THE SYNOD OF DORDT
In our preceding article we were calling attention to Article VI of the Rejection of Errors of Head II of the Canons. It may not be amiss to quote this article once more:
Who use the difference between meriting and appropriating, to the end that they may instill into the minds of the imprudent, and inexperienced this teaching that God, as far as He is concerned, has been minded of applying to all equally the benefits gained by the death of Christ; but that, while some obtain the pardon of sins and eternal life, and others do not, this difference depends on their own free will, which joins itself to the grace that is offered without exception, and that it is not dependent on the special gift of mercy, which powerfully works in them, that they rather than others should appropriate unto themselves this grace. For these, while they feign that they present this distinction, in a sound sense, seek to instill into the people the destructive poison of the Pelagian errors.
In our last article we were calling attention to those designated by our fathers as imprudent and inexperienced. And the people of God must not be imprudent, incautious and inexperienced. This warning is all the more urgent because the Arminians are very clever and subtle. They feign to be reformed. They do all within their power to leave the impression that they are doctrinally sound. And we concluded our last article by calling attention to the Three Points of 1924. These statements of 1924 are characterized by the same thing: the attempt to deceive the imprudent and inexperienced.
What is the error of the Arminians as exposed and set forth by our Reformed fathers in this sixth article of the Rejection of Errors of Head II of our Canons. We must notice that the Arminians speak of a difference between meriting and appropriating or applying. The fathers do not deny that there is a distinction between meriting and applying. That this distinction exists is obvious. It is certainly true that Christ merited for His people all the blessings of salvation when He died for them upon the cross of Calvary. And the God of our salvation applies all these gifts of salvation to His elect by the irresistible power of His grace and Spirit. We may, therefore, certainly distinguish between meriting and applying. The Arminian, however, did not merely distinguish between them, but he separated them. The meriting, we understand, was of God and by Christ. He could not very well deny that. In fact, he would maintain that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. This was a work in which the Lord was engaged, all by Himself. The work of meriting is exclusively the Lord’s, He could hardly deny that. After all, Christ was all alone when He suffered and died for His people—even His own disciples forsook Him and fled. However, when the Arminian speaks of “meriting,” he is deceiving the imprudent and inexperienced. You see, really, he does not believe in this meriting at all. Christ, as far as the Arminian conception of the atonement is concerned, did not merit salvation when He suffered and died. Had He really merited salvation when He died upon the cross, then it would surely follow that all those for whom He merited this salvation would surely be saved. But this the Arminian did not believe, could not believe. We understand, he believed that Christ died for all men, head for head. This means that He also died for those who perish. Then it cannot be true that Christ merited salvation for them. According to Art. II of this Rejection of Errors, it was not the intention of the death of Christ that He should confirm the new covenant of grace through His blood, but only that He should acquire for the Father the mere right to establish with man such a covenant as He might please, whether of grace or of works. And according to Art. III, Christ by His satisfaction merited neither salvation itself for anyone, nor faith whereby this satisfaction of Christ unto salvation is effectually appropriated; but that He merited. for the Father only the authority or the perfect will to deal again with man, and to prescribe new conditions as He might desire, obedience to which, however, depended on the free will of man, so that it therefore might have come to pass that either none or all should fulfill these conditions. So, when the Arminian or Remonstrant speaks of this meriting on the part of Christ, he is deceiving the simple, the incautious and inexperienced.
And, of course, he makes separation between this “meriting” and applying. God wills to bestow all the blessings of Christ upon all who hear the gospel. Grace, then, is offered to all by God without distinction. But whether anyone also, actually receives grace, that depends upon man’s own free will. This will of the sinner must join itself to the grace that is offered to all without distinction. This, according to the fathers, is the destructive poison of the Pelagian errors. This simply means that everything, in the final analysis, depends upon the free will of the sinner. What if God did all He could! What if Christ suffered and died upon the cross of Calvary! Neither God nor His Christ determines the salvation of a single sinner. Presently God has His gospel preached. In that preaching of the gospel salvation is offered to all without distinction. And man’s salvation is dependent upon his acceptance of this offer. Everything revolves about the free will of the sinner. However, the Reformed presentation is that the meriting as well as the application is all a matter of God’s grace.
