31 October, 2016

Heidelberg Catechism: Lord’s Day XV—“… the sins of all mankind ...”

Q. 37. What dost thou understand by the words, “He suffered?”

A. That he, all the time that he lived on earth, but especially at the end of his life, sustained in body and soul, the wrath of God against the sins of all mankind: that so by his passion, as the only propitiatory sacrifice, he might redeem our body and soul from everlasting damnation, and obtain for us the favour of God, righteousness and eternal life.

This article in the Heidelberg Catechism is sometimes alluded to as teaching that the death of Christ was universal in scope—for all men head for head, including the reprobate.


Rev. Martyn McGeown

The Formula of Subscription, which all officebearers in Reformed churches must sign, expresses the relationship between the Canons of Dordt, the Belgic Confession, and the Heidelberg Catechism in these words:

We, the undersigned … do hereby sincerely and in good conscience before the Lord declare by this, our subscription, that we heartily believe and are persuaded that all the articles and points of doctrine contained in the Confession and Catechism of the Reformed Churches, together with the explanation of some points of the aforesaid doctrine made by the National Synod of Dordrecht, 1618-’19, do fully agree with the Word of God.[5]

… In other words, the Canons of Dordt constitute the authoritative interpretation and explanation of the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism. When, for example, the Heidelberg Catechism states, “[Christ] sustained in body and soul the wrath of God against the sins of all mankind,”[7] this must be interpreted in light of the entire second head of doctrine of the Canons of Dordt, which teaches that Christ died only for the elect “out of every people, tribe, nation, and language.”[8]



Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965)

[Source: The Triple Knowledge, vol. I, pp. 641-642; emphasis added]

A word must be said about the statement of the Catechism that Christ sustained the wrath of God against the sins of all mankind, of the whole human race. This dare not be understood in the sense that He suffered and died and brought the sacrifice of atonement for every man individually, nor even that it was His intention to do so. Nor may the expression that occurs elsewhere in our Confessions (Canons II, 3) that the sacrifice of Christ is “of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world,” be understood in the sense of general atonement. Christ suffered for His elect. Them and them alone He represented according to the counsel of God. For His own, for the sheep His Father had given Him, He laid down His life. He did not suffer more than was necessary to redeem them. Not one drop of blood that was shed by the Saviour was shed in vain. Those for whom He suffered are surely redeemed and saved. However, also the Scriptures employ similar expressions as occur in our Confessions. John the Baptist points Him out as “the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” And the apostle John writes: “And he is the propitiation for our sin: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” But these expressions, as well as similar terms, must be understood organically, rather than individualistically. They refer to the whole organism of the race, to the elect from every nation, and tongue, and tribe, and not to every individual man. After all, mankind, and not a few individuals, is saved; but it is saved in the elect. The world is redeemed, but it is the world of God’s love, not every individual man. And it is in that same sense that the words of the Catechism must be understood that Christ sustained the wrath of God against the sins of all mankind. For those, in whose stead and in whose behalf, He bore the wrath of God, are surely redeemed by His blood. Everlasting righteousness and eternal life He obtained for them. And what He obtained for them by His suffering, He surely bestows upon them by His sovereign grace.



More to come! (DV)

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