In our preceding article we were quoting from Rev. Hoeksema’s notes in which he presents the views of Aquinas in the atonement of Christ. And Rev. Hoeksema’s first observation was that Aquinas denied that atonement was absolutely necessary, as Anselm had strenuously argued. We now continue with these quotations from Rev. Hoeksema’s notes.
2) Aquinas emphasizes the mystical union of Christ and the church as an explanation of the fact that the merits of Christ can be imputed to the believers. This is an element which Anselm failed to emphasize. At the same time we must not overlook the fact that it is not quite clear what Aquinas means by mystical union. The imputation of the merits of Christ certainly does not rest upon the mystical union as we understand it, but rather upon the Headship of Christ in the juridical sense. (To this the undersigned would add the following: the imputation of the merits of Christ certainly does not rest upon this mystical union, that we are spiritually united with Christ, but this mystical union with Christ, that we spiritually are one plant with Him certainly rests upon the imputation of the merits of Christ, that as our Head in the juridical sense He suffered and died for us and therefore merited for us this union with Christ.)
3) Aquinas made a distinction between the mere satisfaction of Christ and His merit. He emphasized that the Lord not merely made satisfaction for our sins, but also merited eternal life for us. In this way he originated the distinction between the active and passive obedience of Christ.
4) He taught that the merit of Christ is super-abundant in value. This must not be confused with the view of Anselm that the sufferings of Christ have infinite value. Anselm taught that there is an infinite demerit in sin, because it is the rejection of the infinite majesty of God and of the highest good. Therefore the merit must also be infinite. There is, therefore, according to Anselm no superabundance, but an infinity of value in the satisfaction of Christ. Aquinas, while denying the infinite demerit of sin, taught that there was a superabundance of merit in the work of Christ. This laid the foundation for the Catholic doctrine of supererogation, that is, of the store of good works, of superabundant good works, which the church dispenses.
5) Finally, Aquinas taught that forgiveness depends to a degree upon the merit of the person as the procuring cause. Atonement alone is not sufficient unto justification. The individual must first be conformed to Christ; then he procures forgiveness. This is done first in baptism, then in good works and penal suffering for sins committed after baptism, either here or in purgatory.
I am sure that we all recognize in this last view of Aquinas the teaching as set forth today in the Roman Catholic Church. And this, we also understand, is flatly in contradiction with the Scriptures, as we shall presently see as we set forth the Reformed view of the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are saved purely by grace, only because of the merits of Jesus Christ, and never because of any good work we might do. The merits of our Lord Jesus Christ are surely quite sufficient unto the forgiveness of all our sins and unto our everlasting life.
Concluding our discussion of the doctrine of the atonement of Christ as set forth in the third period, 730-1517 A.D. we would quote from Hagenbach’s History of Doctrines, Vol. II, 46-47:
The contemporaries and immediate successors of Anselm were far from adopting his theory in all its strictness. On the contrary, Abelard, taking in this case, as well as in many others, the opposite side of the question, attached principal importance to the moral aspect of the doctrine, and declared the love of Christ the redeeming principle, inasmuch as it calls forth love on our part. Bernard of Clairval, on the other hand, insisted upon the mystical idea of the vicarious death of Christ. Hugo of St. Victor adhered more nearly to the doctrine of Anselm, but modified it so far as to return to the earlier notion of a legal transaction and struggle with the devil; at the same time he asserted (with Abelard) the moral significance of Christ’s death. The opinions of Robert Pulleyn and Peter Lombard were still more closely allied with those of Abelard, though the latter combined with it other aspects of the atonement. The later scholastics returned to the doctrine of Anselm, and developed it more fully. Thus Thomas Aquinas brought the priestly office of Christ prominently forward, and laid great stress upon the super abounding merit of his death. Duns Scotus went to the other extreme, denying its sufficiency; but he supposed a voluntary acceptance on the part of God. Wycliffe and Wessel attached importance to the theory of satisfaction in its practical bearing upon evangelical piety, and thus introduced the period of the Reformation. The mystics either renounced all claims to doctrinal precision, and, abandoning themselves to the impulses of feeling and imagination, endeavored to sink into the depth of the love dying on the cross; or they thought to find the true principle of redemption in the repetition in themselves of the sacrifice once made by Christ, i.e., in literally crucifying their own flesh. Those of a pantheistic tendency annulled all that was peculiar in the merits of Christ. The external and mythical interpretation of the doctrine, as a legal transaction, led to offensive poetical exaggerations and distortions of the truth.
