To The Praise Of His Glory - Outline IV - Outlines On The Canons Of Dort
SECOND HEAD OF DOCTRINE: THE DEATH OF CHRIST, AND THE REDEMPTION OF MAN THEREBY
A. When dealing with the second chapter of the Canons of Dort, we want to put first and foremost the fundamental error of the Remonstrants namely the denial of the immutability of God, of His freedom and eternal pleasure in making a decree before the foundation of the world not to be repented of (read Chapter 1, Article 7, and compare in that chapter, Rejection of Errors, Paragraphs 6 and 7). God is considered to be dependent on man's actions, on man's own and independent decision concerning his eternal weal and woe. From this injuring of the exalted glory of God's attributes inevitably proceeds an attack on the sovereign works which, in accordance with His eternal decree, He has done in time and is still doing through the mediation of His Son.
B. This second chapter deals with the mediation of theSon of God. The Remonstrants proceeded from their fundamental error (see under A) to the mutilation and consequent
denial of the work of Christ as the Mediator of the covenant of grace, Who by the one sacrifice of His sufferings and death has justified the injured justice of God and in this way worked
reconciliation. This mediating character of Christ's work was reasoned away by the Remonstrants (as it was already explained in Chapter 1, Rejection of Errors Par. 3 the merits of Christ are made of none effect").
C. At this stage the Canons of Dort prove to be up to date in this twentieth century. Remonstrants and Liberals and also Karl Barth's "Neo-Orthodoxism" are injuring this mediating character of Christ's work of atonement.
D. Also this second chapter of the Canons of Dort was written " in the climate of the song of praise" in which the Christian Church upholds and defends the honour of its God and the glory of its Bridegroom Who is at the same time the Shepherd of the flock but also the Head of the new mankind and Whose redemption work is of truly ecumenical and universal significance.
I (Articles 1 and 2): Reconciliation through satisfaction.
A. The Christian Church is bound to "show forth the praises of Him Who hath called us out of the darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Pe. 1 : 9). With this showing forth of God's praises this chapter is opened (read also Art. 1 of the BelgicConfession of Faith) : God is merciful and just. These initial words clearly remind us of Lord's Day 4 of our Heidelberg Catechism, which is almost literally quoted (Remark No. 1). It is emphasized that God is merciful and just at the same time. We confess Him as "one simple and spiritual Being" (again : Belg. Conf. of F.). Being "simple" also means that His attributes form a unity and cannot be separated from each other. He is always merciful as well as just. When He is going to reveal His mercy He does not deny His justice, "He cannot deny Himself" (11 Tim. 2 : 13). He maintains Himself for ever! This is a matter of the sovereign glory of His immutability, which is confessed here.
B. It is explained in Lord's Day 5 of our Catechism why we are unable to make that satisfaction in our own persons, or to deliver ourselves from the wrath of God- (Article 2). To make satisfaction to God's justice consists of two things : 1. to fulfill the requirement of the law (No. 9 Heid. Cat.); 2. to bear the everlasting punishment (No. 10 Heid. Cat.). Man (who is "a mere creature-, No. 14 Heid. Cat.; what does that mean ?) cannot do this. Why not? (No. 13). This proves that God's immutability is not only comforting but also terrifying. The fact that God is immutably faithful to Himself and cannot deny Himself, excluded any possibility of self -redemption. "Jehovah's truth shall stand forever- (Psalm 105 : 5, "Book of Praise") We often sing that during the ceremony of holy baptism. This is perfectly true ! For He is the Rock of Israel, for us and our children. But a man can crash against a rock, namely when he seeks life apart from his God in proud self conceit. Our confession then, which praises God for His attributes, condemns therefore any effort to save ourselves by our own strength. This is of real interest in this twentieth century, in which man strives for security in his own earthly power ! (Remark No. II).
