The question we raised at the close of our previous article on the proposition of Prof. Dekker that God loves all men was: how can Dekker believe in the efficacy of the atonement and, at the same time, maintain that Christ died for all men?
That the means to maintain both is evident from the quotation from his article I made in the last number of our Standard Bearer: efficacy of the atonement means that the latter is limited; yet, God’s love is universal, and Christ died for all men.
Is this not a contradiction in terms?
It is, indeed, if you understand the term efficacy in the biblical, Reformed sense of the word. For then the term means that God alone causes the atonement to be efficacious and that, too, only for the elect and for none other.
This is evident from the article of the Canons we already quoted and which Prof. Dekker professes to believe. For that article states plainly “that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of his Son should extend to all the elect.” And in article 9 of the same chapter of the Canons we read: “This purpose proceeding from the everlasting love towards the elect, has from the beginning of the world to this day been powerfully accomplished . . . so that the elect in due time may be gathered together into one . . .”
This is the Reformed meaning of the term efficacy.
The same is evident from Canons III, IV, 11. “But when God accomplishes his good pleasure in the elect, or works ins them true conversion, he not only causes the gospel to be externally preached to them, and powerfully illuminates their minds by his Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God; but by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit, pervades the inmost recesses of the man; he opens the closed, and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised, infuses new qualities into the will, which though heretofore dead, he quickens; from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, he renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like A good tree, it may bring forth the fruit of good actions.”
Now, if this is the meaning of the term efficacy, it ought to be evident that one can no longer maintain that Christ dies for all men for the simple reason that God applies the atonement only to the elect. Nor can one teach anymore that God loves all men, for He does not desire to save all men. Hence, to maintain the Reformed meaning of the term efficacy and, at the same time, to say that Christ died for all men and that He loves all men, is surely a contradiction in terms.
The only alternative is to teach the Arminian theory of free will. Then we maintain that God will efficaciously apply the atonement of Christ to all men if they only will to be saved. And I believe that must be and actually is the view of Prof. Dekker. If God loves all men, not with a certain “common love” or “common grace,” but His saving and redemptive love, why is it then that all are not saved? The answer is: because they do not will to be saved. Why is it that while Christ died for all men, and the blood of atonement was shed for all men, that all men are not actually saved? The only possible answer is: because they do not will to be saved. And this is what I call “rank Arminianism.” If I misrepresent him, I wish that he would explain himself, either in The Reformed Journal or in The Standard Bearer. He can have all the space he wants.
This is, of course, contrary to the Reformed Confessions to which, I suppose, also Prof. Dekker subscribed when he took his position in the Seminary. We may refer for this to the negative part of the Canons, III, IV, art. 5, where we read:
“We reject the errors of those:
“Who teach: That the corrupt and natural man can so well use the common grace (by which they understand the light of nature, sic, 1924, H.H.), or the gifts still left him after the fall, that he can gradually gain by their good use a greater, viz., the evangelical or saving grace and salvation itself, and that in this way God on his part shows himself ready to reveal Christ unto all men, since he applies to all sufficiently and efficiently the means necessary to conversion.”
Or we may consult Art. 8 of the same chapter of the Canons which reads as follows:
“The Synod rejects the errors of those:
“Who teach: That God in the regeneration of man does not use such powers of his omnipotence as potently and infallibly bend man’s will to faith and conversion; but that all the works of grace having been accomplished, which God employs to convert man, man may yet so resist God and the Holy Spirit, when God intends man’s regeneration and wills to regenerate him, and indeed that man often does so resist that he prevents entirely his regeneration, and that it therefore remains in man’s power to be regenerated or not.”
It is my conviction that Dekker teaches exactly what. Synod here rejects.
But, after all, in the closing paragraphs of his article, Prof. Dekker denies the truth of limited atonement altogether, in spite of the fact that he first admitted that Scripture and the Confessions are “decisive and convincing” on this score. For there he writes that “the doctrine of limited atonement . . . has been used to place a taboo on the proposition that Christ died for all men and on a statement by a missionary to unbelievers such as, ‘Christ died for you.” If the Church is unwilling to say in any sense that Christ died for all men and refuses to say to unbelievers, in addition to ‘God loves you,’ ‘Christ died for you,’ it places the infinite love of God under an illegitimate restriction.”
I would like to ask Prof. Dekker and also that supposed missionary: how do you know that the particular unbeliever whom you are addressing is the object of God’s redemptive love? How do you know that Christ died for him? The answer would, undoubtedly, be: because God loves all men and Christ died for all men. This answer would be a lie, for God, according to Scripture and the Confessions, loves only His own, whom He has given to Christ; and Christ died only for His sheep. That, therefore, would be a downright lie. All any missionary could truthfully say to any unbelieving individual is: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”
But let us look at this matter from the subjective point of view. If anyone is to be saved God must implant the justifying faith in his heart. Thus it is according to Scripture and the Confessions. Does Prof. Dekker believe this? If he does believe, how can he then say to any individual unbeliever and, in fact, to any man: God loves you and Christ died for you?” Does he know that God will give him the justifying faith? If he admits that he does not know this, then he cannot say to any man “God loves you,” or ‘Christ died for you.” If, however, he answers that God will give him the faith, then he must add the limiting clause: if the man wills to receive it. Then he believes in the free will of man. Or, perhaps, he will preach as many so-called would-be Reformed preachers and evangelists would say to their audiences: God must save you, but you must pray for it, not understanding that the natural man cannot pray.
