THE SYNOD OF DORDT
The seventh and final article of the Rejection of Errors of Head II of our Canons, relative to the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ, reads as follows:
Who teach: That Christ neither could die, needed to die, nor did die for those whom God loved in the highest degree and elected to eternal life, and did not die for these, since these do not need the death of Christ. For they contradict the Apostle, who declares: “Christ loved me, and gave Himself for me,”
Likewise: “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ Jesus that died,”
viz., for them; and the Saviour who says: “I lay down My life for the sheep,”
And: “This is My commandment, that ye love one another, even as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend,”
According to the fathers of Dordt, the Arminians taught that Christ neither could die, needed to die, nor did die for those whom God loved in the highest degree and elected to eternal life because they do not need the death of Christ. So, according to our Fathers, the Arminians taught that Christ did not die atoningly. They denied the atonement of the cross. Is this true, what the fathers here allege to have been taught and as being taught by the Remonstrants? Is this accusation of the fathers not too severe? Is it true that we must not be too harsh in our condemnation of the Arminians and their view of the sufferings and death of our Lord? True, they may differ and do differ from us with respect to the atonement of Calvary. But this does not mean, does it, that they deny the atonement? They simply have a different conception and view of the redeeming work of our Lord Jesus Christ. But, they certainly mean well. It was not too long ago that the undersigned talked with a man who belonged to a church where the preaching is Arminian. And when I said to him that his church denied the atonement of Christ he was very vehement in his denial of this charge and insisted that his minister surely believed in the atonement. I have been told that Arminians believe in all the fundamental truths of the Word of God as do the Reformed. Most Arminians, then, believe the same way we do on every part of the Apostles’ Creed. In all the important things they agree with us. If this be true, then this judgment of the fathers of Dordt is surely too severe. And the undersigned has also heard that the Arminian believes in man’s need for salvation and that the blood of Christ alone is payment for our sins. But this is exactly what the fathers deny in this seventh and last article of this Rejection of Errors in Head II of our Canons. According to them, the Arminians teach that Christ neither could die, needed to die, nor did die for those whom God loved in the highest degree and elected to eternal life, inasmuch as they do not need the death of Christ. Are the fathers of Dordt correct here? But we do well to bear in mind that this seventh article constitutes a part of our Confessions, and also that we subscribe to these confessions.
The fathers here do not ‘”suck this charge against the Arminians out of their thumb.” In this seventh article we have the clearest expression of what the Remonstrants really mean and want. They begin with the denial of election and of the sovereignty of the grace of God. This denial they express in their first point of the Remonstrance, in which they set forth their conception of conditional predestination, that God elected those of whom He foresaw that would believe and reprobated those of whom He foresaw that they would not believe. And now they end with the denial of the necessity of the death of Christ as a payment of the debt of sin and an atonement for the guilt of the elect. They do this openly here. They were compelled to come to this denial. We must bear in mind that we are dealing here with Arminianism. Arminianism teaches this denial and must teach it. Any Arminian, if he be consistent in his view of Arminianism, must come to a denial of the atonement of the cross of Calvary. It is impossible to maintain that Christ died for the whole human race and every man, head for head, and then to insist that he also believes in that death of Christ as atonement. Both cannot be maintained. And the history of doctrine verifies this. This explains why the Arminians, having denied the particular character of the cross of Christ, came with their view of this death of Christ, namely the governmental theory of the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. We will presently call attention to this theory of the cross. But we should certainly understand that the Remonstrant was compelled to come to this view. To this we have called attention several times in preceding articles. It is not amiss to call attention to this again. If Christ did not suffer and die for a definite people and pay their debt, then His death cannot be an atoning death, cannot be a satisfaction of the justice of God. To this we have called attention repeatedly in the past. One often hears that the distinction between the Arminian and the Reformed believer is that the former believes in a universal atonement whereas the latter believes in a particular atonement. This, however, is not correct. One cannot really speak of a universal atonement. Atonement is always particular. There is no such thing as a universal atonement. This became very clear at the time of the Arminian controversy at the time of the Synod of Dordt. The Arminians, instead of speaking of the cross of Christ as atonement, advocated a theory of the death of Christ which is known as the governmental theory of the cross.