C. The Gospel is this, that God "has been pleased of His infinite mercy to give His only begotten Son for our surety" (Art. 2). The accent lies on "to give" (Compare No. 18 Heid. Cat.). It is a work and gift of God's mercy. A security, generally spoken, is someone who gives the guarantee that, if someone else is unable to pay his debt, he will do so on the other's behalf. The surety of a Testament (as the Scripture says, Heb. 7 : 22) is someone who gives the guarantee that the testament is executed, and will do all that is required, even when he has to die for this purpose. When Christ is called our Security this means that He takes over all our debt with God and pays for us, so that our salvation is unshakably certain in Him. As a Security He has to fulfill the requirement of the law (in the way of His active obedience) and bear the everlasting punishment (in the way of His passive obedience). Christ's perfect satisfaction was accepted by the Father on the day of Easter and declared to be sufficient, and since then He is making us partakers of the righteousness which He has obtained for us by His death (Heid. Cat. No. 45). All this belongs to His work as the Mediator of the covenant of grace : He must obtain for us, and restore to us, righteousness and life (Heid. Cat. No. 17). Nobody takes any part in the work of obtaining and appropriating our salvation. From the beginning to the end it is only the work of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is a perfect Saviour, and in Whom we possess all things necessary for our salvation (Heid. Cat. No. 30).
D. Rejection of Errors
1. The Remonstrants dropped the element of reconciliation by satisfaction from Christ's work as a Mediator. (Read the Rej. of E., Par. 2 and 3, and especially 7). The error that is rejected in Par. 7 sounds very pious: When God loves His people " in the highest degree" it is not necessary at all that Christ had to die for them. But against this the Canons declare that "love in the highest degree- is revealed in this : " lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10 : 15). Discuss at this stage in particular texts as Gal. 2 : 20; Ram. 8 : 33, 34; John 15 : 12, 13).
2. The Remonstrants distinguished between meriting and appropriating salvation. (Read Rej. of E., Par. 1, 2, 3, 4, 6). They simply said e.g. that Christ died for many, for whom however He did not rise again from the dead. According to them the meriting is fully the work of Christ, but the appropriating is dependent on man, namely if he wants to use his own free will. But this distinction between meriting ad appropriating denies the perfectness of Christ's work as a Mediator. For the Security guarantees the perfect execution of the testament ! This is what He is a Security for! The work of the Mediator is meriting as well as appropriating. There is not only Good Friday but also Easter Sunday 1 And even Ascension Day and Pentecost! The unity of the sacred events has been moored in the perfection of Christ's work as a Mediator. "The pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand !" (Isa 53 : 10).
II. (Articles 3 and 4): The Son of God as our Security and Mediator
A. This time we want to begin with a discussion of the "Rejection of Errors" .
In Paragraph 5 of that section we read, that the Remonstrants taught this : "All men have been accepted unto thestate of reconciliation and unto the grace of the covenant", and in Par. 6 . "that God, as far as He is concerned, has been minded to apply to all equally the benefits gained by the death of Christ".
This is the so-called "doctrine of universal atonement" which not only the Remonstrants taught but is still adhered to by many others, as e.g. the Salvation Army. The doctrine of Karl Barth concerning Election and Reprobation (comp. Outline III) is very interesting in this respect, which e.g. results in the idea of "the Apostalate of the Church".
This doctrine of universal atonement does not teach that all men will be saved indeed, but that Christ has created the possibility for all and everyone to be saved. The latter has only to be realized by man's own deed, the acceptance of faith. Because of that : Take your chance ! Make your decision !
B. It now appears that our confession does not take a purely negative and reactionary stand against this, but maintains the universal significance of Christ's salvation work in a positive way : Christ's death "is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world". This is a consequence of the unity of God's wrath, which cannot be measured with human measure. This wrath is infinite and indivisible. Even if Christ would save one single person only, yet He had to bear the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race. But the fact that He bore this one and eternal wrath of God is not decisive as far as the question is concerned for whom He suffered and died, and who would benefit unto salvation by His work as a Mediator. This is settled by other things. And again we must notice the fine harmony between our Canons of Dort and the Heidelberg Catechism. In No. 37 it is said "that He bore the wrath of God against the sin of the whole human race, in order that by His passion, as the only atoning sacrifice, He might redeem our body and soul (so not : all people. all and everyone) from everlasting damnation".
C. To bear this one and full wrath of God our Mediator had to be God-and-man in one and the same Person. This one Person is Divine, and so Himself also infinite, so that He (only He !) could bear the eternal wrath of God even to the end. Only a Mediator Who, as God, has eternal power Himself, can say at a certain moment : It is finished 1 He is " of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit". This was the great event of Calvary 1 There an eternal burden was borne . . . "attended with a sense of the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin".
