We now call attention to what we read in the Belgic Confession, also called the Confession of Faith or the Thirty Seven Articles, concerning the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Belgic Confession was composed in French by Guy De Bres, who died a martyr in 1567. It was composed in 1561, was adopted by a Reformed Synod at Emden in 1571, and by the National Synod of Dordt in 1619, which subjected the text to a careful revision by a comparison of French, Dutch and Latin copies. Articles 20 and 21 treat this subject of the atonement of Christ. Article 20 reads as follows:
We believe that God, Who is perfectly merciful and also perfectly just, sent His Son to assume that nature in which the disobedience was committed, to make satisfaction in the same, and to bear the punishment of sin by His most bitter passion and death. God therefore manifested His justice against His Son when He laid our iniquities upon Him, and poured forth His mercy and goodness on us, who were guilty and worthy of damnation, out of mere and perfect love, giving His Son unto death for us, and raising Him for our justification, that through Him we might obtain immortality and life eternal.
Now it is true that this article does not mention the elect by name. However, it surely cannot be denied that this is certainly implied in the wording of this article. The use of the personal pronoun “us” and “we” and “our” cannot be interpreted in any other way. We may also call attention to the fact that this article stresses the element of satisfaction, that our Lord Jesus Christ bore the punishment of sin whereby we are justified, and that Christ was raised for our justification, that through Him we might obtain immortality and life eternal.
Article 21, which discusses the satisfaction of Christ, our only High-Priest, reads as follows:
We believe that Jesus Christ is ordained with an oath to be an everlasting High Priest, after the order of Melchisedec: who hath presented Himself in our behalf before His Father, to appease His wrath by His full satisfaction, by offering Himself on the tree of the cross, and pouring out His precious blood to purge away our sins; as the prophets had foretold. For it is written, He was wounded for our transgression, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and with His stripes we are healed; He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and numbered with the transgressors; and condemned by Pontius Pilate as a malefactor, though he had first declared Him innocent. Therefore, he restored that which he took not away, and suffered the just for the unjust, as well in His body as in His soul, feeling the terrible punishment which our sins had merited; insomuch that His sweat became like unto drops of blood falling on the ground. He called out, My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me? And hath suffered all this for the remission of our sins. Wherefore we must say with the Apostle Paul, that we know nothing but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified; we count all things but loss and dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord: in Whose wounds we find all manner of consolation. Neither is it necessary to seek or invent any other means of being reconciled to God, than this only sacrifice, once offered, by which believers are made perfect forever. This is also the reason why He was called by the angel of God, JESUS, that is to say, SAVIOUR, because He should save His people from their sins.
We may also make the observation, in connection with this twenty first article of our Belgic Confession, that there is no mention in these words of the elect. There is no mention in this article of the particular character of the atonement. However, it must surely be granted that also in this article the doctrine of election is implied. Notice the repeated use of the personal pronoun, “our.” It is true that we read of “His people” at the end of the article, but this is a quotation from Matthew 1. The repeated use of “our” in this article, and the fathers’ complete failure to speak of “all men” in connection here with the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ cannot lead to any other conclusion than that the elect are surely meant in this article. Of course, we must bear in mind that the Arminian controversy and the Arminians’ stressing of the general character of the cross did not take place until after the Belgic Confession was composed. The Canons of Dordt certainly emphasize the particular character of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. But it is well to note that also this article emphasizes the essence of the cross as a bearing of the wrath of God upon our sins, and that Christ poured out His precious blood to purge away our sins. This article certainly stressed the element of vicarious atonement.
