Continuing to call attention to the doctrine of the atonement as set forth in the Protestant creeds, we first quote from the Gallican or French Confession, A.D. 1559. We note that in the articles we quote the emphasis is laid upon the truth that Christ upon the cross accomplished all righteousness, reconciled us to God, and that our justification rests solely upon this work of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross of Calvary, refuting the error of the Romish church that man’s works are meritorious. We quote Articles 16-18:
Art. XVI. We believe that God, in sending His Son, intended to show His love and inestimable goodness towards us, giving Him up to die to accomplish all righteousness, and raising Him from the dead to secure for us the heavenly life.
Art. XVII. We believe that by the perfect sacrifice that the Lord Jesus offered on the cross, we are reconciled to God, and justified before Him; for we can not be acceptable to Him, nor become partakers of the grace of adoption, except as He pardons (all) our sins, and blots them out. Thus we declare that through Jesus Christ we are cleansed and made perfect; by His death we are fully justified, and through Him only can we be delivered from our iniquities and transgressions.
Art. XVIII. We believe that all our justification rests upon the remission of our sins, in which also is our only blessedness, as saith the Psalmist.
We therefore reject all other means of justification before God, and without claiming any virtue or merit, we rest simply in the obedience of Jesus Christ, which is imputed to us as much to blot out all our sins as to make us find grace and favor in the sight of God. And, in fact, we believe that in falling away from this foundation, however slightly, we could not find rest elsewhere, but should always be troubled. Forasmuch as we are never at peace with God till we resolve to be loved in Jesus Christ, for of ourselves we are worthy of hatred.
It is true that these articles do not state specifically that Christ died only for His own. However, this is clearly implied. How else, otherwise, can it be understood that we have been reconciled to God upon the cross and that we cannot become partakers of the grace of adoption unless God pardon all our sins and blot them out? And how else can we understand the words that we are fully justified by His death and that through Him only we can be delivered from our iniquities and transgressions? And we also consider the expression striking that “in falling away from this foundation,however slightly (we underscore), we could not find rest elsewhere, but should always be troubled. In other words, the slightest departure from the truth will deny us the rest and peace of our justification. So, we must never compromise with the truth. Even the slightest departure from the Word of God is therefore of the utmost significance.
We will not quote from all the Protestant creeds in connection with the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ. Of significance, however, is what we read in the Westminster Confession of Faith, 1647, Chapter VIII, which deals with Christ, the Mediator. In this article the attention is directed to the particular character of the atonement. We quote:
I. It pleased God, in His eternal purpose, to choose and ordain the Lord Jesus, His only-begotten Son, to be the Mediator between God and man, the Prophet, Priest, and King; the head and Saviour of His Church, the Heir of all things, and Judge of the world; unto Whom He did, from all eternity, give a people to be His seed, and to be by Him in time redeemed, called, justified, sanctified, and glorified.
IV. This office (the office of a mediator, H.V.) the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake, which, that He might discharge, He was made under the law, and did perfectly fulfill it; endured most grievous torments immediately in His soul, and most painful sufferings in His body; was crucified, and died; was buried, and remained under the power of death, yet saw no corruption. On the third day He arose from the dead, with the same body in which He suffered; with which also He ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of His Father, making intercession; and shall return to judge men and angels at the end of the world.
V. The Lord Jesus, by His perfect obedience and sacrifice of Himself, which He through the eternal Spirit once offered up unto God, hath fully satisfied the justice of His Father, and purchased not only reconciliation, but an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of Heaven, for all those whom the Father bath given unto Him.
VI. Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after His incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect, in all ages successively from the beginning of the world, in and by those promises, types, and sacrifices, wherein He was revealed, and signified to be the seed of the woman which should bruise the serpent’s head, and the lamb slain from the beginning of the world, being yesterday and today the same and forever.
VIII. To all those from whom Christ hath purchased redemption He doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same; making intercession for them, and revealing unto them, in and by the Word, the mysteries of salvation; effectually persuading them by His Spirit to believe and obey; and governing their hearts by His Word and Spirit; overcoming all their enemies by His almighty power and wisdom, in such manner and ways as are most consonant to His wonderful and unsearchable dispensation.
In these articles the particular character of the atonement of the cross is literally set forth. We read that God gave to His Son a people to be His seed, to be redeemed, etc., by Him; we also read that the virtue, efficacy and benefits of Christ’s work of redemption are communicated to the elect; and we also read that Christ certainly and effectually applies and communicates His purchases redemption to His own.
