THE REFORMATION PERIOD
THE SYNOD OF DORDT
Continuing our discussion of the doctrine of the atonement of Christ as set forth by the fathers of Dordt in Head II of the Canons, we now turn our attention to the Rejection of Errors of this Second Head. These sections of the Canons, called the Rejection of Errors, and setting forth the negative aspect of the truth, constitute a fundamental part of this Reformed creed or confession. It certainly speaks of weakness when churches, who formerly incorporated these articles in their confessions, now omit them. How important it is, not only that we set forth and. maintain the truth, but also that we are constantly on the alert to fight and oppose all heresies that are repugnant to that truth! May we as churches ever continue to be faithful in this calling which our Lord Jesus Christ always lays upon His church in the midst of the world. May we constantly strive to recognize the wolf also, and especially when this enemy of the true gospel appears as an angel of light and in sheep’s clothing.
The first error of the Arminians and rejected by our fathers of Dordt in Art. I of this rejection of errors, reads as follows:
Who teach: That God the Father has ordained His Son to the death of the cross without a certain and definite decree to save any, so that the necessity, profitableness and worth of what Christ merited by His death might have existed, and might remain in all its parts complete, perfect and intact, even if the merited redemption had never in fact been applied to any person. For this doctrine tends to the despising of the wisdom of the Father and of the merits of Jesus Christ, and is contrary to Scripture. For thus saith our Saviour: “I lay down my life for the sheep, and I know them,”
And the prophet Isaiah saith concerning the Saviour: “When Thou shalt make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in His hand,”
Finally, this contradicts the article of faith according to which we believe the catholic Christian church.
These articles in which are set forth the errors of the Arminians are of the greatest importance. And they are certainly significant also for this reason, that, recognizing these errors as being taught in our present day, we may recognize them as Arminian. When, for example, it is taught today that Christ died for all men, and when the distinction is made between the intention and efficacy of the cross, then we may immediately recognize this teaching as having been condemned by the fathers of Dordt. The history of the development of doctrine may well lead us also in this respect.
In this article, the Arminian heresy is exposed that Christ was ordained by the Father to the death of the cross without a certain and definite decree to save any, in order that the necessity, profitableness, and worth of Christ’s death might have existed and might remain complete in all its parts, even if the merited redemption had never in fact been applied to any person. The Remonstrants taught that the death of Jesus Christ would lose nothing of its significance even if no one actually would be saved. Regardless whether anyone be actually saved, that death would retain completely its worthy, necessary, and profitable character.
To this we may answer, in the first place: what kind of logic is this? Imagine, if you please, that none would actually be saved! We may certainly assume this. The teaching that the efficacy of the death of Christ upon the cross is dependent upon the will of the sinner certainly implies that the living God does not determine the salvation of any sinner, but that only that sinner is saved who wills to be saved. And this teaching that Christ’s death upon the cross becomes effective only when the sinner consents to be saved certainly leaves room for the possibility that no sinner will be saved. All the living God can do is offer sinners His love and salvation. But whether that sinner will accept it is dependent upon that sinner. But, assuming, then, that no sinner is saved, what kind of logic is it to teach that the death of Christ loses nothing of its significance, profitableness and worthiness? How profitable, I ask you, is the death of Christ when it actually saved nobody? And what about its worthiness? So, also in this respect the heresy of Arminianism does not make sense.
Of course, this nonsense the Arminians were compelled to teach and maintain. They, we understand, made separation between the merit and the application of that merit of the death of Christ. As far as the application of this merit is concerned, they presented that as dependent upon the free will of man. Christ did not die for a definite people, but merely in general, in order to establish the possibility of redemption and reconciliation.
