The Doctrine of Atonement



In our preceding article, calling attention to the opinions of the delegates from Emden to the Great Synod concerning the doctrine of atonement, we noted that these delegates were prompted in their writings by the power of logic. This does not mean that they permitted their logic to dictate to them the truths of the Word of God. The human mind, or reason may never rule over the Scriptures. These delegates surely based their conclusions upon the Word of God. But the Word of God does not teach nonsense. The Scriptures are not in conflict with each other. They do not teach contradictions. God is one and His truth is one, never in conflict with itself. The Word of God surely bases one aspect of the truth upon another aspect of that truth. The logic of these delegates is surely based upon the Word of God. Now we understand that we are now merely quoting these opinions of these synodical delegates. What matters, in the final instance, is what the synod decided. However, it is nevertheless interesting to note the reasoning of these delegates and also how they based their findings upon the Word of God. We will now continue with these quotations.

VI. Whether Christ, through the merit of His death, reconciled God with the human race in such a way that the Father, because of the merit of it, without prejudice to His righteousness and truth, might and willed to establish a new covenant of grace with the sinners? The Remonstrants say Yes. 

We answer, in the light of many hidden things which lie concealed here, which cannot be examined in a short time, which we do not intend to do at this time, so we place over against this proposition of the Remonstrants, these contra-distinctions. 

1. God has established the covenant of grace, not only with all peoples in these last times, but also with Abraham and his descendants in the Old Testament, and long before him with our first parents. Consequently, the covenant with Abraham, as far as the essence of the covenant itself is concerned, is not different from the covenant established with all peoples in the New Testament, but it is one and the same. 

2. This covenant encompasses everywhere two very important benefits, in the Old as well as in the New Testament, namely the gracious forgiveness of sins, and the writing of the law of God in our hearts,

Jer. 31:32.

We must bear in mind that these delegates, in these propositions I and II, touch upon a critical point of dispute between the reformed view and that of the Arminians. The Remonstrants contended that the Lord established a covenant of grace in and with Christ. God willed several ways to save His people. In Paradise He willed to save all men in the way of the obedience of Adam. Then, in the Old Dispensation, He prescribed as a way of salvation the way of works. With the coming of Christ, God established a covenant of grace, and the way of faith in Christ as the way of salvation. But in these propositions it is set forth that God established the covenant of grace not only with all the peoples of the earth, as in the New Dispensation, but also with Abraham and his descendants and, long before him, with our first parents. Then, we read that this covenant encompasses two very important benefits, the gracious forgiveness of sins and the writing of the law of God in our hearts, in the Old as well as in the New Testament. So, in these words the oneness of God’s covenant as throughout the ages is established. We now continue with these quotations. In this following proposition the Remonstrants declare that Christ obtained by His death for the Father the possibility and desire to establish a covenant of grace with all sinners.

4. And consequently Christ by His death did not at that time first obtain for the Father a possibility and desire, in order that He, without prejudice to His righteousness and truth, might and willed to establish a covenant of grace with sinners; but Christ Himself is with all His benefits, merited by His death, exactly the proper and most important gift of the New Testament, in the light of the fact that He Himself, Who is the true Jehovah, has established this covenant with His death. 

5. The conditions of the New Testament are not only commanded but also promised. Thus namely, that God, the author of the gracious covenant, has promised that He will also give faith and repentance, which He demands of His members of the covenant, and what He promises He also fulfills. 

6. They who ascribe life and salvation to the fulfillment of the condition of the New Covenant rob God and Christ of His glory, and deprive the anxious consciences of the living of comfort, yea, cast down the manner to save sinners, which is presented in Holy Writ, and which is asked under the disguise of words set forth in the second transmitted proposition. 

VII. Whether it be the will of God, to ascribe the merit of Christ, by subject to a condition, namely if man fulfill the conditions of the New Covenant. This the Remonstrants say repeatedly; they declare: As often as man neglects this condition, then God does not obtain that which He has set before Himself. 


