************ Sermon on Canons of Dort, Head II, Article 1 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 2, 2013
Canons, Head II, Article 1
We have just finished dealing with the first head of doctrine. The first head of doctrine deals with unconditional election. The question we looked at time and again is this: Is election conditional or unconditional? Do I in any way determine my election or do I have nothing to do with it? Am I elect because I somehow, in someway, deserve it, or does election take place apart from anything I am or do? In the final analysis is salvation up to me or is it up to God? Do I choose God or does God choose me? Those who profess their faith – is it their decision or is it God's decision?
By now we should all know the answer. No one's destiny is in their own hands. Everyone's destiny is in the hands of God. Even little infants – their destiny is in the hands of God. We believe in an unconditional election. I really have nothing to do with my salvation. It is not because I am good enough or smart enough that I am elect. It is not based upon foreseen repentance and faith. Election is not because of foreseen belief but because of foreseen unbelief. In other words, God elects some in Christ or none would be saved and all would be lost. When it comes to salvation, I depend totally upon the Lord and His mercy. That's the point of the first head of doctrine.
As I have said before, many people don't like to hear about an unconditional election and cannot bring themselves to believe an unconditional salvation.
Every year around Good Friday thousands of Filipinos re-enact the last agony of Jesus. Barefoot, over the hot stone streets in scorching sun, they drag heavy wooden crosses and they flog their bare backs bloody with glass-studded whips. Dozens of people are nailed to crosses. Why? They seek redemption through their own pain and suffering.People do so many odd, self-humiliating acts, not understanding that – praise God – Jesus paid it all! People do so many odd, self-humiliating acts not understanding that salvation is up to God and not to us.
It is not only Christians who do this. This is also a tradition among Hindus and Muslims. For instance, I read of a woman in India who gave her son to the river god. And, at a Moslem shrine in Bangladesh, a woman worshiper offering prayers extended her arms toward one of the crocodiles which live there; it bit off her hand and swallowed it.
I Limited Atonement
A Today we start the second head of doctrine – limited atonement. The question we will be looking at now is this: Is atonement limited or universal? To whom is Christ's atoning work applied? Or, to put the question another way, "Are all men saved?"
The Bible's answer is that all people are not going to be saved by Christ although all are lost in Adam.
This is not a neutral question, a question that can be discussed logically and quietly, without passion or intensity. This question, you see, concerns all of us: it is a question about our neighbor, a family member, maybe even ourselves.
B Before going any further we ought to spend a few moments looking at the desire of God. You need to realize that God desires all people to be saved. In the Old Testament God said through Moses:
(Deut 30:19-20) This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live (20) and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.Through one of the prophets the Lord said: "Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth" (Is 45:22). And in our age God has appointed ambassadors to go to the ends of the earth saying: "We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God" (2 Cor 5:20). In fact, one of the few known reasons why the Lord has not yet come in final judgment is His desire that no one should perish, but that all should repent (2 Pt 3:9). God "wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim 2:4).
C We should want this too. We too should want the salvation of all men.
Wanting what God wants is not enough. We are poor Christians and have little love in our hearts if we do not participate in the God-given mission of the church to the lost. God has given to the church and to every believer a command to "go and make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19). The point I am trying to make, my brothers and sisters, is that we are disobedient to God and unloving towards our unbelieving neighbor if we don't participate in the mission of the Lord towards the lost.
D God may wish for the salvation of all people, and we have to proclaim the Gospel to all, but this may not lead us to teach or believe a universal atonement.
Many disagree with this and say all men are saved or, at the very least, all men have the possibility of being saved. These people are universalists. They say that Christ came for all, He has died for all, and His work is meant for all. These people point to God's Word through the apostle: "For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive" (1 Cor 15:22). Or, they point to the words of Jesus in the gospels: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Or, they point to the words of John the Baptist: "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (Jn 1:29). Or, they point to the first letter of John:
(1Jn 2:2) He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
(1Jn 4:14) ... we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.
Of course, their view of the atonement cannot be separated from their view of election. Once you believe in a conditional election – that God chooses me because I choose Him – then you also have to believe in a universal atonement – that Christ died for all.
Certain Scripture texts lead us to believe that Christ's work is not meant for all so all will not be saved. Listen to these texts:
(Mt 1:21) She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."
(Jn 10:11) "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
(Jn 17:9) I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours.
(Rom 8:32-33) He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (33) Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen?
(Eph 5:25) ... Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her ...
The teaching of these verses is plain: Christ's work is not meant for all. Rather, He died for His people – variously known as the church, the elect, the sheep, those given Him by the Father.
