We still have to examine and discuss what Prof. Dekker in his article in The Reformed Journal has to say on the question whether the atonement of Christ is limited or unlimited. In other words: did Christ die for all men, or for the elect only?
As Dekker put the question: “If God’s love in giving Christ is universal, is the atonement universal? Or is it limited? . . . Just what is the Reformed doctrine of limited atonement?”
In answer to this question Dekker, first of all, quotes from the Systematic Theology of Berkhof. According to the latter, the question of limited or unlimited atonement, negatively, is not whether the satisfaction of Christ is sufficient to save all men, or whether the saving benefits of the atonement are applied to all men, or whether the offer of salvation is seriously made to all men, or whether some of the fruits of the atonement are beneficial for all men. But the question is rather whether God’s design in Christ’s atonement was the salvation of the elect only or of all men. “If it had been His intention to save all men this purpose could not have been frustrated by the unbelief of man.”
For this Berkhof quotes proof from Scripture.
Dekker quotes Berkhof as follows:
“Scripture repeatedly qualifies those, for whom Christ laid down His life in such a way as to point to very definite limitation. Those for whom He suffered and died are called ‘His sheep,’ John 10:11, 15, ‘His Church,’ Acts 20:28, Eph. 5:25-27, ‘His people,’ Matt. 1:21, and ‘the elect,’ Rom. 5:32-35.”
Dekker criticizes Berkhof in regard to the Scripture passages. Writes he: “These passages do not adequately support Berkhof’s argument. In none of them is the predication regarding those for whom Christ died stated exhaustively or exclusively. They do affirm that Christ died for His sheep, His Church, His people, the elect, but about the possibility that He also may have died for others these passages say nothing. Moreover, if the predications made are to be taken as limitations, consistent interpretation of similar passages results in absurdity. Then, for instance, Isaiah 58:8 teaches that Christ died only for Israel and Galatians 3:20 that He died only for Paul. It would appear that the passages used by Berkhof as proof for his position really beg the question. They are relevant to his argument only when they are first interpreted in the light of the doctrine which they are used to prove.”
In opposition to these passages quoted by Berkhof, Dekker refers to other Scriptural passages which, according to him, clearly teach the universality of the atonement. Heb. 2:9 teaches the death of Christ “for every man.” I John 2:2 says that Christ “died for the whole world.” According to Matt. 20:28, He died for ‘many.’ I Tim. 2:6, He died “for all.”
Dekker also quotes from the Canons. Writes he:
“In addition to Biblical data we should note what the Canons of Dordt have to say. The question for Berkhof is the design of the atonement as such. To this detached question the Canons do not speak. They speak of the design of the atonement as far as its ‘saving efficacy’ is concerned. The relevant statement (from II, 8) is as follows: ‘For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of his Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation; that is, it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross . . . should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation and language . . . all those and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given him by the Father; that he should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, he purchased for them by his death.'”
On this part of the Canons, Dekker comments as follows:
“‘Limited atonement’ as taught by the Canons is not precisely the same, it seems, as that taught by Berkhof. Dordt did not deal with the design of the atonement in general, as Berkhof does. It dealt rather with the design of the atonement in specific connection with efficacious application of saving grace. Contrary to the Arminians who taught that the atonement was intended to apply enabling grace to all men, Dordt insisted that the atonement in no sense was intended to effectuate saving grace for all men. The key phrases in the above excerpt from the Canons are ‘saving efficacy,’ ‘justifying faith’ and ‘effectually redeem.’ But Berkhof deals with the design of the atonement in a broader sense and it seems clear that the Canons of Dordt do not demand adherence to the doctrine of limited atonement in exactly the way he sets it forth.”
The reader will notice that I quote Dekker rather extensively. I do this on purpose, because, in the first place, I want to do him justice and, secondly, I want our readers to understand what he really teaches. In fact, I am not quite sure that even now our readers will understand him.
But before I quote him further, I must comment on what he wrote in the above quotations.