However, in this seventh article they not only openly express this serious error, namely the denial of the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ, but they also attempt in a way of reasoning to show that it could not be different. One can easily understand their reasoning. First, they speak of those whom God has loved from before the foundations of the world. From eternity God has elected and destined them for eternal life. From this it follows, according to the Arminian, that therefore in God’s thoughts they never were children of wrath. Before God they were eternally beloved children of the Lord. So, if therefore no wrath rested upon them, how could Christ then ever have to suffer for them in order to remove that wrath that never existed? And therefore the Arminians concluded that the death of Christ was for this reason no payment for guilt and no removal of the wrath of God, but an example of meekness and love, or also a demonstration of what God could justly have done with us. And this is the governmental theory of the sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The governmental theory of the death of Christ is that theory of the cross which sets forth the death of Christ as a public demonstration of the justice and righteousness of God, a demonstration of what God could justly have done with us. Perhaps we are acquainted with an example that is often used. A regiment of soldiers has incurred the righteous wrath of its commander. That regiment has deserved death. But, if the commander were to punish his regiment, this would mean the death of this entire body. But now a soldier of that regiment steps forward and offers his life as payment for the sin which the regiment has committed. And the commander accepts this offer, executes this soldier as a demonstration of what he justly could have done to the entire company of soldiers. This is the governmental theory of the cross of Christ, the Arminian version and presentation of the cross of Calvary. All mankind has sinned against the Lord. If the Lord were to execute His justice upon this sin, then all mankind would be executed by the Lord. But then nobody would be saved. But now Christ steps forward and offers Himself to God as a sacrifice to God for the sin man has committed. This death of Christ will serve as a demonstration of the justice and righteousness of the Lord. And if we, viewing this death of Christ, will only acknowledge our sin and the righteousness of God we will be saved. However, this governmental theory of the cross is a fallacy for two fundamental reasons. In the first place, no demonstration of either the love of God or the righteousness of God can possibly induce a single sinner to turn unto the Lord. The sinner hates the living God. He despises the communion and fellowship of the Lord. And, he is dead in sins and in trespasses. If a sinner is to be saved, then something must happen in his heart. He must be changed by the almighty and irresistible power of the grace and spirit of the Lord. No demonstration of either the love or the righteousness of the Lord could possibly induce him to turn from his wicked way and to turn unto the Lord. But there is also another reason why this governmental theory is a terrible fallacy. This theory is supposed to maintain that the death of Christ is a demonstration of the justice and righteousness of the Lord. However, this is exactly what this theory fails to do. We must bear in mind that, according to the Remonstrants, Christ died for all men, head for head. This means that, according to them, Christ did not pay for sin and the guilt of sin. Had He paid for the guilt of sin, and for the guilt of the whole world, then all men would surely have had to be saved. Then nobody could possibly perish, inasmuch as all their guilt had been paid and everlasting life had been merited for them. This means that, according to the Arminians, God executed an innocent man upon the cross of Calvary. And this is not true. God does not execute innocent people. He is just and righteous in all His ways. And the Lord did not execute an innocent man upon the cross of Calvary. Christ was indeed guilty, the guiltiest man throughout the history of the world. Only, we understand, He was guilty, not because He bore His own guilt, inasmuch as He Himself was holy and without sin, but because He bore the sins of all the elect throughout all the ages. The cross of Christ is indeed a demonstration of the justice and righteousness of the living God, but only when we maintain the Scriptural truth of particular atonement, that God laid upon Him the iniquity of us all, of all the elect whom God has loved from before the foundations of the world. The governmental theory, however, teaches that god executed an innocent man upon the cross of Calvary. This is not a demonstration of the righteousness of the living God, but it is a travesty on the justice of the Lord, a perversion of God’s righteousness of the Lord ever serve as an inducement to the sinner to acknowledge God’s justice and to turn unto the Lord? This theory destroys the very foundations of the church of God. This theory makes the salvation of a sinner forever impossible. For unless sin is paid according to the unchangeable righteousness of the alone living God, no sinner can possibly return into the favor of God and be saved. And this governmental theory must inevitably lead to modernism, the denial of all sin; it must lead to humanitarianism.