The Doctrine Of Atonement (Reformation Period)

Discussing the seventh and final article of the Rejection of Errors of Head II of the Canons, dealing with the atonement of Christ, we were calling attention in our preceding article with the governmental theory of the cross as set forth by the Remonstrants. And we noted, among other things, that this theory is a corruption and perversion of the justice and righteousness of God. It implies the error that God executed an innocent man upon the cross of Calvary. And this could never be a display of the righteousness of the living God. This, moreover, would imply that God would save sinners without the satisfaction of His righteousness. How could such a theory possibly induce a sinner to acknowledge his sin when the living God Himself is not interested in the maintaining of His own justice and righteousness? 

We also noted that the reasoning of the Arminian, teaching that Christ need not die and did not die for His elect inasmuch as God loved them before the foundations of the world and that therefore there is no wrath of God upon them which must be removed, is utterly fallacious. However, we wish to point out at this time that the Arminian is very rationally inclined here. Now it is true that he accuses the man of Reformed persuasion of being rationalistic. He accuses the Reformed man of not bowing before the Word of God, of not listening to the Scriptures, of being motivated and prompted by his reason. I am sure that we are all acquainted with this accusation of the Remonstrants. The Arminians declare that we have pre-conceived notions of the counsel and the grace of God, and that we conclude, rationalistically, that there cannot be a grace or love of God for all mankind. Now it is surely true that we are rational in our interpretation of the Word of God. The truth of the Scriptures is surely reasonable. It is not contrary to reason. The child of God is a rational being. But this does not mean that we are controlled by reason, believe in things only because we understand them. In our reasoning, we are surely controlled by the Word of God. And we believe most emphatically that the Scriptures are never in conflict with themselves. We do not believe in contradictions. But now we should note that .it is exactly the Arminian who is rationalistic, controlled by his reason. 

This reasoning of the Remonstrant is utterly fallacious. It is, of course, the fallacy of the Arminians that they ignore the sufferings and death of Christ in the counsel of God, and therefore present matters as though God loved the elect apart from these sufferings and death. That this is the position of the Arminians is obvious from their reasoning. How would they otherwise come to the conclusion that the death of Christ is unnecessary? This position of the Remonstrant is, of course, completely in error. Now it is certainly true that God loved His elect from before the foundations of the world and that He destined them for everlasting life. It is also true that they stand before Him in His counsel, not as children of wrath, but as His beloved children. The Word of God teaches us that He has engraved them in the palms of His hands. And they surely stand before Him as engraved in the palms of His hands as His eternally beloved children. But this, we understand, also as far as the counsel of God is concerned, is not to be understood as apart from Christ and His mediatorial work and suffering upon the cross. God has known His own from eternity in Christ. It is for this reason that He could and did love them from eternity. But it is also true that, in time, we are conceived and born dead in sin and in trespasses, as out of the first Adam, and that we, therefore, are by nature children of wrath. What God, now, has seen and sees eternally in His counsel in its fulness is executed in time step by step. In His eternal counsel, therefore, God sees our sins and guilt. But it is also true that God knows us eternally as covered by the blood of Christ, and that we therefore stand eternally before Him as His holy and beloved children, not only as in Christ. This counsel the Lord now fulfills in time. And therefore it is true that Christ dies in time for our sins, so that we are justified through His blood. This the Arminian ignores. And therefore he does not see the necessity of Christ’s suffering and death in time. This also verifies the truth that the Arminians’ rejection of the particular atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ is rooted in his denial of the Scriptural truth of particular and sovereign predestination. 

