We now continue our discussion of the first error of the Arminians as stated by the fathers of Dordt in Art. I of their rejection of errors in connection with the Arminian presentation of the atonement of Christ. The Arminians set forth the heresy of the universal atonement of the death of Christ. We concluded our previous article by calling attention to the fact that the fathers of Dordt declare that the Arminian position despises the merits of Christ’s death and also that the Arminians, in their conception of the cross of Calvary, are wiser than God.
In addition to the above, the fathers also declare that the death of Christ has significance and meaning only if He shed His blood for definite persons, who are also actually delivered and saved. The Arminians contended that the death of Christ would lose nothing of its significance even if no one actually would be saved. This, according to the fathers of Dordt, is nonsense. Of course! Only then would the death of Christ have significance and meaning if He shed His blood for definite persons. We have already called attention to the fact that Christ, dying for all men, head for head, would actually be dying for nobody. Only viewed as a dying for definite persons can the death of Christ be viewed as an atoning death. Only when viewed as dying for definite persons can this death be understood as the actual blotting out of sins and guilt. And only when the death of Christ is atoning, blotting out all the sins and guilt of the elect throughout all the ages, is this suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ significant. Only then does it have meaning. Only then does it actually accomplish anything. Christ did not merely merit the possibility of salvation for men, but He actually accomplished their redemption and salvation.
The fathers of Dordt, however, also hurl another charge against the Arminians. They also contradict the Scriptures, which teach that Christ laid down His life for the sheep and that He knew them, that He would surely see His seed, and that the good pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in His hand. We read in John 10:11, 15, 26-28: “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep . . . As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. . . . But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.” And in Isaiah 53:10 we read: “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him, he hath put Him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.”
Finally, also according to the fathers of Dordt, the Arminians contradict the article of the confession (Article 27 of our Belgic Confession), wherein the Reformed confess that there will always be a church of Christ. In this article we read: “We believe and profess, one catholic or universal Church, which is an holy congregation, of true Christian believers, all expecting their salvation in Jesus Christ, being washed by His blood, sanctified and sealed by the Holy Ghost. This Church hath been from the beginning of the world, and will be to the end thereof; which is evident from this, that Christ is an eternal King, which, without subjects, cannot be.” Notice, please, that this article connects this church with the blood of Christ. We read that this church has been washed by His blood. The Arminians contradict this article. They envision no church at all. They declare that the death of Christ would have significance and meaning even if none would actually be saved. They present the efficacy of the blood of Calvary as dependent upon the will of a sinner. They, therefore, really envision the possibility of no church at all. They surely contradict Article 27 of our Belgic Confession.
Article II of the Rejection of Errors of Head II of the Canons reads as follows:
“Who teach: That it was not the purpose of the death of Christ that He should confirm the new covenant of grace through His blood, but only that He should acquire for the Father the mere right to establish with man such a covenant as He might please, whether of grace or of works. For this is repugnant to Scripture which teaches that Christ has become the Surety and Mediator of a better, that is, the new covenant, and that a testament is of force where death has occurred.
Heb. 7:22; Heb. 9:15, 17.”The fathers of Dordt taught that Christ died as the Head of the covenant and of the covenant people. This presents the sufferings and death of Christ as very particular. This, of course, establishes the truth that Christ died only for the elect, for those given Him of the Father. Then it was the purpose of the death of Christ that He should confirm the new covenant of grace through His blood. Then the Lamb of God and of Calvary suffers and dies upon the cross of Golgotha exactly as representing only His sheep, and then it is surely true that He by His obedience actually merits all the blessings of the covenant for them, only for them, but also surely for them. And from this it also follows that all these blessings of salvation will also surely be bestowed upon them. This is the Reformed position.
