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The Doctrine of Atonement - The Reformation Period - The Synod of Dordt (2)

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This article first appeared in the Sept.15, 1971 issue of the Standard Bearer (vol.47, #21) and was written by Rev. Herman Veldman.

The Doctrine of Atonement - The Reformation Period - The Synod of Dordt (2)

Before we quote the Canons of Dordt in connection with the presentation of the doctrine of the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is well to quote from the opinions as expressed by several delegates attending the great synod of Dordrecht of 1618-1619. These opinions are of great importance. We quote from the Acts of the National Synod of Dordrecht, and the translation is by the undersigned. We realize, of course, that these quotations do not constitute that Synod's official decisions. These official decisions are expressed in the Canons. But they are of importance, because they reveal to us the mind and line of thinking of these delegates and how these opinions finally led to the Canons. In our preceding article we remarked that not all the delegates at this Great Synod were equally staunch Calvinists. When, then, we quote also from these delegates who were sympathetic toward the Arminians, this is important, inasmuch as it reveals to us that this synod rejected these opinions when it finally formulated and adopted the Canons. It is for this reason that also these weak expressions or opinions are important for our understanding of the Canons. 

First of all, we call attention to the opinions as expressed by the theologians of Bremen, Matthias Martinius and Henricus Iselburg. These men were not staunch Calvinists, especially the former, Matthias Martinius. We listen, first of all, to Matthias Martinius. He speaks of two matters: the death of Christ for all and also of the death of Christ as only for the elect. Speaking of the death of Christ for all, he presents the following propositions: 

Proposition I: "There is a certain general love of God to men, whereby He has loved the entire fallen human race, and has earnestly willed the salvation of all." 

Proposition II: "The execution of this love to men appears in the outward calling without distinction, which befalls the elect and reprobates, although God, according to the freedom of His disposition, nevertheless, always completely righteously, passes by many." 

Proposition VI: "Therefore this (the external calling, H.V.) is a certain execution or setting forth (uitvoering), belonging without distinction to the elect and reprobates. Now, a general setting forth of grace depends upon a general Divine love. Which the most prominent and upright Theologians also acknowledge, and is revealed throughout all the Scriptures." 

Proposition VII: "But that external calling, which parts I have related, demands as necessary for itself these things: the promise and sending of the Son (which formerly should occur and now has occurred),—and the redemption, that is, the payment of the price, to atone for sin and thus satisfy God, that He would not require another sacrifice for the sins of any man, being satisfied with that only and all-perfect; and that, to reconcile the people, no other satisfaction nor other merit be necessary; provided (which must be done in the remedies) that there be an appropriation of the general and salutary or saving medicine."—notice, please, that Martinius, speaking here of the one and only sacrifice of Jesus Christ, speaks of the appropriation of a medicine which is salutary or saving and also common or general. 

Then, notice what he sets forth in Proposition VIII: "If this redemption, as a general benefit, shown to all men, is not presented as such, then the preaching of the Gospel, without distinction, and in general having commanded the Apostles to be administered to all peoples, would have no true foundation." 

Martinius makes a two-fold distinction, as in Proposition XVII: "But those matters (concerning the death of Christ, H.V.) must also themselves be explained carefully. He has satisfied for all evil, and has merited all good, with a twofold exception, the one referring to matters or things, the other to persons."

"The exception with respect to matters," he writes in Proposition XVIII, "is that Christ did not satisfy,, neither willed to satisfy, for the continuing impenitence, much less for the continuing obstinacy, whereby that benefit is despised, or reproach is committed: against the Benefactor, such as the willful or wanton slander of all those who sin against the Holy Ghost, Heb. 10:26." 

And then we have this dark and ambiguous statement by Martinius in Proposition XXI: "The Lord has also merited for all men grace, but not for all men that grace which is connected with the special election. Which then? that namely, which is promised under the condition of faith.. For indeed, all men are promised forgiveness of sins and everlasting life, if they believe. Consequently we see here that the conditional forgiveness of sins and salvation belong to all men, but not the promise to give power and set in operation where by the condition is fulfilled. For these men must fulfill of themselves, by virtue of the power of the Divine commandment. Whoever cannot do this, they cannot do this through their own fault." Does this language not remind us of the struggle in our churches in 1953, when our churches were confronted by the statement that "God promises eternal life to everyone of you, provided that you believe?" 

We conclude these quotations from Martinius on the general character of the death of Christ, as we quote Proposition XXV: "From what has been said, it seems to me, that upon all the questions which are presented by this Article, one can easily answer, and this is apparent, that the meriting and the obtaining (for often the old and the new viewed these as one, although the obtaining is a little less and more general than the meriting); and that it is not all in conflict with each other to say, that Christ died for all men, with the intention to save, and thus, in this manner did not die." 

