How important is the doctrine of Limited or Particular Atonement! How true it is that the doctrine of Particular Atonement and the doctrine of Sovereign Predestination are inseparably connected. The history of the development of doctrine verifies this. Gottschalk died in 868 or 869 A.D. while in prison after an imprisonment of twenty years. Of him we read that, in reliance upon the grace of God, he also offered to undergo the fiery ordeal before the king, the bishops and monks, to step successively into four cauldrons of boiling water, oil, fat and pitch, and then to walk through a blazing-pile, but nobody could be found to accept the challenge. This man, of noble Saxon parentage, strong convictions, and heroic courage, revived the Augustinian theory of Divine Predestination. Schaff, in his History of the Christian Church, Vol. IV, 524-525, writes as follows, and we quote:
The relation of the Roman church to Augustine in regard to predestination is similar to that which the Lutheran church holds to Luther. The Reformer held the most extreme view in divine predestination, and in his book on the Slavery of the Human Will, against Erasmus, he went further than Augustine before him and Calvin after him (Mind you, this is Schaff speaking. H.V.); yet notwithstanding his commanding genius and authority, his view was virtually disowned, and gave way to the compromise of the Formula of Concord, which teaches both an absolute election of believers, and a sincere call of all sinners to repentance. The Calvinistic Confessions, with more logical consistency, teach an absolute predestination as a necessary sequence of Divine omnipotence and omniscience, but confine it, like Augustine, to the limits of the infralapsarian scheme, with an express exclusion, of God from the authorship of sin. Supralapsarianism, however, also had its advocates as a theological opinion. In the Roman church, the Augustinian system was revived by the Jansenists, but only to be condemned.
Gottschalk maintained the doctrine of double predestination, as applying not only to the elect but also to the reprobates. He boldly professed his belief in this two-fold predestination, to life and to death. There were those who did not mind speaking of a divine decree of election, but they rejected the idea of a divine decree of reprobation. Of course, we know that these doctrines either stand or fall together. To maintain the doctrine of divine election surely implies that the Lord ordained only some unto eternal life and therefore did not ordain all men unto life eternal; on the other hand, to teach that the Lord did not reprobate implies a denial of the Scriptural doctrine of divine election. Gottschalk maintained the Scriptural doctrine of a double predestination. And he also maintained the doctrine of a particular atonement. He emphasized that the Son of God died only for the elect. He measured the extent of the purpose by the extent of the effect. God is absolutely unchangeable, and His will must be fulfilled. What does not happen, can not have been intended by Him. The fact that all men are not saved must mean that the Lord could not have intended the salvation of all men. The opponents of Gottschalk, rejecting his view on divine predestination, maintained that God would have all men be saved and that the Son of God died for all men.
The fathers of Dordt, we have seen, were also very conscious of the importance of the particular atonement of the cross. They not only set forth this truth, positively, in the Second Head of Doctrine of the Canons, but they also devote several articles to the refutation of the Arminian doctrine of a universal atonement. Indeed, we must not only be positive in our proclamation of the truth, but we must also be distinctive; we must not only set forth the truth, but we must also do all within our power to expose the lie and denial of the truths of the Word of God.
In our preceding article, we were busy with Article II of the Rejection of Errors of Head II of the Canons of Dordt. Whereas the fathers taught that Christ died as the Head of the covenant and of God’s covenant people, the Arminians wanted none of this and taught that the death of the Son of God only made salvation again possible for all men. And the fathers of Dordt refute this error with an appeal to the Scriptures, calling attention to the truth that Christ has become the Surety and Mediator of a better covenant.
We will now call attention to Article III of this Rejection of Errors. This article reads as follows:
Who teach: That Christ by His satisfaction merited neither salvation itself for anyone, nor faith, whereby this satisfaction of Christ unto salvation is effectually appropriated; but that He merited for the Father only the authority or the perfect will to deal again with man, and to prescribe new conditions as He might desire, obedience to which, however, depended on the free will of man, so that it therefore might have come to pass that either none or all should fulfill these conditions. For these adjudge too contemptuously of the death of Christ, do in no wise acknowledge the most important fruit or benefit thereby gained, and bring again out of hell the Pelagian error.
