Herman Bavinck on the Death of Christ

Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), perhaps the preeminent theologian of the Dutch Reformed tradition, had a sharp and pastoral understanding of the saving power and sufficiency of the death of Christ. In his own words:

“If Jesus is truly the Savior, he must also really save his people, not potentially but really and in fact, completely and eternally. And this, actually, constitutes the core difference between the proponents and the opponents of particular satisfaction (atonement). This difference is defined incorrectly or at least far from completely when one formulates it exclusively in the question whether Christ died and made satisfaction for all humans or only for the elect. Neither is this how the difference is treated and settled in the second chapter of the Canons of Dort.

“The real issue concerned the valueand power of Christ’s sacrifice, the nature of the work of salvation. To save,said the Reformed, is to save truly, wholly, for all eternity. This flowsnaturally from the love of the Father and the grace of the Son. Those whom Godloves and for whom Christ made satisfaction are saved without fail.

“We have to make a choice: either Godloved all people and Christ made satisfaction for all–and then they will all,without fail, be saved–or Scripture and experience testify that this is not thecase. In that case, then, neither can and may we say that God loved all people,at least not with that special love with which He leads the elect to salvation,nor that Christ died and made satisfaction for all, even if his deathindirectly produces some benefits for all. And so they arrived at theconfession:[1]

‘For this was the sovereign counseland most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening andsaving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all theelect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby tobring them infallibly to salvation; in otherwords, it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby heconfirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people,tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternitychosen to salvation and given to Him by the Father.’”[2]


[1]Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006),3:467.

[2] Canons of Dort, II.8.

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