D. The struggle in the early Christian Church concerning the unity of the Divine and the human nature in the one Person of the Mediator (" undivided and unseparated, unmixed and unchanged", read Art. 19 Belg. C. of F., and the second part of the Athanasian Creed) was a real struggle regarding the heart of the Gospel. The full depth and great richness of the Gospel was at stake.
E. Here again the proof texts in the Rejection of Errors .are very fine : "I lay down my life for the sheep" (John 10 : 15, and 27), so not for all and everyone. "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" (Rom. 8 : 33). "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15 : 3). Further, the end of the Rejection of Errors, Par. 1 is quite remarkable : "Finally, this contradicts the article of faith according to which we believe the catholic, Christian Church". The explanation of the Catechism says : "That the Son of God, out of the whole human race, . . . gathers, defends, and preserved for Himself a Church, chosen to everlasting life" (No. 54). He does not gather people but only the .elect. Yet our confession remains broadminded : This chosen Church is new mankind, Christ as the second Adam being its Head. In this His Church the whole human race is saved as a unity. This is different from : all people individually, one by one. But yet His Church is always the ecumenical world-Church 1
At the same time this brings us to the next Articles. (Remark No. Ill).
Ill. (Articles 5, 6, 7) : Preach the Gospel to every creature
A. Because of this universal and ecumenical character of Christ's work as our Mediator the Gospel can and must be gladly and freely preached in and to the world ! This preaching -then is the proclamation of the promise . "that whosoever believes in the crucified Christ shall not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3 : 16; read also Outline 11 on this text). The emphasis is here on "whosoever". For God so loved the world ! Our confession typifies the preaching as ample and wide and condemns any narrow-mindedness and scantiness. The reproach of the Remonstrants is rejected who said that the Reformed doctrine of election ("grace is strictly particular and limited to the elect") deprives the preaching of the Gospel of its strength and makes it actually superfluous and impossible. But nothing is farther from the truth than this, for : ---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". For God's eternal decree of Hisgood pleasure includes also the worldwide way of the preaching and has determined it. In this way the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand 1 (Read again Outline III).
B. However, the preaching then must be preaching of the promise, that is to say not a matter of predicting that Mr. Such and So will most certainly be saved, but proclamation of the promise Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16 3, a text from the book of the Acts of Jesus Christ on His invincible and triumphant journey with the Word of preaching over the length and breadth of the earth 1). This proclamation is made with authority, and so on behalf of God : -together with the command to repent and believe---. The manner of preaching then is not kindly advising one's hearers. It is not a free offer which might be taken for granted. On the contrary, it makes an appeal on responsible persons. The preaching is a very serious affair ! It is a matter of to be or not to be, of life or death, yes or no, and there is no middle course 1 Read also the following Chapter, III-IV, Article 8 : -unfeignedly called" 1 God means it, seriously 1 (Remark No. m).
C. Faith in God's electing good pleasure never cultivates passiveness. On the contrary, it activates and stimulates continuation on "the way of means", this is the way of the preaching. The so-called false passiveness is promoted by the caricature of pre-destination, which is popular among the adherers of subjectivism and mysticism. It is definitely wrong to state that our beautiful Canons of Dort have promoted its birth and growth.
D. In the Articles 6 and 7 our attention is drawn to the cause of the twofold reaction to the preaching : faith and unbelief. Because of the abundant sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice (Art. 3) Christ or God are not to be blamed for unbelief. Our confession is really comforting and encouraging here : the infinite value of Christ's work as a Mediator guarantees the complete remission of all our sins.
E. While the cause of unbelief lies completely and exclusively in man himself the cause of faith lies in God and His grace alone. Read Eph. 2 : 8. God grants the gift of His grace, which works faith in His goodness. He is not obliged to give it to anybody. For is not He free ? In this freedom He decided from eternity to elect in Christ (not because of, but) unto faith. (Read again the Articles 7, 8 and 9 of Chapter 1 and Outline 11). Here again the Remonstrant heresy of -election on the ground of foreseen faith" (which is considered as an independent deed of man, on which God is dependent) is radicallydenied. It is remarkable that our confession again does not "reason" about a "problem" (why faith here and unbelief there?), but restricts itself to things that have been revealed in the Scriptures and posits facts : It is thus, and that is all !
Concerning the unbeliever it can be stated : Any excuse is impossible ! It is all his own fault ! Concerning the believer it can be said : All glorying in himself is impossible !
Soli Deo gloria !
