Article 7. But as many as truly believe, and are delivered and. saved from sin and destruction through the death of Christ, are indebted for this benefit solely to the grace of God, given them in Christ from everlasting, and not to any merit of their own.
It is again a matter of regret that in this article the English translation, while it adheres to the idea of the original Latin, does not adhere more strictly to the language of the original, which is more forceful. Since the article is not long, we will take space to quote the Latin and to present a more literal translation.
The Latin reads as follows:
Quotquot autem vere credunt, et per mortem Christi a peccatis, et interitu iberantur ac servantur, illis hoc beneficium, ex sola Dei gratia, quam nemini debet, ab aeterno ipsis Christo data, obtingit/
And a more literal translation would be:
But as many as truly believe, and through the death of Christ from their sins, and destruction are liberated and rescued to those this benefit falls (obtingo—to fall to one’s lot, happen, befall) out of grace that is of God alone (literally: out of the only-of-God grace), which he owes to no one, which has been given them in Christ from eternity.
For a correct understanding of this article, it is necessary to understand its setting.
And then we must note, in the first place, that this article falls not under the subject of “Divine Predestination, “but under that of “The Death of Christ, and the Redemption of Men Thereby.” Hence, we deal here not directly with the decrees of God, but with certain historic facts, namely, the death of Christ, the preaching of Christ crucified together with the command of faith and repentance, the disobedience to that command on the part of many (Article G), and the obedience to that command of repentance and faith on the part of those who believe (Article 7). While it is true, therefore, that the article mentions the fact that the grace of God is “given them from eternity,” the main point of the article is the fact that it is mere grace that as many as truly believe are delivered and saved from sin and destruction, and, more specifically still, that it is mere grace that they do believe. In this connection, we may note, in the second place, that this 7th article is the counterpart of the 6th article: they are complementary. These articles together deal with certain facts concerning the redemption of men through the death of Christ, facts which are the same for both the Arminians and those of Reformed persuasion. These facts are:
1) The gospel must be and is preached promiscuously and without distinction to all nations and to all persons whom it reaches.
2) When that gospel is preached, there is, on the part of many, an unbelieving reaction against it, and these many who do not believe perish. This is simply a fact, which neither the Reformed man nor the Arminian can deny. It has always been the case, also in Biblical times, and is the case still today.
3) When that gospel is promiscuously proclaimed, there is, on the part of some, a believing reaction, and these who believe are saved. This is also a simple fact for both the Arminian and the Reformed man.
The question is, however: what is the explanation of these facts? The Arminian charges, of course, that the Reformed man has no explanation for these facts, and that his Reformed position does not agree with the facts. And the Remonstrant maintains that these facts can be explained only from this position: 1) That Christ died for all and for every man, thus accomplishing the possibility of redemption for men in general. 2) That, however, the matter of the believing or unbelieving reaction to this possibility of salvation in Christ, and therefore the effectualness or inefficiency of that death of Christ, is solely up to man. Furthermore, the Arminian bends every effort in his opposition to the Reformed position in order to show by “hook or crook” that one must come to the theory of general atonement.
It was in this connection that we noted in our discussion of Article 6 that the Arminian forces the Reformed man to attribute the guilt of unbelief to man, by charging that the truth of limited atonement means that the sacrifice of Christ is defective and insufficient: His sacrifice was not valuable enough to save those that do not believe. And therefore, so I the Arminian continued, that poor sinner cannot be blamed for his unbelief and is not responsible for his own perdition, for he never had an opportunity to be saved: it was a priori established that there was no blood to cover his sins, no redemption for his guilt, no salvation for his soul. Rather, the Arminian said, we must maintain that Christ’s sacrifice covered all sinners. Then it can never be said that His sacrifice was defective or insufficient, and then only can it be maintained that the unbeliever is himself to be blamed for his unbelief and consequent perdition. It was over against this argument, we have seen, that the fathers maintained: 1) That it is not necessary to teach a general atonement in order to maintain the guilt of the lost unbeliever. 2) That while they insist on the truth of particular atonement, they nevertheless also insist that the guilt of unbelief and the blame of unbelievers perdition is in no wise to be ascribed to a defect in the sacrifice of Christ, but is wholly the sinner’s. 3) That this guilt accrues to them when in the general proclamation of the gospel Christ crucified is evidently held before them, and they are confronted with the command to repent and believe, but are not obedient to said command. But now—and this is what leads to Article 7—the Arminian thinks he has trapped his Reformed opponent in his own position. Again, he aims at forcing him to concede that atonement must be general, and that the effect of that atonement is dependent upon the will of the sinner. His argument is that if the blame of unbelief and perdition is to be, ascribed to the sinner who does not believe, then it follows that the credit for faith and salvation must also be ascribed to the sinner who does believe. In other words, the Arminian claims that the same spiritual, ethical relationship obtains between the unbeliever, his unbelief, and his perdition, on the one hand, and between the believer, his faith, and his salvation, on the other hand.
