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The Canons of Dort, Second Head of Doctrine, Article Three

Article 3: The Infinite Value of Christ's Death

This death of God's Son is the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins; it is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.


At this point, the Canons deal with the question of the value (efficacious nature) of Christ’s satisfaction upon the cross.  Since the Reformed “limit” the benefits of the death of Christ to the elect only, it is important for the authors to clarify that Christ’s death is not at all limited when we consider the question of the value of the death of Christ in removing the guilt and the stain of sin so as to satisfy God’s justice. 

The Reformed position is that the death of Christ is of such value (infinite) that it is completely sufficient to satisfy God’s justice toward all sins.  Christ’s death is indeed sufficient to remove the guilt of every sin committed by every person, who has ever lived, in each and every age. 

But the limit placed upon the atonement does not lie in the power of the cross to remove [or expiate] sin.  If God had chosen to save all men and women without exception, Christ’s death would be sufficient to save all—he would not need to be punished longer, or shed more blood so that more could be saved. 

Christ’s death is beyond all measurable value in its power to remove sin and satisfy God’s justice.  And this is why the authors state: “This death of God's Son is the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction for sins; it is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.” 

But the Reformed do argue that God sent Christ not to make the world savable (potentially), if only sinners do what is necessary for them to be saved.  Instead, the Reformed contend that the intent of the death of Christ is to save God's elect, since Christ’s satisfaction is more than sufficient for all their sins. 

Christ’s death does exactly what God intended it to do.  Simply put, Christ satisfies God’s justice and his anger toward his elect through his death for them upon the cross.  The Reformed reject the universalist notion (typical of Arminianism), that Christ’s death makes sinners “savable” under certain conditions since it shows forth God’s love for a lost and fallen world.  Instead, the death of Christ actually satisfies God’s justice so that God’s elect can be saved, it does not merely render people "savable."

Reader Comments (11)

Kim - Thanks for posting this. Very helpful.
September 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMark Priestap
September 5, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjason
I just had a long discussion with my brother (who is a very active member at Willow Creek Church in Barrington, Illinois-he know Bill Hybels quite well) on this very topic a couple of days ago. He took the classic Arminian position on the subject that Christ's death is for everyone not just the elect. And he rejected the idea that our wills are in bondage to sin (pre faith) as described by Luther and Calvin. His comment was something to the effect that we have to move our wills to appropriate God's grace. I asked him how he doesn't condescend to others who might struggle with sin in their lives. He did not have a good answer for it- he said he did not have a problem with that and he felt he did not condescend towards others. I disagreed with him and he got very angry about it. We then got into a discussion about the nature of the Church and how the theology taught forms our ideas about what the Church is and what its responsibilities are to its members and how they deal with the surrounding unbelieving culture.

The problem lies in the fact that my brother and I own and manage a family business together and we come into some severe conflicst about certain decisions that need to be made here. About 10 years ago I started making the transition from a Arminian theology to a Lutheran and Calvinistic theology. I was first introduced to it most clearly by Michael Horton's book "Putting Amazing Back into Grace." I had been reading Francis Schaeffer since about 1978 but all the Churches I had attended were Arminian and revivalist in their theology. I could tell there was differences but did not begin to really see the implications until I read Hortons book and regularly imbibed on Modern Reformation and R.C. Sproul's Table Talk magazines. I was also struggling with a particularly grievous sin at the time and about 8 years ago my brother kicked me out of the family business because it was effecting my work. He also took part of my stock away and then hired two of his kids into the business. His salary increased quite significantly and he and his family take most of the money out of the business (he got divorced a few years ago and he just hired his new wife here about 6 months ago also).

I was hired back into the business 4 years ago after having to prove that the particular sin was dealt with and over with. I suffered great loss financially during those 3 and 1/2 years I was not working for the family business. It was also very humiliating to have to beg my mother (who attends a Methodist Church) to get back into the business because my brother and his kids did not want me back. My father had died back in 1993 so my Mother is the primary stock holder still. I had to appeal to her to finally get back in.

