The Nature Of The Atonement Limited or General?


The last time this subject was discussed (Dec. 15 issue, p. 127) we concluded by emphasizing the close connection between Canons I (Of Divine Predestination) and Canons II (Of the Death of Christ, And the Redemption of Men Thereby). The historical reason for this close connection between the first two points of the Arminians. The latter maintained their false doctrine of conditional election. It is exactly over against: these false views that the Synod of Dordrecht maintained the true doctrine of predestination and, in harmony therewith, the true doctrine of atonement, that is, atonement for the elect alone. There is no disjunction between Canons I and Canons II. 

It is important that we understand this. The Dekker-Daane theory fails completely to reckon with this. That theory claims to maintain sovereign election. It also claims to maintain that only the elect shall be saved. But between these two it wants to posit a universal atonement and a redemptive love of God for all men manifested in that universal atonement. (This, at least, was the original presentation; from various statements in the Report of the Doctrinal Committee appointed by the Chr. Ref. Synod it appears as though Prof. Dekker’s views have undergone some modifications which are still less Reformed.) Hence, the Dekker-Daane Theory postulated some universal links between particular links in the chain of salvation. Moreover, the Dekker-Daane Theory did this in the line of the First Point of 1924. The First Point forged the first universal link: the preaching of the gospel is grace (a well-meant offer of salvation, an offer of grace) to all that hear the preaching. Following the Arminian track of the two-track theology adopted in 1924 (if you will pardon the mixture of metaphors), Dekker and Daane forged another link, namely, the link of universal atonement. (The link of the universal love of God is not essentially a new and different link from that of the universal grace of God posited in the First Point.) 

But these universal links do not fit in the chain of particular salvation. The fathers of Dordrecht saw this very clearly, and they expressed it in the Canons. Approaching the subject from the historical point of view in the first five articles of the First Head of Doctrine, the fathers come to the distinction between believers and unbelievers. Some believe the gospel; some do not believe the gospel. The guilt of unbelief is not in God, but in man himself; but faith in Jesus Christ, and salvation through Him is the free gift of God. 

But then the question is: how is it to be explained that some men believe and have this gift of faith from God, while others do not? And the answer to this important question, — a question which makes division between those who truly hold to a gospel of free grace and those who do not, — the answer to this question brings us squarely into the domain of the decree of God. There is but one answer, that of Article 6, namely: “That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it proceeds from God’s eternal decree” (of election and reprobation). The decree of election is then set forth in Article 7 of Canons I, which we here quote: 

Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby before the foundation of the world, he hath out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of his own will, chosen, from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault, from their primitive state of rectitude, into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom he from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect, and the foundation of Salvation. 

This elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God hath decreed to give to Christ, to be saved by him, and effectually to call and draw them to his communion by his Word and Spirit, to bestow upon them true faith, justification and sanctification; and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship of his Son, finally, to glorify them for the demonstration of his mercy, and for the praise of his glorious grace; as it is written: “According as he hath chosen us in him, before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, and without blame before him in love; having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.” Eph. 1:4-6. And elsewhere: “Whom he did predestinate, them he also called, and whom he called, them he also justified, and whom he justified them he also glorified.” Rom. 8:30

Notice the following elements here in connection with the subject under discussion: 

1) A certain number of persons are according to God’s eternal good pleasure chosen. This is further emphasized in Article 10. 

2) These persons are chosen in Christ. This is twice emphasized in the article. Election is not an arbitrary appointment of some to everlasting life; but election is strictly in Christ. This is stated already in the first paragraph of the article: “….a certain number of persons to redemption /in Christ, whom he from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect, and the foundation of Salvation.” And again in the second paragraph it is emphasized: “This elect number . . ..God hath decreed to give to Christ….” Here you have the key to the whole question concerning the atonement. Christ is the foundation of salvation. In Christ and His atoning blood is the judicial basis of all salvation, all righteousness and forgiveness, all the right to eternal life. And Christ is theHead and Mediator of the elect. God hath decreed to give the elect to Christ. The all-important question, therefore, when Christ dies is this: who are in Him, who belong to Him, who are represented by Him, in whose place does He stand in the judgment of God?For these, and for these only, are there righteousness and justification, and all the benefits of salvation in that Christ. One must be in Christ: otherwise there is no single benefit of grace for him. And the answer to the question who are in Christ is: the elect, and the elect only

3) All of salvation belongs to this decree. Atonement and redemption and the application of all the benefits of salvation to the elect, — these are all included. Election is not merely appointment to eternal life and glory; it is appointment to ever lasting glory and to all that belongs to the way of that glory. And the latter includes not merely the bestowal of the gifts of regeneration, calling, faith, justification, sanctification, and glorification (that is, the application of the benefits of Christ); but it includes the appointment to be the heirs and beneficiaries of the benefits objectively merited and obtained by Christ. This is also plainly taught in this article. In paragraph 1 of this article this is stressed when it is stated that God has chosen “a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ,” and again when Christ is called “the foundation of Salvation.” Both of these terms refer to the objective work of Christ in His atoning death, whereby He objectively accomplished our salvation and obtained for the elect the benefits of salvation. And in the second paragraph this is again stressed when it is stated that God decreed to give the elect to Christ, “to be saved by him.” The latter phrase very evidently refers to the work of Christ objectively accomplished in His cross and resurrection, sometimes called the work of Christ “for us” in distinction from the work of Christ “in us.” For that work of Christ “in us” (the application of the benefits of salvation) is separately mentioned in the next words of the article: “and effectually to call and draw them to his communion…to bestow upon them true faith, etc.” 

It is very evident, therefore, that the chain of salvation is from beginning to end a closed, a particular chain, forged in the eternal decree of election. 

This explains why Article 9 of the First Head speaks of election as “the fountain of every saving good; from which proceed faith, holiness, and the other gifts of salvation, and finally eternal life itself, as its fruits and effects…” 

And this forms the background of Article 8 of Canons II, which has been so much the focal point of the current discussion of the atonement. It is strictly in the light of Canons I, and particularly Canons I, 7, that Canons II, 8 must be interpreted. The elect, and they only are in Christ. In Christ are all the benefits of salvation, both from the objective and subjective viewpoint. Those benefits are only for those who are in Christ; outside of Christ there are no benefits, only wrath.