Archive for the ‘Synod of Dordt’ Category

Dordt and Common Grace

August 26, 2011

The expression “common grace” has an historical connection to the Remonstrants. That has led some Calvinists to reject entirely the term “common grace,” and to make this a shibboleth of “true Calvinism” or “classical Calvinism.” Such a shibboleth is foolish and mistaken, both because folks like Matthew Henry, Thomas Manton, and Jonathan Edwards used the term approvingly, but also because the Savoy Declaration and the London Baptist Confession use the term approvingly.

The term gets mentioned in the Canons of Dordt. The mention is in the context of the rejection of a Remonstrant error. The specific mention is this (at 3/4:V):

Who teach that corrupt and natural man can make such good use of common grace (by which they mean the light of nature) or of the gifts remaining after the fall that he is able thereby gradually to obtain a greater grace– evangelical or saving grace–as well as salvation itself; and that in this way God, for his part, shows himself ready to reveal Christ to all people, since he provides to all, to a sufficient extent and in an effective manner, the means necessary for the revealing of Christ, for faith, and for repentance.

For Scripture, not to mention the experience of all ages, testifies that this is false: He makes known his words to Jacob, his statutes and his laws to Israel; he has done this for no other nation, and they do not know his laws (Ps. 147:19-20); In the past God let all nations go their own way (Acts 14:16); They (Paul and his companions) were kept by the Holy Spirit from speaking God’s word in Asia; and When they had come to Mysia, they tried to go to Bithynia, but the Spirit would not allow them to (Acts 16:6-7).

(bold is the error being rejected)

Notice that the Canon does not say “Those who say ‘common grace’ are anathema.” Instead, it is a particular view of the sufficiency of common grace that is at stake. This is significant, because it means that it is not the phrase itself that is rejected.

Note that “common grace” is defined to mean “the light of nature.” The same synod, however, positively expressed the view of the synod on “common grace” or “the light of nature” in this way:

Article 4: The Inadequacy of the Light of Nature

    There is, to be sure, a certain light of nature remaining in man after the fall, by virtue of which he retains some notions about God, natural things, and the difference between what is moral and immoral, and demonstrates a certain eagerness for virtue and for good outward behavior. But this light of nature is far from enabling man to come to a saving knowledge of God and conversion to him–so far, in fact, that man does not use it rightly even in matters of nature and society. Instead, in various ways he completely distorts this light, whatever its precise character, and suppresses it in unrighteousness. In doing so he renders himself without excuse before God.

Notice that the synod positively affirms that man has the light of nature, it just rejects the sufficiency of that light of nature for salvation.

I would be remiss if I did not point out that the synod says of this common grace, that “man does not use it rightly even in matters of nature and society.” That is a serious blow to those who today are departing radically from the teachings of the Reformers and asserting the sufficiency of the light of nature for matters of society.

There is not a symmetry between Scripture and the light of nature, such that the light of nature is sufficient for nature and society whereas the Bible is sufficient for faith. Instead, the light of nature is utterly insufficient. So taught the Reformers, so teach the Scriptures, and so ought we to believe.

-TurretinFan

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Amyraldianism and the Canons of Dordt

December 29, 2008

Someone raised the question of why I would think that the Amyraldian position is at odds with the teachings of the Synod of Dordt. The following hopefully explains.

The Amyraldian position, per Dabney, is that “God decreed from eternity, to create the human race, to permit the fall; then in His infinite compassion, to send Christ to atone for every human being’s sins, (conditioned on his believing); but also foreseeing that all, in consequence of total depravity and the bondage of their will, would inevitably reject this mercy if left to themselves … .” (source)

The relevant parts of the Canons of Dordt are as follows (all references are within the topic of the Second Main Point of Doctrine):

Article 8: The Saving Effectiveness of Christ’s Death

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.

(emphases are my own)

Also, Rejection of Errors 1 states as the error:

Who teach that God the Father appointed his Son to death on the cross without a fixed and definite plan to save anyone by name, so that the necessity, usefulness, and worth of what Christ’s death obtained could have stood intact and altogether perfect, complete and whole, even if the redemption that was obtained had never in actual fact been applied to any individual.

and provides as the answer:

For this assertion is an insult to the wisdom of God the Father and to the merit of Jesus Christ, and it is contrary to Scripture. For the Savior speaks as follows: I lay down my life for the sheep, and I know them (John 10:15, 27). And Isaiah the prophet says concerning the Savior: When he shall make himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days, and the will of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand (Isa. 53:10). Finally, this undermines the article of the creed in which we confess what we believe concerning the Church.

Further, Rejection of Errors 3 states as the error:

Who teach that Christ, by the satisfaction which he gave, did not certainly merit for anyone salvation itself and the faith by which this satisfaction of Christ is effectively applied to salvation, but only acquired for the Father the authority or plenary will to relate in a new way with men and to impose such new conditions as he chose, and that the satisfying of these conditions depends on the free choice of man; consequently, that it was possible that either all or none would fulfill them.

and provides as the answer:

For they have too low an opinion of the death of Christ, do not at all acknowledge the foremost fruit or benefit which it brings forth, and summon back from hell the Pelagian error.