During the time I was gone working in various sales jobs I grew in my understanding of Reformation Theology and became somewhat angry about how my situation was handled by my family. I was never actively hostile about my problem when confronted about it- I went and got the help I needed and never denied that it was a problem. In fact, I think I was much to honest and open about it and it came back to haunt me because I told too many people about it and they used it against me. The theological issues are a matter of great concern to me and I am afraid that when my mother dies that my brother will try to oust me from the business again. He keeps me on now though because I am the only one with the expertise to know how to deal with the particular manufacting problems we are having at the Company. I am on the final stages now of the project I have been working on (we made a transition in the manufacting processes) and the Company is about to profit greatly from the work I have done in the last 3 years. However, I am still underneath the foot of my brother and he and his family are benefiting financially about 8 times more than myself and my 5 kids are. He has no business training (he was a teacher by vocation) yet still has CEO benefits. Plus he is functioning on a bad theology. Do you have any suggestions about how I deal with this problem? I have never extensively talked about this with anyone who comes from a Lutheran or Calvinistic perspective. I just joined a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church about 4 months ago but have not told the Pastor my situation yet. The whole situation gets very complicated considering the vastly different theological perspectives my brother and I have. I do not know how to reconcile the situation and it causes much grief to me.
Can someone give me some advice?

My brother is also very aware of the conflicts that are going on between Reformation theologians and Willow Creek Church. He claims they are just jealous of the "success" of Willow Creek and he despises the dissension these Reformation theologians are causing at the Church. He has just recently been willing to talk about these issues with me (when I tried to bring it up in the past he would basically tell me to shut up and just do your job) but it is like walking on egg shells and I have to be very careful about how I approach it.
September 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Yeazel
John has opened up a very private, personal matter to an open Web blog with his message. No one can control where it goes and what happens to it on the Internet at this point, but it is my hope that at least folks who regularly read and contribute to this blog honor this candid confession and keep it close to the source.

I too run into all kinds of people who either regularly attend or have high regard for Willow Creek. As often as not, I try to carefully point out gaps in their theology and have had some success in turning people back to what scripture really has to say in contrast. Still, there will always be those who prefer Hybels' message because the Armenian view of soteriology contains a heavy emphasis on what we can do for God versus what He has already done for us - in other words, works-based theology. It has been the biggest trap for humanity since the inception of the Church; it emerges from a human spirit, totally depraved and corrupt from conception; and it is very difficult to overcome.

Over the years I have found that it tends to be most strongly embraced by those who either run their own businesses or who are solely responsible for their own financial success, such as commissioned sales people, since it fits in so well with the self-made success paradigm so popular nowadays.

My first thought would be a session with the Lutheran pastor, but that's not likely to happen, because it would be difficult to even get the brother to attend...and even if he did it is likely that he would simply walk away even more strongly convinced of his own position (of course, we can't discount what might happen with any "seeds" that might be planted by the Holy Spirit, either). More likely is that it will take some major life-changing event to knock him loose from his smugness and cause him to stumble and think about things differently. It is sad that it has to come to this sometimes, but it seems to be reality.

An additional thought here: Sometimes we like to herald the work of people like Michael Horton because we agree with most of the things he has to say (as Lutheran/Reformed), which of course are already in line with our own beliefs. Here, however, we have an instance where someone has picked up and read one of his publications and it entirely changed the he thinks and feels about Christian theology. Even if it were only for this one instance, it shows that the work being done by men like Horton is worthy of the effort.
September 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGeorge

Thanks for your response. I thought it might not be wise to talk about this on the web but right now I have no alternative. I wanted to get a reformational theological perspective on the situation and this seems to be the place to do it. We have not gotten to the point here where we are watching each others emails but I wouldn't doubt if that would take place in the future if things started progressing towards protecting oneself through legal means. I did not mention many things I could of and was careful about what I said. There is much more to this story that I couldn't say over the internet. I just gave a broad outline. He got my other brother out of here for "moral" reasons also.

All of this gets into how you deal with sin in people's life and how far you are able to go with punishment especially when someone's livelihood is at stake. And if you really are able to meet out punishment when there is a vested interest in you benefiting from your disciplinary measures. During my 3 and 1/2 years away from the business my brother did not once inquire as to how I was doing etc. etc. It was also during that time away where he took a significant portion of my stock away. One would think that before he did that he would see how I was doing and try to invite me back to the company if I was doing better. Ultimately, all discipline is to get us back going to Church regularly so we can regularly repent of our sins with the hope of eventually overcoming them. He never inquired once about my spiritual life because he knew it would cause severe conflict with his way thinking.

My other brother saved the company a significant amount of money before me and my other brother started working for the family business. He is very bitter over the whole situation and is living down in Florida working construction and barely making it today. He is getting too old for the type of construction he has been doing and he has not talked to my brother for five years. He is an unbeliever but does not look very highly on how the situation was handled from a "religious perspective" and I do not blame him. A very confused theology based on our own morality was the main motivating force in how all this was handled. It gets very confusing and I am searching for clear answers.

