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

Synod condemns the error of those . . .

V Who teach that all people have been received into the state of reconciliation and into the grace of the covenant, so that no one on account of original sin is liable to condemnation, or is to be condemned, but that all are free from the guilt of this sin.

For this opinion conflicts with Scripture which asserts that we are by nature children of wrath.


This error is yet another fruit of the governmental theory of the atonement as championed by many Arminians. The Arminian Articles of 1610 put it this way: “Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, died for all men and every man, so that he hath obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins; yet no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer.”

This gets us right back to the root of the whole problem--the nature of God’s justice, as well as the design of the atonement.  For the Arminian, the atonement reconciles entire the world to God, redeems the world unto God, and provides for the forgiveness of sin for each and every person who has lived in each and every age.  Even the guilt of original sin is supposedly remitted!

But under the terms of the Arminian doctrine, the atonement--while having the potential to save everyone--saves not one particular individual.  Indeed, countless millions of those whom Christ has reconciled, redeemed, and forgiven, will perish anyway--and this despite the fact that all of this has been done for them freely by Christ. 

On the Arminian scheme, people do not perish because of their guilt before God--this has been removed by Christ's death--but because they used their freewill to reject what was done for them.  So, to put it another way, people suffer the consequences of their own actual sins, as well as for the sin of unbelief.  This makes unbelief that one sin which Christ's death cannot remit.  It seems to me that this is the one sin which actually condemns us (if Arminianism be consistent).

This scheme is passed off as supposedly magnifying God’s love, justice, and fairness to his creatures.  Theoretically, no one is left out.  Those who suffer eternal loss do so because they choose not to believe, and thereby exclude themselves from the benefits of Christ's death.  No one is unjustly punished for the sins of another.  And God is not being unfair, since everyone is potentially reconciled, redeemed, and forgiven.  Men and women perish eternally, not because they are guilty, but because they choose not to believe.

The problem with this is that this entire scheme is a gigantic mirage, even though biblical texts are actually cited by the Arminians.  As we have seen, what does the Arminian do with John 10 and 17, Ephesians 1 and 2, Romans 8:28-30, and a host of other such passages, which do indeed teach that God’s saving operations are directed to the specific individuals whom he does intend to save?  There are no texts
anywhere in the Bible which teach an impersonal and generic plan of redemption!  And what about all of those texts we have already covered which teach that even after the death of Christ, we are still by nature children of wrath, and therefore subject to the just condemnation of God (i.e. Ephesians 2:1, 6; Colossians 2:13)?

But wait a minute, the Arminian will plead! What about 2 Corinthians 5:19 and Romans 5:18-19, where Paul supposedly clearly teaches that Christ’s death remits all sin, without exception?

Let us look at these in some detail.  In 2 Corinthians 5:17 and following, Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” To start with, the passage is referring to those who are “in Christ.”  They participate the new creation, that is, in the age of salvation brought by Christ.  Those in Christ no longer belong to the old age—the age of works righteousness, they belong to the new age of resurrection life.  Says Paul in v. 18-19, “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” 

If by “the world”, Paul means each and every person who has ever lived in each and every age, why are any lost, since their sins are not counted against them?  Where in this text does Paul speak of the atonement in Arminian terms—God potentially reconciles all people, provided they believe? Paul says God has reconciled us!

This becomes especially clear in the latter part of the verse (and also in verse 20) when Paul connects God’s reconciliation in Christ with preaching: “entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”  If you are in Christ, you are reconciled.  If you are not in Christ, you are not reconciled.

How would the command to “be reconciled” make any sense on the Arminian scheme, since supposedly this has already been done for everyone without exception.  Paul’s command should be “choose not to be unreconciled!!!”  The particular nature of Paul’s words are very clear in verse 21. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Note again the particular language that the apostle uses. God made Christ to be sin for our sake—i.e., the elect, those chosen in Christ, not generically for the world.  And note carefully, we became the righteousness of God in Christ. Again this passage clearly teaches that Paul has in mind a specific group that are reconciled in Christ, and that the message of reconciliation is to be proclaimed to all, since as you may recall, God has connected the ends—the salvation of his elect—with the means, the preaching of the gospel.

The Arminian notion that this passage teaches a universal remission of sin is simply not here.

Paul also says in Romans 5:18-19 that “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous.” 

First, the text clearly teaches something that is completely foreign to the Arminian scheme, namely that the actions of one [obedience or disobedience], whether that be Adam or Christ [on behalf of the two covenants and eschatological ages they represent], can be imputed or reckoned to another.  This is a death blow to the Arminian system which has argued that such representation is “unfair” and “unbiblical.”

The passage also teaches that through the one man’s disobedience, “the many” were made [declared] sinners. That is, through Adam’s act of disobedience, the many—all those represented by Adam under the covenant of works and who are enslaved under “this age”—were made, or better, declared sinners. This is also fatal to the Arminian notion of individual responsibility with no corporate solidarity.  The passage also teaches that through one act of sin all people were condemned, which is yet another problem for the Arminian conception of the justice of God!

Who is in view, then, when Paul says that through the obedience of one there was now life for all and righteousness for the many?  The answer is simple.  Paul is speaking in terms of two covenants.  The first is a covenant of works in which Adam represents all men and women without exception.  The second is a covenant of grace, made with Christ on behalf of the elect.  The “all" here is simply referring to all those in Christ.  If not, we have a universal justification of all men and women who have ever lived, in each and every age, without exception!  If the Arminians are correct, people are then lost and punished eternally after they have been justified.  That makes no sense.

The Arminian interpretation of these passages undoes the force of Paul’s analogy between Christ and Adam as the federal heads of two distinct covenants.  Thus the Arminian notion of a universal remission of original guilt is not found in Romans 5:12-19 either!

Therefore, the authors of the Canons are correct to assert that the Arminian “opinion conflicts with Scripture which asserts that we are by nature children of wrath.”

Reader Comments (1)

When Paul speaks of the world being reconciled to God in Christ, did rocks and trees suffer under God's justice too? Reconciliation seems to have a wider scope than personal allegiance and fiduciary dispositions. The non-Calvinst then seems to be on biblical ground in affirming that Christ dies for all since redemption admits of degrees. If it didn,t and the wicked didn't enjoy immortality, why then do they persist? Is there a source of immortality apart from Christ?

Or think about 2 cor 5:14. If Christ doesn't die for all, then this implies that some are not dead and hence Pelagianism. Romans 5 fits nicely into the schema of redemption that admits of degrees. All are redeemed qua nature but not all are redeemed in terms of personal response. Christ is victorious regardless. All men are vindicated from the power of death, which is why even the wicked share in Christ's immortality at the level of nature. If they didn't they wouldn't be said to be redeemed and raised up. 2 pet 2:1, rev 20.
December 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPerry Robinson

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