Politically, a measure of peace and stability had come to the Netherlands in 158 1 and it grew until the end of the Eighty Years War in 1648. The seven northern provinces had declared independence from Spain by the Act of Abjuration in 1581 and were united to defend themselves as an independent republic. Religiously, the Reformed Church became the official state religion in the Netherlands. However, not even in the seven provinces, to which Reformed believers from the southern provinces had fled, was the majority of the populace Reformed. But the truth of God’s Word was publicly preached, believed, and even supported by the State. The Reformed church prospered, at least outwardly.
As usual, however, there were enemies within the church. These enemies of the truth would again occasion a bitter struggle for the faith. The second generation of Reformed believers would be called upon to defend their heritage for which their fathers had died. The struggle to maintain the Reformed faith, which is the truth of the gospel of Christ, was long, bitter, and agonizing. For the church was being corrupted by the lie, and the truth denied by colleagues and fellow ministers . . . by the “brethren.” What would the faithful do? They did only what those who love the truth of God’s Word could do? The battle for the faith had to be waged. If one loves the truth he will not allow anyone, not even the “brother,” to suppress it and corrupt it. The love of God’s Word captivates a man and makes him a slave of Christ! Psychologically and spiritually the man who loves the Reformed faith is helpless to do anything but proclaim and defend it. In times of special crisis in the Church God raises up leaders to defend and teach the truth. Among the thousands of foot soldiers in that army of saints who love the truth of God’s Word are found, by God’s grace, outstanding leaders like Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Franciscus Gomarus, Abraham Kuiper, and, if you will forgive me, Herman Hoeksema. Franciscus Gomarus, professor at Leiden and later at the University of Groningen, opposed the teachings of Jacobus Arminius every step of the way till Dordrecht could have her say.
Jacobus Arminius was the enemy within the Reformed church. There were others such as Herman Herbertz, Taco Sybrantz, Cornelius Wiggerts, and the layman Dirk Volkertszoon Coornhert. All these men were forerunners of Arminianism and who only outwardly and not principally had broken with the Semi-Pelagianism of Roman Catholicism. Jacobus Arminius was especially influenced by Coornhert.
In 1560 Jacobus was born and soon lost his father. Consequently he was reared by two stepfathers. He was educated at the Academy of Leiden. Later, he studied under Theodore Beza, the successor of Calvin, in Geneva, where Arminius became very well acquainted with Calvin’s teachings. On August 11, 1588, Arminius was ordained as pastor of the Reformed congregation of Amsterdam. At first things went well. But in 1591 after Arminius had preached on Rom. 7:14ff, Petrus Plancius, a fellow pastor of the congregation, brought charges of heresy to the consistory against Arminius. Jacobus Arminius had taught that Paul in this passage (“. . . to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not”) was not speaking of himself as regenerated but of himself while yet unregenerate and apart from God’s grace in Christ. Plancius rightly recognized in Arminius’ teaching Pelagianism and free-willism. Arminius later, when preaching on Romans 13, expressed his opposition to the Reformed view of church government and implicitly taught Erastianism, i.e., he gave to the State government more authority in ecclesiastical matters than the Reformed would grant.¹
In 1603 Arminius was called to serve as professor by the curators of the University of Leiden. Johannes Uitenbogaart, former fellow student and friend of Arminius and ardent supporter, had gained this call to professorship for Arminius. The Deputies of the church opposed this nomination of Arminius but were helpless to stop the appointment, since the State and the curators ruled the University. But Arminius was not appointed until after he promised to teach nothing but what was in harmony with the Confession and Catechism of the Church. Franciscus Gomarus, who at this time was the lone professor at Leiden because of the untimely death of the other two professors, also opposed Arminius’ appointment, for Gomarus was well aware of the appointee’s unbiblical teachings and had often in the past opposed Arminius and his teachings. However, Jacobus Arminius was not going to allow anyone to deny him this golden opportunity to teach aspiring ministers his views and. thereby rapidly spread them throughout the Reformed church of the Netherlands. Thus, through subtlety, deceit, and a worthless promise to teach nothing but what was in harmony with the creeds, Arminius was installed as professor at Leiden.
It was not long before Arminius revealed his rebellious attitude toward the authority of the Creeds. He was a subjectivist. Or rather, he was a law unto himself. When publicly interpreting God’s Word he refused to be bound by what the church confessed in her Creeds. Instead of quietly bringing his differences with the Creeds to the proper authorities in the church as was his right and duty, he publicly contradicted and opposed the Reformed faith. At first, Arminius secretly taught his heretical views to an inner circle of students in his home. Later, he publicly attacked the doctrine of predestination. On February 7, 1604, Arminius taught his students that “Predestination is a decree of the good pleasure of God in Christ, through which God of himself from eternity had decided that, believers, whom he intended to endow with faith, he would justify and take to himself as children, and would grant to them eternal life to the praise of his grace.” “The rejection or reprobation is a decision of God’s wrath, of the severe will of God, through which God from eternity had intended that, the unbeliever, who through his own guilt and the righteous judgment of God would not believe; as one who stands outside the fellowship of Christ, to refer them to eternal death, in order to reveal His wrath and power.”² (translation from the Holland by M.K.) Gomarus and others saw in these carefully and subtly worded statements conditional election and reprobation. God elects those who would believe and God reprobates those who would not believe was the teaching of Arminius. Predestination in its effect would then come after the fact of faith or unbelief. The decisive decision in salvation is not God’s, then, but man’s. Gomarus wrote against these unbiblical views of his colleague. Many conferences had been held between Arminius and his followers and representatives of the Reformed Church. New conferences were held; but nothing conclusive could be gained, because of the subtleties and deceit of the enemy of the truth, Jacobus Arminius. The Devil is wily, and so are his spiritual children. Jacobus Arminius would not come clean. As often as he was begged to be forthright in the expression of his views, he resorted to deceit.