First of all, then, I must criticize his comments on the texts which he quotes from Berkhof’sSystematic Theology to prove the latter’s view on limited atonement.
In John 10:11 we read: “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” Similarly, in vs. 15 of the same chapter: “As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
Do not these passages teach as plainly as is ever possible that Christ did not die for all men, that God did not intend that Christ should die for all men, that, therefore the atonement is limited to the elect? Dekker admits that the texts teach that Christ died for His sheep, but he adds “but about the possibility that He may also have died for others these passages say nothing.” I am sorry to say that to me this is sheer nonsense. For, who are Jesus’ sheep for whom and for whom alone He lay down His life? I will quote from the same chapter of the gospel according to John to show that He did not die for other than His sheep, as Dekker regards it as at least a possibility. I refer to vss. 26-30: “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck! them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.”
This entire passage teaches very clearly that none but the elect are the sheep of Jesus. But, strange as it may seem, Dekker would not and does not deny this. He speaks of the possibility that Jesus may have died for others. This, of course, is an impossible possibility, a contradiction in terms. But this contradiction is not mine but Dekker’s.
However, because of this I must call your attention especially to vs. 26 of the above quoted passage: “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.” Notice:
1. That the Lord does not say: Ye are not of my sheep, because ye believe not, but, on the contrary: “Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.”
2. This implies that only the sheep of Jesus are able to believe and that, too, because no man can believe of himself: faith is the gift of God.
3. Hence, the fact that they do not believe is proof of the fact that they are not of Jesus’ sheep, whom the Father has given Him.
4. And since Jesus died only for His sheep and for none other He certainly did not die for the “others” to whom Dekker refers. God did not love them, He did not love all men. Atonement is not for the “others,” it is not general but particular; it is not unlimited but limited.
Acts 20:28 is also quite definite and to the point. It reads as follows: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made your overseers to feed the church of God, which he bath purchased with his own blood.” Dekker is of the opinion that also this passage does not state “exhaustively or exclusively” that Christ did not die for the “others.” But notice:
1. That the text states very definitely that Christ died for the Church. It is the Church which He purchased with His own blood.
2. What is the Church? The answer of Scripture is: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.” And then in vs. 7: “In whom we have the redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins . . . .” And again vs. 23: “Which is his body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all.”
3. From these texts we learn:
a. That the Church consists of those whom God has chosen from before the foundation of the world. For that Church and for none other Christ shed His blood. That Church and none other has redemption in the blood of Christ.
b. Moreover, that Church is the body of Christ, a complete organism with all the members occupying their own place in the body. No one can add to that body without marring the whole. The “other” of which Dekker speaks simply do not exist, surely not as possible members for whom Christ shed His blood.
c. The only possible conclusion to which anyone can come is that the atonement in the blood of Christ is particular and limited to the elect only.
The next passage to which Berkhof refers in proof of limited atonement is Eph. 5:25-27:
“Husbands love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word. That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having: spot or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be: holy and without blemish.”
Since also this passage speaks of the fact that Christ gave Himself, not for all men, not for others, but only for the Church, we will not repeat what we have written on this subject on the preceding text.
The next passage is from Matt. 1:21, which speaks of the name Jesus and interprets that name by saying: “for he shall save his people from their sins.” Also this is clear in itself. Jesus means Jehovah—Salvation or Jehovah—saves. And whom does Jehovah save? All men? No, but “his people,” those whom the Father gave to Jesus. For them alone He shed His life-blood. Atonement is not general, but particular; not unlimited but limited.
Finally, Berkhof refers to the text found in Rom. 8:32-35which reads as follows:
“He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”
It seems to me that this is not a strong text. I was wondering whether Dekker, perhaps, had the wrong reference, but this is not the case: I looked it up in Berkhof’s Systematic Theology. Of course, the text certainly speaks of limited atonement in the words: “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all.” Nevertheless, Dekker might argue that the words “for us all” might refer to all men. It is true that the text speaks of the elect, but this is not immediately connected with God’s delivering up His Son “for us all.” I do not mean to say, of course, that the words “for us all” do not refer to the elect and to them alone for the pronoun “us” cannot possibly refer to all men. But the text does not literally say that Christ died only for the elect, as Berkhof has it.
