*Translated and edited by Prof. Douglas Kuiper and Dr. H. David Schuringa.
Balthasar Lydius was a Reformed minister in Dordrecht from 1602-1629, and was delegated by the Synod of South Holland to attend the great synod. As the local pastor, two honors fell to him on November 13, 1618: that of preaching a Dutch sermon in the morning before the Synod opened, and that of opening the first session of the Synod with prayer. He prayed in Latin. A partial English translation of the prayer has been available for centuries, but it is based on the memory of some in the audience. The new translation that follows is based on the Dutch translation of the prayer in the Acts of the Synod of Dordt.
The prayer is ornate. It breathes the language of Scripture. Its long sentences include many subordinate phrases and clauses. As is the Dutch custom, in these long sentences the subject is near the beginning and the verb at the end. This translation divides the long sentences into shorter ones so that the English reader today can better understand the prayer.
Prayer at the opening session of the synod
Almighty, eternal God, Fountain of all wisdom, goodness and mercy, compassionate Father in Christ! We pray that Thou wilt open our lips so that our mouth may declare Thy praise.
We are unworthy of all Thy mercies which Thou hast bountifully bestowed upon the work and workmanship of Thy hands. Not only hast Thou created us according to Thy image, but also, when we through sin had become by nature the children of wrath, Thou didst recreate us according to Thy image. Since we already are indebted to Thee because Thou hast created us, how much more do we owe because Thou hast also freely redeemed us?
It is great and marvelous that man was made in Thy image. How much greater it is that He who thought it not robbery to be equal with God made Himself of no reputation, took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in our likeness, who of God was made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption!
Also with these benefits Thou wast not satisfied. We were a people dwelling in the darkness and shadow of death, without hope of salvation, cast off in the unworthiness of our souls, for whom an unknown treasure would be of no use. But Thou hast enlightened us by the revelation of the Sun of righteousness and truth! Without this, we would have perished everlastingly in these errors, not knowing what way we must walk.
The enemy of mankind sowed tares among the wheat while men slept. This darkness gradually gained the upper hand. Yet through the light of the Reformation Thou hast delivered us from a greater darkness than that of Egypt. In these places Thou hast planted Thy vine, whose shadow has covered the mountains and whose branches are the cedars of God.
The enemy of the human race, that great red dragon, begrudged us this blessed state. He spewed water from his mouth like a torrent to sweep us away as with a flood. He raised high the stakes, provoking horrible wars against Thy turtledove. Thy enemies were out to devour Thy congregation in these provinces. But Thou hast delivered our soul from the snare of the fowler, so that even men in the Netherlands of shield and spear were left speechless. Thou hast ordained new weapons and hast become a wall of fire round about the cities. Thou Thyself hast taken possession of the gates of the enemy, that her gates be lifted up, that the King of glory might enter in.
Going forth with our forces, Thou didst instruct the hands of the Illustrious Prince of Orange to do battle. Taking him by the hand, Thou hast broken the bars of the gates of the enemy and hast granted peace to our lands. Thou hast made us fat with the finest of the wheat and crowned us with Thy lovingkindness. Thy footsteps dripped with fatness. The chief of Thy temporal benefits toward us is this, that when the affairs were the weightiest and the storms were the highest, Thou, our Exalted Lord, hast given the rulers a pliable heart to direct Thy people (over which Thou hast appointed them) with wisdom, and especially to judge between good and evil. Thou hast inspired them with sound counsel. Thou hast wonderfully blessed and made them as anointed children of honor, who would stand with the governor of the whole land.
For these benefits, Thou hast expected lovely grapes from Thy vine, but, behold, it has brought forth wild grapes! Thou hast exalted Thy people, and they have despised Thee! Therefore, Thou hast not withheld from us what we deserved. Thou art become as a visitor in the land, as a stranger who remains therein only overnight; as a man of valor who is defeated, and as a strong man who cannot help. Thou hast confounded our lips! The end of the foreign war has almost become the beginning of the internal one. In peacetime the bitterness of Thy Bride has become exceedingly bitter.
Thou hast laid the ax to the tree root, in order to cut down the unfruitful fig tree. Thy inheritance has become like a wounded lion and has roared against Thee. Many shepherds have destroyed Thy vineyard, trodden Thy portion under foot, and made Thy pleasant portion a wilderness, desolate and empty. Nowhere have the comings and goings been peaceful, but exceedingly troubled by rumors of war. This, because we did not heed Thy warnings, O Lord! One people would rise up against the other, one city against another, for Thou hast afflicted them with every misery.
