As was stated, Wtenbogaert well realized what fate awaited him as his party should the struggle between Arminians and Calvinists end in a Calvinist triumph. Wtenbogaert therefore called also his party to arms. As we have seen, his first move was to arrange a meeting of the leading spirits of his party—a party the members of which came to be known as “The Remonstrants.” As was seen, too, it was decided to give to the Concept-Act that Wtenbogaert had prepared and with which he had come to the meeting, the form of a “remonstration,” and to place this document—The Five Articles of the Remonstrants—in the hands of the Counsel of the States of Holland.
In the last part of my previous article we were occupied with the introduction of this famous writing. We took notice of the complaint of the subscribers that it voices, namely that they were being falsely accused. We appraised this complaint in the light of the facts and found it to be groundless.
Regard may now be had to the second part of the introduction. It reads, and I translate:
“The undersigned do have a few considerations bearing on the Confessions, which they are also prepared to reveal, but they have need of stating first of all that they seek no change in religion (of this they were accused—O). They do desire revision or summarization (of the Confessions—O), but if according to the judgment of their noble lords (meaning the government—O) a national synod at this time cannot be held or if for other reasons they desire a postponement of revision or summarization, that then by virtue of that resolution (to postpone revision—a resolution) that is Christian, praiseworthy and agreeable to the Word of God, and ought so to be regarded—the Confessions be declared to be a kind of writing wherein something can be found that is in the need of betterment, thus writings that therefore also are always examinable and censurable by the churches so that every one of her members is at liberty to submit difficulties (respecting the doctrine of the Confessions) that must be examined by the Word of God, without anyone in the least becoming censurable (on that account) even though that one should present difficulties that he failed to provide with grounds. Their subscribing the Confessions was done on that supposition. Otherwise Art. VII would be overturned and a new ground laid for papalism, which would be unendurable. If for the sake of the quietude of the churches, their noble lords should approve a postponement of revision of the Confessions until a time more opportune, that then a Formula of Subscription be prepared in which justice is done to the Word of God and no one pricked in his conscience beyond what is proper.”
As ought to be clear from this rendering from my pen, the original Holland text forms a bit of composition rather involved and therefore not easily understood and correctly translated. I therefore present also this original text. It reads as follows:
– DUTCH HAS BEEN REMOVED –
The clause modifying the word, “Resolutie,” and reading, “die voor Christelijk, loffelijk en conform Gods Woord gehouden worde,” is subjunctive. The thought conveyed therefore is. “The Resolution (to postpone revision) is Christian and praiseworthy etc. Let the government therefore so regard it and resolve so to do. Such is our petition.”
As to this statement on a whole it brings clearly into view the striving of Wtenbogaert and his party. It reveals that what they wanted is the following.
A national synod in full sympathy with their heretical beliefs and accordingly willing and ready to change the confessions into statements of these beliefs and thus so to revise them that thereafter they could be quoted in condemnation of the hated doctrines of the Calvinists.
This explains their now asking not merely for a “summarization” of confessions but for the “revision” of these documents. That precisely is what they all along had desired, namely “revision” of the Confessions. It shows that Oldenbarnevelt was not speaking the truth when previously he assured the Calvinists that the purpose was not “revision” at all but merely “summarization” of the Confessions; in other words, that the purpose was not to change the Confessions, but simply to read them through once more and thereupon affirm that they were not in need of “revision.” In this secret “remonstration” directed to his government, his petition is that the Confessions be “revised,” that is, changed.
That what the Remonstrants wanted is a national synod ready and willing to revise, that is, change the Confessions also explains their petitioning the government in this secret “Remonstration” to postpone the calling of a national synod for the revision of the Confessions. As the Calvinists were still in power, their influence, it was feared, would be dominant on the synod, if immediately called. All that they could expect from such a synod is the condemnation of their own heresies and the reiteration of the doctrines of the Calvinists. Hence, their petition that the government wait with the calling of the synod national until they could be certain that they could obtain from synod what was desired.
