In addition to Biblical data we should note what the Canons of Dort have to say. The question for Berkhof is the design of the atonement as such. To this detached question the Canons do not speak. They speak of the design of the atonement as far as its "saving efficacy" is concerned. The relevant statement (from II-8) is as follows: "For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation; that is, it was the will of God that Christ by the blood of the cross . . . should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation and language . . . all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given Him by the Father; that He should confer upon them faith, which, together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, He purchased for them by His death.

"Limited atonement" as taught by the Canons is not precisely the same, it seems, as that taught by Berkhof. Dort did not deal with the design of the atonement in general, as Berkhof does. It dealt rather with the design of the atonement in specific connection with the efficacious application of saving grace. Contrary to the Arminians who taught that the atonement was intended to apply enabling grace to all men, Dort insisted that the atonement in no sense was intended to effectuate saving grace for all men. The key phrases in the above excerpt from the Canons are "saving efficacy," "justifying faith" and "effectually redeem." But Berkhof deals with the design of the atonement in a broader sense and it seems clear that the Canons of Dort do not demand adherence to the doctrine of limited atonement in exactly the way he sets forth.

Limited atonement as construed by Berkhof is apparently more a logical inference from the doctrine of election than a Biblically demonstrable doctrine. If any doctrine of limited atonement is allowed to stand as mere logical inference, without compelling Biblical evidence, it must be recognized that by equally logical inference from the doctrine of election one may hold that God loves not all men but only some, and that God’s sincere offer of the gospel is not for all but for a limited number. We must accept the paradoxes of Scripture wherever we find them, not merely where they suit our dogmatical predilections. 

Harold Dekker, “God So Loved–All men!” Reformed Journal 12 (December 1962), 6-7.

Credit to Tony for the find.

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