We have seen that Dr. James Daane very bluntly denies that the atonement is limited in its nature. He denies that our Reformed creeds teach a doctrine of limited atonement. He claims that the term “limited atonement” is not a proper term to designate the truth that the atonement does not save all men, and he even makes an attempted appeal to Canons II, 6 and 8 to substantiate this claim. Moreover, the doctor assumes the offensive, and asserts that it is Prof. Dekker’s opponents, and not Dekker, who are skirting the heretical on the matter of the nature of the atonement.
These claims of Daane we shall now examine carefully and at length. We are interested especially, of course, in the question whether Daane’s views can stand the test of Scripture and the confessions. We are interested in the question: is the atonement in its very nature limited, according to Scripture and the confessions? But we are also interested in other questions. There is the matter of the historical background of this doctrine; I refer to the history of the Arminian controversy, including the Arminian articles, and including also the deliberations which preceded the actual writing of the Canons. We are, of course, also interested in the question of method on which Dr. Daane has laid so much emphasis in this connection. He has attacked the method which would reason back from the results of the atonement to the nature of the atonement, which claims that if the results are limited, then the atonement itself must be limited, while if the nature of the atonement is a redemptive love for all men, then the result must be that all men are finally saved.
All these matters we must consider.
CLARIFYING THE ISSUE
Sometimes a lengthy discussion such as has arisen in connection with the “Dekker Case” tends to obscure issues. Everyone, I am sure, who has any Reformed sensitivity was immediately shocked by the assertion of Prof. Dekker that it is legitimate to say to every man, “Christ died for you,” as well as by his further explanation that the atonement is general (not limited) in its sufficiency, its divine desire, and its availability. Statements of this kind are, to say the least, “eye-openers” wherever there is any Reformed feeling left. I dare say that this is true in Christian Reformed as well as Protestant Reformed circles. I would even hazard the guess that among those who more or less agree with Prof. Dekker there were those who gulped a bit when they read his first article, if for no other reason than that it was so very candid. Since the appearance of Dekker’s first article, however, page after page has been written, both in favor of and against Dekker’s position. The result is that gradually the issues have tended to be obscured somewhat through the very complexity of all the writings. Not a little have Dr. Daane’s writings contributed to this obscuring of the issues. Let it be added that the ever-present necessity of maintaining the First Point of 1924 has not made matters more simple in Christian Reformed quarters.
However, let us remind ourselves that the issue is after all very simple.
It is this: Is the atonement by the death of Christ limited, that is, for the elect alone? Or is it unlimited, general, that is, for all men and every man?
If anyone, Dr. Daane included, wants to phrase the question so that it speaks of the atonement “in its very nature,” or, “in its design,” that is perfectly all right. It really adds nothing of value to the question. Moreover, if the terminology particular. . . .general, rather thanlimited. . . . .unlimited, is used, that is also good. The simple fact is that everyone knows, even though the precise term limited atonement, does not occur in our confessions, that what is commonly called the doctrine of limited atonement is the doctrine that Christ died and atoned only for the elect, not for all men.
Nor does it really add anything to the question to add the words “in its very nature.”
For, in the first place, it stands to reason that when we speak of the atonement in relation to its beneficiaries, we must per se speak of the nature of that atonement.
But above all, in the second place, we are not merely speaking in the abstract of atonement, or of an atonement, but of the atonement. That is, we are speaking of a very definite, concrete, accomplished fact, the fact that some nineteen hundred years ago, on the hill of Golgotha, God through our Lord Jesus Christ atoned, that God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing our trespasses unto us. And the simple question is: what was that act of God, that fact? What actually took place on Golgotha, according to Scripture’s own testimony and according to our creeds?
This, then, is the very simple question to which we must address ourselves and which we must not lose from view in the entire discussion that has grown up round about Prof. Dekker’s original claim.
EMPHASIZING THE NEGATIVE
It is frequently of benefit in clarifying issues and clarifying one’s doctrinal position to emphasize the negative, that is, to state what one does not believe, what he rejects.
This method has much to commend it. Not only is it generally true that every “yes” has its “no” implied; but the history of dogma shows us very plainly that the confession of the truth has frequently, if not always, been formulated over against some heresy about a commonly held doctrine which necessitated such a formulation. Thus it was in the fourth and fifth centuries, for example, with the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine of the natures of Christ: the rise of heresy compelled the church to formulate these doctrines confessionally. Thus it has been with all the great Reformation creeds. And thus it was with the Canons of Dordrecht. Besides, it clears away a good deal of rubbish, so to speak, if a man tells us plainly and unequivocally what he rejects.
