The Doctrine of Atonement




The ninth and final article of Head II of our Canon of Dordt, calling our attention to the death of Christ and the redemption of men thereby, reads as follows:

This purpose proceeding from everlasting love towards the elect, hath from the beginning of the world to this day been powerfully accomplished, and will henceforward still continue to be accomplished, notwithstanding all the ineffectual opposition of the gates of hell, so that the elect in due time may be gathered together into one, and that there never may be wanting a church composed of believers, the foundation of which is laid in the blood of Christ, which may steadfastly love and faithfully serve Him as their Saviour, Who as a Bridegroom for His bride, laid down His life for them upon the cross, and which may celebrate His praises here and through all eternity.

When the fathers speak of “this purpose” in the very beginning of this truly wonderful article, they undoubtedly refer to the Lord’s sovereign counsel, also called the most gracious will and purpose of God the Father at the beginning of Article VIII. This refers to that purpose of the Father according to which the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of God’s Son should extend to all the elect, saving them even unto the uttermost. And the fathers begin this ninth article by calling attention to the fact that this purpose proceeds from God’s everlasting love towards the elect. This we read literally in Isaiah 44:1-2: “Yet now hear, O Jacob My servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen: Thus saith the Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee; Fear not, O Jacob, My servant; and thou, Jesurun, whom I have chosen.” And this is also set forth in Romans 8:29-30: “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” Indeed, the love of God toward His elect is a sovereign, everlasting love. 

Notice, in the second place, that the foundation of this Church of God, powerfully preserved throughout the ages, is laid in the blood of Christ, and that this church, always preserved throughout the ages, will love and faithfully serve Him as their Saviour, Who as a bridegroom laid down His life for His bride upon the cross. This church, therefore, is anchored in the cross of Calvary. It is the blood of the Lamb of God which guarantees the everlasting life of all the elect. This is a far cry from the Arminian conception of universal atonement. This Arminian presentation, we have seen, guarantees nothing. According to it, everything depends upon the free will of the sinner. According to the fathers of Dordt, however, the foundation of the church is laid in the cross of Christ. Because of this death of the Son of God, the salvation of all the elect is assured, resting in the unchangeable love of God. 

Thirdly, God always powerfully accomplishes His counsel of the salvation of all the elect. This article speaks of the “gates of hell.” The expression, “gates of hell,” refers to all the evil powers which issue forth out of the power of darkness. These are the powers of persecution and reproach, of suffering and death, of fire and sword and prison, the temptation of vain philosophy, of the treasures and pleasures of this world, the dominion of sin and of the flesh. The devil will reveal himself either as a devouring lion or as an angel of light. Sometimes he uses the power of the sword whereby he kills the body, and at other times he resorts to vain philosophy and to the undermining of the truth, the very foundations of the Church of God. And always these “gates of hell” seek the destruction of the Church of God in the midst of the world. 

How true this is throughout the Old Dispensation! This struggle of the ages is set forth by the Lord already in Gen. 3:15: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” The very first child born, Cain, slays his brother, Abel, because Abel was righteous and Cain was wicked. Think of the struggle of the church in the ages before the flood. The Scriptures speak of proud and wicked Lamech, the father of Jabal, Jubal and Tubal-Cain. He has two wives, and boasts of the fact that he had slain two people, probably people of God. We also read of Enoch, a preacher of righteousness. They sought him, which means that they looked for him in order to kill him, but found him not because the Lord has translated him. And when the Lord destroys the world with a flood, only 8 souls were saved in the ark. How fierce the struggle had been! 

