Article III. 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.
The translation’ “appropriated” will stand, provided it is understood as referring to an act of God, not of the believer, as is plain from the passive verb applicetur, “applied.” We may also note that our English version leaves out the Latin certo in the first clause, which should read: “That Christ by his satisfaction certainly (assuredly, undoubtedly) merited . . . .” And finally, the word “obedience” is hardly an accurate rendering of praestatio, “fulfillment” (Dutch: volbrenging.)
As the fathers develop step by step the line of the Arminian error which they reject, the fearful consequences of this error are with increasing clarity exposed. The reader will understand that these articles of the Rejection are not unrelated. Each of the errors considered thus far proceeds out of that immediately preceding it. The Arminians begin by denying that the death of Christ is the fulfillment of a certain and definite decree to save any. Then they teach that Christ by His death merely acquired for the Father the right to establish any kind of covenant He might wish to establish. And in this third article it becomes still plainer in which direction the Arminian wants to go. The covenant which God wants to establish is not one of grace, but of works. Christ merited for no one either salvation or faith, but only the authority and will to prescribe new conditions (not the old ones of complete obedience to the law, but new ones of faith and obedience; but conditions nevertheless). And the fulfillment of these conditions (note here the implied definition of a condition) is dependent on the free will of man. Hence, it is a covenant of conditions, or, a covenant of works. And all this the fathers reject.
Let us enter a little more in detail into this aspect of the Arminian error. We may do this by way of a comparison between the Reformed and the Arminian positions.
1. Reformed truth maintains that Christ with certainty merited salvation for all those whom the Father gave Him from before the foundation of the world. Arminianism teaches that Christ merited salvation for no one.
2. Reformed truth maintains that by His satisfaction Christ also merited faith for ail the elect, and for them only, so that the elect might through faith become partakers of the benefits of salvation obtained by the death of Christ. Arminianism teaches that Christ merited faith for no one.
3. Reformed truth maintains, consequently, that. Christ also confers faith and salvation upon all the elect, and upon them only. Arminianism necessarily denies this also, since Christ has merited neither faith nor salvation for anyone.
This Reformed line of truth, opposed by the Arminian lie, is plainly stated in Article 8 of the Second Head of Doctrine.
But what is the heart of this Arminian error? The Arminian view concentrates completely around man and his “free will.” In order to maintain his view that everything depends upon man, rather than God, and upon man’s free will, which the Arminian conceives of as naturally good and able to incline itself toward the good,—in order to maintain this, the Arminian is forced to reject the line of the truth, which maintains that Christ through His perfect satisfaction of divine justice, and because His death was the perfect satisfaction of God’s justice with respect to our sin, obtained, actually purchased, for all the elect all the blessings of salvation, including the faith whereby these blessings are actually applied to us. He must reject this line because it would mean that the elect inevitably come into possession of those blessings, and that too, not through any merit or work of their own, but solely through the merit of Christ and the work of divine grace.
To be sure, the Arminian still speaks of grace, oft the gracious redemption of Christ, of the operation of the grace of Christ. That is why it is always necessary to ask carefully what he means. And then it becomes evident always and again that everything depends upon man, and that the Remonstrant does not mean grace at all, but works.
That is exactly the case in this article.
What did Christ merit, according to the Arminian? By His death Christ made it possible for the Father to deal with men again in regard to salvation. Notice: Christ made something possible for the Father. Did He even so much as make it possible for the Fatherto give us salvation? Not at all; He made it possible to have dealings with us in regard to salvation. But further, what was the nature of that so-called authority and perfect will to deal again with man, which Christ merited for the Father? According to the Arminian conception, God at one time dealt with man, and had laid down the condition of perfect obedience to the law as the prerequisite of eternal life. However, man had of his own free will rejected that divine dealing, had failed to meet that prerequisite. Hence, God could no more have dealings with man. Now Christ makes it possible for God to deal anew with man. God may now prescribe new conditions. He is no more bound to prescribe the condition of complete obedience to the law, but may also prescribe other, less stringent conditions. He may prescribe new conditions, as He might desire. This is the celebrated Arminian conception of salvation. This is what the Arminian means when he mouths the words “salvation” and “grace.” Is there any salvation in the conception whatsoever? Does the view give even a hint of salvation? Not at all. For notice that the Arminian view once again implies that the fulfillment of these conditions depends on the free will of man. God is absolutely helpless to supply anyone with eternal life. If a man would fulfill the new conditions, he would receive eternal life and be saved. But that is entirely up to man. The question whether any man will actually come into possession of eternal life and salvation is not in God’s power at all. God can only prescribe the conditions. Man must decide. Hence, it may be that all men will fulfill the conditions but it may also be that no man will fulfill the conditions. It may be, therefore, that all men obtain eternal life; it may also be that no man obtains life eternal.
