29 September, 2016

Canons of Dordt, II:3—“… abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world”

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 (Canons of Dordt, II: 3).

This article of the Canons, especially the words “abundantly sufficient,” has been used by some as a basis or warrant for the so-called “general well-meant offer of grace and salvation on the part of God to all men.” “Christ’s death,” so we are told, is “abundantly and infinitely sufficient to atone for all men; therefore, Christ’s death, and the benefits that accrue from it, are universally available for all men.”


Prof. Herman C. Hanko

[Source: The History of the Free Offer, chapter 3: The Arminian Controversy and the Synod of Dordt]

[In Canons II, 3,] the fathers speak of the atoning sacrifice of Christ as “the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin; (which) is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.” It has been sometimes maintained that here is one place where the fathers definitely speak of a general atonement in the sense of sufficiency. And, while this is certainly true, the following points must be remembered.

1) This article was included in the Canons because it was intended to serve as an answer to the Arminian charge that the Reformed in their doctrine of a limited atonement or particular redemption did injustice to the sacrifice of Christ and spoke disparagingly of its value. This accusation the fathers repudiate and in fact turn the tables on the Arminians and insist that not they, but the Arminians speak disparagingly of the atonement because the Arminians have a doctrine of the atonement which teaches that Christ’s sacrifice, made for everyone, does not even actually save since many go lost.

2) That the fathers did not intend to teach that actual atonement was made for all men is clear from their statement: “… it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross … should effectually redeem … all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to him by the Father …" (II, 8). (Italics ours.)

3) As is plain from II, 3, the fathers looked at this “sufficiency” from the viewpoint of the One Who offered this sacrifice—the eternal Son of God: “This death derives its infinite value and dignity from these considerations, because the person who submitted to it was not only really man and perfectly holy, but also the only begotten Son of God …”

4) It is evident therefore, that the intent of the article is merely to state that, taken purely by itself, without any reference to those for whom Christ died, Christ’s atonement, because He was the eternal Son of God, was of infinite value in God’s sight. It was sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world because it was God’s Son that died; and God’s Son cannot make a sacrifice which qualitatively speaking is a partial sacrifice.

5) But that this “universal sufficiency” was intended by the fathers to form the basis for a general offer of the gospel is totally foreign to their thinking.



Dr. Raymond A. Blacketer

[Source: “The Three Pointsin Most Parts Reformed: A Reexamination of the So-Called Well-Meant Offer ofSalvation,” Calvin Theological Journal, vol. 35, no. 1 (April, 2000), emphasis added.]

The sufficiency of the atonement only refers to the value or merit of Christ’s death, and thus it is theoretical in nature. Had God decreed to save all sinners, the death of Christ would have been more than sufficient to atone for their sins. … [The argument usually presented] is that because Christ’s death could have covered the sins of all, therefore salvation can actually be offered to all, including the reprobate. The coherence of this argument is quite questionable: How can that which is not actually acquired or intended for the reprobate be offered to them with the desire that they accept it? In other words, how can Christ be offered to the reprobate, when in fact he has not been offered for them?

This argument based on the sufficiency of Christ’s death, moreover, dates back to the sixteenth century, but it was not the Reformed who employed it. John Calvin rightly calls it “a great absurdity” that “has no weight for me.” The question, he says, “is not what the power or virtue of Christ is, nor what efficacy it has in itself, but who those are to whom he gives himself to be enjoyed.” The answer to this question is not all humanity in general, but only those whom God designs to be a partaker in Christ.26 Calvin accepts the distinction between the sufficiency and efficacy of Christ’s death,27 but he does not believe that this distinction can be employed to teach that God desires or intends salvation, or makes salvation available, for all persons indiscriminately.



Rev. Christopher J. Connors

[Source: The Biblical Offer of the Gospel]

The sincerity of a well-meant offer to the reprobate not only relies upon the atonement of Christ, but more particularly upon the extent of that atonement. A Divine warrant for the well-meant offer of Christ to all, therefore, requires that [a person] prove from Scripture that the extent and nature of Christ’s atonement answers exactly to the extent and nature of his well-meant offer. That is, the redemption purchased by Christ, in all its efficacy, must be shown to extend at least to every sinner who hears the well-meant offer. It will not do [simply] to appeal to the infinite sufficiency of Christ’s atonement; the question has to do with the efficiency and intention of God in the atonement. The redemption provided in the substitutionary atonement of Christ is, after all, what [some] would have us believe God is sincerely offering all who hear the gospel. Full and free redemption purchased by Christ for all who hear the gospel is, therefore, the only basis that will support [such a] well-meant offer.”



Prof. Homer C. Hoeksema

[Source: The Voice of Our Fathers: A Commentary on the Canons of Dordt (RFPA, 1980), pp. 341-342, 343-344.]

A study of the opinions of the various delegations [that attended the Synod of Dordt] is also very revealing as to the meaning of the statement under discussion. It means that the sacrifice and satisfaction of Christ when considered by itself, that is, apart from God’s elective decree and apart from the intent and purpose of Christ’s death and apart from the fact that Christ actually represented in His death only the elect, would have been sufficient to expiate the sins of the entire human race, yea of several more worlds. There is nothing defective in that death itself, nothing lacking in the value of the sacrifice, which would compel its atoning efficiency to be limited to the elect alone. The latter limitation is not due to a limited value of Christ’s death: for His death was in itself abundantly sufficient, infinite in value. But the limitation to the elect alone is a sovereign limitation by God’s elective will, the will with which Christ was in perfect harmony when He gave Himself to the death of the cross. Such is the idea of this statement …

… In evaluating the statement of Article 3 concerning the sufficiency of Christ’s death, we may remark, in the first place, that it is actually a bit of speculation, and, in a way, a bit of philosophizing about the value of Christ’s death. It would appear to be an attempt to say something about that infinite value from a quantitative point of view. In the second place, however well meant the statement may be in the context of the battle against the Arminians and their calumnies, the thought is not a scriptural presentation, even though it does not militate against the Scriptures, and may therefore stand. In the third place, also in the light of the Canons themselves the infinite value and abundant expiatory worth of the death of Christ may be viewed more correctly from the point of view of the fact, first of all, that it was an atonement for sin against the infinite majesty of God (cf. Article 1), and, above all, the fact that it was the “only begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Spirit,” who atoned (cf. Article 4). Further, a sense of the infinite wrath and curse of God due to us for sin. This approach to the subject of the worth of Christ’s sacrifice may be termed qualitative. It is this approach which has the emphasis in the Canons, as well as in our other Reformed confessions.



More to come! (DV)

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