In our last article we were calling attention to Article V of the Second Head of the Canons, dealing with Christ’s sacrifice upon the cross of Calvary. This article reads as follows:
Moreover, the promise of the gospel is, that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified, shall not perish, but have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.
We concluded our last article by calling attention to the fact that this article teaches that also the preaching of the gospel follows the course as determined by the good pleasure of the Lord. God does not only determine who are saved. But He also determines who shall hear the gospel. This is surely the meaning of the expression that the gospel ought to be declared and published to all nations and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel. This means that God wills that the gospel be preached to some but that He also wills that it not be preached to others. Now we know that this article of our Canons has been quoted by ‘those who would proclaim the gospel as an offer of salvation. They believe that the Lord would save all men and that, in the gospel, He offers this salvation to all those who hear it. How strange, is it not, that the Lord, loving all men and desiring their salvation, should deliberately withhold from them the gospel, should have willed that they come not into contact with His desire and plan to save them through the Christ of the cross! This, we understand, does not make sense. Calvin voices this same objection to the Arminian presentation of God’s universal will to save all men when he, in Calvin’s Calvinism, page 103, declares: “For if God willed, or wished, that His truth should be known unto all men, how was it that He did not proclaim and make known His law to the Gentiles also?” Calvin writes this in connection with his comments on I Tim. 2:4.
Secondly, this fifth article teaches that this gospel must be proclaimed to all nations and all persons promiscuously and without distinction, that is the gospel as including the command to repent and believe. Mind you, the fathers here speak of thepreaching of the gospel. This preaching must be general. Of course, as we have already noted, also this preaching is limited. It must follow the course as determined by the good pleasure of the Lord. Understanding this, however, it must be proclaimed not only to the elect but also to the reprobate. Fact is, the Arminian accused the Reformed man of being really unable to preach the gospel. If the work of salvation is wholly divine and sovereign, a gift of God from the beginning even unto the end, why should it be necessary to command the elect to believe and repent? He will repent and believe anyway. Besides, if God loves only some and if Christ died only for the elect, how is it possible to command others to repent and believe? So, the Arminian contended that the reformed view of the particular love of God and of the atonement of Christ upon the cross made it impossible for him to preach the gospel. We must bear in mind that it is exactly this objection of the Arminian that is answered here by the fathers in this fifth article. The article declares that the gospel must be preached promiscuously and without distinction. And it also declares that it must be preached with the command to believe and repent. Notice, please, the gospel must be preached with the command to believe and repent. A command is surely not an offer. The difference between the two is obvious. A command is never to be confused with a condition. An offer is something that may be refused. A command is something that may not be refused. It must be obeyed. From this viewpoint, the sinner has no choice in the matter. For him to refuse to believe and repent is gross disobedience. He has no right to sin and to refuse to believe in the Christ of the cross. But, does this refusal of the sinner to believe in the gospel not imply that the gospel must therefore be proclaimed as an offer of salvation? Not at all! But, to this we will call attention presently. We now set forth the fact that our fathers certainly believed in a general preaching of the gospel. And this is surely also believed by our Protestant Reformed Churches.
In the, third place, however, this fifth article also teaches that the content of the gospel is never general, but exclusively particular. It is true that we believe in a general preaching of the gospel, but it must ever be borne in mind that we believe in a general preaching of a particular gospel. The Lord does not promise eternal life to all, but only to those who believe. The article expresses it this way: “Moreover, the promise of the gospel is, that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified, shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” Does this mean that this promise is conditional, that every hearer of the gospel can will to believe, and that this promise of the gospel is therefore general and conditional, general because God would have all men be saved and conditional because its fulfillment is dependent upon the will of the sinner? No Arminian, we understand, would say that the Lord promises every hearer of the gospel everlasting life. He would certainly not maintain that God promises everyone eternal life, whether he believes or not. He does declare that God promises all who hear the gospel everlasting life if they believe.
