Studies in the Canons of Dort



The sinner that perishes in unbelief, perishes in unbelief which is his own unbelief. There is nothing defective about the sacrifice of Christ, nor is the sacrifice insufficient to wash away his sin; the trouble lies with the unbeliever.

Man Is Responsible

Man is responsible for his unbelief. Natural man “hinders the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:18). Then Paul goes on to say that “that which is known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse” (Rom. 1:19, 20). Man becomes responsible for his attitude toward that which God has made manifest. ‘The fact that regeneration is the prerequisite of faith in no way relieves us of the responsibility to believe nor does it eliminate the priceless privilege that is ours as Christ and his claims are pressed upon us in full and free overtures of his grace. Our inability is no excuse for our unbelief nor does it provide us with any reason for not believing. As we are presented with Christ in the gospel there is no reason for the rejection of unbelief and all reason demands the entrustment of faith” (Redemption accomplished and Applied, by J. Murray, p. 140).

Man Opposes Truth

“But men in their adikia [unrighteousness J.T.] go counter to all this mass of truth regarding God, rejecting this right norm and principle for their hearts and lives, inventing ungodly and wicked norms instead” (Lenski). Yes, natural man exchanges the truth of God for a lie, worshipping and serving the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever (Rom. 1:25). Dr. C. Van Til echoes all this in his works. He says that “man cannot look anywhere but he confronts God, and that God as self-attesting.” Elsewhere he writes, “The natural man at bottom knows that he is a creature of God. He knows also that he is responsible to God. He knows that he should live to the glory of God. He knows that in all that he does he should stress that the field of reality which he investigates has the stamp of God’s ownership upon it.”

The Difference

When the unbeliever gets to hell he will have to say, “It is my fault that I am here.” When the believer gets to heaven, he will have to confess, “It is God’s grace alone that brought me here.”

This introduces us to article seven.




Faith—God’s Gift

Just as the cause for unbelief lies in man, so the credit for faith lies in God. “For by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8).

God—Our Debtor? God does not owe us anything. We owe him everything. When, therefore, God bestows faith, it is a pure gift. Faith is “not of works, lest any man should boast.” By nature man does not even want salvation. This, in turn, evidences the spiritual bondage of his will. That the will of the natural man is in bondage is the result of an act of man’s will when he was still free. Man willed to sin when Adam in a perfect state deliberately set his will over against God’s. Even the threat of death didn’t keep Adam from his willful act of disobedience.

Grace in Christ

Not even the threat of death deterred Adam. Because “the wages of sin is death,” Christ had to die to set his children free. “He who knew no sin God made to be sin on our behalf…” What grace that represents! Those who truly believe on the Son have everlasting life, but those who obey not “the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on them” (John 3:36). This is the awful finality of the Gospel.

No Merit – All Grace

Not works! By grace! Through death! Without merit of our own! Saved! Saved because of the infinite merit of the suffering and death of Jesus! Indebted for salvation “solely to the grace of God given…in Christ!”

For the Leader

You may want to consult chapter 8 of Pink’s book on the Sovereignty of God and chapter 16 of Boettner’s work on The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination.

For Discussion

1. Comment on the statement of the Rev. J. G. Feenstra: “The will is not free, but the willing is free.” To explain this, he writes: “The will is not free; by nature we stand on a slope, but the willing is free; the wheels can go forward or backwards.”

2. Why are the heathen without excuse?

3. In what sense does man always confront God as Dr. Van Til maintains?

4. Do you believe that man that he is responsible to God?

5. In what sense does the natural man condemn himself?

6. Why can unregenerate man not exercise saving faith?

7. Prove that faith is a gift of sovereign grace.



God righteously discriminates (see part I, art. 6) among “men equally involved in ruin” in that he sovereignly and willingly applied the vicarious atonement to all his elect.

Who are the Elect?

The elect are “all whom God in His eternal and unchangeable counsel of mere goodness has elected in Christ Jesus our Lord, without any respect to their works” (See Belgic Confession, Art. 16).

“Only when we are aware of God’s electing grace will the story of salvation make sense. All believers must agree that no one deserves that mercy. With unquestionable justice God could have left all men in the perdition in which they are plunged” (The Church’s Witness to the World, by Peter Y. De Jong, vol. II, p. 21). In his sovereign counsel God willed to discriminate in favor of those on whom he willed to have mercy. Only that accounts for anyone being saved. By nature man hates God and thinks himself able to get along without God, or to construct a god of his own making who will adjust himself to man’s wishes. Salvation is of sovereign grace.

Has Man a Bit of that Sovereignty?

Did God abdicate a bit of his sovereignty to man? Was our repair man in Philadelphia, who belonged to the Mission Covenant Church, right when he maintained that “God either cannot, or He will not, or He should not save all”? Was he right in believing that although God is sovereign, he has given a bit of that sovereignty to man? Perhaps you have an adopted child. Did the child adopt itself, or did you adopt it? Is it God Who adopts his children or is it man that adopts himself by his own choice into the redeemed family of God? Jesus should know the answer. I don’t know of a better authority, do you? In John 13:18 he says, “I know whom I have chosen.” Should one still want to give himself some credit for choosing Christ, one shall have to admit that Jesus rebukes such a thought when in John 15:16, he says, “Ye did not choose me; but I chose you…” Yes, he ought to know. He knows whom he came to save (Matt. 1:21).