We have already called attention to the fact that, in these articles of the Rejection of Errors, the fathers of Dordt present what they believe to be the errors of the Arminians. Now it is certainly true that our fathers are correct when they declare that the Remonstrants taught that the death of Christ would lose nothing of its significance even if no one actually would be saved. The Arminians certainly taught this. O, it is true that they, in the second point of the Remonstrance, declared that Christ has obtained by His death upon the cross redemption and the forgiveness of sins. But they also declare that Christ obtains this for all men and for every man. Now we should bear in mind that the Arminians, in their view of divine predestination, and as expressed in their first point of their Five Points of the Remonstrance, declare themselves in favor of a conditional predestination, that the Lord has determined to save those who shall believe on His Son Jesus, and that therefore they believe in a divine predestination upon foreseen faith. As far as God is concerned, therefore, His love is conditional and universal. It all depends upon the free will of the sinner. Whether God will save him depends upon his desire and willingness to be saved. God, therefore, does not determine who shall be saved, but it is man who determines this. However, that the fathers appraise the Arminian view correctly is also evident in the light of the Arminians’ second point of their Five Points of the Remonstrants. Now it is true that the Arminians here declare that Christ died for all men, head for head. So, should anyone accuse the Remonstrants of teaching that the Father has ordained His Son to the death of the cross without a certain and definite decree to save any, the Arminians might retaliate with the remark that they certainly do believe that Christ died for men, inasmuch as they believe that Christ died for all men. But we must call attention to the fact that the Remonstrants also add that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer. Of course, in a certain sense this is true. It is certainly true that only the believer actually receives and enjoys the forgiveness of sins. But we do well to remember; the distinction between the Arminian and Reformed views of salvation and of the death of Christ. According to the Reformed view, the believer enjoys the forgiveness of sins because Christ died for him and bestows this forgiveness of sins upon His people through faith. But, according to the Arminian, Christ died for me because I believe in Him. According to the Remonstrant, the efficacy of the cross is strictly dependent upon the free will of the sinner. The fathers of Dordt are, therefore, very correct in their appraisal of the Arminian view of the death of the cross. The Father has indeed ordained His Son without any certain and definite decree to save any.
However, the question still persists: in the light of the fact that the Arminians really believe that God ordained His Son to the death of the cross without a certain and definite decree to save any, how can they teach that the necessity, profitableness and worth of what Christ merited by His death might have existed, and might remain in all its parts complete, perfect and intact, even if the merited redemption had never in fact been applied to any person? We understand the question: how can the Remonstrants maintain that the death of Christ retains its profitableness and worth even if none be saved through that death of Christ upon the cross? How can that death of Christ be considered as worthy and profitable even should none be saved? Of course, this, we know, is not true. If Christ did not die atoningly then it is impossible for anyone to be saved. If Christ did not die atoningly, then He did not pay for any sin. Then the sin of no sinner is paid. And if my sin and guilt are not paid, my salvation is impossible. However, this is the position of the Remonstrant, namely, that, even should none actually be saved, the death of Christ nevertheless retains its profitableness and worth. How, upon the standpoint of the Arminian, can he maintain this nonsense? The answer is obvious. You see, the Arminian believed that Christ upon the cross simply earned the possibility of our salvation, He did not merit salvation itself, only the possibility of our being saved. Well, regardless, then, of the question whether anyone be actually saved, it still remains a fact that the Saviour did merit the possibility of our salvation, and this fact, according to the Remonstrant, is not affected by any man’s salvation.
How do the fathers of Dordt refute this position of the Arminians? Well, in the first place, they declare that this view tends to the despising of the merits of Jesus Christ. How true! In these words, the fathers maintain that Christ’s death has significance and meaning only if He shed His blood for definite persons, who are also actually delivered and saved. Of course! A death of Christ that does not actually save anybody is surely without meaning and significance. A death of Christ that is dependent for its efficacy upon the will of the sinner itself does not save, itself is not redemption, is void of any meaning. Man’s salvation, therefore, is not dependent upon the cross of Christ, and this means that actually nothing happened at the cross of Calvary as far as the actual salvation of the sinner is concerned. The fathers of Dordt are certainly correct when they declare that the Arminians despise the merits of our Lord Jesus’ Christ; fact is, they actually deny these merits.
Secondly, the fathers declare that the Remonstrants are wiser than God in their view of the cross. Again we say: how true! Is not the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, as reconciling the world unto Himself and as redeeming His own from all the power of sin and guilt the wisdom of God? To deny this power of the cross is certainly the denial of this wisdom of the Lord. Besides, one surely changes the wisdom of God into unspeakable folly by presenting the cross of Calvary as dependent upon the will of a sinner. God, then, would send His own Son into our world of sin and guilt and death and present that priceless gift of His Son as dependent upon a sinner? How foolish! Would the Lord, I ask you, “take a chance” as far as the blood of His Son is concerned? Is it possible for one drop of that precious blood to have been spilled in vain? Isn’t it foolish for me to spend millions upon millions of dollars for something and then not even be sure whether I will ever possess it? And this view must be applied to Christ’s death upon the cross? How foolish!