Read the series so far.)
Canons of Dort on Limited Atonement
The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin, and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world (Second Head, Article 3).
For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation; that is, it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby He confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father; that He should confer upon them faith, which, together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them, free from every spot and blemish, to the enjoyment of glory in His own presence forever (Second Head, Article 8).
That God the Father has ordained His Son to the death of the cross without a certain and definite decree to save any, so that the necessity, profitableness, and worth of what Christ merited by His death might have existed, and might remain in all its parts complete, perfect, and intact, even if the merited redemption had never in fact been applied to any person (Rejection of Errors 2:1).
Contemporary explanations of limited atonement rest upon a basic syllogism:
- P1: None of Jesus’ blood was wasted
- P2: His blood provided a complete satisfaction for sin wherever it is efficacious
- C: Jesus could only have died for the elect, who would ultimately receive redemption
Interestingly, this syllogism is not found explicitly in Calvin’s writings, the Canons of Dort, or the Westminster Confession. However the Dort statement (Rejection of Errors 2:1) provides the logical basis for it: only the elect can be saved, and Christ’s death would have been wasted if never applied to any person. This Dort statement assumes the necessity of unconditional election, and undergirds the efficacy of the atonement upon that principle. In short, if Jesus paid the price for the sin of those who wouldn’t believe, then His blood was wasted. The Belgic Confession (Article XXII) illustrates the significance of this: “Therefore, for any to assert, that Christ is not sufficient, but that something more is required besides him, would be too gross a blasphemy: for hence it would follow that Christ was but half a Savior.” Gross blasphemy.
The logic is not too difficult to follow, and if the premises are correct, then the conclusion is also correct. However, that Jesus did die to pay the penalty for all (elect or not) is clearly stated in 1 John 2:2—“and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” This simply stated passage underscores the fact that the limited atonement view is not accurate. It is better to understand Christ’s sacrifice through the lens of the Passover illustration. The blood shed by the lambs was perfectly efficacious blood, but it had to be applied in a specific manner, otherwise it did not provide benefit for the individual (Ex 12:7,13). The only way to justify the limited atonement view is to change the meaning of the words in 1 John 2:2, and that is not allowed by the literal grammatical-historical hermeneutic.
Canons of Dort on Irresistible Grace
That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it, proceeds from God’s eternal decree.
“For known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” (Acts 15:18 A.V.). “who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will” (Eph 1:11). According to which decree He graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe; while He leaves the non-elect in His just judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy. And herein is especially displayed the profound, the merciful, and at the same time the righteous discrimination between men equally involved in ruin; or that decree of election and reprobation, revealed in the Word of God, which, though men of perverse, impure, and unstable minds wrest it to their own destruction, yet to holy and pious souls affords unspeakable consolation (First Head, Article 6, emphasis mine).
This purpose proceeding from everlasting love towards the elect, has from the beginning of the world to this day been powerfully accomplished, and will henceforward still continue to be accomplished, notwithstanding all the ineffectual opposition of the gates of hell, so that the elect in due time may be gathered together into one, and that there may never be wanting a church composed of believers, the foundation of which is laid in the blood of Christ, which may steadfastly love, and faithfully serve him as their Savior, who as a bridegroom for his bride, laid down his life for them upon the cross, and which may celebrate his praises here and through all eternity (Second Head, Article 9, emphasis mine).
In my estimation, this is probably the best (most biblically) stated of the five points. This point reflects accurately the process described in Romans 8:28-30, that the foreknowledge of God with respect to the ones He predestines and calls and justifies concludes with their glorification. The Dort statements logically presuppose double election, and I have already addressed the exegetical challenge there: while logically possible, it is not exegetically certain. These Dort statements of irresistible grace come close to what is biblically certain, with only the subtle extension beyond what is written.
Dort and Westminster on Perseverance of Saints
And as God Himself is most wise, unchangeable, omniscient, and omnipotent, so the election made by Him can neither be interrupted nor changed, recalled, or annulled; neither can the elect be cast away, nor their number diminished (Canons of Dort, First Head, Article 11).
May not true believers, by reason of their imperfections, and the many temptations and sins they are overtaken with, fall away from a state of grace? True believers, by reason of the unchangeable love of God, and His decree and covenant to give them perseverance, their inseparable union with Christ, His continual intercession for them, and the Spirit and seed of God abiding in them, can neither totally nor finally fall away from the state of grace, but are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q&A 79).
The Dort statement appeals to election, while the Westminster statement appeals to God’s giving of perseverance. The conclusion that believers are eternally secure is biblically accurate, but the means of arriving at that conclusion is better connected to (1) the present tense possession of eternal life by the believer in Jesus Christ (Jn 6:47), and (2) the protection of God (1 Pet 1:5). In 1 Peter 1:3-5, for example, there are eleven statements affirming the security of the believer, and none of them depend on or are focused on the believer, but all are focused on God’s activity. The issue here is that the phrase perseverance of saints implies some activity on the part of the believer, whereas the biblical data is explicit regarding God as exclusive Protector. If this fifth point was referred to as protection of saints, I think the point would be positioned more biblically, with a theocentric focus.
(To be continued.)