THE REFORMATION PERIOD
We prefer to speak of this period of the development of the doctrine of the atonement as the “Reformation Period.” We thought of designating this phase of the history of this doctrine as the “Reformed View.” However, the Reformed view of the atonement stands over against other views of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, such as, e.g., the Arminian presentation of it. And we would rather speak of the “Reformation Period” because it gives us the opportunity to show that the Reformed view of the atonement is indeed the view as set forth by the Reformation. The Reformed conception certainly is in line with the principles as proclaimed and set forth by the Reformation.
When we set forth the doctrine of the atonement as set forth by the Reformation, we instinctively turn to Calvin. Calvinism is certainly more Scriptural in its view of the atonement than Lutheranism. The Lutheran Augsburg Confession does not devote an article to the doctrine of the atonement. The same is true of the Lutheran Formula of Concord, drawn up in 1577, some sixty years after Luther nailed the ninety-five theses to the church door of Wittenberg. However, the Formula of Concord does have an article on the subject of predestination. Now we must bear in mind that the formulation of this doctrine of predestination in the Formula of Concord was under the influence of the teachings of Melanchthon, Luther’s co-worker in the Reformation. And Melanchthon was certainly not as pure as Luther. Concerning this Schaff, in his History of the Creeds of Christendom, Vol. I, 308-309, writes: “Next to him, and at a later period, Martin Chemnitz (1522-1586), the greatest pupil of Melanchthon and the prince among the Lutheran divines of his age, and Nicholas Selnecker (1530-1592), originally likewise a Melanchthonian, took the most important part in the movement, and formed with Andreae the theological ‘triumvirate,’ which finally completed the Form of Concord.”
Now we would call attention to Articles VII and XI of this Formula of Concord. Art. VII reads (where the Formula of Concord treats Predestination):
But Christ calls all sinners to Him, and promises to give them rest. And He earnestly wishes that all men may come to Him, and suffer themselves to be cared for and succored. To these He offers Himself in the Word as a Redeemer, and wishes that the Word may be heard, and that their ears may not be hardened, nor the Word be neglected and contemned. And He promises that, He will bestow the virtue and operation of the Holy Spirit and Divine aid; to the end that we may abide steadfastly in the faith and attain eternal life.
We certainly would not ascribe to this. In this article it is declared that the Lord wishes that all men may come to Him, and suffer themselves to be cared for and succored. This certainly speaks of a general and well-meaning offer of salvation.
And Article XI reads as follows:
But as to the declaration,
‘Many are called, but few are chosen,’ it is not to be so understood as if God were unwilling that all should be saved, but the cause of the damnation of the ungodly is that they either do not hear the Word of God at all, but contumaciously contemn it, stop their ears, and harden their hearts, and in this way foreclose to the Spirit of God His ordinary way, so that He can not accomplish His work in them, or at least when they have heard the Word, make it of no account, and cast it away. Neither God nor His election, but their own wickedness, is to blame if they perish.
This eleventh article is a subtle article. Now it is certainly true that the cause of the condemnation of the ungodly is that they either do not hear the Word of God at all, but contumaciously contemn it, stop their ears, and harden their hearts. The fathers of Dordt also declare that the blame must not be ascribed to the gospel or to the cross of Christ but to the wickedness of the sinner. And it is certainly true that the wicked make the Word of no account and cast it away, and that neither God nor His election must be blamed by the sinner for his wickedness and perishing. The sinner must never shift the blame for his wickedness and sinning from himself to the living God and His Christ and gospel. However, this article also states that Matt. 22:14 must not be understood as if God were unwilling that all should be saved, and it also states that the wicked foreclose to the Spirit of God His ordinary way, so that He can not accomplish His work in them. This certainly means that the sinner makes it impossible for the Spirit of God to work His ordinary way, makes it impossible for Him to accomplish His work in them, and this Spirit of God, according to this article, is not unwilling that all should be saved. This means that, whereas the Holy Spirit would work in the hearts of all men unto their salvation, these sinners make it impossible to accomplish this work in them. And, of course, we do not ascribe to this doctrine of Art. XI either. The Lord willing, we wish to call attention in our following article to certain glaring contradictions in this Formula of Concord.