Historical Foreword Addressed to the Reformed Churches of Christ (In which the origin and progress of the differences in the Netherlands, for the removal of which this Synod was chiefly convened, are briefly and faithfully recounted).
(Editorial note. At our recent annual Staff meeting it was decided to add to our Standard Bearer a department which will feature translations of worthwhile writings in the Dutch language. Prof. Hanko and I were appointed to make arrangements for this department There are many worthwhile writings in the Dutch language which are not available to the vast majority of our readers for the simple reason that they do not understand and cannot read the language of our forefathers. These writings are not only in the area of doctrine and exposition of Scripture but also in such areas as church history, church government, and pastoral care. There are writings not only by our own earlier leaders but also by great Dutch theologians of the past.
The first feature of this department will be a translation of a history of the Arminian controversy prior to the Synod of Dordrecht. This historical account, which appears in the Acts of the Synod of Dordrecht, is worthwhile for two reasons: 1) It is a very careful and detailed account, written by men who had firsthand knowledge of the controversy. 2) It shows to what lengths the Arminians, for a long time aided and abetted by the government, went in order to maintain themselves in the churches. This history was written by the delegates from the Province of South Holland at the behest of the Synod of Dordrecht. Among those delegates was Festus Hommius, one of the clerks of the Synod. While this historical account is ascribed to no single delegate, it is safe to say that Festus Hommius, both because of his ability and because of his firsthand knowledge of the history, must have played a large part in the preparation of this account.
Once in a while the reader will tend to become discouraged by some of the long, involved sentences. When this happens, please remember that prior to translation many of the sentences were much more involved and were as much as three times as long. You will simply have to blame the Dutch literary style of that era. If you persevere, you will find this bit of history very interesting. HCH)
Two summers ago there was published the opinion of the Honorable Synod of Dordrecht concerning some main points of doctrine about which, until the time of the Synod, there was disagreement among the Netherlands Churches, a disagreement which greatly disturbed the churches. This opinion of the Synod was contained in certain Canons, or Articles. When the most illustrious Synod was convened by the States-General, the supreme authority of the United Provinces, mainly for the purpose of removing these religious differences, it was first thought that it would be sufficient merely to publish the judgment of the Synod concerning those doctrinal differences. Later, however, it was found that there were many who refused to learn from the Synodical Proceedings themselves everything that took place in addition to the adoption of the Canons, and especially how the Synod dealt with the Ministers who are called Remonstrants. And seeing that the Remonstrants themselves, in order to hide their stiff-neckedness, will surely not publish anything trustworthy concerning these matters, therefore it pleased the States General that the Acts and Proceedings of the Synod, faithfully reproduced from the public Documents, should be printed for the benefit of the churches. Among these Acts and Proceedings there appear very many items which belong to the history of the affairs which took place in the Netherlands Churches, things which cannot very well be understood by readers who are unacquainted with that history. For this reason the National Synod (as is evident in various sessions) appointed the Delegates of the South Holland Churches to write a brief account of what was done with the Remonstrants. Hence, it was thought good to place at the beginning of this Foreword an account of certain public events, in order that the Churches, especially the foreign churches, may understand the origin and the progress of these differences, and may understand the occasion and the reasons for the convening of this very excellent Synod by the States- General at such great expense. This is especially necessary because many things were claimed by the Remonstrants in their writings which do not very well harmonize with the truth of events.
What great unity there was during the preceding century among the Congregations of the United Netherlands Churches in all points of the pure doctrine, and what good order and decency was always maintained in the government of those churches—these things are so well known in Christendom that it is hardly necessary to recount them at length. This peace and unity, lovely in the sight of God and pleasing to .all the godly, some sought to disturb. These were men who, having forsaken the papacy, but not having been fully purged of the leaven of the papacy, had come over to our churches and had been admitted to the ministry during the early period when there was a scarcity of preachers. These men, characterized by unbridled audacity, were: Casper Coolhaas, of Leiden; Hermannus Herbertz, at Dordrecht and at Gouda; and Cornelius Wiggers at Hoorn. However, they did not meet with great success. For although in the aforementioned places these men gained some followers who were not too well posted in the Reformed religion, nevertheless their wicked audacity was in due time suppressed by the authority of the Government as well as by the carefulness of the Ministers and the appropriate censures of the churches. Coolhaas was dealt with in the National Synod of Middelburg; Herbertz in the Synod of South Holland; and Wiggers in the Synod of North Holland.