I take from what you said George that you are from the Chicago area. Is that right? Perhaps we can get together and talk about this further. I need some emotional support here and maybe you know someone who might be able to help me sort this all out. Send me an email to and we can talk further.
September 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Yeazel
Let me make one more inquiry- I made the comment that "all discipline is to get us back going to Church regularly so we can regularly repent of our sins with the hope of eventually overcoming them." That may reveal some confused theological thinking on my part also. It is the Law which causes us to see our sin so there really is no merit in us which causes us to repent. It all is a gift of God. Discipline should give us bigger ears in order to hear the Gospel regularly proclaimed into our lives. It is this which I think is causing the problem here. My brother thinks he has merited more than my other brother and I and therefore deserves the grossly undeserved salary he gets each week. It is pathetic when you analyze it.
September 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Yeazel
Hi John:

I'll keep you in my prayers.

A passage that I always take to heart when dealing with someone that refuses to turn from false doctrine is, Titus 3:10 & 11, " Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned."

The context of this passage deals with a heretic in the early church that refuses to turn from his false doctrine.

Just pray. God will take care of the situation.
September 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLloyd
If your brother is doing what you say he is doing then try to correct him and after that go to his elder board at Willow Creek with it. They have to know at the very least. You probably do not trust WC and I wouldn't either but they at the very least must know of your brother's sins and call him to repent of the way he is taking care of his family. Then it is on them to make sure your brother is in right standing with the church and with God.
September 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterVJ
make sure you share everything with your pastor as well and go to him first - sorry I forgot to mention that in the first post - very important that you do!

I will pray
September 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterVJ
John: One more piece of advice. (I hope that I don't sound like one of Job's friends!)

I will never go into any kind of business with a family member. I have been in sales most of my life, and I have never tried to sell a product or insurance policy to a family member or friend. (Unless they insist.)

I would rather give up feeding my family porterhouse steaks, and instead feed them beans and cactus for dinner, rather than selling a family member something -- and then never hearing the end of it if it doesn't work out.

Also, I never use my church as a place to do business.
September 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLloyd

I am not sure what you meant by "I never use my Church as a place to do business." We make, distribute and stock supplies for the funeral and cemetery industries. The only people who buy our products are funeral homes, cemeteries and concrete burial vault companies. I cannot do business with people in Church.

The business has been in the family since 1892. I am kind of stuck here but I do very much enjoy the project I am working on now, ie., completely changing the way we manufacture our metal products (we invented the casket lowering device) and overhauling the type of accounting we do. We are changing over to a throughput accounting system. Anyways, I mainly brought this up because of the theological battle going on between my brother and I. He is a deeds over creeds guy and I am a the opposite. He goes to an Arminian Church and I go to a confessional Lutheran Church. His theology effects my life more than mine does his at this point because he has authority over me as the primary stock holder. He made decisions about my life which I think is a direct result of his theology. This is the main source of our conflict the way I see it.

He is the one who introduced me to Christ when I was 18 years old but we definitely have traveled down different theological paths- although we did not at one time. I have found out many things about my ancestors past going through this situation with my brother. I am the oddball by transferring over to Reformation theology. It was a direct result of the conflicts in my life and reading various theological viewpoints. Although my Mother was raised in a German Missouri Lutheran Synod Church in Northern Wisconsin (the Peshtigo, Marinette, Menominee area). She told me her Father left the Church because of the "strictness of the denomination at the time." I am not sure how theologically astute they were because she claimed they left because they would not let the kids join the boy scouts or girl scouts. It had something to do with the oaths taken by these groups. It was a form of works righteousness is what I suppose they were arguing about and this probably was not wisely discussed among the congregation.

The business has been both a blessing and a curse. My father was basically a functional alcoholic who did not leave any kind of transition agenda to his three sons before he died. So, we have kind of duked it out amongst ourselves for these past 15 years. My oldest brother who is running this place now has kind of the classic "the only responsible one" type personality. The middle brother who lives in Florida was the rebel maverick and I am the youngest but most avid reader who tries to figure everything out.

It is a nightmare to work amongst your relatives though. And my oldest brother is weaning his son to take over the place which is another source of contention. So, I see your point about working with family members. I am too old to transfer to another form of work now and I am banking on getting out of financial trouble by completing the project I am working on. So, like I said, I am kind of stuck here.

I tried using the heretic approach with him but he kind of just laughed it off. He knows he has authority over me so it really does not effect him. You are right, about the only thing I can do about it is to pray about it and hope that God either changes him through a more clear understanding of the Gospel or gets him out of here.
September 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Yeazel

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