Martinius, we observed in the beginning of this article, did not only speak of the death of Christ as for all men, but he also speaks of this death of our Lord as only for the elect. However, speaking of the death of Christ as only for the elect, his propositions are few, only seven in number. How weak he is, is evident in propositions V through VII:

Proposition V: "And whereas faith, which is the means to appropriate unto oneself, is given to these, the other general benefits, which I have said come forth out of the fountain of general election, pass the unbelievers by, not remaining with them, and they flow over only into the elect, as being of profit to them only." 

Proposition VI: "Whoever despises the sacrifice of Christ, accomplished upon the cross, loses all right which he could have to it; and consequently he increases his condemnation. Whoever also disdains the invitation, presented in the gospel, deprives himself of the same unto similar destruction." 

Proposition VII: "Thus Christ, in Himself appointed unto resurrection, is unto some a fall; and the Gospel, which in itself is a savor of life unto life, becomes for the unbelievers a savor of death unto death, accidentally, through their own fault." 

Mind you, these are the articles or propositions of Martinius on the death of Christ as only for the elect. Indeed, these articles no Arminian would hesitate to endorse. It is well to quote them, in the light of the fact that the Canons refused to endorse them. What does Martinius mean when he writes that whoever despises the cross of Christ loses all right to that sacrifice? Of course, the unbeliever despises the cross of Christ, and, so doing, renders himself unworthy and increases his condemnation. This the Scriptures abundantly testify. But what does he mean when he declares that that unbeliever loses all right to that cross? Did he ever have that right? Does not the cross of Christ stand alone, as far as its power and efficacy are concerned? Does that cross earn for all men the right to be saved and the unbeliever loses that right through his unbelief, impenitence and obstinacy? In Proposition VII Martinius speaks of the gospel as in itself a savor of life unto life. Why does he not speak of the gospel as being also a savor of death unto death? Yes, he does speak of the gospel as being a savor of death unto death, but notice how he says this: he does not say that the gospel is a savor of death unto death, but that it becomes a savor of death unto death, and that it becomes a savor of death unto death for the unbeliever, and this, mind you, accidentally, through their own fault. Of course, Martinius must express himself in this manner. How can anyone believe in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ as for all men and also maintain that that death was accomplished only and exclusively for the elect? And this delegate also reveals his weakness when he speaks of the errors of several against this second article concerning the death of Christ. Mind you, he considers it an error to teach that "Christ did not die in any sense of the word for those who are lost." And he also considers it an error to teach that "the decree of the special election or reprobation of certain persons cannot be in harmony with the universality of the death of Christ"; he denies, therefore, that the one necessarily excludes the other. However, we repeat: the Canons of Dordt rejected this view of Martinius. 

Next, we would call attention to the opinions as expressed by the theologians of Great Britain. Incidentally, also these delegates cannot be considered to belong to the group of the staunch Calvinists. In fact, we understand that one of these delegates later joined the camp of the Arminians. It will, therefore, be interesting to hear also from these men. These delegates presented to the Synod their views concerning the second article of the death of Christ in six propositions. 

Their first proposition reads as follows: "Out of special love and intention, as of God the Father, so also of Christ, Christ died for the elect, in order that He should obtain for them the forgiveness of sins and everlasting salvation and bestow them upon them infallibly."

To this proposition they add the following comments: "The first proposition posits that the elect shall have infallibly forgiveness of sins and everlasting life, out of the death of Christ, and that out of the special love and intention of the Father and of Christ. This is established by the Scriptures which prove the power of the death of Christ, as it concerns the elect: John 11:51, That Christ should die for the people, and not only for that people, but also, in order that He should gather the scattered children of God in one. Eph. 5:25, Christ has loved the Church and given Himself for it, in order that He should sanctify it, etc.; with which words the intention of Christ as offering Himself is set forth, insofar it concerns the infallible or sincere (onbedriegelijke) bestowal of salvation." To this statement, of course, we cannot object. We can make the remark that the theologians, in this statement, do not say that this love and intention of the Father and of Christ concerns only the elect.

Veldman, Herman

Rev. Herman Veldman (1908-1997) was born in Chicago, IL on April 22, 1908. He attended the Protestant Reformed Seminary, graduating in 1932.  He was ordained into the ministry in September of that year.

He served in the following Protestant Reformed Churches:

Pella, Iowa - 1932-37
Creston, Grand Rapids, Michigan - 1937-41
Kalamazoo, Michigan - 1941-50
Hamilton, ON Canada - 1950-51
First, Edgerton, Minnesota - 1953-1959
Hope, Redlands, California - 1959-63
Hope, Walker, Michigan - 1963-66
Hudsonville, Michigan - 1966-1971
Southwest, Wyoming, Michigan - 1971-78

He received emeritation in 1978 and passed into glory on January 22, 1997.

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