Before we call attention to what we read in the Canons of Dordt of the atonement of Christ, it is well to call attention to the Arminian controversy which led to these Canons of Dordt. Concerning Arminius and Arminianism, we read the following in the New Schaff-Herzog Religious Encyclopedia, Vol. I, 296-297:
ARMJNJUS, JACOBUS (Jakob Hermanss),AND ARMINIANISM: A Dutch theologian and the theological system he is supposed to have held. Arminius was born at Oudewater (18 m.e.n.e. of Rotterdam) Oct. 10, 1560; died at Leyden Oct. 19, 1609. After his father’s early death he lived with Rudolphus Snellius, professor in Marburg. In 1576 he returned home and studied theology at Leyden under Lambertus Danaeus. Here he spent six years, till he was enabled by the burgomasters. of Amsterdam to continue his studies at Geneva and Base1 under Beza and Grynaeus. He lectured on the philosophy of Petrus Ramus and the Epistle to the Romans. Being recalled by the government of Amsterdam, in 1588 he was appointed preacher of the Reformed congregation. During the fifteen years which he spent here, he gained the general respect, but his views underwent a change. His exposition of
and his utterances on election and reprobation gave offense. His learned but hot-headed colleague, Petrus Plancius, in particular opposed him (the undersigned writer of these articles would call attention to the phenomenon that defenders of the truth of Holy Writ are often hot-headed whereas heretics are often smooth and very refined and cultured, as was also Arius, the heretic who denied the eternal Godhead of the Christ). Disputes arose in. the consistory, which for the time being were stopped by the burgomasters.
Arminius was suspected of heresy because he regarded the subscription to the symbolical books as not binding and was ready to grant to the State more power in ecclesiastical matters than the strict Calvinists would admit (this is understandable heretics are apt to gain more sympathy from the State than strict Calvinists, H.V.). When two of the professors of the University of Leyden, Janius and Trelcatius, died (1602), the curators called Arminius; and Franciscus Gomarus, the only surviving theological professor, protested, but he became reconciled after an interview with Arminius. The latter entered upon his duties in 1603 with an address on the high-priestly office of Christ, and was made doctor of theology. But the dogmatic disputes were renewed when Arminius undertook public lectures on predestination. Gomarus opposed him and published other theses. A great excitement ensued in the university and the students were divided into two parties. The ministers in Leyden and other places took part in the controversy, which became general. The Calvinists wanted the matter settled by a general synod, but the States General would not have it (such a synod could not be held except with the consent of the government—H.V.). Oidenbameveldt, the Dutch liberal statesman, in 1608 gave both opponents opportunity to defend their views before the supreme court, and a verdict was pronounced that since the controversy had no bearing upon the main points pertaining to salvation, each should bear with the other. But Gomarus would not yield. Even the States of Holland tried to bring about a reconciliation between the two, and in August, 1609, both professors and four ministers for each were invited to undertake new negotiations. The deliberations were first held orally, afterward continued in writing, but were terminated in October by the death of Arminius.
In his Disputations, which were partly published during his lifetime, partly after his death, and which included the entire department of theology, as well as in some discourses and other writings, Arminius had clearly and pointedly defined his position and expressed his conviction. On the whole these writings are a fine testimony to his learning and acumen. The doctrine of predestination belonged to the fundamental teachings of the Reformed Church, but the conception of it asserted by Calvin and his adherents, Arminius could not make his own. He would not follow a doctrinal development which made God the author of sib and the condemnation of men. He taught conditional predestination and attached more importance to faith. He denied neither God’s omnipotence nor his free grace, but he thought it his duty to save the honor of God, and to emphasize, on the basis of the clear expressions of the Bible, the free will of man as well as the truth of the doctrine of sm. In these things he was more on the side of Luther than of Calvin and Beza, but it can not be denied that he expressed other opinions which were violently controverted as departures from the confession and catechism. His followers expressed their convictions in the famous five articles which they laid before the States as their justification. Called Remonstrants from these Remnstrantiae, they always refused to be called Arminians.
The above quotation, we must bear in mind; is the presentation as set forth in the New Schaff-Herzog Religious Encyclopedia. In the main, we subscribe to it. One may well question the observation that Arminius was more on the side of Luther than of Calvin and Beza, although it is true that subsequent Lutheranism did follow the teachings of Arminius. Imagine, however: the supreme court rendered the verdict that the controversy had no bearing upon the main points pertaining to salvation; the doctrines of a conditional predestination, inherent goodness of the sinner, Christ’s universal atonement, and doubt with respect to the perseverance of the saints have no bearing upon the main points pertaining to salvation! We are, of course, not surprised that Gomarus and the strict Calvinists would not yield. Of course they would not yield. We must never seek the solution of any doctrinal controversy in compromise. Such compromises always favor the heretics. They are always ready to adopt compromise solutions. But the defenders of the truths of Holy Writ cannot afford to resort to such tactics. In a following article we will call attention to these teachings of the Remonstrants as stated in their famous Five Points. This is very important. And it is very important that the first of these articles denies the unconditional character of Divine predestination.