Although it is true that God demands the faith and repentance of the members of His covenant, nevertheless this does not mean that His will is subject to a condition; neither is the will of God respecting the application of the merit of Christ dependent upon the fulfillment of the same; in the light of the fact that the fulfillment of this condition is a pure gift of God, Who gives the willing and the fulfilling, and which in no sense of the word can and must be ascribed to man. Here these delegates emphatically affirm the unconditionality of salvation as bestowed upon the sinner.—H.V.) 


1. If the will of God be dependent upon conditions, which must be fulfilled by man, then His works are not known to God from eternity,

Acts 15:18.

2. Thus God would be impotent and weak. For He wills, and that seriously, so they say, that something be done and be fulfilled which nevertheless does not happen. 

3. Thus God would be dependent upon man, not man upon God. For God wills, so they say, that all men shall fulfill these conditions, in order that they all may be saved. Why, then, are they not saved? Because, so they say, they have not willed to fulfill the conditions of the New Covenant. Consequently, thus all things are dependent upon the willing or unwilling sinner. 

4. This is in conflict with the order and cause of causes. For where is here the first cause, which appoints and controls the second? Yea, in this manner the second causes appoints the first, and the first is dependent upon the second. 

5. Thus man chooses himself, accepting the sufficient grace offered to him; or he rejects himself, rejecting the same. 

6. Thus the honor is not of Him Who has mercy, whom He wills, but of him who accepts the offered condition or rejects it and despises it. 

7. Thus the decree of God is dependent upon His foreknowledge, not the foreknowledge on the decree. 

8. Thus God’s goodness is conquered by human evil; and man, Satan, the world and the flesh are mightier than God. For, they say, God would have all men be saved, but man does not will it. 

9. Thus God gives man no other grace than that which is in the power of man to accept or to reject. 

10. Thus the will of God is permitted to remain uncertain and it hangs in the balance, until the condition is fulfilled by man. 

VIII. Whether the reprobates are bound to believe, that Christ died for them. It is this question which the Remonstrants present in their fourth proposition. We answer shortly: Whereas the elect and reprobates are together in this life;

Matt. 24:40,

Two shall be in the same field, the one shall be taken, the other shall be left; and whereas to both together the Word of God is preached, hence no man can know who are reprobated, and, therefore, according to the judgment of love, we hope the best of all; consequently, let the Remonstrants show us who are reprobated, and then we shall see what the reprobates must believe. 

To this they object: But God commands all, to whom the Word is preached, that they shall believe. 

We answer that there is a certain command of obedience and a certain command to prove. The elect, then, are obedient to God when He commands them, having been drawn of God unto obedience. But the reprobates, whether they are disobedient at once, or believe for a short time, with a temporary faith, afterwards they again depart from it; thus they are tried in order that it may be revealed what lies hidden in their hearts. Consequently, they reveal their unbelief and corrupt nature, with which they were born but in no sense implanted into them of God. 

But, whereas this beast, the one head having been cut off, gets many others, so it shall be necessary to show and examine other erring opinions of the Remonstrants, arising from the above mentioned or living out of the same.

Of interest is all the following, in which these delegates refute the contention of the Arminians that they present a far richer interpretation of the atonement of Christ:

IX. Consequently, whereas they repeatedly and in many places, often make mention of their explanation of the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God, and therefore deceive the simple minds, as if they ascribe very much to Christ and His merits, by which He should have reconciled the entire world with God, so they must be drawn out of their hiding places, m order that their deception may be known more and more and people see what they mean when they speak of “having obtained for all men the forgiveness of sins.”

When, then, they say, that Christ has obtained for all the forgiveness of sins through the merit of His death, then their meaning is not at all, which they appear to present, that Christ should have paid fully for the sins of men through the merit of His death, and have furnished for us the ransom money. Not at all; for everywhere they deny that Christ satisfied fully for sins.

How true! The Arminians claim that their presentation of a universal atonement is so much richer than the conception of the Reformed. They teach a Christ for all; the Reformed teach a Christ only for some! The reality of the matter is, however, that, whereas they teach that Christ died also for those who perish, they actually teach an atonement which really is no atonement, inasmuch as having died also for those who perish Christ therefore did not pay for their sins, and therefore did not die for the sins of any.