Now it is a simple fact of history that the Second Head of Doctrine was formulated by the Synod of Dordrecht in 1618-’19 over against the Arminian heresy of general, or unlimited, atonement, specifically over against the Second Article of the Remonstrance.
A clearer understanding of the issues, therefore, would certainly result from a statement of what men like Dr. Daane, Prof. Dekker, and others do not believe, a statement of what they reject.
The Second Article of the Remonstrance 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, reconciliation 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.”
Any Reformed man should be able to answer with a simple, unqualified, wholehearted “yes” this question:do you reject, without any reservation, the above article?
Any Reformed man should be able to say “yes” to the question: do you, without any reservation, declare that the above article is repugnant to the true and complete doctrine of salvation?
Any Reformed officebearer should be able to give an unqualified “yes” to this question: are you disposed to refute and contradict the above article and to exert yourself to keep the church free from such an error?
My own answer to all three questions is an unqualified “yes.”
Although I cannot understand, in the light of all that they have written, how Prof. Dekker and Dr. Daane could possibly give an affirmative answer to these questions, let them speak for themselves. I believe it would be for their own benefit if they would answer with a “yes” or a “no.” It would clear the air. Furthermore, I believe that the Christian Reformed Church, under the Formula of Subscription, should long ago have confronted them with these questions.
Then we would at least know where everyone stands.
These same questions might be asked with respect to the Rejection of Errors of The Second Head of Doctrine of the Canons. Specifically, those same three questions should be confronted with respect to the Rejections of Errors of Canons II, Article 1, which reads:
(The Synod rejects the errors of those:) Who teach: That God the Father has ordained his Son to the death of the cross without a certain and definite decree to save an), 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 Savior: “I lay down my life for the sheep, and I know them,”
And the prophet Isaiah saith concerning the Savior: “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.
Do Daane, Dekker, and, those who agree with them agree, without any reservation, with this article of the Rejection? Again I say that I cannot understand how it is possible for them to do so. But they surely ought to declare themselves; and the Christian Reformed Church is duty bound to inquire about this under the Formula of Subscription.
Article 5 of the Rejection of Errors of Canons II is also very plainly at issue, the light of what Dr. Daane has said about Christ dying for the original sin of every man. How can Dr. Daane subscribe to this language? Take note of it:
(The Synod rejects the errors of those:) Who teach: That all men have been accepted unto the state of reconciliation and unto the grace of the covenant, so that no one is worthy of condemnation on account of original sin, and that no one shall be condemned because of it, but that all are free from the guilt of original sin. For this opinion is repugnant to Scripture which teaches that we are by nature children of wrath.
Again, Article 6 of the same Rejection of Errors is pertinent, in the light of the fact that Prof. Dekker makes a distinction between the availability of the atonement for all and the efficacy of the atonement for the elect only. This article makes essentially the same distinction when it speaks of the difference between merit and appropriation (or application), and ascribes this distinction to the Arminians. Our fathers use no uncertain language in rejecting this error:
(The Synod rejects the errors of those:) Who use the difference between meriting and appropriating, to the end that they may instill into the minds of the imprudent and inexperienced this teaching that God, as far as he is concerned, has been minded of applying to all equally the benefits gained by the death of Christ; but that, while some obtain the pardon of sin and eternal life, and others do not, this difference depends on their own free will, which joins itself to the grace that is offered without exception, and that it is not dependent on the special gift of mercy, which powerfully works in them, that they rather than others should appropriate unto themselves this grace. For these, while they feign that they present this distinction, in a sound sense, seek to instill into, the people the destructive poison of the Pelagian errors.
Again, I do not understand how the position of Dekker and Daane allows for an unqualified subscription to an article like the above.
But it would clear the atmosphere if they expressed unqualified agreement and manifested a disposition to oppose such errors. As matters stand now, there is no one who can understand how their views can be harmonized with the above rejections. And the burden of proof is on them, for they introduced new ideas and attacked the supposedly commonly held view of the Christian Reformed Church.
