THE REFORMATION PERIOD
THE SYNOD OF DORDT
In our preceding article we had begun to call attention to the opinions as expressed by the delegates to the Synod of Dordt from Great Britain. And we had quoted their first proposition which they had presented to that synod for its consideration.
Their second proposition reads, as follows: “Out of this same love, through and because of the merits and intercession of Christ, these same elect are given faith, and the perseverance, and all other matters, through which the condition of the covenant is fulfilled, and the promised benefit, that is, everlasting life is obtained infallibly.”
Again, one cannot object to this statement as such, except that we do not speak of the conditions of the covenant. However, we can make the same remark as in connection with their first proposition: they do not declare that these benefits are given exclusively to the elect. They do declare that they are bestowed upon the elect, but not that they are given only to the elect. And, the Lord willing, we will have opportunity to show that this exclusive character of the bestowal of salvation as only upon the elect is emphasized in the Canons.
The third proposition, somewhat longer than the first two, we wish to quote in full:
God, having mercy upon the fallen human race, has sent His Son, Who gave Himself, as a ransom price, for the sins of the whole world.
In this sacrifice of Christ we note two things. The manner of calling people to the actual imparting of this sacrifice, and the fruit of the same sacrifice as diversely bestowed upon men.
Concerning the manner, there is no man who can not be called truly and earnestly by the ministers of the Gospel unto the imparting of the forgiveness of sins and of everlasting life, obtained by this death of Christ;
Unto you be it known; that forgiveness of sins is preached unto you through Christ, etc.;
Whosoever believeth not, he is damned, because he did not believe in the Son of God. Now, in the Gospel there is nothing false or feigned, but whatever therein is offered by the Ministers or is promised to men, the same is offered and promised by the author of the Gospel in the same manner.
As concerning the fruit; out of the death of Christ, in which is contained an infinite treasure of merits and spiritual blessings, the actual fruit is bestowed upon people in the same manner and measure, and through the same means as it pleases God. Now, it pleases God, also after He has accepted the sacrifice, that the forgiveness of sins and everlasting life shall be imparted to everyone in no other way than through faith in the same Redeemer. And here that eternal and hidden decree of election is revealed, when that price, which is paid for all, and which will surely help all believers unto everlasting life, nevertheless is not helpful to all, because it is not given to all that they should fulfill this condition of the unmerited covenant. Thus, then, Christ died for all, in order that all and everyone, faith coming between them, through the power of this ransom price might obtain forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. Thus did He die for the elect, in order that they out of the merits of His death, according to God’s eternal good pleasure, particularly ordained for them, infallibly obtain faith and everlasting life.
What must one say of this third proposition? In this statement by the theologians of Great Britain, one reads of being called truly and earnestly by the ministers of the Gospel, and this language one also encounters in our Canons of Dordt. However, instead of teaching that men are called unto repentance and faith in the preaching of the gospel, and that the Lord promises eternal rest and peace to all those who come unto Him, we read here that the author of the Gospel offers and promises salvation to all who hear the gospel. In the third paragraph of this third proposition, there is surely nothing particular as applicable only to the elect. Besides, we also read in this statement, toward its conclusion, that Christ died for all men. We read, if you please, that Christ died for all, in order that all and everyone, faith intervening, through the power of this ransom price might obtain forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. And in the very beginning of this third proposition, these delegates from Great Britain declare that the Son of God gave Himself for the sins of the whole world. Now it is certainly true that the Son of God gave Himself for the sins of the whole world, provided that we understand “world” as referring to all mankind as out of every tribe, people, land and tongue. But one can hardly believe that this is the meaning of these English divines. To speak of universal atonement in one breath and then of the atonement as for the elect is hardly clear and unambiguous language. And the Canons certainly do not speak this language.
The fifth proposition of the theologians of Great Britain reads as follows:
In the Church, where, according to the promise of the Gospel, salvation is offered to all, the administration of grace is of such a nature that it is sufficient to convince all the penitent and unbelievers that they, through their own willful fault and either because of neglect or despising of the Gospel have perished and have lost the offered benefit.
