Prof. Dekker also refers to some texts of Scripture to prove that, 1. “Consistent interpretation of similar passages results in absurdity.” 2. “Scriptural evidence used by Berkhof is further brought into question by the fact that Scripture also speaks of the death of Christ as being “unlimited and for all men.”
As to the former, Dekker refers to Isaiah 58:8. This text reads as follows: “Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy reward.” According to Dekker this text means that Christ died only for Israel, I am afraid that the reference here is not correct and that Dekker meant to refer to some other passage. At any rate the text does even speak at all of the death of Christ and, therefore cannot possibly be used as proof that He died for Israel only.
And to the second text to which he refers, it reads as follows: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Indeed, if this text would mean that Christ died only for Paul, it expresses an absurdity. But Dekker knows better, of course, and, therefore, I need not attempt to offer the exegesis of this passage.
The second group of texts are more to the point. First, there is reference to Heb. 2:9, which reads as follows: “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.”
To this I would answer:
1. That if Christ literally gave His lifeblood for every man, i.e., for every individual under the sun, every man surely would beg saved, whether or not he hears the gospel. Then, indeed, even the preaching of the gospel would be superfluous.
2. That the following context defines the phrase “every man” as referring to Jesus’ brethren. Let me quote a few of the verses that follow vs. 9:
“For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through suffering.” For whom did Christ die, and who are saved? Surely not “all men” still less “for every man,” but: 1. for “many,” and 2. for the “sons,” which evidently does not refer to every man, but those whom God, in His eternal counsel had adopted as sons, and in whom, in time, He realizes this adoption.
In vs. 11 we read: “For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren.” And in vs. 12: “Saying, I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church I will sing praise unto thee.” Now, in the first place, the text speaks of those who are sanctified; sanctification is purely a work of God; question: Is every man sanctified? Answer: No, only the sons of God, i.e., the elect. Hence, “every man” in vs. 9 cannot mean every individua1 that ever lived, is still living, or shall ever live. In the second place, Christ calls those that are thus sanctified his “O brethren.” Are all men the brethren of Christ? Answer: No, but only the sons of God, whom the Father gave to Christ. In the third place, Christ speaks of His brethren as members of the church: “in the midst of the church I will sing praise unto thee.” Does every man belong to the church? No, but only those that are chosen from before the foundation of the world, i.e., according to all Scripture, as well as according to the Heidelberg Catechism, only the elect.
The same note is struck throughout the rest of the chapter. This is so plain that it is not necessary for me to quote more. The text in vs. 9, therefore, that speaks of “every man” cannot possibly refer to every individual that ever lived, still lives, or will live in the future.
Prof. Dekker also refers to I John 2:2, which speaks of the whole world. The text reads as follows: “And he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” Now, on this I remark the following:
1. I repeat, what I have written before, that the term “world” in Scripture never means simply “all men.”
2. That, if I John 2:2 is interpreted to mean that Christ is the propitiation for the sins of all men in the whole world, then it follows that all men are surely saved.
3. That the term “world” in the First Epistle of John has different meanings. Thus, for instance, in the same chapter from which Dekker quotes, vss. 15-17: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away and the lust thereof but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” Would Prof. Dekker dare maintain that Christ is the propitiation also for the sins of the “World” as the term occurs in the above quoted passage? I do not believe it.
4. What, then, is the proper interpretation of the term “the whole world” in I John 2:2? It is simply this: Christ is the propitiation for all the elect out of the whole world. Please, do not say that I carry my own preconceived notions into the text, for all Scripture and also the whole of the First Epistle of John sustains this interpretation. How would you explain, for instance, I John 3:1: “Behold what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that wk should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not.” Here the term “world” certainly has not the same meaning as in I John 2:2. That this “world” knows not “us,” the people of God, means that this “world” has no fellowship with them; and cannot have fellowship with them. And why not? The answer is: because they are called the sons of God, according to the text. And who are these sons of God, or rather, they who are called the sons of God. And again, who are they that are so called? The answer is: they are called thus by God: they are effectually called. Once more: who are thus effectually called? Only the elect and none other.
And thus I could continue, for the whole First Epistle of John is full of the distinction between the world and the sons of God, between the children of the devil and the children of God. But let this be sufficient.
But certain it is that Christ is not the propitiation for the sins of all men.