AS TO METHOD
Dr. Daane has attempted to make a big point of the matter of method throughout his articles. Specifically, as I pointed out in my October 15 editorial, he has criticized the method of those who want to reason from results to cause, from the limited result that only the elect are saved to the limited nature of the cause, namely, the atonement. Daane claims this method is not valid.
Now I would point out, first of all, that this is by no means the only method of proving what is called limited atonement. I maintain that the proper method, first of all, is to prove the doctrine of limited atonement by the use of Scripture and the confessions, by quoting Scripture and exegeting Scripture and by showing that this exegetical proof is also the clear line of our confessions. This I intend to do in the course of this discussion.
But the method which Daane so heartily disapproves is nevertheless one of the proper methods. I believe it is legitimate, that it is compelling in its logic, provided one has a clear understanding of the nature of the atonement as an objective accomplishment of God in Christ that took place at Calvary. And I believe that this method places one in good theological company. It is in harmony with the Reformed tradition.
I wish to call attention to the latter fact only, for the time being.
First of all, I submit that the method which Daane so heartily disapproves is at bottom the method followed by the Synod of Dordrecht in Canons II, Rejection of Errors, Article 1, quoted above. The fathers draw a logical consequence here from the Arminian doctrine of an indefinite, general, unlimited atonement. They do this when they say: “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.” Let Daane analyze this statement once, and he will discover that the fathers by putting this consequence on the Arminian doctrine are following the same method that he criticizes. They destroy the doctrine of general atonement by showing that it leads to an illegitimate, and, in fact, inconceivable consequence! The critics of Dekker and Daane have done the same thing. This is also the plain meaning of the statement of our fathers in this article that “this doctrine tends to the despising of the wisdom of the Father and of the merits of Jesus Christ.” Why? This illegitimate consequence tends to make the Father look foolish because in that case God designed an atonement that would be in part wasted! And it tends to make the merits of Christ (this is the nature of the atonement: MERITI) despicable because those merits would be exposed as not objectively and in reality having merited anything at all.
In the second place, I want to point out that this method was literally followed by none other than the Netherlands Professors in their opinion about the Arminian doctrine of atonement. They write as follows, and I translate from the Acts of the Synod of Dordrecht (Opinion of the Netherlands professors):
For those for whom Christ powerfully (krachtiglijk) died, He died in the place of them as their Surety (Borg); that is, He thus died for them that He freed them from the guilt of death. But He has not died in the place of the reprobate, as their Surety, that is, He has not thus died for them that He freed them from the guilt of death . . . . The second part of this proof is certain. For otherwise they could not be justly punished by God, since God cannot punish a sin twice, once in Christ, and again in those who go lost, of whom He demands their debt to the uttermost farthing . . . . .”
The meaning of this is plain beyond a shadow of a doubt. The Netherlands professors reasoned that unlimited (general) atonement necessarily means unlimited salvation. If Christ died for all men, including the reprobate, then all men, including the reprobate, must necessarily be saved. Therefore, Christ did not die for all men because all men are not saved. On the contrary, the reprobate are punished for their sin, which means that Christ did not atone for them, that is, did not bear the punishment of their sin.
Hence, it ought to be clear at least that when Dr. Daane so severely criticizes this method, he is departing from the Reformed tradition in his theological method. Personally, I prefer to be in the company of the Netherlands professors.
But we may also ask the question: why, in Reformed theology, is this method correct? Is this a matter of mere human logic? Does it have no real basis in the truth?
The answer ought to be plain as soon as one considers the nature of those results from which Danne does not want to reason backward. Those results are expressive of a purpose, the divine purpose of election. In the deepest sense, the reasoning of this method is not from results to cause, from salvation to atonement; but it is a reasoning from purpose to result, from election to salvation. And included in that realization of the divine purpose (a sure and sovereign realization) is not only salvation, but also the way of salvation, to which belongs the atonement of Christ. Hence, begin with the denial of sovereign predestination, begin with a love of God for all men, and you must needs follow through with a denial of particular (limited) atonement.
This is Daane’s fundamental error. He criticizes others for reasoning from result to cause. He ought to criticize himself for failing to reason, Scripturally and confessionally, from purpose to realization of purpose!
I suggest that the doctor ought to climb down from his ivory tower of theological speculation and ought to ascend the watch-tower of revelation. Then he might produce some Reformed theology.