We have two incompatible truths here: God wants no one to perish and wants all to be saved; yet, Christ did not die for all. God wants all saved but intends to save only some. God wants the church to call all men to repentance yet He does not intend to save all those who hear the Gospel.
We explain this by saying the work of Christ is enough for all but is applied only to the elect. Christ died for the sins of the world but only the sins of the elect are forgiven. Or, as I learned in seminary: sufficient for all but efficient only for the elect.
II The Foundation of the Atonement
A Article 1 of the second head of doctrine lays down for us the foundation for Christ's atonement. The foundation or reason lies both in man and in God.
First of all, let's look at man. The fact about man is that he is a sinner. He has sinned against the "infinite majesty" of God. Because of original sin all men are lost in Adam. Man is judged to be a sinner, which means he has been judged to be disobedient against God and the ways of God.
The January 2013 issue of the Smithsonian Magazine has a picture of a baby on its cover. The baby looks like a little devil as he is holding a red fork and has red horns growing out of his head. The caption asks, "Born to Be Bad?"
The article states the opposite. "A child arrives in the world provisioned with rich, broadly pro-social tendencies and seems predisposed to care about other people. Children can tell, to an extent, what is good and bad, and often act in an altruistic fashion."
As for toddlers, "They are natural helpers, aiding distressed others at a cost to themselves, growing concerned if someone shreds another person's artwork and divvying up earnings after a shared task."
Our own personal experience and first-hand observation tells us that the Smithsonian Magazine is wrong. Go to a playground and watch toddlers pull hair and refuse to share. Day by day, hardly anyone is more unfeeling and primitive than a baby. Or, consider this:
In North America we are well-educated and brilliant and gifted and artistic and idealistic and distinguished. Yet, we are also selfish and scheming and dishonest and begrudging and impatient and arrogant and disrespectful of others. Our civilization is so advanced yet we have the world's largest prison population. Why is this so?
As Christians we know something that the Smithsonian Magazine refuses to acknowledge. We know that every person since Adam is conceived and born in sin – except for Christ Jesus, of course. We know Paul's teaching in Romans 3:23 that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." We know, as Paul puts it earlier in the same chapter:
(Rom 3:10-12) "There is no one righteous, not even one; (11) there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. (12) All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one."
All people, since they are sinners, are guilty before God. And, man's guilt always has a price. Its punishment, says the Canons, is "both temporal and eternal ... of soul as well as body." No man sins cheaply. Even in the life of the believer, sin is costly. No one can sin without ever paying a price. Every sinner – and that includes all of us – is worthy of eternal death.
Scriptural proof for this is to be found in Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death." The teaching of Scripture is that the sinner must die on account of his or her sin.
That's the first reason for the atonement – man is lost-in-sin and headed for hell.
B The foundation for Christ's atonement lies not only in man and his sin but it lies also in God. The fact is, God is "supremely just. His justice requires ... that ... sins ... be punished."
In Western society it is impossible to maintain a law if no one observes it. When illegal behavior becomes commonly accepted practice, the illegal behavior is often "decriminalized." This has happened with abortion, homosexuality, adultery, prostitution, gambling, medical marijuana. At one time they were all criminal offenses. They are no longer. In this way our criminal justice system is elastic.
When it comes to sin, is God's justice also elastic? After all, everyone is doing it.
Neither God nor His justice is elastic. God does not "decriminalize" sin even though everyone does it. God would not be God if He would change and alter His code. The Lord Jesus says, "not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished" (Mt 5:18).
Our Scripture passage in Romans 2 is so very clear about this – that God must punish sin:
(Rom 2:8-9) But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. (9) There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil ...
God does not always punish sin immediately. We are now living in the time of God's forbearance or long-suffering. This period began just after the flood, with the covenant of Noah. After God had flushed away the wickedness of the world, He vowed that never again would He destroy the earth and all living creatures (Gen 8:21). God promised to withhold His judgment even though every inclination of man's heart is evil from childhood (Gen 8:21). Which means that today we are living under the threat of God's judgment and under the rainbow of God's long-suffering. Let no one show contempt for God's kindness; it, says Paul in today's passage, is supposed to lead us to repentance (Rom 2:4).
The conclusion is inescapable: God will judge us for the wrong we do. Both the sin we are born with as well as the sins we actually commit deserve punishment. There is no escape from the wrath of God, no escape at all. That's the second reason for the atonement.
The scary news today is that our sin must be punished. Yet, congregation, there is also good news. We cannot wipe away the filth of sin; but we can be washed clean by grace. We cannot escape condemnation and judgment; but we can be rescued. If we, by grace, believe Christ Jesus has paid our debt and satisfied the requirements of God's justice.
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