Hence, no matter how you put it, if Prof. Dekker or any missionary would say to any particular man or unbeliever “God loves you” or ‘Christ died for you” he does not speak the truth.
In the conclusion of his article Prof. Dekker flatly denies the truth of limited atonement. It is true that he modifies his statement concerning this truth by saying “The doctrine of limited atonement as commonly understood by and observed in the Christian Reformed Church” but that does not make any difference, especially in view of the fact that he does not explain how he understands it. He wants to maintain the theory that God loves all men and if this were true, limited atonement is impossible. He closes with paraphrasing the text in John 3:16: “God so loved all men that He gave His only begotten Son.” And he expresses the wish that “this great truth may permeate the life and witness of the Church in full power.”
Prof. Dekker has two more articles on the same subject as the one to which we already called your attention. In the first of these articles he answers various objections that have been raised against his view that God loves all men. These I need not review here. But I do wish to call attention briefly:
1. To an article written by the Rev. Rolf L. Veenstra in which he, in The Banner of Nov. 17, 1961, virtually writes the same thing as Prof. Dekker in his article “God So Loved All Men.” “We insist on the universal and sincere offer of salvation. We do not hesitate to say to any man, ‘God loves you’ . . . . Yet the personal appeal, ‘Christ died for you,’ is suspect in the Reformed circles for the simple reason that Arminian ideas are read into it.” This quotation I make here, not in order to offer my criticism on this statement, although I cannot possibly agree with it and although it surely is unbiblical and Arminian, but simply to point out that, although Veenstra expresses the same opinion as Dekker, not a word of criticism was heard by the editor of The Banner or by anyone else as far as I remember.
2. To call attention to a quotation by Prof. Dekker from an article of Prof. John Weidenaar on the Scriptural passage found in Rom. 1:18-22. The latter writes: “Paul teaches that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against the unrighteousness and ungodliness of men . . . Three times Paul utters the ominous words: God gave them up. The final abandonment is the point at which man becomes a reprobate. This passage, viz. Romans 1:28, is doubtless the classic passage together with the context on the biblical meaning of reprobation . . . Once this is understood, it becomes clear that God never shows any attitude of favor, grace, goodness, kindness-or whatever other symptoms you might suggest to the reprobate . . . The reprobate is beyond recall . . . The reprobate has committed the unpardonable sin the essence of which is conscious, voluntary, and persistent impenitence.”
Prof. Dekker finds “the thought of Prof. Weidenaar very attractive.” And this stands to reason, for if God loves all men there can be no reprobation, and this is exactly what Prof. Weidenaar teaches according to the above quotation, For, according to him, reprobation is not an eternal decree in God’s counsel, but it is in time. Moreover, reprobation is not sovereign on the part of God so that He determines who, is to be reprobated, but is in man’s power: in the way of his sin he becomes reprobate, in the way of sin he finally commits the unpardonable sin.
We now have, at least three definitions of reprobation:
(1). The definition of Barth: all men are by nature reprobates; but Christ becomes the reprobate, and after His death on the cross there is no more reprobation.
(2). The definition of Weidenaar: the reprobate is he who is persistently impenitent so that he commits the unpardonable sin.
(3). The infra-lapsarian definition of the Canons of Dordt, I, 15: “What peculiarly tends to illustrate and recommend to us the eternal and unmerited grace of election, is the express testimony of sacred Scripture, that not all; but some only are elected, while others are passed by in the eternal decree; whom God, out of his sovereign, most just, irreprehensible and unchangeable good pleasure, hath decreed to leave in the common misery into which they have willfully plunged themselves, and not to bestow upon them saving faith and the grace of conversion; but permit them in his just judgment to follow their own ways, at last for the declaration of his justice to condemn and perish them forever . . .”
The first two are surely not Reformed, the last is. Barth is not Reformed, nor is Weidenaar. The former is a Universalist, the latter is, as far as the doctrine of reprobation is concerned . . . nothing.
3. To call attention to one more quotation in the article of Prof. Dekker in which he answers various objections that were raised against his view concerning the love of God to all men. “The general objection seems to be that if God hates some men, He cannot be said to love them. The reference most often cited is Rom. 9:13 -‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'”
The answer of Prof. Dekker to this objection is as follows:
“Does Romans 9:13 mean that God did not love Esau? Not at all. For one thing, this is a quotation fromMalachi 1:3, where it has a specific historical setting in contrasting God’s dealing with Israel and with Edom. It does not refer to an absolute distinction. When Edom experienced the hatred of God in history, this does riot exclude the possibility of its being the object of His love, I am happy that one of the Editors, Dr. Henry Stob, has seen fit to deal with this subject of divine hatred in some detail. It is essentially a problem in Ethics, the field of his specialization. The attention of the reader is invited to his article appearing in this issue.”
My criticism of this interpretation of Rom. 9:13 must wait for the nest issue, the Lord willing.