Art. III of the second Head of the Canons reads: “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.”
The expression, “abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world,” occurs repeatedly, we have noted in preceding articles, in the opinions of various delegates to the Great Synod of Dordt, which these delegates submitted to the synod for its consideration. This expression must not be misunderstood. It certainly does not mean that Christ actually died for the sins of every man, head for head. This was the heresy of the Arminians, and this heresy is refuted by the fathers in this second head of the Canons. Neither does this expression mean that, inasmuch as the sacrifice of Christ was sufficiently abundant to expiate the sins of the whole world, He therefore suffered more than was necessary, inasmuch as His sacrifice expiates only the sins of the elect. We do not understand the necessity of this expression in the Canons. One thing is sure: the extreme character of the death of Christ, as suffered and endured by the Saviour upon the cross of Calvary, would have been necessary had there been fewer elect for whom He poured out His life’s blood.
This article speaks of the worth and value of the sacrifice of Christ. It is of eternal and infinite value. This lies in the nature of the case. Fact is, it must bear the wrath of God, and this wrath of God is eternal and infinite. The bearing of this infinite wrath of God is the penalty upon sin, inasmuch as sin has been committed against the most high majesty of God. That this sacrifice is of such infinite value, blotting out all our guilt and meriting for the elect life everlasting and immortal, lies in the fact that it is the death of the Son of God. The article does not say that Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, but that it was abundantly sufficient to expiate, blot out, all the sins of the whole world. We immediately understand the difference.
This article reads as follows:
This death derives its infinite value and dignity from these considerations, because the person who submitted to it. was not only really man, and perfectly holy, but also the only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Ghost, which qualifications were necessary to constitute Kim a Savior for us; and because it was attended with a sense of the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin.
In this fourth article the fathers explain the value and dignity of the sacrifice and death of Christ. How must we account for the fact that our Lord Jesus Christ could atone for all the sins of all the elect by one sacrifice upon the cross? Did God simply consider this sacrifice to be of such great value or is it true that the death of the Lamb of God was really that valuable? These questions are answered by this article. The truth as set forth in this fourth article of Head II of the Canons is also treated in Lord’s Day V of our Heidelberg Catechism.
First of all, the Mediator, our Lord Jesus Christ, is really man and perfectly holy. In the Old Dispensation the Son of God appeared to men, as to Abraham, recorded in Gen. 18. We also read of angels that they appeared to men, took upon themselves the appearance of a man. Jesus did not simply appear as a man. He was no ghost or spirit. But He actually became man, actually became like unto us in all things, sin excepted. And He is a perfectly holy man. He was perfectly holy in the judicial sense of the word. He was, therefore, without guilt. Because He is the eternal Son of God, standing personally outside of the human race, the guilt of Adam was not imputed to Him. He had no sins of His own to expiate. And He is also perfectly holy, as man, in the ethical, spiritual sense. He was born without corruption. He became like unto us in all things, sin excepted. All this was necessary if a sacrifice is to be brought which would expiate the sins of the elect of God. Man sinned and man must pay for sin. For this reason our Mediator must become man and be perfectly holy, He must be able to pay for others, not for His own sin, and, as the perfectly Holy One, He must be able to bear the wrath of God in perfect obedience.
Secondly, however, the Mediator was also the Son of God. This is emphasized in this article. He is also the only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Ghost. Hence, according to His Divine nature, He is essentially one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. And He was a Divine, not a human, Person. The article speaks of Him. as the only begotten Son of God. He was therefore the! Person of the Son of God, in divine and human nature. And it is the Person of the Son of God Who suffers for us, not in the divine nature, but in the human nature. His sacrifice has infinite value exactly because it. was the sacrifice of the eternal and infinite Son of God. This is the language of our confessions. And this, of course, is also the language of the infallible Scriptures. Many passages could be quoted from the Word of God. We will quote a passage from the gospel of Matthew, chapter 16. When the Lord asks His disciples what the people say of Him, and then confronts them with the question: “But whom say ye that I am?”, the apostle Peter, answering for the disciples, answers: “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And the expression, “Son of God,” has but one meaning in the Word of God, namely that the Lord Jesus Christ is the eternal and infinite Son of God, one in essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
This article reads as follows:
Moreover, the promise of the gospel is, that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified, shall not perish, but have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.