The Heidelberg Catechism calls attention to the significance of the atonement in Lord’s Days 5, 15 and 16, although Question and Answer 20 in Lord’s Day 7 is also of the utmost significance. The elect are not mentioned in these Lord’s Days; however, it cannot be doubted that the particular character of the atonement is emphasized throughout. In Lord’s Day 5 the subject of the satisfaction of God’s justice is emphasized, and attention is called to the fact that this satisfaction, impossible by any creature as well as by man himself, is possible only by such a mediator who is not only very man and perfectly righteous but who is also very God. Hence, the death of our Lord Jesus Christ is not the death of a martyr, or of an example, but the death of one who dies atoningly, satisfies the justice of the living God, and therefore must be particular in character.
Lord’s Day 7, Q. and A. 20 is very important. Q. 20 reads: “Are all men then, as they perished in Adam, saved by Christ?” And the answer reads: “No; only those who are ingrafted into Him, and receive all His benefits, by a true faith.” Here the emphasis is laid upon the truth that only those are saved who are ingrafted into Christ by a true faith. Also the Arminian will grant that not all men are saved. But it is his contention that they are saved who will to be saved. The reformed fathers, however, emphasize that only they are saved who are ingrafted into Christ. God alone ingrafts us into Christ, and therefore it is God alone Who determines who will be saved. This is exclusively particular.
Actually, the Catechism discusses the sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus Christ in Lord’s Days 15 and 16, although there is a reference to the significance of the atonement already in Answer 36: “That He is our Mediator; and with innocence and perfect holiness, covers in the sight of God, my sins, wherein I was. conceived and brought forth.” It is very plain that the Catechism views the death of Christ as atoning, as paying for our sins, as bearing the wrath of God upon our iniquities, as satisfying fully and completely the justice and righteousness of God. In Answer 37 we read that the Mediator, all the time that He lived on earth, but especially at the end of His life, sustained in body and soul the wrath of God against the sins of all mankind, and also that He redeemed our body and soul from everlasting damnation. In Answers 38 and 39 we read that He was condemned in order that He might thereby free us from the severe judgment of God to which we were exposed, and that He took upon Himself the curse which lay upon me. In answer 40 we read that it was necessary for Christ to humble Himself even unto death because “with respect to the justice and truth of God, satisfaction for our sins could be made no otherwise, than by the death of the Son of God.” A further benefit of the cross is set forth in Answer 43: “That by virtue thereof, our old man is crucified, dead and buried with Him; that so the corrupt inclinations of the flesh may no longer reign in us; but that we may offer ourselves unto Him a sacrifice of thanksgiving.” And then, in answer 44, answering the question, “Why is there added, “He descended into hell,” we have this outstandingly beautiful statement: “That in my greatest temptations, I may be assured, and wholly comfort myself in this, that my Lord Jesus Christ, by His inexpressible anguish, pains, terrors, and hellish agonies; in which He was plunged during all His sufferings, but especially on the cross, hath delivered me from the anguish and torments of hell.”
It must be evident from these Lord’s Days that the Heidelberg Catechism emphasizes the particular character of the sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is true that the Catechism, in Answer 37, speaks of “the wrath of God against the sins of all mankind.” And it is certainly to be questioned whether the meaning is that He suffered the wrath of God against the sins of all mankind in the sense of all His people out of every nation, people and tongue. Fact is, our sin is certainly the sin of mankind, the sin in which all mankind is involved. Sin is universal. But this does not necessarily mean that Christ died for the sins of all mankind in the sense of “all men, head for head.” That this is not the meaning and position of the Heidelberg Catechism is plain from what we read in these Lord’s Days. Clearly the Catechism is speaking throughout of the people of the Lord. Also in Answer 37 we read of the passion of Christ as the “only propitiatory sacrifice,” the sacrifice of atonement. The repeated use of the pronouns, “us, me, I and we,” clearly indicate that the reference is to the elect people of the Lord. Our curse was laid upon Christ, satisfaction for our sins was made with respect to the justice and truth of God, the death of Christ abolished our sin and our death is therefore a passage into eternal life. Moreover, by virtue of Christ’s death, our old man is crucified, dead and buried. And when we read in Answer 44 that “in my greatest temptations, I may be assured, and wholly comfort myself in this, that my Lord Jesus Christ, by His inexpressible anguish, etc., hath delivered me from the anguish and torments of hell,” one cannot doubt that the Catechism is speaking here of the child of God. This the wicked cannot, may never say. Indeed, the particular character of the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ is certainly emphasized by the Heidelberg Catechism.