The Doctrine of Atonement



Continuing our quotation of the first proposition as presented to the synod of Dordt by the delegates from the Palatinate, we now complete it:

For He does sustain all by a general goodness; whereof

Ps. 36:7;

but He preserves the believers by a special goodness and grace in Christ, Who was prepared for them before the ages of the world,

II Tim. 1:9.

When we say this, then we do not destroy the merit of Christ and do not render useless for the elect their redemption through Christ and the reconciliation with God. For thus did God love His elect, scattered throughout the entire world, that He, to prove His righteousness, has willed to intercede, yea anticipate in the carrying out of the election a perfect satisfaction for their sins. Thus He elected them unto eternal life, that Christ should obtain for them, being sinners that same life with the price of His blood, in which sense they are said to be elect in Christ,

Eph. 1:4.

Although it is then true that this special love of the elect is absolutely distinguished from the first, not dependent upon any cause outside of God; nevertheless it is not absolutely distinguished from the latter, neither to be divorced from the means which God, according to His wise and righteous counsel, has subordinated in order to carry out and exercise His love. Look up for this the places,

John 3:16; Rom. 3:24, 25; Eph. 1:4, 5, 6, 7; II Tim. 1:9, 10.

Following this clear truth, we reject and cast from us the Proposition of the Remonstrants, and we place in its stead this Antithesis or contrary proposition.

At the conclusion of our preceding article we have already called attention to the fact that these delegates to the Great Synod of Dordt here set forth their belief in a general goodness of God as extending to the things of this present time. This is also the theory of Common Grace of the late Dr. A. Kuyper. Calvin also taught this common grace. These delegates, however, are also firm in their maintaining that the love of God as revealed in Christ Jesus is very particular, extending only to the elect, and they reject the notion that this good pleasure of the Father also extends to the reprobates. Now we have never denied that this theory of Common Grace was taught in the past, also by John Calvin. And I believe that I may say that if the Christian Reformed Church, in 1924, had done nothing more than speak of this general goodness of God as extending to all men and as revealed only in the things of this present time, no split would have occurred in 1924 and we would not have been ejected out of that church at that time. The Three Points of 1924, however, also speak of the general grace of God, presenting as general the saving love of God as revealed in Christ Jesus, as when they speak of the general offer of the gospel, or of the general offer of salvation in the preaching of the gospel. Also these delegates from the Palatinate speak of this common goodness of the Lord in this first proposition. And it is undoubtedly true that many more of these synodical delegates believed in this general goodness of God. But this, however, is a striking thing: this general goodness of the Lord, revealing itself in the sunshine and the rain upon the just and the unjust, WAS NEVER INCORPORATED IN THE CONFESSIONS: The fathers, as led by the Spirit of God and of Christ, were therefore never led to give this theory a name and place in our reformed creeds. It is true, of course, that the issue in 1618-l619 was not the theory of a general goodness of God, but the Arminian position of a. conditional predestination of election and reprobation and a universal atonement of Christ upon the cross of Calvary. In 1924 the church made of this theory a dogma and demanded of us that we submit to this decision and teach nothing contrary to it. We were led by the Spirit of the Lord to reject these declarations of 1924. And what is the result? As far as our Prot. Ref. Churches are concerned, we have not departed one iota from the position we took in 1924. Is it not always characteristic of a heretical church that, once it departs from the truth, it departs ever farther and farther from the truth? But it is true of our churches that we have not departed one iota from our position of some forty-seven years ago. And what is true of the Christian Reformed Church which cast us out and refused to tolerate us in its membership? Has that church remained the same since those days? Has that church consistently adhered to the faith of our fathers, to the truths of historic Christianity, as they claim in their Back To God Hour? The history speaks for itself. There are undoubtedly many in the Christian Reformed Church today who are very alarmed because of conditions within their church. They have refused to discipline, synodically, a professor who openly declares himself in support of a universal atonement of Calvary. And this is not all. Many are the departures from the historic Christian faith, including a denial of the literal inspiration of the Bible and the historicity of the book of Genesis.

And, having refuted the first proposition of the Remonstrants, the delegates from the Palatinate submit their own version of what they believe to be the Scriptural presentation of the atonement as follows: “God the Father has ordained His Son Jesus Christ to be a redeemer and reconciler for our sin, out of the love whereby He particularly loves His elect unto everlasting life.” 

