace, but quite another thing to accept all the encrustations which have formed upon those doctrines, and also a very different matter to agree with the spirit which is apparent in some who profess to propagate the pure truth.

I can have nothing to do with calculating the value of the atonement of Christ. I see clearly the speciality of the purpose and intent of Christ in presenting his expiatory sacrifice, but I cannot see a limit to its preciousness, and I dare not enter into computations as to its value or possible efficacy. Appraisers and valuers are out of place here. Sirs, I would like to see you with your slates and pencils calculating the cubical contents of the Amazon: I would be pleased to see you sitting down and estimating the quantity of fluid in the Ganges, the Indus, and the Orinoco; but when you have done so, and summed up all the rivers of this earth, I will tell you that your task was only fit for school-boys, and that you are not at the beginning of that arithmetic which can sum up the fullness of Christ, for in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. His merit, his power, his love, his grace surpass all knowledge, and consequently all estimate. Limits are not to be found, neither shore nor bottom are discoverable.

Instead of coldly calculating with a view to systematize our doctrines, let us joyfully sing with the poet of the sanctuary—
"Rivers of love and mercy here
In a rich ocean join;
Salvation in abundance flows,
Like floods of milk and wine."

All idea of stint or insufficiency is out of place in reference to the Lord Jesus. When any man enquires, "Is there enough merit in the Savior's death to make atonement for my sin?" The answer is, "The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." When any say, "Perhaps I may not taste his love and believe on his name," the reply is, "Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely."
C. H. Spurgeon


Stefan Ewing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan Ewing said...

"The blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin." When any say, "Perhaps I may not taste his love and believe on his name," the reply is, "Whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely."

Revelation 22:17: the greatest—and widest open—Gospel call in all of Scripture. Come and drink!

"It is one thing to believe in the doctrines of grace, but quite another thing to accept all the encrustations which have formed upon those doctrines, and also a very different matter to agree with the spirit which is apparent in some who profess to propagate the pure truth."

Would that we all could break free of the fetters of man-made "encrustations which have formed upon these doctrines"! It is so easy to reduce the doctrines of Grace to a calculus, a formula, and forget that they are merely corollaries of the everlasting Gospel: the Gospel which saved even us, just as it saves all of our brothers and sisters.

What is more precious than gold, platinum, or even diamonds? What commodity can purchase your eternal life from the wrath of God? What precious commodity can cover all your sins? The blood of Christ is more valuable than anything else in the world! He is our one and all, our all in all: our Lord and Saviour, who gave His life that we may live. He died for any and all who will confess their sin and surrender to Jesus Christ. His blood is sufficient for all, and covers all of our sins.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

There is no aspect of Christianity that is more fundamental than this: the blood of Jesus Christ atones for the sins of any and all who call upon His Name!

Stefan Ewing said...

According to the schedule for 1875, Spurgeon's sermon was based on Isaiah 32:2, but see also verse 1:

Behold, a king will reign in righteousness, and princes will rule in justice. Each will be like a hiding place from the wind, a shelter from the storm, like streams of water in a dry place, like the shade of a great rock in a weary land.

...And he finished up with a clear allusion to Revelation 22:17.

So providentially, I was reading up tonight on British Columbia's first judge, who died in 1894. It turns out that he was a devout Christian, and at his funeral, two of his favourite hymns were played: Just As I Am, and Horatius Bonar's I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say:

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
     “Behold, I freely give
The living water; thirsty one,
     stoop down, and drink, and live.”
I came to Jesus, and I drank
     of that life giving stream;
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
     and now I live in Him.

How germane to Spurgeon's sermon!

This all-powerful judge was the one-man representative of the law of England in this unruly gold rush colony, held the power of life and death, and commanded the fear and respect of all; yet he dictated that his epitaph simply read:

"Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner" (adapted from Luke 18:13).

~Mark said...

Good post. We spent nearly a whole quarter on this topic in seminary, and certainly it's good enough for all, but not all get it, and with this topic as well as many others the more we try to put precise boundaries on it, the more trouble we tend to bring.

"Whosoever will..." Amen!

Daniel C said...


David Gay published two books with Banner of Truth "defending the Well-Meant Offer" which called the view that the atonement was "sufficient for all, efficient for the elect" pseudo-intellectual nonsense.

