John Piper subscribes to the view that the atonement of Christ is sufficient in its worth to save the non-elect, but efficient in its application to save only those who believe. This gobbledygook is derived from the teachings of Andrew Fuller, who sought to retain the free offer of the gospel, while subscribing to the doctrine of Particular Redemption. To that end, Fuller argued that the atonement of Christ is universal in its value, capable of covering the sins of the entire human race (elect and non-elect). He also maintained that the atonement is particular in its application, covering only the sins of those who savingly believe on Christ. In this way, Fuller could sincerely offer the gospel to the non-elect, for he believed the atonement of Christ was hypothetically sufficient for them. Piper underscores this teaching:
“On the extent of the atonement, Fuller found himself again defending the Scripture against High Calvinists and Arminians who both thought that “particular redemption” made the free offer of the gospel to all illogical. His position is that the death of Christ is not to be conceived of “commercially” in the sense that it purchased effectually a limited number such that if more believed they could not be atoned for. On the other hand, if the atonement of Christ proceed not on the principle of commercial, but of moral justice, or justice as it relates to crime — if its grand object were to express the divine displeasure against sin (Romans 8:3) and so to render the exercise of mercy, in all the ways wherein sovereign wisdom should determine to apply it, consistent with righteousness (Romans 3:25) — if it be in itself equal to the salvation of the whole world, were the whole world to embrace it—and if the peculiarity which attends it consists not in its insufficiency to save more than are saved, but in the sovereignty of its application—no such inconsistency can justly be ascribed to it (Works, Vol., II, pp. 373–374 Emphasis added).”
“In other words, the limitation of the atonement lies not in the sufficiency of its worth to save all the sinners in the world, but in the design of God to apply that infinite sufficiency to those whom he chooses.”
First, The Free Offer Of The Gospel.
It should be pointed out, that while Fullerites believe the gospel should be freely offered, yet they do not offer it freely. They offer it on condition that the sinner savingly believe and repent. This is to impose a tax on the gospel, making faith and repentance the duty of unregenerate sinners. A duty-faith and duty-repentance gospel cannot be offered freely, because it is not a free gospel that is offered.
It should also be pointed out, there is a difference between freely offering the gospel and freely preaching the gospel. The scriptures speak about preaching the gospel freely to all sinners, but they do not once speak about offering the gospel. It is for this reason High-calvinists believe the gospel is to be freely and fully preached (proclaimed), but that it should never be presumptuously and foolishly offered.
Second, The Atonement Of Christ.
High-calvinists believe the sufficiency and efficiency of Christ’s atonement are particular and special. Sufficiency is in proportion to its efficiency. All for whom (the elect) Christ shed His blood (sufficiently) are redeemed by His blood (efficiently). The blood of Christ is so precious, not one drop was wasted on those who die in their sins.
Nor do High-calvinists believe the efficiency of Christ’s blood is dependent upon the saving faith of the sinner. Rather, the saving faith of the sinner is dependent upon the efficiency of Christ’s blood. Saving faith is procured by Christ for His people through His redemptive work, which is applied to their hearts by the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.
If the atonement is sufficient to save the non-elect, as maintained by Fuller and Piper, then saving faith would have also been procured by Christ for them. Forthwith, all sinners (elect and non-elect) would savingly believe on Christ. As this is not the case, so Christ never procured saving faith for the non-elect, and therefore the atonement is not sufficient to save them. The value of Christ’s atoning blood is measured not by the quantity of those it could hypothetically redeem, but by its quality to actually redeem all for whom it was intended.
William Styles, a nineteenth century High-calvinist Baptist preacher, wrote a book entitled “A Manual Of Faith And Practice”. On pages 61-64, Styles explained the High-calvinist position on the atonement of Christ:
“We differ from those who deny that the sufferings of Christ were equivalent to the punishment due to the sins of the elect.. No Scripture is, again, adduced to refute what has been esteemed a fundamental truth. It suffices, therefore, to state that John Stevens expresses his belief that “Christ’s sufferings were according to the number of His people” in a work which has been universally accepted in the denomination. It has been asked, “whether the Lord Jesus could have suffered more,” and this, not particularly wise, question has been supposed to contain an argument as cogent as if it were the statement of a revealed fact. John Stevens has, however, shown that it is propounded in ignorance of the distinction that should be drawn between the act of dying and the sufferings that may attend a dying hour. Not from His death alone, but from His dying under such unique and momentous circumstances the merits of Christ’s oblation arose. It is certain that His sufferings resulted from the sins of the elect, and we as a Denomination hold that they were a legal equivalent to what the church must, but for Him, have suffered in Hell for ever.
We differ from those who hold that the value of the atonement is infinite, although its benefits are confined to the elect. While it is conceded by those to whom we refer, that the influence of Christ’s death extends only to those whose Head He is, it is insisted that we should discriminate between this, and its worth. Its worth is infinite; its influence restricted. This is the distinction between the intrinsic and extrinsic value of the atonement. “The indwelling Godhead of Emmanuel” we are told, “imprinted its own infinity upon the value of His oblation”; hence its intrinsic infinitude. Divine appointment restricts its actual efficacy; hence its extrinsic limitatedness. Pedantic phraseology, however, in our judgment only tends to obscure the simplicity of divine truth, and we object to the employment of words that poor and plain men cannot understand. With William Palmer, we deem this distinction “indefensible.” We believe the design, the worth and the application of the atonement to be co-extensive, regarding it, as in all respects, commensurate with the claims of justice on those for whom it was intended.