After Arminius died in 1609 at the age of forty-nine, forty-two of his followers secretly held a conference: at Gouda on January 14, 1610. Here was drawn up the five Articles of the Remonstrance. In these five articles is to be found, under a lot of Reformed-sounding expressions, the Arminian ideas of conditional predestination, the free-will of man, universal atonement, man’s ability to resist the operation of God’s grace, and the notion that one can fall from the state of grace and perish. These articles were through Uitenbogaart, brought to the attention of the States of Holland for its approval and support. The States of Holland comprised two of the seven provinces of the Republic, these were South and North Holland. Jan Van Oldenbarnevelt, who was the leading statesman of the States of Holland, accepted these Articles of the Remonstrants (Arminians) and gave his considerable support to the Arminian party. In March of 1611 the Reformed leaders countered with the Articles of the Counter-Remonstrants. These were drawn up by Petrus Plancius, F. Hommius, and others.
The Church as a whole longed to put an end to this controversy by calling a National Synod and allowing the Church to speak. But the Arminians did not want a Synod to meet; nor did Oldenbarnevelt.
The Reformed church had a problem. It was this. Each province had its own separate government; but the seven provinces of the Republic met in a States-General to decide matters that pertained to the Republic as a whole. No National Synod could be convened without the permission and cooperation of each province in the States-General. Every time the church would attempt to convene a National Synod to deal with this controversy in a decisive way, Oldenbarnevelt would lead the States Holland to reject the request.
By 1611 the controversy was raging throughout the Netherlands. The church was no longer united. At least two hundred ministers were addicted to Arminianism. The precious truth of the Reformed faith was corrupted and denied. The battle raged on. Provincial Synods spoke out but with little or no effect.
Especially in the States Holland was the struggle for the truth bitter. The Arminians were ardently supported by Oldenbarnevelt, political leader of these provinces. Reformed ministers. were suspended from office by order of the provincial government. Reformed believers, however, remained faithful to these oppressed ministers and consequently separate churches over against Arminian congregations were organized. These small and despised congregations of Reformed believers met in one another’s houses or in barns and called themselves the “Gereformeerde Kerken in doleantie.” Many of these “doleerende kerken” were organized in the States of Holland. In Rotterdam laws were passed forbidding the assembling of these doleerende congregations. Those persons who opened their homes to hold these Reformed worship services were heavily fined, lost right of citizenship, and were sometimes deported. The houses, barns, ships wherein the Reformed had gathered were confiscated. At a conference these doleerende churches in 1617 adopted an “Act of Separation” wherein was set forth their separation from the Remonstrant or Arminian churches.
Oldenbarnevelt attempted to force submission to the “sharp resolutions” of the States Holland and to the States supposed authority in these ecclesiastical matters. The threat of civil war lingered in the land as Franciscus Gomarus had warned it would. Oldenbarnevelt inquired of the Stadhouder, Prince Maurice, if the military would support him in this struggle against the Reformed doleerende congregations. But Maurice had already in 1615 openly thrown his support with these hated doleerende congregations by openly worshipping with them.
After Prince Maurice, son of William of Orange, had openly supported the doleerende congregations of Reformed believers, the majority of the cities of the States Holland withdrew their support from Oldenbarnevelt and gave to Prince Maurice on Aug. 28, 1618, the power to do what he thought best to attain the rest and well-being of the provinces.4 Wellnigh dictatorial power was given to Prince Maurice.
The next day the Prince imprisoned Oldenbarnevelt and others who had opposed the calling of a National Synod. The power of the union of the Remonstrants (Arminians) and the Oldenbarnevelt government was broken. A National Synod was called and convened on November 13, 1618.
No National Synod had met for thirty-two years prior to the Synod of Dordrecht in 1618 and no National Synod would meet again for another two hundred years. This great Synod which met in the city of Dordrecht was God’s instrument through which the Reformed church of the Netherlands gave to us the confession of her heart, which she had been taught by the Spirit of Christ. In the love of the truth she composed the beautiful Canons wherein is set forth clearly and faithfully doctrines of Scripture concerning sovereign irresistible grace, particular atonement, the depravity of the fallen sinner, unconditional predestination, and the perseverance of the saints. At Dordrecht Arminianism was condemned and the Word of God confessed by the Church which had gained and maintained the truth only through suffering, bloodshed, and death.
The Canons of Dordrecht are a beautiful heritage and they occasion for us a weighty responsibility, for they embody what the Spirit of God testified to our believing fathers concerning the Christ, Who has redeemed His own and infallibly draws them unto salvation.
Let us by God’s grace hold fast to the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
Remember brethren: no generation can expect its children to stand for the truth of God’s Word, for which they themselves were not willing to suffer whatever may be required of them.
“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.”Philippians 1:29
¹ Bouwman, Dr. H.; De Dordtsche Synode Van 1618-1619, Published by the Gereformeerde Traktaatgenootschap, 1918; p. 11
² Ibid., p. 13
³ Ibid., p. 23
4 Ibid., p. 31