I hope you can see that some (not all) of us who do not affirm the Well-Meant Offer have legitimate grieviances against the modern-day Fideist Neo-Amyraldians or so-called "Moderate Calvinists". We affirm the Free Offer as historically elucidated and hold to the supposed "Owenite" formula -- viz that Christ's death was sufficient for all and efficient for the elect, but we refuse to follow the illogical nonsense of the "Well-Meant Offer" sprouted by Tony Byrne and David Ponter, and reduce God to a despondent suitor desparately begging people to accept him into their hearts.

FX Turk said...

P.R. --

Why would this post cause you to respond as you did?

Anonymous said...

"Sufficient for All, Efficacious for the Elect" is in itself a great theological summary statemnt. Thank you Pastor Phil for the article. I will comment on it later.
Thank you Stefan for the historical nugget.

Pastor Paul Dan

Colin Maxwell said...

A few years ago, the Banner of Truth reprinted a classic Welsh work by Owen Thomas (translated by John Aaron) entitled: "The Atonement Controversy" which dealt with the many theological battles fought on Welsh soil over this matter. A deep enough work and not the hardest to read either. Dr ML Jones highly recommended it.

Colin Maxwell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Robert said...

Wonderful post...great work by Spurgeon on dealing with a serious issue that I believe will not go away until Christ returns. I am an engineer and deal fully in calculating, estimating, and designing, but I am only working with the limited knowledge that God has allowed me to have. I know that we can never really wrap our heads aroud the enormity of the work of salvation and can't see why anybody would pursue such an endeavor. It isn't biblical.

Brad Williams said...

So Spurgeon is saying that the payment offered by Jesus in the atonement is sufficient to save every sinner in the world, but that it was given only for the elect? Is that right?

Mike Riccardi said...

I'm pretty sure that's right, Brad. I'm also pretty sure that I agree. Though I have to confess, I'm not sure what we gain or lose by including or leaving off the phrase "sufficient for all." If we know that Christ came and died with a purpose in mind -- i.e., to save those sheep the Father had chosen (Eph 1:4) and given to Him (Jn 6:37, 39; 17:2, 24) -- and that He most certainly (definitely) accomplished that purpose (Mt 1:21; Jn 10:29), then doesn't it render the question of sufficiency moot? I guess you could frame the question this way: Since the atonement was never intended to pay for the sins of every single human being in history, what difference does it make if it was sufficient to do so?

Maybe someone has some insight they can share on this one.

Interestingly, Calvin apparently disagreed with Spurgeon (unless I'm reading this wrong, which is entirely possible). From On the Eternal Predestination of God:

Georgius imagines himself to argue very cleverly when he says, 'Christ is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world. Therefore, those who would exclude the reprobate from a participation in the benefits of Christ, must, of necessity, place them somewhere out of the world.' Now we will not permit the common solution of this question to avail on the present occasion, which would have it that Christ suffered sufficiently for all men, but effectually for His elect alone. This great absurdity, by which our monk has procured for himself so much applause amongst his own fraternity, has no weight whatever with me.

Terry Rayburn said...

One might ask "What is the difference between what Spurgeon taught here and full-blown Amyraldianism?"

1. Part of the confusion I believe comes from the well-established terms "atonement" and "limited atonement".

I've thought for a long time that the term "atonement" as applied to the work of Christ is an unfortunate one (though I have no illusions it will ever be done away with).

It confuses because it borrows from the legitimate idea of atonement as "covering" in the Old Testament, in which sins were temporarily "covered" by the blood of bulls and goats, but could not be "taken away" by that blood.

2. With Christ, of course, our sins (and retroactively those of OT saints) are not just covered but permanently taken away in forgiveness and redemption.

Which is why I much prefer the phrase "Particular Redemption" to "Limited Atonement".

3. But many who don't like the starkness of the idea of "Limited Atonement" have drifted into a vague Amyraldianism (in my opinion, because it makes them feel better, but no matter).


Because Amyraldianism teaches that Christ has done all He needs to do to get *everybody* saved, and that just feels good, doesn't it.

It goes on to say that since God foresaw that no one would choose Him, He "elected" to give some saving faith...

...but that everyone had already been "atoned for" (loosely put as "Jesus died for everyone", similar to the teaching of Arminianism, but still claiming the title "Calvinist").

4. This is not only unbiblical, but it implies an awful thing:

that Christ "redeemed" or "bought" everybody, but then dropped them out of His arms -- "purchased", but then left at Wal-Mart to fend for themselves, poor things.

5. Spurgeon (and Dordt), however, gets it right in saying that a price was paid by Christ which was plenty of price to redeem (purchase) everybody, but for the express *purpose* of redeeming (purchasing) only those whom the Father had chosen and given to Christ (the elect).

