In our preceding article we quoted Article IV of the Rejection of Errors of Head II of the Canons of Dordt which treats the atoning suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. And we noted the fact that, in this article, the Remonstrants present what they consider the condition upon which God will bestow life and salvation. In the preceding articles of this Rejection of Errors the Arminians declare that Christ by His death upon the cross merited for the Father the authority and will to deal again with the sinner, to prescribe new conditions for that sinner unto his salvation. Now, in Article IV, they state what this new condition is. We must bear in mind, of course, that the fathers, in this article, set forth the position of the Remonstrants, hold before us what they believe and know to be the position of the Arminians with respect to faith as the new condition prescribed by the Lord in connection with the salvation of the sinner.
It is well to understand the meaning of faith as interpreted by the Reformed fathers. The Arminian believed that faith is a condition which man by his free will must be willing to meet in order to be saved. However, the meaning which the Remonstrant gave to faith is entirely different from that which the Reformed fathers attach to it. According to the Reformed conception, and with this the entire church agrees, as is stated at the conclusion of this fourth article, faith is, that gift of God whereby He places us in living connection with Christ, so that the satisfaction of Christ remains the ground of all our salvation. In the first place, the Reformed fathers emphasized that faith is a gift of God. This, we know, is according to the Scriptures, as stated in Eph. 2:8: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God.” In the second place, the Reformed position calls attention to the fact that this faith is one of the benefits merited by our Lord Jesus Christ. Faith is not a condition upon which the atonement of Calvary rests, but it is a benefit of that cross. This is stated emphatically in Article VIII of the Second Head of the Canons, and we quote: “For this was the sovereign counsel, and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, 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 to salvation.” Notice, please, that the gift of justifying faith is here connected with the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of the Son of God. And notice, too, that faith here is God’s means to bring these elect infallibly unto salvation. And, in the third place, please notice that, according to the Reformed fathers, faith accepts the merits of Christ. What a fundamental statement this is! How this should be emphasized! Do we understand this statement in all its implications? Faith accepts. Of course! None will dispute this. Faith embraces, lays hold of something. The Reformed fathers, however, emphasize that faith accepts, embraces, receives the merits of Christ. This means that faith itself never merits anything. Faith only receives. There is never anything meritorious in faith. That a sinner believes means that he appears before the living God as a worthless, condemnable sinner who can never do anything else than render himself condemnable before the living God. Of course, we must believe. Of course, the child of God must walk in the way of sanctification, must seek the things that are above and reject the things that are below. But all this is the fruit of faith and, therefore, the gift of God which never merits our justification, never precedes our justification but is always the fruit of it. Faith never has .anything to give, can never claim anything before the living God. Faith always receives and embraces the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ. The ground of our justification is never anything we do but only what Christ has done for His own upon the cross of Calvary. To believe means’ that we lay ourselves prostrate in the dust with the plea of the penitent in our hearts and upon our lips: O, God, be merciful to me, the sinner. This is the meaning of faith as interpreted by the Reformed fathers.
How radically different is the meaning of faith as set forth by the Remonstrant! We read in this fourth article: “Who teach: That the new covenant of grace, which God the Father, through the mediation of the death of Christ, made with man, does not herein consist that we by faith, in as much as it accepts the merits of Christ, are justified before God and saved, but in the fact that God having revoked the demand of perfect obedience of faith, regards faith itself and the obedience of faith, although imperfect, as the perfect obedience of the law, and does esteem it worthy of the reward of eternal life through grace.”
We have already called attention to the fact that this translation as it appears in our Psalter is an imperfect translation of the original article. In the translation we read: “but in the fact that God having revoked the demand of perfect obedience of faith.” This should read: “but in the fact that God having revoked the demand of the perfect obedience of the law.” For the Remonstrants faith becomes a work of man, which indeed is not perfect, but which God in grace will account as the perfect obedience of the law. We should notice the following. God has now revoked, recalled His demand of the perfect obedience of the law. This refers to the law of the Old Dispensation. In the Old Dispensation God demanded the perfect obedience of His law. Perfect obedience was God’s requirement in the days of the Old Testament shadows. Only then would the sinner be justified and accounted righteous before the Lord. This, however, failed. The sinner did not measure up to this standard. And now the Lord introduces another condition for the sinner’s righteousness and salvation. He will accept the faith of the sinner. It is true that this faith is imperfect. But the Lord will accept this imperfect faith of the sinner as his righteousness. Notice, please, that the righteousness of Christ is not this perfect righteousness of the, sinner. It is not what Christ did upon the cross of Calvary which renders man righteous before the Lord but the sinner’s faith. So, the sinner’s faith has become a work-righteousness, a work or activity of the sinner which renders him righteous before the living God.