But it is also true that Berkhof quotes many more texts to support the doctrine of limited atonement. And, besides, he also discusses some of the texts which the opponents adduce in defense of unlimited atonement. And it is rather striking that the “world” as in John 3:16 occupies a large place in the defense of general atonement. According to Berkhof the term world has a variety of meanings, but it does not always mean all men.
I am not through yet with this discussion, neither is Prof. Dekker as I notice from the Reformed Journal. Naturally, I am deeply interested in this discussion, not merely because the view of Prof. Dekker is, to my mind wholly unbiblical and unreformed, but also because I am wondering what the Christian Reformed Church will do about this all. Will they condemn Prof. Dekker? This, I say again, is impossible unless they first retract the error of the First Point of 1924. Will they allow the teaching of Prof. Dekker in the Calvin Seminary? Then it is forever “good-bye” to Reformed doctrine in the Seminary and in the Christian Reformed Church. Then, in other words, the bitter fruit of 1924 has completely become ripe.
I have to add one more item to my present editorial on the view of Prof. Dekker that God. loves all men. It is this:
I made the rather bold statement that I challenged Dekker to produce one text in which the term ‘World” means “all men.”
Well, he took up my challenge, and he found one text in which “world” does indeed mean “all men.” Now what shall I say about this?
1. First of all, I want to say: peccavi: I should not have made such a broad statement. Even though this is probably the only instance in the New Testament in which the term “world” means all men, it certainly has that meaning in Rom. 3:19.
2. Yet, even in Rom. 3:19 the term does not merely mean “all men” but it signifies: all men as they are under sin and condemnation before God: “that all the world may become guilty before God.” Hence, in my challenge to Dekker I should have written: “I challenge Prof. Dekker to find one text in Scripture in which the term “world’ merely or simply means all men.”
3. And do not forget that the chief question is that or whether God loves the world in the sense of “all men.” For this Prof. Dekker cannot find any support at all in Rom. 3:19.
Finally, I wish to thank Prof. Dekker for the “nice words” of praise he directs to me. Even though I am probably too old by this time to appreciate this, still, over against all the hatred that has been slung at my head for the sake of the truth (1924 was inspired by hatred, not by love of the truth, of this I am convinced) it is kind of pleasant to hear a different note once.
In your article in the Reformed Journal under the heading “Does God Hate Some Men,” you emphasize that words have meaning and this meaning must be defined. I agree with you. Now, I wish to criticize your article in The Standard Bearer, as you might well expect. But before I do this, I would like to have you give us a clear definition of the word hate or hatred. You use many words, but you never come to a clear definition of the termhatred.
The definition must, of course, not be philosophical, but Scriptural.
The original words are, as you well know, in the Hebrew SANEE, and in the Greek MISEOO. Kindly look up all the references given in Scripture, form a concept, and then formulate a definition.
Please, Professor Stob!
It is rather ironic that Professor Harold Dekker in his current articles in the Reformed Journal should find himself criticizing Prof. Berkhof’s views on limited atonement, and for that reason should find himself to be the object of no little questioning in Christian Reformed circles. This is ironic, because as far as the fundamental issues are concerned, Prof. Dekker certainly stands in the line of 1924, and therefore in the line of Prof. Berkhof and the late Rev. H.J. Kuiper, two of the foremost defenders of the First Point and its general, well-meant offer of salvation. The chief difference is that Prof. Dekker is more consistent, and carries his views to their logical consequence, i.e., the denial of limited atonement—something which the Protestant Reformed have always insisted was implied in the First Point, but which Berkhof and Kuiper did not quite want to accept.
Anyone acquainted with the writings of Berkhof and Kuiper in defense of the Three Points of 1924 will recognize at once that Prof. Dekker is not essentially deviating. His statements concerning the love of God are strikingly similar to those of Berkhof and Kuiper, though perhaps a little more blunt.