It has been stated in the past that the word “offered” as used by the fathers in the days of the Canons of Dordt meant: “to present, exhibit.” However, in the light of the third proposition of these divines of Great Britain, one gains the impression that there is a general grace of God connected with this “offer” of the gospel. In the explanation of this proposition one reads this paragraph: “That not all are called to the grace of the Gospel, to whom the Gospel is preached, is not stating it correctly, however true it may be that there are those who are disobedient to the Gospel. Here they declare that it is incorrect to say that not all are called to the grace of the gospel to whom the gospel is preached. And we are of the opinion that these theologians of Great Britain are of the opinion that all to whom the gospel is preached are graciously called.
In the summation of the errors they reject, these delegates from Great Britain are generally sound. However, we do wish to quote the first error they reject. This reads as follows: “The first; the death of Christ having been set forth; is, that there is no other purpose of God to save any particular persons except conditionally, and depending upon the actual deed of man’s faith.” This, we believe, is stating the truth weakly. We read here that it is an error to state that God’s only purpose to save men is a conditional purpose. This can surely imply that God has also purposed to save men conditionally.
Next, we turn our attention to the delegates from the Palatinate, “uit de Palts.” In the quotations from these delegates, we must bear in mind that they present the position of the Arminians and then proceed to refute them. These quotations are surely of great significance. The Three Points of 1924 are a mixture of Dr. A. Kuyper’s Common Grace and general grace. The former refers to God’s general goodness to all men as revealed in the things of this present time. And the latter refers to the saving grace of God’s salvation as Divinely intended for all men and revealed in the universal atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the preaching of the gospel, which is presented as a general offer of salvation to all who hear this preaching of the gospel. We should bear this in mind as we listen to these quotations. We now quote the following:
God the father has ordained His Son Jesus Christ to be a Redeemer and Reconciler for our sins, out of that love whereby He has loved men, although fallen and worthy of condemnation, nevertheless as His creatures; and has willed to be merciful unto them, if this could occur as in any way in harmony with His righteousness.
A general inclination of the love of God, whereby He loves all His creatures, but especially the human race, we mutually acknowledge and confess with one mouth. The Heavenly Father also reaches out in His goodness toward man, also after the fall, giving us life, breath and all things,
causing His son to go up over the evil and the good, and causing it to rain upon the righteous and unrighteous,
Yea, in the constant habit and exercise of sinning, He endures the sinners with great longsuffering, in order that He at least with goodness should break their evil,
And when He punishes and destroys the stubborn and impenitent, He has no delight in the destruction of the creatures but in the carrying out of His righteous judgment,
This is truly an eminent love to sinners. But more eminent and higher one may justly reagard the love by which God, being moved, has given us His Son to be a Saviour for our sins. The same we set forth not as general but as particular, not common to all and every man, but as peculiar for the elect. For that love is nothing else than a good pleasure to save in Christ,
Is this the good pleasure of the Father with respect to the salvation of all men? Christ denies this plainly,
Moreover, it is obvious that God’s purpose is not general,
neither is His mercy general, whereby He is merciful to whom He will,
neither is also that grace common to all, out of which these are given faith in Christ and not to others,
Hence, the love of the Father in Christ, then, is no longer common; whereas the Scriptures exchange these things as equally important and as among one another;
and elsewhere. Christ Himself,
calls Himself a gift of God, Who has come forth out of the love of the Father and His goodness toward us. It is general and equally common to all? This none will lightly say, who has learned from Paul that God has given us His son thus that He with him at the same time gives what is necessary unto salvation; wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption,
Thus it remains a special gift, ordained out of a peculiar and special love of God, in order to redeem the elect and to save the believers. Hence, Paul declares that God is a Saviour or Sustainer of all men, but especially the believers,
The Lord willing, we will continue with this quotation in our following article. We understand, of course, that these delegates to the Great Synod of Dordt here set forth their belief in a general goodness of God as extending to the things of this present time. This is A. Kuyper’s Common Grace. But they are very firm in their maintaining that the love of God as revealed in Christ Jesus is very particular, extending only to the elect, and they deny emphatically that this good pleasure of the Father also extends to the reprobates. This goodness or mercy or love of God as in Christ is not common but very particular. To these interesting matters we expect to call attention the next time.