It is true that the Arminian also speaks of the grace of God. You will notice that he speaks of the “new covenant of grace.” Of course, the Remonstrant realizes that he must insert the element of grace. Do not the Scriptures emphasize that we are saved by grace? So, he, too, speaks of the grace of God. But; according to him, the grace of God is simply this, that the Lord has consented to accept an imperfect faith as the perfect obedience of the law. For the Lord to accept as perfect that which is very imperfect is the condescending goodness of the Lord.
Of course, this also implies that, according to the Remonstrant, also the works which proceed from faith are reckoned as part of that condition. This all comes down to this, that man by faith can merit salvation with God. And this is also the teaching of Roman Catholicism which declares accursed anyone who denies that our works cannot merit anything before the Lord. The Arminians have certainly followed in the footsteps of the work righteousness of Rome.
How do our Reformed fathers appraise this conception of the Remonstrants? In the first place we would again remind our readers of the fact that the Arminians declare that the Reformed position speaks contemptuously of the sufferings and death of Christ. How bold and evil is this charge of these heretics! We speak contemptuously of the death of Christ? We speak of the cross with disdain when we maintain that this death of our Lord Jesus Christ is the one and only ground of our justification, when we emphasize the power and efficacy of that cross, that the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ actually blots out all our sins and trespasses and merits for all His own everlasting life and glory? The Reformed fathers speak contemptuously of the death of Christ, when in the cross of Christ they glory and seek in it all their life and salvation? And what about the Arminian? Why, actually discards the cross of Calvary. He declares that the Lord accepts his faith, however imperfect, as the ground for his justification and forgiveness of his sins. Of course, he must maintain this. Does he not believe in a death of Christ for all? Does this not mean that Christ, therefore, also died for those who perish? And does this not mean that Christ therefore never really did pay for man’s sins and trespasses? Hence, he cannot seek in the cross the ground of his justification. That cross never did pay for his sin. The Lord, therefore, will accept the sinner’s faith as the ground of his justification, and will also regard that sinner’s works as meritorious. But this is not all. This Arminian conception also violates the justice and righteousness of the Lord. The Lord will regard a sinner’s imperfect faith as a perfect fulfillment of His law. This means that the Lord will evaluate as perfect that which is very imperfect. This means that the Lord will declare something to be true that is not true. How can the holy and righteous God declare something to be worthy of everlasting life which is not worthy of that everlasting life? This is completely contrary to what the Heidelberg Catechism declares in Question and Answer 11, as setting forth the truth of the infallible Scriptures: “Is not God then also merciful? God is indeed merciful, but also just; therefore His justice requires that sin which is committed against the most high majesty of God be also punished with extreme, that is, with everlasting punishment of body and soul.” And this is surely the truth of the Word of God. The holy and unchangeable God can never deny Himself, can never accept as the ground for the justification of the sinner that which is in violation of His righteousness and justice.
Of course, that the Arminian takes this position does not surprise us. Fact is, he is not interested in the Lord. He is not interested in the holiness and righteousness of the alone living God. The Arminian is interested only in the sinner. It is not his concern whether sin be paid or not. He therefore tramples under foot every truth that extols and magnifies the Lord, and prates of that which elevates the sinner. Everything revolves about the free will of man. Man’s salvation does not rest upon God and the work of God. It does not rest upon the cross of Calvary. It rests upon his faith, and the Lord, although denying Himself and everything that is just and holy, simply accepts his imperfect faith as the perfect obedience of His law. But the Reformed fathers, and the Church of God throughout the ages, proclaims that faith is a gift of God and that we are saved only because God loved us first in Christ Jesus our Lord.