Finally, this seventh article calls attention to how the Arminians contradict the Scriptures. The fathers here do not reason, but they simply present the Word of God over against the Remonstrants. Let us notice the Scriptures which the fathers quote here in the seventh article. Of course, many more passages could be quoted from the Word of God. But these passages will suffice. The first passage is Gal. 2:20, the last part: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, Who loved me, and gave Himself for me.” Notice, please, that the apostle Paul here speaks of the love of the Son of God as revealed in His giving of Himself in the death of the cross. So, the love of God and the death of Christ upon the cross are inseparably connected. In Rom. 8:33, 34 we read: “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemeth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us.” In this beautiful Word of God the apostle connects God’s justification of His people with the mediatorial work of our Lord Jesus Christ, as He suffered and died for us, is risen from the dead and even now intercedes,for us at the right hand of God. The Arminian would separate God’s love of His people, but the apostle Paul connects the two. InJohn 10, the chapter in which the Saviour speaks of Himself as the Good Shepherd of His people, we read in verse 15: “As the Father knoweth Me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down My life for the sheep.” This thought is stated more than once in this chapter. How wrong it is for the Arminian to deny the necessity of the sufferings and death of Christ! Would the Father send His only begotten Son into the world and into the death of the cross if this death were not necessary? And inJohn 15:12, 13 we read: “This is My commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” We repeat: many more passages could be quoted from the Scriptures, but these are surely sufficient to show that the Word of God lays all emphasis upon the Scriptural truth of the redemption of God’s people through the blood of Christ, and that the eternal love of God for His people is inseparably connected with the sufferings and death of His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. 

This concludes our article on the history of the doctrine of the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ. There cannot be any doubt with respect to the meaning of this truth as set forth in the Divine Scriptures. And neither can there be any doubt as to the position of the Church of God as it has confessed this truth throughout the ages. This position is clear. According to the Word of God and according to the Creeds of Christendom, Christ died only for the elect. The Lamb of God suffered and died vicariously, only for those whom the Father gave Him from before the foundations of the world. “Universal Atonement” is a contradiction in terms, is denied by the Word of God and the Confessions. 

However, although it is true that the truth of Particular Atonement, that the Lamb of God suffered and died only for His sheep, the elect given Him by the Father from before the foundations of the world, is taught throughout the Divine Scriptures and clearly set forth in all Protestant Confessions, yet today it is almost universally denied. How little this truth of the particular character of the sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus Christ is understood and proclaimed today! This is also true of the Christian Reformed Church. To be sure, there are also other truths being denied and rejected today in our Reformed church world. We now refer to such truths as the plenary inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, the historicity of the Word of God, particularly Gen. 1-3, the miracles of Holy Writ, yea, the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, His return upon the clouds of heaven and the heavenly nature and character of His kingdom. But, the departures from these fundamental truths of the Word of God in our Reformed church world surely had their beginning, historically, in the teaching of “Common Grace,” and in our country, in the adoption of the Three Points in 1924. In 1924, as far as we know, nobody denied the particular character of the death of Christ. In those Three Points, as in Point I, the teaching is proclaimed that the Lord is gracious to all who hear the preaching of the gospel, and this means that God offers salvation to all who hear the gospel and would save them. But this must lead to a denial of the particular character of the cross. To teach that salvation is offered to all must imply that there is salvation for all men. And this must imply a “general atonement,” inasmuch as there is no salvation without the cross of Calvary. This explains the “Dekker case” in the Christian Reformed Church. O, it is true that, officially, that church professes to believe in the Three Forms of Unity, and therefore the truth of “Particular Atonement” is, officially, their doctrine. But Prof. Harold Dekker is very outspokenly in favor of the Arminian view of the cross. There is nothing vague about his teaching. He was not ousted from the seminary, was not even criticized or admonished. He was allowed to remain. What happens when heresy is condoned and tolerated in the church? Do these heretics repent? Do the “wolves” within the sheepfold become sheep? Indeed not! That church will depart more and more from the testimony of the Word of God. Wolves never become sheep. And when heresy is allowed and tolerated within the church of God, then that church is exposed to all its malicious influence, and ultimately that sheepfold will be completely dominated by the forces of evil and the lie. How urgent is the admonition of Holy Writ to hold fast unto that which we have. We close by quoting once more Art. VIII of the Head II of our Canons:

For this was the sovereign counsel, and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation: that is, it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to Him by the Father; that He should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory in His own presence forever.