Rut supposing now that the kind of synod that they wanted could not be held until after several years. (In fact it was not held until 9 years after the occurrence of the events with which we are now occupied). Would during all these years the Remonstrants—Wtenbogaert and his party—have to endure being legally bound in there preaching and teaching by the hated Confessions of the Calvinists? That would be insufferable. Wtenbogaert had thought also of this. In this part of his “Remonstration,” it will be noticed, he had also taken care to include a petition to the effect that his government, in case it should decide to postpone the calling of a national synod, immediately declare the Confessions to be a species of writings in which something can be found that is in the need of correction, thus writings at all times censurable and that therefore it be made permissable to charge them with error without the accusers being compelled to prove with the Scriptures that the charges are true. This verily was Wtenbogaert’s petition. What it came down to is this: that any and everyone in the churches receive permission to repudiate the Confessions at will without being compelled to prove with the Scriptures that they are in error. Rut on what ground could it be right to allow anyone so to deal with the Confessions? Precisely on the ground that they belong to a category of credal writings the doctrines of which are per se heretical. And that the Confessions are writings of such a character is as little in need of proof as the axiom that the shortest distance between two points is a line. It is simply a uni- verally admitted fact.
Such was here the subtle reasoning. Rut its fallacy is apparent. Certainly the Confessions are fallible; that is, in contradictinction to the Scriptures, they maybe as to some of their statements in error. Of this the Christian church is fully aware and in the abstract also concedes. It is a thing of which she takes full account as is clear from the language contained in the Formula of Subscription to the effect that “if hereafter any difficulties or different sentiments respecting the aforesaid doctrines should arise in our minds, we promise etc.”
However to concede wholly in the abstract that the Confessions may be in error is one thing. Rut to affirm in the concrete that they are actually in error is quite another. Wtenbogaert did the latter. He was therefore in duty bound also to prove with the Scriptures that the Confessions are actually in error. Rut of this he seems to have been willingly ignorant. And in this ignorance he committed the folly of petitioning his government to declare it permissible for any and all to prefer charges against the Confessions, without being compelled to provide any proof. The Confessions being what they are—from the nature of matters erroneous and on this account always censurable writings—this, that is, proving the charges, is wholly unnecessary. Such was the reasoning. Such was the idea underlying the second part of the introduction of the “Remonstration.” It was the point to the petition.
The introduction goes on to say that such was the supposition on which the Formula of Subscription was subscribed—the supposition, mark you well, that this very Formula allowed its signatories the freedom to charge the Confession with error without being compelled to prove their charges, and this on the ground that the Confessions are actually from the nature of matters always in error and that there can be so little doubt about this that no one, repudiating the Confessions need go to the trouble of proving it. Such is verily the thrust of Wtenbogaert’s agreement. It is the very thought underlying the two statements, “The Confessions be declared to be a species of writings in which something can be found that is in need of correction, thus writing always examinable and censurable.” “No one preferring charges against the Confession, shall incur the censure of the church, even though he fail to provide his charges with grounds.” On this supposition, according to Wtenbogaert, the Formula was subscribed.
But with what a strange perversion of fact we here deal is clear from the promise that the Formula of Subscription elicits from those subscribing it. In case they have any differences regarding the doctrine of the Confessions, these signatories promise that they will reveal their differences to consistory, classis and Synod. They promise moreover that, regarding their difficulties, they will submit to the judgment of the aforesaid assemblies under the penalty in case of refusal to be, by that very act, suspended from their office. How can the Formula elicit from those signing it such a promise and at the same time allow them such liberties regarding the Confessions? This is not well possible. Yet, according to Wtenbogaert, to challenge his contentions is to lay a new foundation for papalism, that is, hierarchy. Thus, according to Wtenbogaert, to insist on the integrity of the Confessions, if and as long as it cannot be shown that they are in error is hierarchy; and likewise it is hierarchy to insist that charges preferred against the Confession must be proved. A stranger conception of hierarchy is not well conceivable. Didn’t Wtenbogaert realize that what he was asking his government to do is to make an end of the binding power of the Confessions and thereby authorize the teaching ministry in the church to interpret the scriptures as it pleased? The man knew what he was doing. He was fully aware of the import of this section of his “Remonstration.” And he also knew his government, knew that it was just as eager as he to rid the churches of the hated Confessions of the Calvinists.