This, we readily understand, is an article often quoted, particularly in the history of our Protestant Reformed Churches. It is an article rather well known. However, this does not mean that it is, therefore, an article generally well understood. On the contrary, it is a very controversial article, an article that is often quoted by those who believe in a universal love of God, universal atonement, and in the preaching of the gospel as an offer of salvation on God’s part to all who hear that gospel. How strange this is! Is it not a very striking thing that an article of the Canons should be quoted by those who believe in a general and universal love of God, when the truth of the matter is that it is these fathers of Dordrecht who are fighting here these very Arminian heresies!
This article, we understand, treats the subject of the preaching or proclamation of the gospel. The Remonstrants contended that the reformed view of the Scriptures hinders or renders impossible a general preaching of the gospel. How, for example, can the gospel be preached to all men if Christ died only for the elect? Isn’t the “gospel” good news? “Good news” is the literal meaning of the word, “gospel.” How can the gospel of the suffering and death of Christ be preached to all, be a gospel proclaimed to all if He died only for some.7 In fact, the Reformed man cannot really preach the gospel. What he should do is confine his preaching of the gospel to the elect. But this, we understand, he cannot do. And inasmuch as we do not know who the elect are, we, who are truly Reformed, cannot really proclaim the gospel. This objection of the Remonstrants or Arminians against the Reformed conception of the cross and death of our Lord Jesus Christ is also heard today. O, it is not a new accusation! The fathers of Dordt were thoroughly familiar with it. And our Protestant Reformed Churches are also thoroughly familiar with it. It is this accusation, charge of the Arminians, that is answered by the fathers in this fifth article of Head II of the Canons. Incidentally, this is one of the articles of the Canons that is quoted by the Christian Reformed Synod of 1924 in its support of the Three Points adopted at that synod in Kalamazoo. That synod declared that the preaching of the gospel is grace to all who hear it, declared that the preaching of the gospel is a general, well meant offer of grace on God’s part to all men. We again refer our readers to the thorough treatment of the Canons, also of this article, by Prof. H.C. Hoeksema in past Standard Bearers.
This first article speaks of the preaching of the promise of the gospel. The expression, “promise of the gospel,” we interpret in this article as referring to the promise proclaimed by the gospel. Now we should notice, in the first place, that the fathers here declare that the promises of the gospel, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel, The Arminians declared that the advocates of the Reformed view, maintaining an eternal, unconditional love of God (Head I), and a particular atonement, really could not preach the gospel. Notice that the fathers here maintain this particular and unconditional love of God. They declare that also the preaching of this gospel is sovereignly determined by the Lord. They declare that this gospel ought to be preached to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel. How true! Paul, upon his second missionary journey, never intended to go into Europe. It was his intention to go to the right. But the vision of the man of Macedonia revealed to him that he must go to the left, into Europe. God also sovereignly determines the tour se of the preaching, of the gospel. He also determines who shall hear this preaching. He has not only determined who shall be saved, but also to whom the gospel will be proclaimed. This is extremely important. The fathers here immediately establish and maintain the sovereignly particular love of God. Does the Lord love all men? Does He desire the salvation of all men? Does He attempt to save all men? If He loves all men, why is it then that He does not have His gospel preached to all men? Of course, He does have His gospel preached to the elect. But why does He not have His gospel preached to all the reprobates? Fact is, not all men hear the preaching of the gospel. Most men do not hear this preaching. And, mind you, it is the good pleasure that the Lord does not have the gospel preached to all men. Sovereignly, therefore, He withholds this gospel from men. And He would save all men? And then He sovereignly withholds His gospel from many? The fathers here, therefore, immediately maintain the sovereignly particular love of God. The Lord willing, we will return to this article in our following article.