Sufficient for all?

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It appears that the Jolly blogger, along with many other reformed Christians, is happy with the “sufficient for all, efficient for some” statement concerning Christ's death. I did not realise until reading his recent post on Particular Redemption (or Limited Atonement) that it originates from Augustine, which is enough to make anyone think twice before criticising it. But I'm going to do that anyway, who cares if I knock myself out!

“Christ died sufficiently for all, efficiently (or efficaciously) for some”. I'm afraid I fail to get any real meaning out of this, no matter how hard I try, except if I use an idea of sufficiency which is many miles from the what I believe about Christ's death. The only logical conclusion I can get from this statement is “Christ death was sufficient for no one’s salvation.” — insufficient for all. Now let me explain.

The first problem is that the statement is very incomplete – Christ's death was sufficient for what for all? Let's supply the obvious – “salvation”. So we now have “Christ’s death is sufficient for everyone’s salvation”. The obvious question is “If it is sufficient – truly, genuinely enough – how come some are not saved? What are they missing?”. There are perhaps a number of ways to understand the word “sufficient”:

  1. The 'logical' way.

    With my maths and science background, I am accustomed to the word 'sufficient' being used as a logic word. Note that it has essentially the same meaning as the every day usage – "enough" – it is just being used in a slightly more rigorous way. If one thing is sufficient for another, it simply means that the first thing supplies every condition necessary for the second. So, the following statements all mean exactly the same thing, and the three shorter ones are often used interchangeably in all the scientific disciplines:

    A => B
    A implies B
    A is sufficient for B
    If A is true, then B must be true.

    This ought to be how we use the word sufficient in connection with Christ's death and salvation – Christ's death did everything necessary for the salvation of all those for whom he died. Nothing was left undone that needed to be done, every condition was fulfilled.

    Clearly in our sentence about Christ's death, the word isn't being used in this way. If Jesus's dying on the cross was sufficient for the salvation of every single human, and Jesus did actually die (and he did), then every single human must be saved. This isn't what the phrase is intending to teach at all – it goes on to say explicitly that not all are saved, it is only effective (or “efficient” or “efficacious”) for some.

  2. The “come-and-get-it” way (I couldn't come up with a better description, though I toyed with 'totally inadequate').

    Under this usage, we are essentially saying that Christ's death purchased a whole load of some quantity X which we all need for salvation – like someone who makes a huge meal, enough for all their street to come and be fed. However, although there is sufficient, not all in the street have their fill because they don't turn up. Similarly not all are actually saved because, for some reason, they fail to come and get it — either they don't have faith, or the Holy Spirit doesn't work in them.

    This analogy is totally inadequate for the cross, because Jesus's death did not purchase some vague impersonal quantity X, but actually accomplished personal redemption. We are not left to “come and get it”. On the contrary, everything we need for salvation is guaranteed by the cross. The blessings of faith, repentance and the coming of the Holy Spirit in our lives were all purchased by the Lord Jesus's death.

    This “come and get it” kind of sufficiency clearly is not doing enough for every human to be saved. The distinguishing thing, then, between those who are saved and those who are not must either be “faith” (or equivalent) or “the Holy Spirit” (or equivalent). Either way, this extra ingredient must therefore be outside of the scope of the sufficiency of Christ's death. Since every human needs both the Holy Spirit and faith to be saved, we have to conclude “Christ's death was insufficient for any to be saved”.

  3. The “hypothetical” way

    This might be the idea in some people's minds, so I thought I'd briefly tackle it. This understanding is essentially that Christ's death was so great, that if God had intended it to save everyone, it would have done. I believe that this is true, and it is important in that we are not to think that the number of people Jesus actually saved was less than every human because He simply couldn't manage any more or His death could not redeem any more. Apart from this, however, it is largely irrelevant. What might have happened in an alternate universe is not really our concern, and it is certainly not the basis for the offer of the gospel!

So, the only way for this statement to be better than nonsense is to massively downgrade the meaning of “sufficient” in respect to Christ's death. Other people may be happy to do that, but I am not. I can say:

Jesus Christ's death was sufficient for the salvation of all those for whom He died

and I mean:

Jesus Christ's death accomplished and guaranteed absolutely everything needed for the salvation of all His people

And that is the glory of Christ's death. Nothing needs to be added – it was enough. It is on this basis that we make the offer of the gospel — because Jesus's death really accomplished salvation for all who believe in Him, we can call everyone to turn to Him, and assure them that He is able to save them to the uttermost. We can hardly do so on the basis of a potential redemption, or an incomplete one that needs something extra.

In conclusion, then, “sufficient for all, efficacious for some” may sound grand, and may sound like it is Christ exalting, but what it really means is “sufficient for no-one”.

Comments and feedback welcome!

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