THE REFORMATION PERIOD
THE SYNOD OF DORDT
Before we call attention to the doctrine of atonement as set forth by our fathers at the Great Synod of Dordt, it is well to quote once more the second article of the Remonstrants, setting forth the Arminian presentation of this doctrine of the work of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross of Calvary:
That, agreeably thereto, Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that He has obtained for them all, by His death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer, according to the word of the Gospel of
“God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And in the First Epistle of
“And He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
When calling attention to this doctrine of the atonement as set forth by the Synod of Dordt, it is well to be reminded of the great significance of this teaching of Holy Writ. Fact is, this doctrine constitutes one of the fundamental doctrines of Calvinism, one of the Five Points of Calvinism. And it is also a fact that the fathers devoted an entire head of doctrine to this teaching in the Canons. It is true, of course, that these Five Heads of the Canons are the answer of the fathers to the Five Points of the Remonstrants. Nevertheless, this doctrine constitutes the content of an entire Head of the Canons, the Second Head.
Secondly, when discussing this doctrine, it is also well to bear in mind that these Five Points of Calvinism are inseparably connected. They all stand or fall together. To maintain the one, it is necessary to maintain all the others. And, of course, the fundamental heresy of the Arminians or Remonstrants is their denial of the absolute sovereignty of the living God in His counsel of predestination. This is the first point of the Arminians and it also is the first point of the Five Points of Calvinism. This connection between these several doctrines cannot be denied.
Point I of the Remonstrants is a denial of the sovereign and unconditional character of Divine election. Divine election is either sovereign and therefore unconditional or it is conditional and based on foreseen faith. The love of God is either particular, determined solely by the Lord or it is general and dependent upon the free will of the sinner. The Remonstrants advocated a universal love of God and conditional predestination. The doctrine of a universal love of God is Arminianism. This doctrine of a conditional predestination must lead to universal atonement. The history of the Christian Reformed Church since 1924 is a clear corroboration of this. In 1924, at the time of the adoption of the Three Points there was very little talk of a universal atonement. But those points do speak of a general love of God, expressing itself in a general offer of salvation in the preaching of the gospel. Today that church has upheld Prof. H. Dekker, retained him as a professor in its seminary, and this in spite of the fact that he has publicly declared himself in favor of the heresy that Christ died for all men, head for head. This is inevitable. How can God love all men and offer salvation to all men unless there be a salvation for all men. The Lord cannot offer something that does not exist. If He offer salvation to all, there must be salvation for all. And this means that this salvation must have been made possible through a general suffering and passion of the Lord Jesus Christ. The first point of the Arminians must lead to their second point: universal atonement. The one simply does not make sense without the other. This is very serious. How careful we must always be with respect to our teaching of the love of God, whether it be general or particular! Thirdly, the doctrine of a general love of God and a universal atonement must lead to a denial of complete and absolute depravity. The Three Points of 1924 are also a clear corroboration of this. And this is also plainly evident in the Five Points of the Remonstrants. And this, too, is inevitable. The teaching of a general love of God, expressed in a general offer of salvation, must lead to the teaching that the sinner is able to accept this offer of salvation. How can anyone be sincere when offering something to someone unless that person be able to accept it? To offer salvation to all men, and this means that the sinner’s acceptance of that salvation is dependent upon that sinner’s free will, certainly must mean that that sinner be also able to accept it. And this is a denial of the sinner’s absolute and utter depravity. If the sinner be dead in his sins and miseries, then it must follow that the Lord must begin His work of salvation in that sinner, and this must mean that that work of the Lord is strictly unconditional. If the Lord must begin the work of salvation in the heart of a sinner who is dead in sins and in miseries, then it follows, must follow, that He begins that work where He pleases and according to His sovereign good pleasure. Fourthly, Arminianism must lead to the denial of the truth that the grace of God is irresistible. This, too, is expressed in the fourth point of the Remonstrants, and we quote its conclusion: “But as respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible, inasmuch as it is written concerning many, that they have resisted the Holy Ghost, Acts 7, and elsewhere in many places.” According to the Remonstrants, salvation depends upon the will of the sinner. This means that, according to them, the sinner can accept