This is a "particular redemption", again a better phrase, I believe, than "limited atonement".

6. A parting illustration may help, though all illustrations break down somewhere:

A guy goes into Hardware City to purchase a golden tub faucet. He gives the owner a check for 2 million dollars and says, "I'll take my faucet, thanks."

"But Sir, 2 million bucks will buy my whole inventory, and the building to boot!"

"True, my man, but I'm only buying the faucet, and the 2 million dollar check is the only one I have."

And indeed the priceless lifeblood is all our Lord had to redeem His pitiful flock.

The Amyraldian would dishonor Him by accusing him of buying all the owner's inventory and burning it for spite after it's already been purchased.

(I realize no Amyraldian would admit this, but they know not what they do.)

7. Finally, Spurgeon's Dordtian doctrine legitimizes the sincere offer to all persons to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, because "whosoever will may come", even if it was everybody in the world.

Brad Williams said...


If no Amyraldian would agree with your assessment, it could be that it is inaccurate.

It could be that the price of redeeming one guy is infinite, and the price of redeeming everyone is also infinite. So instead of buying the hardware store, we are more akin to the Chinese buffett. $5 gets you all the chicken you want or one piece. Either way, it's $5.

Terry Rayburn said...


Man, I must be thick or too tired. It's been a long day. I have no idea what you just said.

Care to rephrase it?

Brad Williams said...


I'll try.

I'm trying to say that we cannot put a price per head on individuals. As if every person owed a sin-debt of a certain number of "Harmartigrams." So, if there were 5 billion elect, then we could figure out how much Jesus paid. Nobody does that.

Let me try it this way: Jesus paid for my sins. How much did I cost? Was my debt infinite or was it finite? If we say it is finite, then how can we also say that the atonement is sufficient for all since there was a definite and finite amount paid for sin?

Let me add that I have trouble, serious trouble, with the argument of Owens regarding the atonement. I do not see how it escapes the concept of eternal justification. I'm in the particularly uncomfortable position of not being Calvinist enough for the Reformed and too Calvinist for the Arminian.

Having said all of that, I'd pretty much agree with all that Spurgeon said. I mostly agree with everything Charles Hodge says as well, I just don't think it all makes sense.

Brad Williams said...

That is, Owen's Trilemma, as I believe it is called. Not everything that he said about the atonement surely!

Stefan Ewing said...


Not to wade into the area of "hamartigrammetry" (HT: Brad), but just a minor point....

There is at least one place in the Old Testament where "atone" (or Hebrew "kaphar") is used in its New Covenant sense:

Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of Your Name;
Deliver us and
atone for our sins, for Your Name's sake! (Psalm 79:9)

Terry Rayburn said...


You may be right, but I don't know why.

The basic meaning of "kaphar" is "cover", strengthening my original point that the new covenant concept should be more than just "cover".

Maybe I'm missing something.

Daniel C said...


well, it just came to my mind that this formula was attacked by David Gay under Banner of Truth publisher as being wrong. And we know that Banner and many who calls themselves Calvinists denounce anyone who deny the WMO as being hyoer-Calvinists. Nevermind that those who deny the WMO are not monolitic.

I do hope Phil will ammend his hyper-Cal primer in order not to blanket condemn his fellow brothers of a heresy we too despise. Or worse still, a re-run analogous to the "[Peter] Lumpkins & [Tony] Byrne versus [James] White" episode.

Canyon Shearer, DMin said...

Brad, fantastic points and well stated. I've found explaining this point is one of the harder things to do; pecuniary atonement believers can't understand that Christ had to pay an infinite payment for just my sins just as he would pay that same infinite payment for ten-billion saints.

It is nice to read this post, because at least in one sermon Spurgeon went way off the deep end into Owen's pecuniary atonement stating that no payment was even possible for those in Hell. If this is true then everyone whom Christ told "Repent or likewise perish" (Luke 13:1-5) or "You will die in your sins, unless you believe I am he" (John 8:24) who then died and went to Hell made Christ a liar for making it seem that they could have been saved had they repented. If the pecuniary atonement view is true then we have a sadistic god who offers someone something he knows they won't receive which doesn't exist anyways.

Rather we can pray as Paul did that all those in his hearing would become as he was (Christians), and that all of his brothers would likewise be saved. Because there is an infinite river of salvation pouring out of the temple that is Christ, it gets deeper as it flows from him, and it will save a multitude, though a multitude limited to those whom the Father draws. (Ezekiel 47)

Unknown said...