The struggle becomes more intense after the flood. Shortly after the flood, the wicked, disobeying God’s command to scatter over the earth, under the leadership of Nimrod, the mighty rebel, are determined to organize into one mighty world kingdom, and build a city, with a tower that would reach up into heaven. But the Lord confused their speech and compels them to scatter over the earth. And how the “gates of hell” fumed and raged against the Church of God in the land of Egypt! After forcing them into slave labor, a maneuver which failed utterly, the king of Egypt gave the commandment that all the male infants should be cast into the River Nile, thereby attempting to choke off the life of the nation of Israel and to prevent the birth of the Christ-Child. Indeed, all these attempts of the powers of darkness throughout the Old Dispensation are held before us in Rev. 12:3: “And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.” Then, we may also recall the efforts of the powers of darkness to destroy the people of the Lord while they were in the wilderness. Amalek comes forth to wage war against them, is defeated by the hosts of the Lord, and Moses receives commandment from the Lord to record this in a book, in order that Amalek may be utterly destroyed, Saul receiving a commandment from Samuel to accomplish this. Then, think of the time when Israel dwelt in the land of Canaan. How the people of the Lord were harassed from within and without! In this connection, we may recall the period of the Judges, when heathen nations, time and again, invaded the land of Canaan to molest and harass the people of the Lord. How often did it not happen that wicked kings would sit upon the throne of Israel, leading the people of the Lord away from the statutes and precepts of Jehovah! The ten tribes rebelled against the house of David, set up their own kingdom of theten tribes, and only Judah was left as a remnant of the covenant God. But also the kingdom of Judah would be led, time and again, by wicked kings. Always the great red dragon is standing before the Church of the Old Dispensation (Rev. 12), eager to present her from bringing forth the Christ-Child. Finally, the people of the Lord are taken into captivity. Seventy years they spend in the heathen land of Babylon, and we listen to the complaint of the Church of God, in Ps. 137:1-3: “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” After returning out of the land of their captivity, the people of the Lord were in imminent danger of destruction because of wicked Haman, as narrated in the book of Esther. That diabolical plot did not merely concern the Jews who were living in Persia, but it was directed at all the Jews throughout the world. Indeed, how unique is the history of the people of God throughout the ages! Upon what people has so much hatred and enmity been directed for so long a time and by so many nations and peoples of the earth! This has been continuing throughout the ages. The world never tires of heaping all its ridicule and hatred upon the people of the Lord. Haman, too, would destroy this people of the Lord, and also here we have an attempt by the great red dragon to destroy the Man-Child, Christ Jesus. And finally, in the Old Dispensation, there are the fearful times experienced by the Cause of the Lord after Israel’s return out of the captivity. Well might Israel lament as we read it in Ps. 129:1-3: “Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth, may Israel now say: Many a time have they afflicted me from my youth: yet they have not prevailed against. The plowers plowed upon my back: they made long their furrows.” How true is this lament especially in the days when the people of the Lord were oppressed by Antiochus Epiphanes. This Antiochus Epiphanes, Old Testament type of the Anti-Christ, was a monster of iniquity. It was he who came upon the Jews with a great army, took Jerusalem by force, and slew many of the Jews. And, also according to Josephus, not satisfied either with his unexpected taking of the city, or its pillage, or with the great slaughter he had made there; but being overcome with his violent passions, and remembering what he had suffered during the siege, he compelled the Jews to dissolve the laws of their country, and to keep their infants uncircumcised, and to sacrifice swine’s flesh upon the altar. Terrible cruelties were inflicted upon the people of the Lord by this monster of iniquity. But never did the “gates of hell” prevail against the Cause of God in the midst of the world. Always did the Lord preserve a church and watch over His covenant people. And always the Lord accomplished His counsel not only over against all the gates of hell, but also thus, that the powers of evil had to serve this accomplishment of His counsel. 

And thus it also was during our Saviors’ earthly sojourn. All we need do is recall all the attempts to destroy Him and keep Him from the way of the cross. As soon as He was born His life was threatened by Herod the Great. Learning of the wise men that the King of the Jews had been born, and also learning upon inquiring of the scribes that the King of the Jews was to be born in Bethlehem, the city of David, he instructs the wise men, after they had brought their homage to this king of the Jews, to report to him in order that he, too, might worship the newly born King of the Jews. And thereupon he commands all the children that were in Bethlehem to be slain, and all the children in all the coasts thereof. How the devil, when he tempted Christ in the wilderness attempted to keep the Saviour away from the cross, proposing to Him that He take a “short cut” to fame and honour, rather than to follow the tortuous way of the cross, the way of Divine obedience! And, finally, the attempt was made by the prince of the powers of the air to destroy the Son of God by nailing Him to the cross of Calvary. There he gathered all the forces of hell, and made the Christ of God an object of public ridicule and shame. But all these effects were in vain, inasmuch as the Lord raised Him from the dead, lifted Him up into the highest glory, and gave Him a place in His own right hand. The Lord willing, we will continue with this in our following article.