Friday, November 21, 2008

Canons of Dort - Second Head of Doctrine

As we continue to think about the doctrine of definite atonement I thought that it would be helpful to post the articles of faith from the Second Main Head of Doctrine in the Canons of Dort along with a very brief commentary on them. This is the Head of Doctrine where the Synod addressed the Arminian claim of universal atonement. Please see the below post of Sunday School reading for books and articles that explain why we believe in a definite atonement.

Article 1: God is not only supremely merciful, but also supremely just. His justice requires (as he has revealed himself in the Word) that the sins we have committed against his infinite majesty be punished with both temporal and eternal punishments, of soul as well as body. We cannot escape these punishments unless satisfaction is given to God's justice.

The first article points us back to the doctrine of God. Because he is not made up of a bunch of independent attributes we have to remember that his attributes define one another. His mercy is a loving and just mercy. His justice is a righteous and holy justice. He cannot compromised who he is or act contrary to his nature. So as we stand before him as sinners in Adam we stand guilty and condemned to eternal punishment by God's righteous judgment.

Article 2: Since, however, we ourselves cannot give this satisfaction or deliver ourselves from God's anger, God in his boundless mercy has given us as a guarantee his only begotten Son, who was made to be sin and a curse for us, in our place, on the cross, in order that he might give satisfaction for us.

The problem is that we can never offer anything to God that would fully satisfy his righteous and just anger that burns against us sinners. Left to ourselves our destination is an eternal suffering from the pains of hell. Yet we find that as God is also merciful he has given us his Son who became a curse for us and offered a perfect satisfaction of God's just wrath. Those who are covered by Christ's atoning death no longer need to fear punishment for their sins.

Article 3: This death of God's Son is the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins; it is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.

The Synod reminds us that God's death is the only sacrifice sufficient to satisfy God's justice. We cannot choose to offer satisfaction by Christ's death or by something else. We cannot even choose to offer satisfaction by Christ's death and or along with something else. Christ's death alone is the satisfaction for sins and his death has such great value and worth that is sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.

Article 4: This death is of such great value and worth for the reason that the person who suffered it is--as was necessary to be our Savior--not only a true and perfectly holy man, but also the only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Another reason is that this death was accompanied by the experience of God's anger and curse, which we by our sins had fully deserved.

The reason that we know that Christ's death has such a high value as was described in Article 3 is because of who we know and confess Jesus to be. He is the only true and perfect man who is without sin. Of all men who have ever lived Jesus is the only one who never sinned and never deserved to suffer God's wrath. At the same time he is the Second Person of the Trinity, the eternal God in his own right. So his death has an infinite value as he alone could bear the entirety of God's wrath for our sins.

Article 5: Moreover, it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.

In this article the Synod affirms the promise of the gospel. We know that anyone who does believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved. Roger Nicole said that in the whole history of humankind there has not been a single person who has come to Christ earnestly seeking salvation in him that was turned away. The promise of Almighty God, who cannot lie and in whom there is no shadow of turning, is that all who believe will be saved. Therefore we believe and hold that the gospel must be preached to all people without any discrimination as all are called to believe and repent.

Article 6: However, that many who have been called through the gospel do not repent or believe in Christ but perish in unbelief is not because the sacrifice of Christ offered on the cross is deficient or insufficient, but because they themselves are at fault.

The universal call does not mean that we believe in universal salvation. There are many who do not obey God's summons in the gospel to believe in the Lord Jesus and repent of their sins. The Synod affirms that the problem is not that Christ's sacrifice was insufficient but rather than they perish because of their own unbelief and refusal to obey the call of the gospel. The sin and punishment of sinners does not take away from the infinite value of Christ's atonement.

Article 7: But all who genuinely believe and are delivered and saved by Christ's death from their sins and from destruction receive this favor solely from God's grace--which he owes to no one--given to them in Christ from eternity.

Here the Synod reaffirms that salvation is a monergistic (one worker) activity. God does not work with those who believe to save them. God effectively saves those who believe. Sinners cannot rightly force God to save them. They can only be saved by him according to the means of salvation that he has revealed in his word. The ones God saves are only the ones that he has chosen in Christ from all eternity (see the First Main Head of Doctrine).

Article 8: For it was the entirely free plan and very gracious will and intention of God the Father that the enlivening and saving effectiveness of his Son's costly death should work itself out in all his chosen ones, in order that he might grant justifying faith to them only and thereby lead them without fail to salvation. In other words, it was God's will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father; that he should grant them faith (which, like the Holy Spirit's other saving gifts, he acquired for them by his death); that he should cleanse them by his blood from all their sins, both original and actual, whether committed before or after their coming to faith; that he should faithfully preserve them to the very end; and that he should finally present them to himself, a glorious people, without spot or wrinkle.

Here we see the key to the doctrine of definite atonement. Because all those who believe are saved and only those who are chosen believe we must hold that the saving effectiveness of Christ's death, which is a real satisfation of God's justice, efficiently saves and only saves the elect. Again, there is nothing aside from Christ's death that they may plead before the judgment seat of God. The Synod says that Christ's death effectively redeems all those who the Father has given to Christ. Those who are redeemed are certainly cleansed. Those cleansed are preserved. Those preserved are glorified. Christ's death is an efficient and efficacious salvific work. Those for whom he died are saved.

Article 9: This plan, arising out of God's eternal love for his chosen ones, from the beginning of the world to the present time has been powerfully carried out and will also be carried out in the future, the gates of hell seeking vainly to prevail against it. As a result the chosen are gathered into one, all in their own time, and there is always a church of believers founded on Christ's blood, a church which steadfastly loves, persistently worships, and--here and in all eternity--praises him as her Savior who laid down his life for her on the cross, as a bridegroom for his bride.

Again the Synod affirms that Christ's death is the effective salvation for all of God's elect. Throughout history everyone who is saved is saved by Christ dying for them. All the powers of hell may assault them but God powerfully works his purposes in his elect. So therefore all of God's people, both in Old Testament and New Testament times, belong to the church of Christ that he has redeemed with his precious blood.

If you'd like a print version of the Canons of Dort then you can find it in this book; along with the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Ecumenical Creeds. You can read the Canons of Dort online here.

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