We will now call attention to Article VIII of Head II of our Canons, undoubtedly the heart and core of this section of the Canons. This eighth article reads as follows:
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: that is, it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to Him by the Father; that He should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory in His own presence forever.
According to Prof. H.C. Hoeksema, this translation is a good translation of the original Latin in which these Canons were written.
It is in this article that the fathers of Dordt set forth, positively, the Scriptural truth of the Atonement of the cross. This article undoubtedly expresses the heart and core of Head II of the Canons. This article is our fathers’ answer to the second point of the Remonstrants, which reads as follows:
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.”
It has been observed that if one should elide this key article from Head II of our Canons, the Arminian, too, would be able to subscribe to the remaining articles of this second head. How true! Remove this eighth article, and any Arminian would surely be able to subscribe, for example, to Article 3, where we read of the death of the Son of God that it is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world. This also applies to Article 5 where we read of the promise of the gospel that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have everlasting life, and that 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. And this is also applicable to Articles 6 and 7.
Article VIII is a clear and beautiful example of the necessity and importance of distinctive preaching. Indeed, it is relatively simple to preach in such a way that the Reformed man must agree and the Arminian is only too glad to agree. How simple it is, in answer to the question as to who are saved, to reply: “Those who believe in Jesus.” On the one hand, this answer is surely thoroughly Scriptural. And, on the other hand, it appears to have everything in its favor, provided that we understand faith as it is generally understood today, or confine it merely to a conscious embracing of Christ and all His benefits. Then the Reformed man must agree with you, and this for the simple reason that the answer is very Scriptural. And the Arminian, of course, will accompany you gladly. Practically, 1 therefore, an answer of this nature will not encounter any opposition. However, the answer cannot I completely satisfy, and this for the simple reason that everybody does not believe. Why is it that everybody does not believe? Perhaps one may ask the question: “But whence is this faith?” This question is surely inevitable. Fact is, everybody does not believe. And all men are corrupt. So, the question is surely inevitable: “Why, whence is this faith?” Shall we answer this question by replying that faith is of God? Also then the Arminian will accompany you. He, too, will answer that faith is of the Lord. Are we not saved by “grace through faith, and that is a gift of-God? And if one does not add anything specific to this answer, we have not as yet arrived at a distinctive conclusion. Again the Reformed man must agree, because also this answer is according to the Word of God, and the Arminian agrees gladly because he is only too happy to have the opportunity to settle himself in the church of God.
How important it is that the truth be proclaimed sharply and distinctively! How important it is that the lines be sharply drawn, that there cannot possibly be any disagreement! We must part company with that Arminian. He is only too glad to establish himself in the church of God, as termites settle within a house. To the question, therefore, as to who are saved, we must give an answer with which he cannot possibly agree. To say that faith is a gift of God is not a conclusive answer. Of course, in a real sense of the word, the Arminian denies every phase of the truth. But, in a certain sense, he will accept the answer that faith is a gift of God, inasmuch as the Word, of God clearly teaches that faith is a gift of the Lord, and he cannot therefore very well deny it. Hence, but one question remains and this question will force the Reformed man and the Arminian to go their separate ways, namely: “To whom does God give faith?” To this 1 question the Remonstrant answers: who will to receive it. And the Reformed man says: to whom it pleases God to give it. The Arminian knows that the elect will be saved, but the elect, to him, are those concerning whom the Lord foresaw that they would will to believe. The Arminian knows that we are saved by faith, that that faith is a gift of God, that only the Lord can save us by His grace. But, according to the Arminian, I must open the door of my heart; I must will to be saved; the first impulse or desire must proceed from me; I must allow God’s grace to operate in my heart. The Arminians and Pelagian heresy teaches that the will of the natural, unregenerated sinner can will to choose the good. According to him, sin is only in the deed, the act. I do not sin because I am corrupt, but I become corrupt through my sin. A man is righteous only according as he does righteousness; and he is unrighteous only in the measure that he commits sin. Man does not will as he is, but he is what he wills to be. The sinner is never essentially and inherently corrupt; he can always choose the good as well as the bad; he can always will to accept the gospel; this is the conception of Pelagianism and of all Arminianism. When, therefore, upon the question as to who are saved the answer is given: to whom God gives faith, the Arminian and Reformed must come to the parting of the ways. The Arminian knows that the sinner is saved by grace (as taught literally in the Word of God), but he will insist on the teaching that it is up to man whether the Lord will give him this grace, and it is the sinner who decides and can determine whether he will receive it.
Article VIII is clear and concise. And this ought to teach us something. This certainly teaches us that we, too, ought to be clear, and concise. We must never be ambiguous. Mind you, these heads of doctrine in our Canons have two sections: a positive part and also a section called the rejection of errors. And this eighth article we are discussing now is certainly a beautiful and striking example of what it means to set forth the truth in a manner that there cannot possibly be any doubt: May our churches never become weary in this fulfillment of their calling: to divide rightly the word of truth and the preaching of the Word in a clear and concise manner, a distinctly reformed setting forth of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Notice, in this eighth article, the fathers of Dordt speak of God’s’ sovereign counsel, of the most gracious will and purpose of God the Father. This article, setting forth the Scriptural truth of the atonement, begins with this counsel of the Lord. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself teaches us this truth. In John 6:37-39 we read: “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent Me, that of all which He hath given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.” And in John 10:25-29 we read: “Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. 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. My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand.” And in a dream to Joseph the angel of the Lord informs the betrothed husband of the mother of the Lord that the name of the Child shall be called Jesus, because He shall save His people from their sins. The fathers, here, setting forth the doctrine of the atonement of the cross, therefore anchor this fact of our redemption in the eternal and unchangeable counsel and will of God. Notice how the fathers give expression to this truth. We read: “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 . . . : that is, it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, etc, all those, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to Him by the Father.”
This also indicates what the fathers mean when they speak of “limited atonement.” We prefer the expression: “particular atonement,” although it must be borne in mind that when mention is made of “limited atonement,” the expression means that the atonement of Christ is limited to the elect. Fact is, however, in a certain and real sense the atonement of the cross is unlimited inasmuch as the blood of Christ is of infinite, unlimited value, covering all the sins of all the elect throughout all the ages, and meriting for them everlasting life and glory. Be this as it may, it is plain from this article what the fathers mean when they speak of limited or particular atonement. Also the Remonstrant was compelled to believe in a limited atonement. He believed that Christ died for all men and for every man, but yet he, too, was forced to acknowledge that the death of Christ was limited. To this difference, and also to the rest of this article, we will call attention in our following article.