IV. (Articles 8 and 9) : That there never may be wanting aChurch composed of believers.
A. The last Articles of this Chapter form a sort of final summary as it were. They strike us because of their beautiful choice of words and exalted formulation. We did not say too much when we said in the beginning of this Outline: They were written " in the climate of the song of praise". The free pleasure of God concerning election has been revealed to us "for enlivening and comforting His people- (1, 14). This comfort jumps to the fore again here.
B. The first word of Article 8, "For", shows us already that we are going to find here a summarizing explanation of the preceding Articles. Why should God's most gracious will and purpose extend to the elect only, but then to all the elect? God's counsel shall stand, and He will do all His pleasure (Isa. 46 : 10). And this sovereign counsel does not only include salvation itself, but also the way which leads to salvation. In His counsel God decided to have the work of the Mediator undertaken, satisfaction by reconciliation; the gathering of the Church and the preaching of the Word be started; faith and righteousness given; conversion, regeneration, sanctification, the perseverance of the saints and glorification be worked. It has been determined in His own work and this counsel shall stand; this His grace is invincible 1
C. The great comfort of this is very apparent in days of oppression and persecution, when the gates of hell are opened. Satan's attacks are then (as always) against the counsel of God, that has its origin in the love of God for the elect (Mat. 16 : 18; Acts 4 : 24ff). Satan is God's great opponent and because of that the only opponent of the Christian Church. But this Church may comfort itself with God's faithfulness to Himself and to His determined counsel, and with the invincible love of Christ, the Bridegroom, for His bridal congregation. On the cross He has delivered His life unto death as a token of His love. Would not He today, while He as the Risen One is living in glory, guarantee that there will always be a Churchof believers ? Read Romans 5 : 8-11, and the quotation of this text in the thanksgiving in the Form for the lord's Supper.
D. From these last Articles it may be perfectly clear, that we cannot narrow the election of God in an individualistic way, apart from the community of all believers in the Church. For outside the Church there is no salvation, but outside the communion of saints there is no certainty concerning our election either. The elect will be gathered together and so establish a new mankind, which is separated from the old one. Because of this merciful election this congregation is called to "steadfastly love and faithfully serve Him as its Saviour and celebrate His praises here and through all eternity".
This Bridegroom is really worthy of that......!
It may be well known that the Remonstrants refused to preach on the Heidelberg Catechism and instruct the youth of the Church therein, because the Catechism was too difficult in their opinion. The Synod of Dordrecht has made a stand against this and purposely linked the formulation of the Canons with the old Heidelberger. It is wrong to construct a certain tension between the older doctrinal standards (Belg. C. of F. and Heid. Cat.) and the Canons of Dort. On the contrary, there is a fine harmony within the Three Forms of Unity. The Canons are not intended as an addition, let alone as a correction of the Belg. C. of F. and the Heid. Cat., but as a further elaboration in the concrete situation of the struggle against the Remonstrants.
It may be useful for a good understanding of the first Articles of this chapter and of the Lord's Days 4-6 of the Catechism to read a good commentary on the latter. Catechism class instruction may be fruitful for the work of our study societies.
Some people propagate the rule : God is not interested in the Church, but in the world ! Our confession makes it clear, however, that this is a false dilemma : God is indeed interested in the Church, but therein He is interested in the world also!
1. What is the main point in the heresy of the Remonstrants ?
2. What does this second chapter deal with in particular ?
3. How is this chapter of interest in the twentieth century Against whom ?
4. Where do you see a relation between this chapter and the first Lord's Days of the Catechism ?
5. Has God's immutability been revealed to our comfort only ?
6. Should 11 Tim. 2 : 13b be explained as comforting or as threatening according to its context ?
7. What is the duty of a Surety, and wherein does the the perfectness of Christ's work as a Mediator lie ?
8. Who teach -universal atonement- today ?
9. What is the significance of the struggle in the early Christian Church about the two natures of Christ ?
10. Which of our Creeds deals with that?
11. Is God in His redemptive work interested in the Church or in the world ?
12. Is the preaching of God's Word deprived of its power by the Reformed doctrine of election?
13. What is the difference between a promise and a prediction ?
14. Is there an "unconditional promise of salvation- for the elect ?
15. What significance does this chapter have for the Church's Mission work ?
16. Is the assuredness of election to be found apart from the community of the Church?G. Zomer.