Further, Rejection of Errors 6 states as the error:

Who make use of the distinction between obtaining and applying in order to instill in the unwary and inexperienced the opinion that God, as far as he is concerned, wished to bestow equally upon all people the benefits which are gained by Christ’s death; but that the distinction by which some rather than others come to share in the forgiveness of sins and eternal life depends on their own free choice (which applies itself to the grace offered indiscriminately) but does not depend on the unique gift of mercy which effectively works in them, so that they, rather than others, apply that grace to themselves.

and provides as the answer:

For, while pretending to set forth this distinction in an acceptable sense, they attempt to give the people the deadly poison of Pelagianism.

Analysis

The issue created by Amyraldianism is its making the atonement universal, by placing it before the decree of election in the order of decrees. It’s impossible, under the Amyraldian scheme (as it is presented by Dabney) for the atonement to be particular, because the election of people is logically subsequent to the decree of atonement. Accordingly, Christ dies for all mankind universally in an undifferentiated way, on the condition of faith. However, God recognizes that no one can fulfill this condition and consequently God elects to give some grace to fulfill the condition. Consequently, while the atonement itself (in the Amyraldian scheme) is universal, the application of that atonement is particular (as also in the Arminian scheme, although the way in which it becomes particular is different in the Arminian scheme).

Article 8 of Heading 2 of the Canons of Dordt is inconsistent with this view of the atonement. Article 8 states that “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 … .” (emphases my own) This statement limits the scope of the atonement to the elect, through the explicit use of “only those.”

I realize that an Amyraldian who wished to agree with Dordt, for whatever reason, might try to latch hold of the word “effectively” and/or “redeem” to try to find a way to agree with Dordt without sacrificing their own view of the atonement. With respect to “redeem” the argument would amount to arguing that redemption is one thing, and presentation is another thing. Thus, the atonement was presented to God for all, but only the elect were redeemed by it. The argument with respect to “effectively” would be similar: only the elect are effectively redeemed, all the rest are ineffectively redeemed.

Each of these attempted end-runs are problematic. First, it should be obvious that the Arminian/Remonstrant should be able to say the same thing, and yet it is apparent from the historical context that the heading was opposed to the errors of the Remonstrants. Second, we see further clarification via the Rejection of errors sections.

The synod described, as an error, the position that “God the Father appointed his Son to death on the cross without a fixed and definite plan to save anyone by name, so that the necessity, usefulness, and worth of what Christ’s death obtained could have stood intact and altogether perfect, complete and whole, even if the redemption that was obtained had never in actual fact been applied to any individual.” Nevertheless, if the Amyraldian position were held, it would be the case that God so appointed his Son, and the worth of what Christ’s death obtained could have stood whole even if the obtained redemption was never applied to any individual. Indeed, since – in the Amyraldian position – the atonement is suspended on the hypothesis of faith, if no one has faith, the atonement is perfect with zero scope.

Error 3 is less directly relevant to Amyraldianism, but is still illustrative: “[It is an error to] teach that Christ, by the satisfaction which he gave, did not certainly merit for anyone salvation itself and the faith by which this satisfaction of Christ is effectively applied to salvation, but only acquired for the Father the authority or plenary will to relate in a new way with men and to impose such new conditions as he chose, and that the satisfying of these conditions depends on the free choice of man; consequently, that it was possible that either all or none would fulfill them.” Again, if Amyraldianism is correct, the atonement merely enabled faith as the condition of salvation. Now, perhaps Amyraldians would deny that faith is a condition of salvation in their system (and perhaps they are right in that denial), but the practical result of their system is that they make the atonement merely a doorway, and not the definite purchase of salvation for the elect. On the other hand, they make election the definite application of the atonement for the elect. In other words, an Amyraldian might be able to distinguish themselves from this precise error, but they could not do so in the way described, namely by asserting that the atonement was specifically for the elect.

Error 6 is probably the least relevant of the errors I’ve identified, but I think it helps to provide a last piece of the puzzle: “[It is an error to] make use of the distinction between obtaining and applying in order to instill in the unwary and inexperienced the opinion that God, as far as he is concerned, wished to bestow equally upon all people the benefits which are gained by Christ’s death; but that the distinction by which some rather than others come to share in the forgiveness of sins and eternal life depends on their own free choice (which applies itself to the grace offered indiscriminately) but does not depend on the unique gift of mercy which effectively works in them, so that they, rather than others, apply that grace to themselves.”

The Amyraldians would distinguish themselves from this error by denying that man’s own free choice applied to indiscriminately offered grace is what effectively works in them the grace of the atonement. Instead, the Amyraldian would say that it is grace that causes man to have faith that effectively works in the elect the grace of the atonement. Nevertheless, the Amyraldians would tend to use the distinction between obtaining and applying in order to argue that Christ died for all on the hypothesis of faith.

There is a real distinction between the obtaining of the redemption and the applying of the redemption, but the difference is not one of scope. The redemption is obtained for those to whom it is to be applied. Article 8 tries to make that clear by providing a chain (much like that found in Romans 8):

  • [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.

It’s worth noting one final point that sinks the Amyraldian ship (at least as defined by Dabney’s presentation of it): the article states that faith was acquired for the elect by Christ’s death (“faith (which … he acquired for them by his death)”). It would seem absurd to say that Christ universally acquired faith for all conditioned on faith.

-TurretinFan


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