The concluding statement in this part of the “Remonstration” is significant. The statement is a petition to the effect that the government provide the churches with a Formula of Subscription that gives more thought to the holy Scriptures. But here, too, Wtenbogaert was not speaking plainly. What he really wanted is that his government draw up for the churches a Formula of subscription eliciting from the teaching ministry a promise that would bind it in its preaching and writings to the holy Scriptures alone and thus not to the Scriptures as interpreted in The Confessions of the Calvinists. Not that it must be supposed that this man’s heart was aglow with, love of the holy Scriptures. Hating the Confessions, he of necessity hated also the Scriptures. But, of course, to tie the teaching ministry to the Scriptures alone was to free it from the binding power of the Confessions and thus allow it to interpret the Scriptures exactly as it pleased. That this was the motive behind this petition and behind the whole striving of Wtenbogaert and his party is plain from the new Church Order that the States-General had prepared in 1591. As has already been pointed out, by its elimination of the phrase, “and in the articles of the Christian Faith,.” the government had made the second baptismal question to read, “Whether you acknowledge the doctrine which is contained in the Old and New Testament, and which is taught here in this Christian church, to be the true and perfect doctrine of salvation.” As was stated, not a word is here said of the Confessions.
Having revealed to the government their sentiments regarding the worth of the Confession as a limiting instrument in the interpretation of the Scriptures, the “Remonstration” in its introducion proceeds to argue the point that the Remonstrants adhere to the Confessions more than do their opponents. The argument reads:
– DUTCH HAS BEEN REMOVED –
As freely translated this reads:
In order further that neither their noble lords nor anyone else may imagine that there is something strange about their considerations that cannot bear the light, they shall reveal which points of doctrine grieve and burden them most. They cannot concede that these doctrines are included in the Confession and Catechism, though others insist on finding them there, and under the penalty of church discipline want to compel them to teach the same. They, however, hold them to be in conflict with the Word of God. These points of doctrine are the following: That
God—as some teach—by an eternal and unchangeable degree predestined from the human race some unto everlasting life, and others unto everlasting damnation, solely because He so willed, and without and respect to righteousness and disobedience. Further that by virtue of a second degree the elect necessarily and inevitably must be saved and cannot perish, and that the reprobated—whose number exceeds that of the elect— necessarily and inevitably are damned.
Others teach that God did indeed regard the human race as fallen in Adam and in consequence thereof as ill-deserving, and decreed to save some but also to allow others to abide under the curse, young as well as old, even children of covenant members, who die in their infancy—and so decreed without any respect to repentance and faith in the some and to unbelief and impenitence in the others.
In consequence thereof—according to these teachers—Jesus Christ did not die for all men, but for the elect alone. In the latter, according to these same teachers, the Holy Spirit is operative with a power that cannot be resisted, so that they must repent and believe and necessarily be saved, while the reprobated do not receive this grace. By the revealed will of God they are indeed called, invited and implored unto repentance and faith, but the necessary inward power is not imparted unto them—by God’s secret will. They who by this irresistable power have become the recipients of the true faith cannot wholly and permanently again lose this gift, no matter how grossly they may sin, but they are kept by this irresistable power.
The undersigned cannot grant that these points or even some of them receive expression in the Confession and Catechism. On the contrary, passages are found in them that militate against these views. However this may be, they cannot in any case hold these points to be in agreement with the Word of God. To their mind they are unedifying and harmful.