In my previous editorial I called attention to the fact that in the very first article of the Second Head of Doctrine our Canons lay down the principle of atonement through satisfaction.
There are several more articles which make reference to this idea of satisfaction in Canons II. In these articles there are various other elements belonging to the nature of the atonement which are set forth; and they are set forth, too, in connection with this key idea of satisfaction. To these other elements we shall give our attention later. For the present we are interested in these articles only in so far as they present the truth of satisfaction.
Article 2 is the first of these. It reads as follows:
Since therefore we are unable to make that satisfaction in our own persons, or to deliver ourselves from the wrath of God, he hath been pleased in his infinite mercy to give his only begotten Son, for our surety, who was made sin, and became a curse for us and in our stead, that he might make satisfaction to divine justice on our behalf.
As far as the doctrine of satisfaction is concerned, this article emphasizes: 1) That we are unable to make that satisfaction ourselves. This aspect is not further explained. But you will remember that the Heidelberg Catechism expounds this at length, as was pointed out in a previous editorial. 2) That the provision of such satisfaction is an act of God, and that too, an act that proceeds from God’s good pleasure (“he hath been pleased . . . .”), and an act of infinite mercy. 3) That the provision of satisfaction is in the gift of God’s only begotten Son. 4) That the only begotten Son made satisfaction as our “surety” and by being made sin and becoming a curse for us. 5) That satisfaction is concerned with divine justice and the wrath of God, which is the expression of divine justice against sin.
The rather well-known and somewhat controversial Article 3 reads as follows:
The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin; and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.
We will not at this point busy ourselves with a discussion of that last expression in the article. We are at present interested in the element of satisfaction. Suffice it to point out here that the article does not say that Christ died for the whole world or made satisfaction for the whole world, even if it be granted that here “the whole world” is used in the sense of all men; But as far as satisfaction is concerned, the article emphasizes: 1) That the death of the Son of God constitutes that satisfaction for sin. 2) That this satisfying death of the Son of God was a sacrifice, that is, a voluntary offering. 3) That it is “only and most perfect.” This last expression again is very important. It means that the satisfaction made was complete. It very really satisfied divine justice. It actually accomplished what it was intended to accomplish. Hence, to that satisfaction nothing can be added, nor can anything be taken away. It is once for all. Divine justice has been satisfied; the divine wrath has been borne. All those covered by that death are very really and objectively redeemed and have escaped the punishment of sin.
Article 4 does not speak literally of satisfaction, but of the infinite value and dignity of Christ’s satisfying death, a subject which was introduced already in Article 3. Nevertheless, it points to the very essence of the idea of satisfaction when it emphasizes that that death “was attended with a sense of the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin.”
Also Article 8 of Canons II does not mention the termsatisfaction. When read, however, in the context of the Second Head, it sheds important light upon the idea of satisfaction. In the first place, it speaks of effectual redemption. That redemption is effectual simply means that it truly redeems. And that our Canons employ the term effectual redemption does not at all imply that there is also an ineffectual redemption, or atonement, as Prof. Dekker teaches. By this terminology the Canons simply emphasize the truth over against the false theory of the Arminians. The Arminians taught a redemption that did not actually redeem all for whom it was made. In other words, it was ineffectual. And it is over against this theory of an ineffectual redemption that our fathers spoke of effectual redemption and of the quickening and saving efficacy of the death of the Son of God. We do the same thing when we speak of total depravity. That we use the term total does not imply that there is alsopartial depravity or even that a partial depravity of man would be conceivable. But there are false theories that present human depravity as being only partial. And over against these false theories we speak of depravity as total in order to emphasize that such is the very nature of human depravity. Thus also we speak of effectual redemption. As I have emphasized before, an ineffectual redemption or atonement is a contradiction in terms: it is no redemption whatsoever. But I especially want to, emphasize here that this mention of effectual redemption is possible only because the very nature of the atonement consists of satisfaction of divine justice. In the second place, we should notice that this article speaks of faith and all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit as having been purchased for the elect by Christ’s death. Here again the emphasis is upon the fact that there was an objective accomplishment in the death of Christ, there was an actual event, a transaction. Faith and all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit were purchased. Our purging from all sin, both original and actual, whether sins committed before or after believing, was objectively accomplished. Our preservation to the end was obtained. All this is due to the fact that the very nature of the atonement is the satisfaction of divine justice. Before satisfaction was made, we were indebted. When satisfaction was made, the debt was paid. The result is that before God those for whom satisfaction was made, those for whom Christ died, are from that point on no more indebted. If all men are included in that death of Christ, then all men are no more indebted. If only the elect are included in the death of Christ, then only the elect are no more indebted. But whichever is the case, one thing is certain: he who would speak of the atonement must be willing to speak of satisfaction and to accept all the Scriptural consequences of that key element in the nature of the atonement. Take it away, and you destroy the entire beautiful truth of the atonement. With these remarks in mind, I ask you to read Article 8:
For this was the sovereign counsel, and most gracious will and purpose ofGod the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of his Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation: that is, it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to him by the Father; that he should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, he purchased for them by his death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory in his own presence forever.
There are, of course, other important elements of the atonement in this article; and we shall therefore refer to it again. I only quote it here in connection with the element of satisfaction.
There is also an article in the Rejection of Errors of the Second Head of Doctrine which mentions Christ’s satisfaction, namely, Article III. In this article the Synod rejects the errors of those:
Who teach: That Christ by his satisfaction merited neither salvation itself for anyone, nor faith, whereby this satisfaction of Christ unto salvation is effectually appropriated; but that he merited for the Father only the authority or the perfect will to deal again with man, and to prescribe new conditions as he might desire, obedience to which, however, depended on the free will of man, so that it therefore might have come to pass that either none or all should fulfill these conditions. For these adjudge too contemptuously of the death of Christ, do in no wise acknowledge the most important fruit or benefit thereby gained, and bring again out of hell the Pelagian error.
In this connection we are not interested particularly in the Arminian error which is condemned here, but rather in what the fathers say about satisfaction in the course of their polemic against the Arminians. The article teaches us especially two things as to the Reformed view of satisfaction. 1) By His satisfaction Christ merited salvation itself and the faith whereby this satisfaction is appropriated. 2) The objective accomplishment of satisfaction is to be distinguished from the appropriation of that satisfaction by faith whereby the benefits of that satisfaction become our conscious possession.
From all the above it is abundantly plain that according to our Canons and all our confessions satisfaction is a key element in the Reformed concept of Christ’s atoning death.
We must now turn to Scripture itself, to relate this teaching of our Reformed confessions to the language of Holy Writ. This we shall begin to do next time, D.V.