Does God’s Love Obligate Him?

What do you think of a Boston speaker who reasoned thus:

“God is omnipotent.

God is love.

If omnipotent He can save all.

If love He will save all”?

On his basis we have to accept universalism or to deny that God is love. On the basis of facts we have to say, then, that God cannot be love because he does not save everybody. If we stand on God’s infallible Word, we believe that the human race breaks up into the saved and the lost (II Cor. 4:3, 4), the righteous and the wicked (Ps. 1:6), the acquited and the condemned (John 3:18), “Whose on the narrow way and those on the broad (Matt. 7:13, 14), those that have their lamps burning and those that don’t (Matt. 25:11, 12). And yet that Word teaches that God is love (I John 4:18; II Cor. 13:11). That love is infinite as is every perfection of God (Jer. 31:3). Does this obligate God to save all? “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid.” The only obligations God has to man are self-imposed, are of his own free will, such as the obligation to fulfill his promises to those with whom he made his covenant of grace.

Is Election Universal?

Today there is much talk in theological circles of an inclusivist Christ and an inclusivist church. Modern theologians for different reasons conclude that everybody will be saved. Karl Barth seems to believe that Jesus was reprobate for all, therefore all are elected. Dr. C. Van Til shows the distinction between Calvin’s view and Barth’s view on page 62 of his book, Christianity and Barthianism. Whereas Calvin believes in limited atonement, Barth believes that “the final rejection of all men has been taken to himself by God in Christ. Jesus Christ is the only rejected one. Since Christ has borne the rejection of God for all men, those who oppose Christ cannot finally escape their own election in Christ.”

On Barth’s basis, then, as well as on Tillich’s basis, unbelievers as well as believers will be saved. Jesus somehow took care of everybody; therefore every· body will be saved. Don’t you see that on the basis of such a theory, everybody can get under one ecumenical roof? Let us watch the ecumenical movement with this in mind, and as we watch, let us make sure that we have oil in our own lamps all the time.

Atonement Is Limited

Article 8, under discussion, can set us straight on matters treated above. It is the will of God that Christ, through the vicarious shedding of his blood, “should effectually redeem” out of the whole world “all those and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father.” In his High-priestly prayer Jesus said, “I will that those whom Thou hast given me be with me where I am, that they may behold my glory” (John 17:29). He also said in that prayer, “…I pray not for the world, but for those whom Thou hast given me; for they are Thine” (vs. 9). Didn’t Jesus say to the Jews at the dedication, “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep” (John 10:26)? If the son of perdition perished as Jesus said he did, then there are those who perish. If the rich man opened his eyes in hell, he certainly was not in heaven. Boettner appropriately wrote in The Atonement (p. 82): “Just why He does not save all when the sacrifice of Christ is in itself objectively sufficient to save all and He has the power to work mightily in the hearts of all so that they would be saved, we are n0t able to say.”

Is the Atonement Universal?

No, the atonement is not universal in the sense that everybody will be saved head for head. It is not universal in the sense that believers and unbelievers, Christians and non-Christians will be saved. It is, however, universal in the sense that God has his own among every people, tongue, tribe, and nation. What was the Father’s will, then, for Jesus as the Great Atoner? It was the Father’s will that:

1. The Son should redeem the elect.

2. The Son should confer faith on the elect, faith purchased with his blood and death.

3. The Son should purge the elect from original and actual sin.

4. The Son should preserve the elect to the end.

5. The Son should bring the elect into his presence without spot and blemish.

All this was the Father’s will for Christ, and Jesus willingly, obediently, effectually met every demand of God unto the salvation of his own.

For the Leader

You will be fortified for leading a discussion on this article by reading:

1. Dr. P. Y. De Jong’s The Church’s Witness to the World, Vol. II, Chapter 16, on “The Electing Love of God.”

2. L. Boettner’s, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, Chapter 12, on “Limited Atonement.”

3. L. Boettner’s, The Atonement, Chapter 7, on “The Extent of the Atonement.”

4. The Rev. J. W. Deenik’s most illuminating article on the new universalism entitled, “Universalism and the Ecumenical Movement,” in The Christian Heritage of November, 1965.

For Discussion

1. Review and try to memorize the excellent definition of election given in the first sentence of Part I, Art. 7.

2. Prove from the Scriptures that election is limited.

3. Show from the Scriptures that there is such a fact as reprobation.

4. Show how wonderful is God’s love in saving any at all.

5. Is there any relation between the modern universalism and the World Council of Churches type of ecumenicity?

6. What kind of ecumenicity may the true church promote?

7. Is there any danger in the kind of ecumenical dialogue going on even in our circles? Does the good outweigh the danger?