For purposes of comparison I will reproduce some of the statements of Berkhof and Kuiper as quoted in an instructive little brochure by the Rev. H. Hoeksema, “Calvin, Berkhof, and H.J. Kuiper, A Comparison.” The quotations from Berkhof in this brochure are translated from his “De Drie Punten in Alle Deelen Gereformeerd.” And the quotations from Kuiper are from his “The Three Points of Common Grace:” There are also quotations from Calvin’s writings against Pighius in the above named brochure, which make it abundantly evident that Calvin agrees with neither Berkhof, Kuiper, or Dekker. But for the present, I merely want to show that Dekker is in the line of Berkhof and Kuiper.
Prof. Dekker writes concerning John 3:16: “Whether taken as the cosmos or as the human race, ‘world’ in this passage clearly covers all men. By no strain of exegesis can God’s redemptive love be confined to any special group.” And again: “God loves His enemies; God loves all men.” Further: “The universal love of God is also revealed in His invitation of the gospel, sincerely extended to all without reservation or limitation.” Reformed Journal, Dec., 1962, p. 5.
Now listen to the Berkhof of a few decades ago: “The following link in the argument of Synod is this: The general and well-meant offer of salvation is a sign of God’s favor toward sinners, is for them a blessing from the Lord. This must emphatically be pointed out, because they, who cannot agree with the declaration of Synod, maintain that the preaching of the Word is merely intended as a curse for the reprobates that dwell under such preaching. He does not bless them by this, but curses them through it. He uses that preaching, in as far as it concerns them, merely as a means to plunge them more deeply into destruction, hence, as an instrument of His hatred. This is a positively unscriptural thought. The Scriptures teaches us most certainly, that we must consider the offer of salvation a temporal blessing also for those that do not heed the invitation. The following considerations serve to prove this:
“(1) That God calls the ungodly unto conversion is presented in Scripture as a proof that He desires their salvation. In the prophecy of Ezekiel we listen to the voice of the Lord in words that speak of tender mercy: ‘Have I any pleasure at all (even in any measure) that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God; and not that he should return from his ways and live? And again: “For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth (i.e., of him that dieth in his sin) saith the Lord God: wherefore, turn yourselves and live ye.’ These passages teach us as clearly as words are able, that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (notice that he does not say ‘the elect wicked’ but ‘of the wicked’ entirely in general); and the tender calling, to which we listen in them, witnesses of His great love for sinners and of His desire to save the ungodly.” (italics mine, H.C.H.). De Drie Punten, p. 21.
It is to be noted that Berkhof, according to his own statement, applies all this to the wicked entirely in general, and not merely to the elect.
Berkhof also cites Ezekiel 33:11, also, remember, with a view to “the wicked entirely in general,” and therefore, the reprobate, as follows: “There is still another passage in Ezekiel in which the Lord expresses the same thought in still stronger language, in which He even confirms it with an oath, viz., Ez. 33:11. “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no, pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked. turn from his way and live; turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel? Are these not words of tender loving-kindness, in which a Father implores His backsliding children to return to the house and. to the heart of father?” De Drie Punten, p. 22.
There is surely no difference between this and Prof. Dekker’s writings, though the latter are perhaps more blunt.
There are several passages also in H.J. Kuiper’s printed: sermons on “The Three Points of Common Grace” which remind one strongly of the writings of both Prof. Dekker and Prof. H. Stob, who writes on God’s hatred in February, 1963 issue of theReformed Journal.
Wrote the Rev. H.J. Kuiper, pp. 15, 16: “Let us emphasize the fact, that your conception of God depends upon your answer to the question whether God shows any favor to the reprobate. A certain Christian has well said: ‘Our God is a just God, but not a cruel God.’ He has no pleasure in the misery of any of His creatures. He sends the wicked earthlyblessings as the fruits of His kindness, in order to convince them of His sincere willingness to bestow upon them the greater gift of salvation in Christ. God is just and stern but He is not harsh and cruel. He is not a God who reveals to a large part of humanity nothing but His wrath. Even the reprobates are His creatures, the works of His hands; and in His goodness and grace He lavishes blessings upon them as long as they live, even though they perish in their sins. Thus He magnifies His love as well as His wrath in the reprobate; even as He glorifies His justice as well as His grace in the redeemed.
