I don’t always accomplish what I set out to do. Sometimes that is tied to a failure to plan, or a failure to have a good plan. That is, I might have a plan, but it is too generic and does not focus on what really needs to happen. A good plan has specificity to it. The Canons of Dort, and the Second Main Point in particular, highlight that God has a specific plan and that this is a good plan that works!
God’s Plan: Saving People from All Nations
God’s plan is to save sinners from all peoples, nations, tribes, and tongues in this world. The plan begins in Genesis 3:15 when God says He will destroy the work of Satan, and ends in the book of Revelation when we see all the peoples, nations, tribes, and tongues worshipping God. God speaks of this plan to Abraham in Genesis 12, as he says that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through his descendant, who we see is Jesus Christ. The eighth article of the Second Main Point speaks about the plan this way:
“For it was the entirely free plan and very gracious will and intention of God the Father that the enlivening and saving effectiveness of his Son’s costly death should work itself out in all the elect, in order that God might grant justifying faith to them only and thereby lead them without fail to salvation. In other words, it was God’s will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to him by the Father; that Christ should grant them faith (which, like the Holy Spirit’s other saving gifts, he acquired for them by his death). It was also God’s will that Christ should cleanse them by his blood from all their sins, both original and actual, whether committed before or after their coming to faith; that he should faithfully preserve them to the very end; and that he should finally present them to himself, a glorious people, without spot or wrinkle.”
I realize those words are dense, so I will try to restate it in my own words. God decides to save people and He does that by sending Jesus to die for their sins, both the sins that they commit before and after they believe in Him. Christ secures their salvation, but that is not the end of the story, as God works faith in them so that they believe and keeps them to the end so that they are presented before God as holy. The next two points of Dort focus on how God draws and keeps them, but their inclusion here is a reminder of how the points are interconnected.
In focusing on the plan of God, though, we need to remember that it comes from God’s love, as the ninth article notes states that the plan arises “out of God’s eternal love for the elect.” Grounded in love, it is also effective because “from the beginning of the world to the present time [the plan] has been powerfully carried out and will also be carried out in the future, the gates of hell seeking vainly to prevail against it. As a result, the elect are gathered into one, all in their own time, and there is always a church of believers founded on Christ’s blood, a church which steadfastly loves, persistently worships, and here and in all eternity praises him as her Savior who laid down his life for her on the cross, as a bridegroom for his bride.” This plan gives us confidence that God will carry this out, and while there might not be a church in every nation today, we know that the church at the end of time will include people from all nations.
Thinking about the “Whole World”
Because the church includes people from all nations, we are able to say that Christ died for the sins of the world (see for example John 1:29, 36; 4:42); it is not the whole world without exception as much as all the world without distinction. For example, when John writes in 1 John 2:2 that “Jesus is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world,” the emphasis seems to be that Jesus did not just die for my sins (or for people like me), but that this is something that draws people from all parts of the world. As Michael Horton points out on p. 102 of Putting Amazing Back into Grace (2d ed; Grand Rapids, Baker, 2002), “one of the most shocking and divisive doctrines of early Christianity was the universality of God’s plan, that it was not limited to one ethnic group [Israel].” This statement thus seems to address this remarkable truth. In addition, if Jesus died for the sins of each and every person who ever lived, then everyone would be saved since he would have even died for the sin of unbelief (also, if he is the propitiation for all people, then God has no wrath on people and no one would remain unsaved). As Article 3 of the Second Main Point states, Jesus’s death was sufficient enough to save every single person, but the intent of it was to save those whom God would call and in Him the Spirit would produce faith. As Matthew 1:21 notes, Jesus saves his people from their sins (see also 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2; Ephesians 1:4). Therefore, it seems better to think of Jesus’s death for the world without distinction rather than without exception.
In order for this plan to be effective and have a guarantee for it to work, God’s plan had to have a certain specificity to it. God did not just send Jesus to die for people, but to save His church and has a plan to build His church. God did not send Christ to die in hopes that someone may be saved, but rather that those whom he had chosen would be saved — there is an intentionality and particularity in God’s plan of redemption. This is something the Remonstrants seem to have taught, but the Canons of Dort reject this view in the rejection of errors that follow this point, noting that Jesus says that he lays down his life for his sheep. When he died, Jesus had in mind those sinners whom God had chosen to save.
Our Response to God’s Plan
The fact that God has a plan should give us confidence that He will achieve it. No matter how bad things may look here on earth, we know that God is at work and has a plan that He is working out. May that lead us to worship Him confidently and joyfully, as we are called to love and worship now. Jesus died for my sins to make me holy and to make me worship the God who saved me.
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