Any veteran reader of our magazine knows that down through the years, even preceding my editorship, theStandard Bearer has repeatedly warned that those who oppose the Reformed doctrine of reprobation really do not want the Reformed doctrine of election, that it is a favorite stratagem of the opponents of sovereign election to attack this doctrine by attacking sovereign reprobation, and that, in fact, it is a reliable test of one’s commitment to the Reformed doctrine of election to inquire unto his commitment to the Reformed doctrine of reprobation.
In our times this is an important subject. For everywhere today the Reformed doctrine of reprobation is being attacked and denied. And, as anyone acquainted with current ecclesiastical events will know, from the pen of Dr. Harry Boer there is a gravamen pending before the Christian Reformed Church against the doctrine of reprobation as set forth in Canons I, 6 and 15. It is a legitimate question whether this same Harry Boer really believes the Reformed doctrine of election as set forth in the same Canons. And it is also a legitimate question for the Christian Reformed Church to ask itself whether, if it honors Harry Boer’s gravamen three years from now, it will be able to maintain at all the doctrine of sovereign election.
No, it is not our intention to discuss these issues at this time. Perhaps that will come at a later date.
But we want to call attention to a lesson from history which confirms our contention mentioned in the first paragraph of this editorial. It is a lesson from history which comes straight from the Synod of Dordrecht, a lesson which is, therefore, all the more valuable.
Recently I was doing a bit of research in a very fascinating volume, the Acts of the National Synod of Dordrecht, a large volume of some 950 pages which contains a very detailed account of the entire Great Synod. It is the kind of volume which, when you are consulting it for data on a certain item, you cannot put aside, but continue to page through and read because your eye falls on all kinds of other interesting things. Ministers and theological students who. can read Dutch would do well to obtain this volume and read it.
But to return to the subject, as I was doing some research, my eye fell on an interesting account. You see, at the Synod the indicted Arminians, headed by Simon Episcopius, were required to submit in writing their opinions concerning the five articles of doctrine on which they were accused of holding heretical views. Although they delayed long, the Arminians finally presented to the Synod at the thirty-first session, December 13, 1618, their opinions concerning the first article, concerning divine predestination. In another of their many delaying tactics, however, they had failed to submit their views on the remaining four articles. Furthermore, in their ten paragraphs about the first article, the Arminians had gone out of their way to make statements about reprobation which were designed to put the Reformed view in a bad light, and thus to disparage the whole Reformed view of predestination. In no fewer than six of the ten paragraphs they made references to absolute reprobation; and more than one of these paragraphs referred to reprobation exclusively.
What happened at the thirty-second session on Friday morning, December 14?
First of all, the Arminians were ordered to submit in writing their opinions on the four remaining articles, and to do so by the following Monday. Secondly, they were admonished to state their views positively, rather than negatively; that is, they were told to state what they believed, rather than what they did not hold, so that their views could better be judged. And if they wanted to present also their rejection of opposite views, they could add that separately.
And then there follows this significant note: “The president (Johannes Bogerman, HCH) also admonished them that they should confine themselves rather to the questions concerning the comforting truth of election, instead of hatefully dragging in and discussing the doctrine of reprobation. They answered that they would heed the president’s admonition.”
At the thirty-fourth session the Arminians presented their opinions concerning the remaining four articles. But to this they added a lengthy statement as to why they wanted to present their negative opinions. And to this they appended again a lengthy statement containing seven alleged reasons, along with several paragraphs of explanation, as to why they wanted to declare their opinions concerning reprobation. In this section they stated, among other things, that the reason why they wanted to state their views on reprobation was “Because the difficulties and doubts which trouble the Remonstrants and their Churches are especially concerning reprobation.” That was not true, of course. The fundamental question was whether there was an absolute decree of election, in other words, whether election was conditional or unconditional.
And again, the Arminians state: “We acknowledge with the honorable president that the doctrine of election is lovely and comforting, and that of reprobation unpleasant; but we consider that the consolations which are drawn from absolute and unconditional election are full of dangers, and (if we have insight into them according to their nature) provide men an occasion for sinning; and the opposite doctrine of absolute reprobation is hateful with reason, for it is full of despair and stand opposed to the justice of God.”
You see, there is nothing new in history.
The Arminians saw that the easiest method of attacking sovereign election was to attack the Reformed doctrine of reprobation.
Our fathers of Dordrecht saw that this was the strategy of the Arminians and that the real issue was the Arminians’ denial of unconditional and absolute election.
Therefore they admonished them: tell us your views of election positively. Don’t hatefully drag in the doctrine of reprobation.
Let us learn the lesson. The man who hates the Reformed doctrine of reprobation and calls it unbiblical, un-Reformed, and un-Christian really is, opposed to the Reformed doctrine of absolute and unconditional election.
Don’t be deceived!