We must bear in mind that the fathers of Dordt are speaking in this article. The Arminians are not speaking here. I suppose that the Arminians would tell you that they do not conceive of the death of Christ as saving none. In this article the fathers of Dordt declare that the Arminians teach us the possibility that none, because of failure to fulfill the conditions required for a sinner to be saved through the blood of the cross, would be saved. How terrible! Imagine, Jesus suffering and dying for the whole human race and for every man, and failing to save a single sinner! And, yet, this is surely and precisely the teaching of the Arminian. Besides, notice, please, that the fathers call the teaching of the Arminians an error that has its origin in hell. Strong language? Yes. But it is true! One does not hear this language too often in our present day and age. Today Arminianism and Pelagianism are condoned, generally openly preached and taught. Today people will tell you that people err in good faith, that they mean well, have no evil intentions. But our fathers must have nothing of this. They tell us in this article that Pelagianism is a heresy that has its origin in hell. And the apostle John warns the church of God not to receive those teachers of heresy into their homes. Let us look a little more closely into this third article of the Rejection of Errors of the Second Head of our Canons.
First of all, according to this article, the Arminians taught that the death of our Lord Jesus Christ merited neither salvation itself for anyone nor faith. They were compelled to teach this. We must bear in mind that they believed in a universal atonement, that Christ died for all men and for every man, head for head. They believed in a universal love of God, a love of God for everybody, that God would have everybody be saved. They believed in the free will of the sinner, that the sinner must will to be saved. Of course, a sinner must believe and will to be saved, but the Arminians taught that his salvation depended upon this free will, that the Lord could save a sinner only if and after he willed, consented to be saved. Christ, therefore, died for those who would believe, and this means that a sinner’s faith is not a fruit of the cross, but that it stands outside of the cross.
What happened upon the cross was that Christ merited for the Father the authority or will to deal with man again in whatever manner He wished. Of course, the Lord was under no obligation whatever to enter into any dealing with the sinner whatever. Man had been created good and in the image of the Lord. And he had voluntarily and willfully deprived himself and all his descendants of salvation and fellowship with God. God, now, could simply leave all men in their sin. But now Christ merits for the Father the authority or will to deal again with man in whatever manner He wished. Christ opened the way of the Father to do this by His death upon the cross. The Lord could prescribe new conditions, upon the fulfillment of which man would receive eternal life and be saved. What this new condition is, is not set forth in this article. And the idea is that the obedience to these conditions would then again depend upon the free will of man.
One may well ask the question: how is it possible for the death of Christ, as understood by the Arminian in the universal sense of the word, to merit for the Father this authority or will to deal again with the sinner? How can the preaching of the cross of Calvary, if understood in this universal sense, possibly serve as the basis for any preaching of the gospel as it generally occurs in our present day and age? How can this death of Christ possibly merit this for the Father? Fact is, as far as the Arminian presentation of the cross is concerned, Christ did not merit anything. According to this conception of the cross nothing happened upon Calvary. The Arminian preacher may tell his audience that the Lord offers salvation to all who hear the gospel. But the simple truth is that he really has no salvation to offer to his hearers. How true it is that a universal death of Christ merited no salvation whatever. This means that Christ, dying for all men and every man, head for head, also died for those who perish. He surely did not pay for their sins, for had He died atoningly, then surely they would be saved. None can possibly perish for whom Christ died and paid for his iniquities. But this surely means that the suffering and death of Christ does not bear an atoning character. He did not pay for any sin. The cross of Calvary accomplished nothing. How, then, can a death of our Lord Jesus Christ, which actually merited nothing, merit anything for the Father? Also in this respect the Arminian simply does not speak the truth.
Of course, the Arminian was compelled to speak as he did and teach that Christ by His death merited for the Father the authority or will to deal again with the sinner. According to him, Christ died for all men. He did not actually merit salvation and faith for all men. Then all men would have to be saved. But he must say something about the cross. If Christ did not actually accomplish salvation by His death upon the cross, He at least merited the possibility of salvation. He at least opened the way for the Father to deal with the sinner. And so he taught that Christ earned for the Father the authority or will to show unto the sinner how he can be saved. Of course, this salvation of the sinner depends upon his free will. The Lord may now prescribe new conditions, but it is man who must fulfill these conditions. This is the Arminian presentation of the cross, also universally taught today. To this, the Lord willing, we will return in our following article. Then we will note how our fathers answer this conception of the Remonstrants.