The above distinction we moreover hold to be human, needless, unscriptural, and misleading. It does not simplify the presentation of the gospel to sinners. It affords no comfort to anxious inquirers sighing under the burden of deplored sin, to whom infinite generalities bring no relief. Their question invariably is, no “has an atonement of unlimited value been provided?” but “Did Christ die for ME?” It magnifies neither the justice, nor the wisdom, nor the love of God, and introduces confusion into the beautifully harmonious and coherent scheme of Divine salvation. On the other hand the doctrine of a just and sufficient atonement is, in all ways, adapted to the wants of sinners, while it reflects transcendent glory upon the God of all grace.
The assertion that they only can preach to sinners who are prepared to proclaim that the Atonement is a “bottomless abyss” is disproved by the fact that the gospel is never so presented in the Inspired volume.
The assertion that an infinite atonement was needful, because sin is an infinite evil, is also untenable. Sin may be infinite in the language of hyperbole, when terms are not employed in their full and literal acceptation. Sin may be called infinite, relatively, for it is the rebellion of the soul against the infinite God. But sin personally considered is the act of finite creatures who cannot possibly give rise to what is infinite.
On examination it will be seen that the root of all objections to an atonement, limited both in design and efficacy, lies in dislike to the Sovereignty of God. In determining the extent of His salvation He pleased Himself alone. The right to do this, proud reason invariably denies Him. Hence the many attacks upon the revelation of plans and proceedings, in all of which He claims and exercises His royal prerogative.
Our views accord with the Scriptures which invariably represent the satisfaction of Jesus, as the result of His sufferings as a complex person, when enduring the punishment adjudicated by equity to the sins that had been transferred to Him. It is granted that the complexity of Emmanuel invested Him with an infinite capacity for suffering, but where is it asserted that He suffered to the extent of that capacity?
All passages which refer to the cause of His sufferings, explicitly state that these had definite relation to accurately considered sins. “With His stripes,” i.e., with stripes inflicted on Him, one by one, till the required number was reached, “we are healed.” “The Lord hath laid on Him,” not the iniquity, or sin as sin, but, as in the margin, “the iniquities of us all.” “For the transgressions of my people was He smitten.” “The chastisement of our peace,” i.e., such punishment as must be endured to ensure our peace “was upon Him.” “He was delivered for our offences.” “He died for our sins.” “He suffered for us in the flesh.” He, “the just” one, died instead of the “unjust” ones. “He gave Himself for our sins.” The wrath of God excited by our sins therefore caused His suffering, and to exhaust that measured wrath He suffered.
Now we must surely “believe in equity in relation to the atonement.”—John Haselton. We cannot but hold that impartial justice regulated every blow of the divine hand which fell upon the spotless Surety. Since, therefore, His sufferings were commensurate with the penal desserts of those whom He represented, His sufferings were limited. We hence conclude that the Expiation which was the outcome of those sufferings was correspondingly limited. Cause regulates effect. In this case the cause of the suffering was the sins of a numbered company (Isa. 53:6, margin; Rom. 4:25; 1 Cor. 15:3; 1 Pet. 3:18; Rev. 7:9); when made to meet upon their responsible and competent Surety. The effect, therefore, must correspond therewith, and the “value,” “worth,” “efficacy,” “efficiency,” “preciousness,” or “sufficiency” (for the terms are employed with little apparent discrimination) of the Atonement, must be limited to those for whom it was made.
The above view is currently styled the Commercial View of the Atonement, though “the doctrine of a Commensurate Atonement” might be happier. It is opposed by Fullerites, “who base the extent of the Atonement on the glory and dignity of the Divine Nature of Jesus, contending that His sacrifice was (on this account) of ‘infinite worth,’ enough to have been the means of saving ten thousand worlds.”—Dr. Stock.
Somewhat similar is the view of G.W. Shepherd.—“It was the dignity of Christ’s person which determined the merit of His work.” “The excellency of the Divine nature is communicated to the work done by Him in the human nature. His obedience is thereby Divine, and therefore of infinite efficacy.” “If one sinner only was to have been saved, He could not have done less; had there been a million times as many, He could not have done more.”
On the contrary, the view of John Stevens is, that “the demands of impartial Justice (which Jesus met) were greater than if only one sinner had been ordained to salvation, and must have been proportioned to the number of those appointed to obtain salvation (by His sufferings)”—“Help for the True Disciples,” page 180.
John Hazelton also speaks thus:—“It is said that ‘you should not take a commercial view of the Atonement.’ But “Ye are bought with a price.’ What is a commercial view of the Atonement if it does not appear here? My friends, it is wicked, and altogether of the devil, to talk in this manner of the Atonement of Christ,” namely to deny the doctrine enforced above.—Sermons, Vol. 1, page 4. See Tracts on the Atonement, by W. Palmer.
While, however, we endeavour to assign to the Atonement its scriptural proportions, we are careful to avoid ascribing limits to the Holy One of Israel. “Infinity should be connected with all His attributes.”—(John Hazelton), but we distinguish between His attributes and His actions. His glory is infinite, but its displays are limited. His wisdom is infinite, but its manifestations are limited. His power is infinite, but its operations are limited. His love is infinite, but its objects are limited. It should, however, be remembered that these limitations have been determined by the Lord Himself. How superlatively glorious, therefore, the proportions and results of the Atonement will finally prove to be, none can conceive. This we are assured, that they will be worthy of the infinitely blessed God.”
Jared Smith served twenty years as pastor of a Strict and Particular Baptist church in Kensington (London, England). He now serves as an Evangelist in the Philippines, preaching the gospel, organizing churches and training gospel preachers.