Limited Atonement: Sufficient for All, Efficient for the Elect
Dr. Nettles does a wonderful job of summarizing the “sufficient for all, efficient for the elect” position(s) in his book By His Grace and For His Glory (note pages 302-05). He believes this view represents “a majority view among Calvinists” though as I demonstrated in previous posts, is not the position he himself prefers. From this point on I will refer to the Sufficient for All, Efficient for the Elect view as the SFA position.
The SFA position basically affirms both the sufficiency in the nature of the atonement to save all men and the limitation of the atonement to the elect in its divine intent. It is unlimited in extent but limited in its intent. According to the Synod of Dort, “The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin; is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.” W. G. T Shedd (a Presbyterian theologian form the nineteenth century) wrote, “Christ’s death is sufficient in value to satisfy eternal justice for the sins of all mankind…Sufficient we say, then, was the sacrifice of Christ for the redemption of the whole world, and for the expiation of all the sins for all and every man in the world.”
This view would say Jesus Christ bore the sins of the entire world (Isaiah 53:1-6) on his shoulders when he died on the old rugged cross. As the sinless God-man He offered up a perfect sacrifice of infinite value. The extent of the atonement is universal but the intent of the atonement (to save only the elect) is clearly limited. Steele and Thomas explain it this way, the atonement was limited in its original design; not in its worth, value, or scope.
Richard Mayhue believes the atonement of Christ is in some ways a paradox. He argues that this atonement is limited in some senses, and in other ways it is unlimited. He believes it is limited in that it does not extend to angels or animals (Heb 2:16); and that it is not effaciously applied to all humans by God’s choice (via sovereign election). It is unlimited in that its message is extended to all humans in its proclamation; Its sufficiency is unlimited in value; it makes all men accountable in terms of eternal responsibility; It makes common grace available in non-eternal ways to all mankind (Matt 5:45); It benefits all the elect in its redemptive, eternal efficacy. Mayhue points to the Day of Atonement as a OT picture of this NT concept. He concludes his essay with the following words, “Christ’s atonement is unlimited in a non-saving sense for all of sinful humanity, but it is limited in its redemptive efficacy only to those who God particularly and unconditionally elected unto eternal salvation.” According to Dr. Daniels Thomas Boston and the other Marrowmen taught that there were two aspects of the atonement, one general for all men and one particular for the elect alone.
So the argument between those who hold a SFA position and a more limited 5 point view is really over whether or not the atonement of Jesus Christ was truly sufficient for all. In other words, does Jesus’ atonement really cover the sins of the non-elect? Is that what Isaiah 53:1-6 mean? Is that what 2 Peter 2:1ff implies? Is that the John’s intention when he uses the Greek word holos in 1 John 2:2? Please stay with me friends the biblical exegesis is just around the corner…