“Neither can you maintain the sincere offer of salvation to all who hear the gospel, unless you accept the truth which is formulated in the first point of Synod. If God assumes no attitude of favor to the unthankful and evil, he cannot sincerely offer them the blessings of redemption . . .
“There is no one here in the audience who can say, ‘God hates me.’ Suppose you knew that you will ultimately be lost; even then you could not say, ‘God does not care for me.’ The gospel we preach is a gospel for sinners—for all sinners. It is glad tidings also for you. God has no pleasure in your death but therein that you turn and live. He hates your sins but He does not-hate you. He invites you to come to Him and be saved. That very fact will make your punishment doubly deserved if you should be lost. You will never be able to say: ‘I have not tasted God’s goodness and grace; I have never experienced His love.’ You will have to say: ‘I have spurned His love, rejected His grace; and now there remains for me a righteous judgment, a well-deserved wrath whose flames will burn forever and ever.'”
Compare also the following:
Dekker: “The doctrine of limited atonement as commonly understood and observed in the Christian Reformed Church impairs the principle of the universal love of God and tends to inhibit missionary spirit and activity.”
H.J. Kuiper: “One of the most serious aspects of the present denial of the doctrine of Common Grace is the denial of the general offer of salvation. It robs the gospel of its evangelical note. It is bound to create an attitude of religious passivism and fatalism which has been the curse of every church “where the preaching of election was not counterbalanced by the sinner’s responsibility and of God’s sincere offer of salvation to all without discrimination.” The Three Points of Common Grace, p. 13.
Finally, it is to be noted that both Prof. Dekker and the late Rev. H.J. Kuiper take refuge in what they call the mystery. The only difference is that Prof. Dekker, moves that mystery one step farther away, after having accepted the consequence of general atonement, which the Rev. Kuiper did not want to accept.
The Rev. Kuiper wrote on p. 12 of his The Three Points of Common Grace, as follows: “This objection (that Synod virtually committed itself to the Arminian doctrines of the General Atonement and the Free Will, H.C.H.) is as absurd as it is serious. So far as we know, the only argument in support of this astounding charge is that God cannot sincerely offer salvation to reprobate sinners, unless Christ has actually paid for their sins and unless they have a will that is free to choose the salvation offered them. Our answer is that this does not at all follow. It is true that human logic cannot fully harmonize the doctrine of election and reprobation, of a particular atonement and of man’s total depravity (which implies that our will by nature is free to choose only the evil but not the good) with that of the general offer of grace. But does this mean that both cannot be true? There is not one doctrine in Holy Writ which does not involve us in intellectual difficulties. Think of the mystery of the One Being and the Three Persons, of divine sovereignty and human freedom, of original sin and the sinlessness of Christ, of the union of the two natures in the one divine person of Christ.”
Prof. Dekker has accepted the consequence of general atonement, but is not quite ready apparently to accept the equally necessary consequence of free will. And so he also seeks refuge in the mystery as follows: “Those who still bear His image will surely be the objects of His love even though not actually redeemed.
“Of course, no matter how we understand all of these matters, mystery remains. Can we explain that God loves all men while not all men are saved? Surely not. But is there anything that we really can explain about the love of God? Let us carry out our mission to all men according to the plain Biblical givens, leaving the unexplainable where is belongs—in the infinite mystery of the heart of Him who is Himself love. The ultimate mystery for missions is the mystery of divine love.”
In the light of the above, I repeat my contention that Prof. Dekker is in essential agreement with the fathers of the First Point. And I add another contention: the adherents of the First Point can hardly criticize Prof. Dekker in good conscience.