These delegates present a second proposition of the Remonstrants as follows: “Christ, according to the Father’s and His own purpose has obtained for all and every man, without distinction, as well for them who perish as for those who are saved, reconciliation with God, forgiveness of sins, and everlasting life.” After refuting this presentation of the Arminians in the light of the Word of God, they again submit their own and Scriptural version in these words: “Christ, according to the Father’s and His own purpose, has indeed obtained for all and every elect alone the reconciliation with God, the forgiveness of sins, and everlasting life.” Notice, please, the word “alone” here. 

The third proposition of the Remonstrants which these delegates refute reads as follows: “The ransom price of Christ is not only sufficient but also powerful in all and every one, for the atoning of the original sin, to accept in grace and into His covenant the entire human race; also finally, to impart unto it a sufficient grace.” Refuting this presentation of the Arminians, these delegates declare that none disputes the sufficiency of the ransom price of Christ for all and every man. But, according to these delegates, their dispute with the Arminians does not revolve about this question of the sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ, but whether the working and power of this ransom money has any power in all and every man, so that at least any of its fruits can reach all and every man. The Arminians teach that the original sin has not been imputed to anyone, whether child or adult, that the entire human race, in and with Adam, has been accepted in grace out of the general or common fall, yea, has been admitted to the covenant which God began with Adam, renewed with Noah, and in the last times has established and perfected through Jesus Christ. Thereupon these delegates present to the Great Synod their own positive presentation of the truth as follows: “The ransom money of Christ, it is true, is in itself sufficient for all and every man; but it is powerful unto theatonement of sins, whether original or actual, for the restoration in grace, according to the content of the gracious covenant, finally unto the imparting of sufficient and powerful grace in all of the elect, and in them alone.” Notice again the use of the word “alone.” 

The fourth heresy of the Remonstrants which these delegates quote and refute reads as follows: “Christ died in the same sense for all sinners, but is risen and prays in the Heavens before the Father, with the intention to save in the same sense the believers alone.” This ,proposition of the Remonstrants, these delegates declare, has a perceptible error, that it separates the acquiring and appropriation of the benefits of Christ from the objects, and divides them, and declares that they are not all appropriated by them for whom they were obtained. Teaching that Christ died for the entire human race, all men head for head, the Arminians realized, of course, that all men are not saved. Salvation was merited for everybody, but everybody does not appropriate this salvation unto himself. So Christ died in the same sense for all men, head for head, but He is risen and prays to the Father with the intention that only the believers may be saved. We understand, of course, that the Arminians mean to say that Christ prays only for the believers, but this is only because only the believers will to receive this salvation and be saved. This intercessory prayer of the risen Christ is a prayer, therefore, that rests for its fulfillment upon the faith of the sinner. This separation, so these delegates continue, must be made, in order that the Pelagian error of the accidental and uncertain enjoyment of the benefits of Christ, and of the everlasting salvation, may remain standing. Now the Scripture unites these two (the obtaining of salvation by the blood of Christ and the appropriation of this salvation by the sinner) by an inseparable knot, inasmuch as it declares that it is also appropriated by those for whom it was obtained, and that it was obtained for those who appropriate. And then these delegates quote several passages from the Word of God, all emphasizing this oneness between the meriting of salvation by Christ upon the cross and our receiving of this salvation, such as Is. 53:11John 10:15, 18Rom. 4:25, 8:34I John 2:1Rom. 8:32 and Romans 5:10. And then these delegates refute the charge of the Arminians, namely that the commandment to believe is weakened and the obedience of the believer is nullified, when it is declared that the obtaining of the benefits of Christ by the blood of Christ and the appropriation of the same are equally broad in scope. Of course, this is the old, old charge of the enemies of the truth, namely that the emphasis upon the sovereign and particular character of the grace and salvation of God tends to produce careless and profane Christians. How can anyone be admonished to believe when everything has been determined from before the foundations of the world, when Christ died only for the elect, when the Holy Spirit works irresistibly only in some, the elect of God? This charge of the Remonstrants is ably refuted by these delegates from the Palatinate, and then they conclude by presenting their own positive and Scriptural statement of the truth in the words: “Christ has both died and is risen, and prays in Heaven to the Father, for the elect and believers alone, that is, partly in their stead, partly unto their good.” Notice, please, that these delegates do not only speak here of the believers but of the elect and believers, and the idea is, of course, that only the elect of the Lord become and are these believers. 

I believe that these quotations from the delegates to the Great Synod of Dordt are of great interest to our readers, also and particularly to our younger readers, including our young people. This is surely instructive also in our present day and age, characterized, as it is, by an ever increasing denial of the particular character of the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ, also and especially in so-called reformed circles, among those who claim to champion the historic reformed faith.