salvation, will to be saved, but he can also resist this grace of God, refuse to be saved. We must understand this. It is, of course, true that the sinner rejects the gospel, tramples the grace of God under foot. Because of the obduracy of his heart, he wants nothing to do with the blessedness of salvation. Viewed subjectively, from the viewpoint of the sinner, he chooses the things of sin and of the world and despises whatever is connected with the grace of the Lord. However, this must not be confused with the teaching that the grace of God is resistible. That the grace of God is resistible means that the living God can be resisted in His desire to save. It means that the Holy Spirit can be thwarted in His desire and efforts to save the sinner. It means that God does not have His own way, that He is frustrated in His intention and effort to save. And this is certainly refuted by what we read in John 6:44: “No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” This text teaches us two things. First, if the Father draw not, no man can come to the Saviour. This coming to Jesus is, therefore, absolutely dependent upon the almighty drawing power of the Father. And, in the second place, this passage of Holy Writ also teaches that when the Father draws man must come unto the Lord. This, too, is taught in this particular Word of God. And the teaching that the grace of God is resistible means exactly that the sinner can thwart the living God in His work of salvation. Fifthly, and finally, Arminianism leads and must lead to the denial of the certain perseverance of the saints. This denial is expressed in the fifth point of the Remonstrants. Of course! If the grace of God be dependent upon the will of the sinner, one can never be sure of the perseverance of the saints. A chain is never stronger than its weakest link. The sinner, once saved (we speak, of course, the language of the Arminian), can then fall away from grace and fail to persevere unto the end.
Is this Arminian doctrine serious? Is it true that, if only we are saved, it really makes no difference what we believe? This sentiment is often expressed. The salvation of the sinner is the all-important thing. These points of doctrine are really very irrelevant. We should not be so distinctive in our preaching and teaching. Is this true? Emphatically not! First of all, from the viewpoint of the salvation of a sinner, does it really make no difference how a sinner is saved? Does it make no difference whether one has the assurance of salvation or whether a sinner never enjoys this assurance? Does it make no difference whether a saved sinner can take the songs of the redeemed people of the Lord upon his lips or whether doubts and fears accompany him all the days of his life? Do we not read in II Pet. 1:10-11: “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” This does not mean that we must make sure of our election as such, as if our election were dependent upon us, but it does mean that we must put forth all diligence to be sure of it ourselves, put forth every effort to stand in the assurance of our election, and to make our calling and election sure means that we make our election sure in the way of walking in the way of our calling. Is this serious? When we must give diligence, put forth every effort to attain unto this assurance? Indeed, our salvation and pure doctrine are inseparably connected.
This, however, is not all. Is this Arminian doctrine serious? Of course it is! And not merely from the viewpoint of our salvation. There is something more important than a sinner’s salvation. Or, let us put it this way: a sinner’s salvation does not merely consist in his being saved, in his being transported into heavenly life and glory. Man is and never can be the important thing in a sinner’s salvation. Man is not saved primarily for his sake but for God’s sake. And the truth is so tremendously important because the glory of the living God is at stake. God’s glory is theissue. Should a saved sinner not be concerned with the way in which the truth of the Scriptures is presented? Should it not be a matter of vital concern to a saved sinner whether God is presented as a beggar who is desirous to save all men but must be satisfied when only a handful come to Him to be saved? Does it speak of the power and glory of the Lord when He offers His salvation to all and then must stand idly by, waiting for the sinner to respond to His plea and consent to the Lord to begin His work of salvation in him? The answer is plain.
Before we call attention to the doctrine of the atonement as set forth by our fathers in the Canons of Dordt, the Second Head, we note that the late Rev. H. Hoeksema, introducing his remarks upon this section of the Canons, writes as follows:
Atonement through satisfaction,—this is the Scriptural and Reformed doctrine which was opposed and twisted by the Remonstrants and which is expounded by our fathers in this chapter. He who denies election must also sacrifice this doctrine of atonement and reconciliation through satisfaction ultimately. If Christ has not satisfied for a definite number of men, then His death has not atoning significance; and then, too, there is in Christ no payment, or ransom, for our guilt.
How true this is! The Lord willing, we will have opportunity to call attention to this as we call attention to what our fathers have to say in connection with the Scriptural truth of the atonement of the cross and of Calvary.