Small wonder it is, in the light of the above, that the fathers are very severe in their condemnation of this view.
In the first place, they charge the Arminians with judging too contemptuously of the death of Christ. This is the charge which the Arminians tried to lay at the door of the fathers. They said that the Reformed view implied a defect in the sacrifice of Christ because all men were not saved by the death of Christ. But how foolishly wicked is that charge of the Arminians when one considers their own view of Christ’s death. According to their view, it might have happened that no one would be saved by that death, and that Christ would actually have died in vain. But notice that this really means that Christ did truly die in vain. For if it could happen that all were saved or that none were saved, then in very fact the power to save is not in that death of Christ at all—it resides somewhere else. What a defective sacrifice Christ made, then, according to this view!
In the second place they charge the Arminians with denying the primary benefit of that death of Christ. Of course, the Arminians deny principally all the benefits of the death of Christ. But here the fathers speak of the primary benefit or fruit. What is that benefit? Nothing less than salvation itself. The Arminians also deny that Christ merited the gift of faith for anyone. But they deny first of all that Christ ever merited salvation for any. And then it is of no use to talk about the other benefits. And notice that this too is actually the case with the Arminian view. The Arminian does not simply teach that Christ merited salvation, and that it is up to man to accept the salvation which Christ merited. He even denies that Christ really merited salvation for anyone.
And finally, the fathers charge the Arminians with recalling out of hell the Pelagian error. The Arminian error was not a new one. It was essentially but a repetition of the error of Pelagius, against whom the church father Augustine fought centuries earlier. It was Pelagius already who promulgated and systematized the error of free willism and who, denying the depravity of man’s nature, and denying original sin, taught that by virtue of his inherently good will man was able to accomplish his own salvation. It is true, Arminianism presented that error in a new and more deceiving garb; but it was the same error.
Notice that the fathers call it error. This we also must do. It is not the truth. It is not an “Arminian brand” of the truth, in competition with a “Reformed brand” of the truth. It is not thus, that the Arminians “emphasize one side” of the truth, while the Reformed “emphasize another aspect” of the truth. It is not true that Arminianism stresses human responsibility, while Reformed doctrine stresses divine sovereignty. This is the talk of modern day “tolerance.” Our fathers did not consider the different brands of doctrine as so many presentations of the truth, much as the different brands of soap and detergents are all good cleansing agents, each having its special quality. For them there was but one truth, the truth of our Reformed confession, the truth of Scripture. All else, whether taught by Arminius or Pelagius, was error, the lie. And we should emulate the fathers of Dordt in this attitude.
In this light it is not difficult to see that the fathers consign that Arminian error to hell. Certainly, error is not from heaven, from God, from Christ! Christ is the truth! But the devil is a liar from the beginning, and the father of the lie. And it is through the gates of hell that the devil and his legions proceed to attack the church. And their main weapon is the lie. And that lie always essentially exalts man, and that too, sinful man, rather than the living God. Characteristically hellish, therefore, is the Arminian-Pelagian error. And if only in our day Reformed people would dare to draw a clear line between truth and error, and would bear in mind that the error is not heavenly, but hellish in origin, the churches would be much more fearful of all that smacks of Arminianism, would avoid it, and would be much more insistent on being consistently Reformed.