To this the fathers reply in Article 7: non sequitur, it does not follow. Let us briefly analyze their reply.
First of all, they maintain the relation between faith and salvation: faith is indeed the way and. the means to salvation. It is, as they maintained, already in Article 5, those that believe in Christ crucified that are delivered and saved from sin and destruction through the death of Christ. The fathers are always careful to maintain this, since the Arminians always charge them with denying it. And especially here they are careful to abide by the facts. Remember, the fact facing both the Arminian and the Reformed man in this phase of the controversy is: some believe and are saved. The fathers are quite content to grant that plain fact. It surely is not thus, that God chose some, that Christ died for them, and that now they are simply saved, nolens-volens, and that faith nowhere enters into the picture. No, “as many as believe, and are delivered and saved from sin and destruction,”—they are the subject of discussion in this article. In fact, the fathers stress this fact by inserting the word “truly.” Faith is by no means a non-essential in the process of salvation, and therefore it must indeed be a genuine faith also. It is by no means impossible that there is at the same time in that word “truly” a barb for the shadow and superficial Arminian conception of believing in Christ. At any rate, the subject is those who truly believe, that is, those who come to Christ as poor, lost, damn-worthy sinners in themselves, who apprehend in Christ and His benefits the fullness of their emptiness, who embrace Him with the certain knowledge and hearty confidence of faith. They are delivered and rescued from sin and destruction. They are translated from the darkness to God’s marvelous light. Christ has died for them. He has paid their debt of guilt. And they are liberated from sin not only; but also from its consequences, death and hell, they are rescued. And let no one charge the Reformed faith with denying that those who truly believe are saved. Nor let the Reformed man be afraid to proclaim it. Let him emphasize even that faith must be genuine.
But then let him speak of faith, not works.
And that means that he will speak of’ grace, nor merit.
For the question is: whence is that faith and that salvation? Faith and salvation indeed belong together. They cannot be separated. They are, in fact, according to the language of this article, one benefit: “. . . are indebted for this benefit. . .”
And here we have the main point of this article. The source of this benefit is only the grace of God. And again, the article emphasizes that this is the source. It tells us that this benefit is “ex sola Dei gratia, out ofthe grace of God solely.” Hence, the source of this benefit of salvation through faith is not the mind and will and heart of the sinner to whom the gospel is proclaimed, but the grace of God. What does grace mean? Grace means a free gift. God’s grace is His favor, according to which He wills to make the object of that grace blessed with Himself. It is the divine power also whereby that will is carried out, whereby the object of – His grace is actually blessed. That divine grace, as the attitude of God and as the power of God, is the source, then, of this benefit. It is the source not only of the salvation and liberation from sin and destruction, but also of the faith and the act of believing. That grace is free. And it is the very opposite of works: “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” Rom. 11:6. Hence, there is no merit in our salvation whatsoever. While the guilt of unbelief is wholly the sinner’s, the credit of salvation through faith is not at all the sinner’s, but wholly Gods.
This truth the Canons emphasize by a threefold qualification of this grace: 1) It is literally, according to the original, a grace that is only of God. In no wise is that grace or the reception of that grace to be explained as having its reason in the sinner. 2) It is grace which God owes to no one. No one, unbeliever or believer, can ever say he has a claim upon the grace of God. If grace were ever a matter of the worthiness of its objects, sinners, then there would be no grace for any sinner. God’s grace is absolutely undeserved, forfeited. But even apart from the matter of sin, no creature,—just because of the fact that he is a creature,—could ever have any claim upon divine grace. It is free, sovereign, independent. Otherwise grace is no more grace! 3) And finally, the fathers allude in this article to something they did not mention in Article 6: God’s eternal decree. To seal the true character of that grace, and to rule out any possible credit to the sinner, they emphasize that this grace was given us from eternity in Christ. When you and I were not there, when we could not possibly have done anything to merit or to forfeit that grace, long before we were ever born, in the mysterious depths of eternity, God’s attitude of favor and His will to bless us in Christ were there, and were upon us who believe in time. In other words, God’s grace was always, eternally, upon us. It had no beginning; and therefore it could never be due to us, who are creatures of time. Soli Deo gloria!