We would conclude our discussion of this article by calling attention to one more matter. This Arminian heresy can creep into the church in more than one way. The Remonstrant can instill into the minds of the people of God this Pelagian error by proclaiming it openly and boldly. But there is also another way by which the church of God is exposed to this pernicious heresy. And this other way can be terribly effective. We refer to the danger to which the church of God is exposed when the Arminian errors are silenced in the preaching and teaching in the church of God. The undersigned is convinced that this was the case at the time of the split in our churches in 1953. More and more, in those days, the emphasis was not laid upon the fundamental truths of the Word of God. Did we not hear in those days that man’s responsibility must not be denied but proclaimed and emphasized? Did not people complain because of the emphasis upon God’s decree of election? Divine election, the heart of the church, was more and more relegated to the background. Less and less the emphasis was laid upon the strictly divine and unilateral character of the promises of God which are Yea and Amen in Christ Jesus. O, it is true that errors were not necessarily proclaimed. What, however, happens when the emphasis is no longer laid upon the fundamental truths of the Word of God? This, that the church of God, particularly the young people and the children, are weaned away from these fundamental truths, become less and less accustomed to them What a danger this is! People complain, then, because the preaching of the Word is too distinctive. They complain that all they hear is election. Of course, this charge is not true. It is simply not true that all they hear is election. They say that all that is necessary is that the preacher present the truth positively. He should not busy himself with calling attention to the various errors and corruptions of the truth. He must be positive, not distinctive. I pray that we may never cater to these sentiments. They are so dangerous. The result will be that the church of God will be hilled to sleep as far as the heretical departures from the Word of God are concerned. They will no longer be able to discern these devastating errors and corruptions. Their senses will be dulled! How important that our churches remain distinctive, not only in all our preaching and teaching, but also in. all our societies! We can never be too vigilant. Besides, this is our calling. This is exactly what we have promised. We promised this as according to our Church Order, as stated in Art. 55, and we quote: “To ward off false doctrines and errors that multiply exceedingly through heretical writings, the ministers and elders shall use the means of teaching, or refutation, or warning, and of admonition, as well in the ministry of the Word as in Christian teaching and family-visiting.” And then there is the liturgy of our churches. Think of the questions which are answered by our young people when they make public confession of their faith before the face of God and in the midst of the church! Or, think of the questions which are answered by our parents when they present their children for baptism! Do they not declare before the face of God and in the midst of the church that they will maintain the doctrine as taught in this Christian church and fight: every heresy repugnant thereto? Or, what about our forms for the installation of ministers and elders and deacons? Do we not read in these forms that the church of God is likened to a sheepfold and that every effort must be put forth to keep the wolves: out of the sheepfold? A wolf is a very dangerous animal. A wolf in sheep’s clothing is a doubly dangerous animal. The Saviour calls them ravenous wolves, desperately-hungry wolves, desperately dangerous animals who are driven by the desire to devour the flock of God. And these ravenous animals are surely dangerous within the fold! In our installation forms the church of God is warned to watch over the church of God as the sheepfold of Christ and to put forth every effort to keep these devouring wolves out of the sheepfold. Remember, these heretical teachers are very clever and subtle! They feign themselves to be sound in doctrine, do all within their power to deceive the simple and imprudent and inexperienced. But, they are enemies of the truth and of the church of God! And we do well to keep this ever in mind. The price we pay for not being vigilant is too great! We cannot afford to expose the sheep and the lambs to these heretical preachers and teachers. And, finally, does not the Word of God come to us with the same urgent warning? Are we not warned, in Matt. 7:15: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves?” Do we not read of them that they prophesy in the name of the Lord, cast out devils in His name, perform many wonderful works in the name of Christ? Yet, the Saviour declares in this same passage of Matt. 7:21-23 that He will declare unto them in the day of days that He never knew them and that they are workers of iniquity. Does not the apostle Paul warn his spiritual son, Timothy, to preach the word, as in II Tim. 4:2, to be instant in season and out of season, to reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine? Does not the same apostle, in Eph. 4:14-15, exhort the church of God at Ephesus and the church of God throughout the ages: “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive?” So, let us not only be positive, but also distinctive, never failing to warn the church of God against these winds of heresy and always alerting the people of God to their danger. That is our calling, also and particularly as Protestant Reformed Churches in our present day and age.