Prof. Dekker also refers to, Matt. 20:8. This text reads as follows “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
This passage of Scripture cannot prove that God loves all men, nor can it substantiate the theory that the atonement of Christ is unlimited, for the simple reason that it does not speak of “all” but of “many.” If it proves anything, it rather substantiates the view that atonement is limited. I cannot understand why Dekker refers to this Scriptural passage.
The next text appears to be more pertinent. It is I Tim. 2:6. “Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” About this I would like to make the following remarks:
1. The word “all” without any modifier by no means always means “all men.” In fact, if this is the meaning it is usually definitely indicated. This is the case in Romans 5:12: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” And again in vs. 18: “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.”
2. Besides, it is evident from the context that “all” inI Tim. 2:6 cannot mean all men. In the first chapter, the apostle speaks of those that desire “to be teachers of the law;” and that understand not what they say or whereof they affirm. Moreover, the apostle speaks of “the lawless and disobedient, the ungodly, the unholy and profane, murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, manslayers, whoremongers, they that defile themselves, menstealers, liars, perjured persons.” Now Prof. Dekker certainly would not maintain that those that are mentioned above are included in “all” mentioned in I Tim. 2:6. He cannot mean that Christ gave himself a ransom for them. Hence, this does not and cannot prove that the atonement of Christ is unlimited.
I must confess that I do not understand what Prof. Dekker means by the design of the atonement as such. And again I do not understand what he means when he writes that the Canons “speak of the design of the atonement as far as its ‘saving efficacy’ is concerned.” By “limited atonement” I understand that Christ did not die for all men, but for the elect only. And this is, to be sure, very emphatically expressed in Canons II, 8. It declares “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 unto salvation.” Is not this the meaning of “limited atonement?” And the Canons, in the above mentioned article, continues as follows: “that is it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, 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 to him by the Father.” Again, I ask: is not this meant by “limited atonement?” Moreover, Canons II, 8 is introduced by the clause: “For this was the sovereign counsel, and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father.” Is not this the same as the design of God? Is it not true, therefore, that the Canons here teach it was the design of God that Christ should die for the elect alone and for none else? Dekker writes: “The key phrases in the above excerpt from the Canons are ‘saving efficacy,’ ‘justifying faith,’ and ‘effectually redeem.'” But this is a mere arbitrary choice. I could, with equal if not more justice claim that the key clauses must be found in the words “should extend to all the elect,” and “it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross . . . all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to him by the Father.” In other words, Christ died only for the elect and for none other. And this is limited atonement.
Dekker further writes:
“Now let us return to our original question. Is the atonement limited or universal in its design? The answer depends on what we mean by design. As far as the atonement is concerned, four factors may be distinguished when we speak of design:sufficiency, availability, desire, and efficacy.
“First, can those who recognize the sufficiency of the atonement for all men, as Berkhof certainly does, deny that this was part of its design? If universal sufficiency is not part of the divine design of the atonement it is an accident, an unintended by-product. Any such conception is of course theologically impossible and amply discredited by the Bible.”
Let us stop here a moment.
The Canons of Dordrecht speak of the sufficiency of the atonement of Christ in II, 3 as follows:
“The death of the Son of God is the only arid most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin; and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.”
Now, if this is interpreted to mean that Christ shed even one drop of blood for anyone except for the elect, as Dekker evidently would interpret it, then I cannot agree. With Him on the cross were, not the reprobate or even “the whole world,” but only the elect and none other. But if this means merely that the death of Christ is of infinite value because, as the next article explains, “This death derives its infinite value and dignity from these considerations, because the person who submitted to it was not only really man and perfectly holy, but also the only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit, which qualifications were necessary to constitute him a savior for us,” then I agree. In other words, Christ shed His life-blood only for the elect and His death was, indeed, sufficient to expiate their sins because it was of infinite value seeing it was the death of the Son of God.
And this is in harmony with the whole of the Canons: Christ’s death is abundantly sufficient for the salvation of all the elect.
Nevertheless, I could wish that the last clause of Canons II, 3 had not occurred. Prof. Dekker, evidently makes use of it to support his theory that God loves all men and that, therefore, the death of Christ also is for all men.
We hope to continue this discussion in the next issue of our paper.
In the meantime my articles on Arminianism must wait till more space is available.