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The Canons of Dort, Second Head of Doctrine, Refutation of Errors, Article Six

Synod condemns the errors of those . . .

VI 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.

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


In order to use biblical terminology about the cross, while at the same time denying that the death of Christ is a true satisfaction for sins, as well as a literal payment of our debt to God, Arminians will contend that the death of Christ is “for all,” but “not all” are forgiven until the merits of Christ are appropriated by the sinner through an exercise of the will.

To explain how this can be, the Arminian sets up a scheme in which the death of Christ is said to be for all, but is not effectual for any until it is actually "appropriated"–i.e, the death of Christ does not accomplish redemption for anyone, but has the potential to save everyone who believes. This means that only those who exercise their free-will and believe the gospel are saved, since the atonement is only provisory and ineffectual until actually appropriated.

This enables the Arminian to argue for a doctrine of grace alone, connect salvation to the death of Christ, and still champion justification by faith alone.  But this is theological smoke and mirrors.  In the words of one sage, this is mere “word magic.”

As the Canons point out, the very idea that the death of Christ is “for all” but only in a provisional sense and, therefore, truly effective for none until it is appropriated, is mere sophistry and simply confuses those who have never thought about the issue from a biblical perspective.

As the Canons have repeatedly made plain, the Bible never speaks of a provisional atonement, generic grace, or a prevenient grace which remits the guilt of original sin and restores freedom of the will to all. The Scriptures speak only of an effectual satisfaction of God’s wrath made by Christ on behalf of those specific individuals given him by the Father.

In Reformed theology Christ’s atonement is not made effectual by the sinners “appropriation” of it through an act of will.  Rather, the merits of Christ are applied by the Holy Spirit to the sinner, who then receives the merit of Christ through faith alone--that faith being the gift from God (Ephesians 2:8) arising through the preaching of the word (Romans 10:17).

If the Arminian is correct, sinners are not saved through the cross and the merits of Christ, but are saved by an exercise of the sinful human will, since the cross is ineffectual until it is appropriated.  Again, no matter how loudly the Arminian champions "grace alone" and "faith alone", in the Arminian scheme it is an act of the will and not the death of Christ which actually saves! This is nothing but the pure poison of Pelagianism.

Reader Comments (4)

Thanks for this, Dr. Riddlebarger. I really appreciate your commentaries on the Canons of Dort.
December 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher Colby
Would you go so far as to say that Arminianism is an outright heresy?
December 11, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDavid S. Dittmer
I could read this a thousand times to the people at the Wesleyan church I attend and they would still not agree. Some would just say that's too deep to think about.

I married into a Wesleyan family ( my wife). Argh!
December 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatt
A fellow American Baptist pastor with 30+ years of service reacted in amazement to the idea that there could be such a thing as a Calvinistic Baptist - aren't all Baptists Arminian, he asked. Guess he'd never heard of Charles Spurgeon.
December 13, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPB

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