But in Thy wrath Thou hast been mindful of Thy mercies. Thou hast inclined the hearts of the rulers of our fatherland, consuming them with zeal for Thy house so that they have earnestly sought that which serves the peace of Jerusalem.
To this end have they summoned this National Synod in order to inquire at the mouth of the Lord regarding the quarrels that have been stirred up, and in order that Thy law would be a light to disperse the fog of errors. Nevertheless, as everything depends on Thy blessing, O Lord, we pray that Thou wilt preside at this National Synod with Thy Holy Spirit, with the Spirit of truth and of peace. We pray this according to Thy promise, “Where two or three are gathered in my Name, there I will be in the midst of them.”
The Holy Scripture must be interpreted by that same Spirit by which it was inspired, and cannot be understood except by pure minds. Therefore, we pray that Thou wilt first cleanse our intentions, then illumine us so that we may indeed understand Thy holy Word and handle it diligently. Grant, O God, that through the Scripture we may mislead no one nor be misled, but that in it we may seek and find the truth. Having discovered the truth, may we defend it with steadfast faith.
Sanctify us in Thy truth. Grant that we might exalt Thee with one mouth. Permit no divisions among us, but rather grant that we be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another. Rather, let us endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Cause us always to remember that to an extent strife is much better for us who are united with God, than peace which separates us from God. Cause us to remember that truth and peace are two friends and twin sisters, so that peace shall not come to us if we do not cherish truth, her sister.
Grant that we, having set aside perverse errors, might consider the matters laid before us, not with sharp subtleties, but by weighing the certainty of the matters themselves, washing away the bitter stain of slander at the river of true reasoning.
Grant those who are wandering to be brought back to the right path. Give them to be not obstinate. Cause them to remember that ignorance, when recognized, is the highest wisdom; that the truth can be that which seems unbelievable to man, and the lie that which seems plausible; and that the greatest victory is to triumph over error exposed.
Since Thou hast commanded us to pray for kings and princes, and for all who are placed in authority, we pray, among others, for those governments whose theological professors are present in this solemn ecclesiastical assembly, as well as for those who are yet expected; and for his royal majesty of Great Britain, James I, who is a courageous and conscientious protector of the true faith. [Lydius prays for other dignitaries as well, including the Prince of Orange and Dutch authorities.] Grant that each and every one of them might serve Thee with reverence and rejoice with trembling. Confirm their scepter and secure their throne in ever-increasing measure, that they might remain faithful, nurturing fathers of Thy church in these regions.
Bless also the citizens of this city. Grant that they seek above all the kingdom of God and His righteousness. According to Thy lovingkindness, provide them that of which they stand in need. Finally, grant that we all together in this assembly may be dedicated to produce what is pleasing to Thee, to the honor of Thy holy name, the preservation of the truth, and divine blessing for the church and the republic. Amen.
1 Fred van Lieburg, “The Participants at the Synod of Dordt,” in Acta et Documenta Synodi Nationalis Dordrechtanae, Vol. 1: Acta of the Synod of Dordt, ed. Donald Sinnema, Christian Moser, and Herman J. Selderhuis (Gottingen, Germany: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2015), XCII.
2 Gerard Brandt, The History of the Reformation in and About the Low Countries (London: T. Wood, 1722), 3:8.
3 Acta of Handelingen der Nationale Synod te Dordrecht (Kampen: J. H. Bos, n.d.), 2-4.
4 This translation omits one section of the prayer. The complete prayer with footnoted Scripture references will be published in the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, and later put online at www.dordt400.org.
5 Lydius refers to Prince Maurice who, in July 1617, openly sided with the Counter-Remonstrant cause against Oldenbarnevelt. Oldenbarnevelt was virtually the Prime Minister of the Netherlands (although that was not his official title) and had favored the Arminians.
6 Following his review of the Reformation and victory following the brutal wars with Spain, Lydius now transitions to the Remonstrant controversy at hand.
7 In 1609, the Netherlands and Spain had declared a truce in the Eighty Year war, which truce lasted 12 years. During this truce, the Arminian controversy was at its height, and the country came close to civil war.