Infinite in value because of the dignity of the One making the Atonement; Unlimited in efficacy to that subset of humanity the Bible calls the elect. So, unlimited in value and efficacy, but limited in scope to the elect.

Stefan Ewing said...


I'm not trying to engage the substance of what you or Brad are saying here, because I'd be in over my head.

My comment was just a friendly response to your first point: your understandable quibble about how the term "atonement" can lead to confusion, because it is generally temporal, ineffective, and insufficient under the Old Covenant, whereas it is eternal, effective, and all-sufficient under the New.

My comment was only to point out that while that is generally true, there are a few places in the Old Testament which tantalizingly speak of God Himself providing the atonement for our sins, in what can only be understood as a New Covenant sense.

Sure, places like Psalms 32 and 51, Isaiah 1:18, and Isaiah 53 brilliantly proclaim the concept—and the broader concept of redemption is all over the Old Testament, of course—but then there are these occasional gems here and there, like Asaph's plaint in Psalm 79:9, where the very same word "atone" itself is used, as is used throughout Leviticus. Like in Leviticus, the atonement is for our sins; but unlike in Leviticus, it is God Himself who atones for our sins.

The fact that this dual use of the word "atone" is already present within the Old Testament itself is just a very precious reminder of how deep the grace of God goes, that the promise of the New Covenant in the blood of His Son Jesus Christ is all over the pages of the "Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms."

That's all I meant by it.

Unknown said...

Infinite in value because of the dignity of the One making the Atonement; Unlimited in efficacy to that subset of humanity the Bible calls the elect. So, unlimited in value and efficacy, but limited in scope to the elect. The phrase "sufficient for all, efficacious for the elect" is something both Calvinists and Arminians agree with. It is simply a denial of universalism. One is not automatically saved; one must believe in Christ to be saved. The phrase does not address WHY it is efficacious for the elect. The Calvinist and the Arminian give different answers.

Brad Williams said...


I hear you, but I think that we are talking about two different aspects of "value." I will concede, gladly and worshipfully, that the value of the atonement is infinite because it is Jesus' blood we are talking about. That's not being questioned.

The question is how much did Jesus pay? Did he pay an infinite price or not? If he paid an infinite price, then all this talk about a general atonement being "wasteful" of Christ's blood seems pretty straw man. Further, I cannot imagine how you can mean, in any way, that the atonement is "sufficient for all" if you believe that Jesus only paid for the elect. In what way is it sufficient for the reprobate?

Robert said...


It would be sufficient for the reprobate if God had chosen to apply it to the reprobate's life in order to pay the price for his sin. It wouldn't "cost" any more than Jesus' perfect life and atoning death for any person to be saved and go to heaven, but God has already chosen those to whom this will apply.

Brad Williams said...


I agree 100%. What you just said is completely compatible with Amyraldian theology.

Robert said...


Just going by Wikipedia, I'd say that I am not in line with Amyraldianism.

"Simply stated, Amyraldism holds that God has provided Christ's atonement for all alike, but seeing that none would believe on their own, he then elected those whom he will bring to faith in Christ, thereby preserving the Calvinist doctrine of unconditional election."

I don't believe that God has provided atonement for all alike, only for those whom He has chosen. Just because the sacrifice is sufficient for all does not mean it was provided for all. That involves the intent that it be for everybody, which goes against election.

Brad Williams said...


I didn't say that you were. I said that your above quote was.

The difference between 5 point and 4 point Calvinism, if Amyraldians get to be Calvinists at all, is in the order of decrees. Amyraldians still believe in an unconditional election.

Unknown said...

Hey Phil,

If you are interested, Ive been collating statements on the
sufficiency-efficiency formula and its modifications here: The Classic “Sufficient for
all, Efficient for the elect” and its Revision

G Michael Thomas, Richard Muller and Pieter Rouwendal all recognize that the
formula underwent a revision post-Calvin and that the form found in Turretin, et
al, is not properly the original form or expression, even as used by the
Reformers. AA Hodge, and others also document this.

To Terry, I have to say your characterizations of Amyraldianism seem really off
the target. If you ever want to discuss the history of some of this, feel free
to email me (email addy found at my blog About Page).


Anonymous said...

It seems to me that part of the discussion if off base because we forget the One whom we sinned against. Shouldn't we say that the death of Christ was infinite in worth because we sinned against One who is infinite, therefore it took someone who was also infinite to pay that debt?

That being the case, His death is of infinite worth in order to pay the infinite debt we owe an infinite God.