Thereafter Jacobus Arminius, Preacher in the famous church of Amsterdam, attempted the same thing with bold purpose. He was indeed a man of keen understanding, but a man who never delighted in anything except that which recommended itself by an appearance of novelty—even so, that he appeared to be nauseated by the greater portion of the doctrines accepted in the Reformed Churches, and for no other reason than that they were accepted by the churches. This man first prepared the way for his cause, openly and in secret, by belittling and blackening the name, fame, and authority of the most outstanding teachers of the Reformed Church—Calvin, Zanchius, Beza, Martyr, and others—aiming to achieve respect for himself at the expense of their good name. Thereafter he began openly to propose and to spread abroad various strange views, views which had great fellowship with the errors of the old Pelagians, especially in his explanation of the Epistle to the Romans. But through the carefulness and authority of the Honorable Consistory of the Church of Amsterdam his intention was partially frustrated, so that he could not bring about in the church such upheavals as he apparently intended. Nevertheless he did not cease promulgating his opinions in every possible manner both among the Preachers in his own church and among various Preachers of other Churches, namely, Johannes Uitenbogaard, Adrianus Van den Borre, and others, whose friendship and favor he enjoyed because of their former studies together. He even called into conference with regard to his views the very renowned Professor of Sacred Theology in the college at Leiden, Franciscus Junius.
When now, in the second year of this century, Doctor Junius was taken away from the Academy of Leiden by death, August 22, 1602, to the great sorrow of the Netherlands Churches, then Uitenbogaard, who already at that time supported the views of Arminius, with great diligence and earnestness recommended him to the honorable Curators of the Academy of Leiden, with the purpose that he should be called to the office of Sacred Theology in the place of Junius. When the Deputies of the churches understood this, they feared that the calling of a person so strongly suspected of strange doctrines would readily become the cause of confusion and schism in the churches; and they pleaded with the honorable Curators that they would not thoughtlessly subject the churches to this danger. They would much rather see another capable person, free from this suspicion, accepted by the Curators. They also admonished Uitenbogaard to withdraw his recommendation. He, despising these admonitions, did not desist from promoting this call until he finally had gained his purpose. When the call was issued, the Consistory of Amsterdam did not approve the dismissal of Arminius. They refused this dismissal chiefly for the reason that the most prudent among them considered that a mind which was so skittish and so inquisitive would function with great danger in the Academy, where the youth accepted for the service of the churches are instructed. For in the Academy there is more freedom of teaching than in the local churches, where that freedom, through the diligent oversight and authority of the Consistory, is suppressed and can be held in check. Nevertheless, the dismissal of Arminius was finally gained through the repeated and numerous requests of the Curators, of Uitenbogaard, and also of Arminius himself, but with this condition, that he should first have a conference with Doctor Franciscus Gomarus concerning the chief points of doctrine. He was also required to clear himself of all suspicion of strange views by a forthright declaration of his views, and to promise firmly that he would never spread abroad his views if he possibly had any peculiar view. This conference was conducted in the presence of the honorable Curators and of the Deputies of the Synod on May 6 and 7, 1603. In that conference he testified that he expressly rejected the chief points of doctrine of the Pelagians: concerning natural grace, concerning the powers of the free will, concerning original sin, concerning the perfection of man in this life, concerning predestination, and others. He testified also that he agreed with all that which Augustine and other Fathers had written against the Pelagians, yea, that he judged that the Pelagian errors were rightly refuted and rejected by the fathers. Moreover, he promised at the same time that he would teach nothing which conflicted with the adopted doctrine of the churches. Thereafter he was admitted to the office of Theology.