This position of the Arminian is impossible and absurd. We must notice, in the first place, that this fifth article speaks of believing in Christ crucified. Now the fathers certainly would not say that there is salvation for all. If God is to offer salvation to all, well-meaningly, then there certainly must be salvation for all. God would surely not offer something He does not possess. But, this universal conception of the cross is exactly what characterized the Arminian. And it, is exactly this universal conception of the crucified Christ that was rejected by the fathers of Dordt. In this Second Head of the Canons they emphasize the particular character of the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ. To believe in the crucified Christ already emphasizes the particular character of the promise of the gospel.
However, this is not all. When we read that “the promise of the gospel is, that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified, shall not perish, but have everlasting life, then we understand that this promise is therefore limited to those who believe. Of course, this promise of everlasting life refers to everlasting life in the blessed hereafter. Now, that this promise is limited to those who believe also emphasizes the particular character of the promise. The believer is the elect. Faith is strictly a gift of God. The fathers call attention to this in the articles that follow, Articles VI and VII. The Lord willing, we will call attention to this in due time. What does it mean to believe in the crucified Christ? We are reminded of that wonderful passage in Holy Writ,John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The word “that” in the expression: “That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life,” means two things: purpose and result. This was certainly the purpose of God’s sending of His Son into the world, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. But, this is also the result of God’s love of the world. Because God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, therefore the possibility now exists for man to be saved through believing in that Son. I would assume that with this last statement every Arminian would agree. But, what is faith? We will have opportunity to call the attention of our readers to the significance of faith in our discussion of the two articles that follow. Nevertheless, we may and must say something about faith now. Is faith a condition for God’s work of salvation? Must a sinner believe before God can save him? Is the sinner able to believe before God can save him? Is the sinner able to will to believe? Does his salvation in any sense depend upon his believing, accepting or embracing of the Christ? What do we mean when we say that because God so loved the world by sending His Son into the world the possibility now exists for man to be saved through believing in that Son? O, we do not mean to say that now the possibility exists for man to save himself by believing, but that it is now possible for God to save the sinner through faith. Faith is not man’s hand reaching out to God but God’s gift to His elect sinner. Indeed, that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son does not mean that He realized for all men the possibility of salvation, if only they believe on Him. In the first place, faith is never a substitute for the atonement of the cross, so that all the sinner need do is to believe, and his sins therefore need not be paid. And, in the second place, to believe is humanly impossible; if salvation, therefore, depends upon a sinner’s believing, no sinner will ever be saved, and the love of God as revealed in the sending of His Son into the world will remain forever fruitless. Indeed, to believe is humanly impossible. To believe means that we must acknowledge that we are hopelessly lost sinners, that we can never contribute a single thing to our salvation, that salvation is possible only by God Himself, as the Triune Jehovah, in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Faith is God’s way of salvation, made possible by God through the amazing love of God in the sending of His only begotten Son. Now we can be saved; now it is possible for us to receive salvation, everlasting life from God. Now we need do nothing, absolutely nothing. Now we can receive it, by grace, as a free gift, in harmony with the unchangeable righteousness of God. All salvation is in Christ, and now we can and do obtain it, by faith, by faith in Christ Jesus, because God so loved the world that He gave His Son to be a propitiation for all our sins. Now the way is open for the elect, and God’s world, which He loved, can be translated into heavenly glory and immortality by implanting His people into that Christ. God Himself has opened the way to bestow salvation upon His people by the Divinely sovereignly free gift of faith.
Now we also understand why this gospel must also be preached to the reprobate. To save them? Is the preaching of the gospel a divine offer of salvation to all who hear it? This is impossible. In the first place, Christ did not die for all men. This means that there is no salvation to be offered to all men. And, in the second place, then no man would be saved. No man can believe or will to believe. If salvation were merely offered to him, then salvation would remain forever out of his reach. But the gospel is preached also to the reprobate in order that his sin may be revealed; his wicked unbelief must be revealed in order that God may be revealed as just when He judges. And the gospel is to him a divinely willed savor of death, even as it is written, II Cor. 2:15, 16: “For we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savor of death unto death; and to the other the savor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?”