The Arminians, however, wanted nothing of this. Their conception of what happened upon the cross was directly opposed to this. According to them, the death of the Son of God merely made salvation again possible for men, and for all men. Of course, as we know, this is not true. Their conception of the death of Christ does not make salvation possible for men, but it makes salvation impossible for men. According to them, this Son of Man did not merit the possibility of salvation for anyone, inasmuch as He did not die in the atoning sense of the word. We mean, of course, as far as their conception is concerned. And there is no church that can possibly ultimately survive that preaches a universal love of God and atonement of the cross. But, according to the view of the Arminian, the death of the Son of God only made salvation again possible for all men. Now the Father could again enter into a reconciled relationship with men in whatever way He willed, whether of grace or of works. He could enter with men into a relationship based upon works. He could once more confront man with the demand of His law, as in the Old Dispensation, and say to the sinner: “Do this, and thou shalt live.” Or, He could also choose another way. He could also choose the way of grace, or of faith. He, then, could confront the sinner. with the so-called message of the gospel, say to the sinner: “I know you can never fulfill My law, merit your way into My fellowship and salvation: hence, all I ask of you is that you acknowledge your sin and iniquity, believe in the Christ of the cross, and open your heart to the operation of My Spirit and grace.” This is the Arminian position, at the time of the Synod of Dordt and also in our present day and age.
Now we do well to bear in mind that the issue at stake here is the purpose of the death of Christ. In this second article of the Rejection of Errors, the fathers speak of this purpose of the death of Christ. This is important. In a certain sense, the Arminian would also maintain that Christ died only for some. He knew very well that all men are not saved, and that the saving efficacy of the cross applied only to those who were saved. But the issue is this: what is the purpose of the death of Christ? What did God intend when He sent His own Son into our flesh and blood? For whom did the Man of Sorrows die? What was His intention as He hung upon the accursed tree? Did God love all men and did that Lamb of God shed His blood in order that all men, head for head, should be saved? Did Christ die for everybody? Or, is it possible that He did not know for whom He was suffering and dying, did not know who would be saved through His blood? Did the Christ of God die ignorantly upon the cross of Calvary? Did He not know whether some would be saved, or whether many would be redeemed, or, perhaps, whether nobody would actually be saved through His suffering and death?
What happened, then, upon the cross of Calvary?
The Arminian, we have already observed, knows very well that all men are not saved. But he must say something about the cross. What is his solution? He wants a gospel, we understand, that is palatable to the sinner. He would proclaim a gospel that the sinner likes. This is also true in our present day and age, as, for example, in the case of Billy Graham. He wants to tell the sinner, all sinners, that salvation is possible for them, that the way is opened to all, and that he can do something toward his own salvation. So, what does he (the Arminian) teach? He teaches that Christ by His suffering and death made salvation possible for man. Christ, by His suffering and death, made it possible for the living God to enter once more into negotiations with the sinner. Now the Father could again enter into a reconciled relationship with men in whatever way He willed, whether of grace or of works. This is the heresy of Arminianism. This is the heresy that was exposed and condemned by the fathers of Dordt. And this is also the heresy that is once more condoned by the Christian Reformed Church today, inasmuch as that church has refused to oust from its seminary a professor who openly teaches the heresy that Christ died for all men, head for head.
The fathers of Dordt also respond to this position of the Arminians with an appeal to the infallible Scriptures. The fathers, in this second article, refer to two passages from the Book of Hebrews. In Hebrews 7:22we read: “By so much (the words “so much” refer to the oath whereof we read in the preceding verse, verse 21) was Jesus made a Surety of a better covenant.” And in Hebrews 9:15, 17 we read: “And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance. . . . For a testament is of force after men are dead: otherwise it is of no strength at all while the testator liveth.” Christ has become the Surety and Mediator of a better covenant. And we do well to remember that that covenant is a testament. And the contents of that new testament, or will, is the sworn promise of the Lord, the promise of the eternal inheritance for those who are called, for the heirs of the promise who are the elect. This is the content of this testament or will. However, before the terms of a testament or will can go into effect, the testator must die. A testament is of force only after men are dead. Now Christ, the Surety and Mediator of this news testament, dies upon the cross of Calvary. Now the provisions of that testament are of force, and executed. Oh, it is not true that Christ died merely to obtain the possibility of salvation for all men. He died only for the heirs! And the blessing of salvation are surely true and certain for all those who have been given Him by the Father. How wrong is the position of the Arminians! How true and Scriptural is the stand of the Reformed!