Finally, the Great Synod of Dordt was about to be convened. The moment had finally come when this august assembly would assemble in Dordtrecht, Netherlands.
The Remonstrants of Arminians had opposed this calling of a national synod. They constituted a minority party in the Netherlands. The Calvinists were the national and popular party, and embraced the great majority of the clergy. And they stood upon the solid basis of the recognized standards of doctrine, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession. The Remonstrants favored a conference, attended by representatives of their own party and of the Calvinists, the issue to be settled by representatives of the government. In the February 1 issue of our Standard Bearer of this year, Rev. D. Engelsma has an article, entitled: The Concern of the Reformation for Christian Education (5). In this article Rev. Engelsma calls attention to the fact that Luther advocated the position that the civil authorities were supposed to establish and maintain Christian Schools. He also makes the observation that these civil authorities not only supported the school-teacher, but they also paid the pastor’s salary. Well, at the time of the Great Synod of Dordt, and we can understand this, the government convened the synod, and these civil authorities were also represented at this Synod of Dordt. Until shortly before this synod convened, the Calvinists had been unable to prevail upon the civil authorities to convene a national synod. The reason was that the political leader, John van Olden Barneveldt, sided with the Arminians, and therefore it was impossible for the Contra-Remonstrants or Calvinists to call a National Synod. This leader urged both sides to assume the attitude of tolerance. The Arminians and Calvinists should discuss their differences and then learn to live together. To this, of course, the Remonstrants did not object. They favored this spirit of tolerance and compromise. The heretic never objects to a name and place within the church of God. He always favors compromise. The Calvinist, however, can never agree to this. After all, in any compromise he will invariably be the loser. Give the heretic any standing room within the church of God, and he will invariably take over and assume full control. The Calvinists insisted on a national synod.
How did it happen that a national synod such as the great synod of Dordt was convened? This question is answered by the late Rev. Hoeksema as follows (he also calls attention to how this synod was constituted):
The political leader Odenbameveld sided with the Arminians, so that it proved impossible for the Contra-Remonstrants to call a National Synod. But by a strange turn of events, plainly so directed by Him Who has all things in His hands, the influence of this politician was broken. Suddenly Prince Maurits, an able general took the side of the Calvinists. He took over the reins of the government, and gained permission to call a National Synod. On November 13, 1618, the National Synod of Dordt opened its sessions.
The constituency of the synod was as follows. Thirty-four ministers and eighteen elders represented the various synods of Gelderland, South Holland, North Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Friesland, Overijsel, Groningen and Drenthe. Among these the name of Gomarus stands out as a long and consistent opponent of the Arminian errors and a staunch Supralapsarian.
Twenty-seven foreign theologians, representing the Reformed Churches of Great Britain, the Palatinate, Hessia, Switzerland, Wetteraw, Geneva, Bremen and Emden were at the synod. Delegates from France were invited to attend but were unable because of government interference. In addition, the synod received advice from aged Dr. David Paraeus, from the University of Heidelberg, who by reason of age and infirmity was unable to attend but gave written opinions. The foreign delegates did not merely sit in on the discussions, but took active part even in composing the Canons, even though the delegates from Holland were the main body of the Synod. Undoubtedly they exerted their influence in the formulation as we now have it.
There were five professors from the Netherlands.
There were also representatives of the government. Although they did not take part in the discussion, they were the government watchdogs who exerted influence on the delegates by their very presence.
As to the doctrinal position of the delegates, we may be sure that they were the very best representatives of the church, capable men with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. What an array of intellectual talent, especially as represented by the delegates from the Netherlands! This does not mean that they all were staunch in the truth:
(1) There were the supralapsarians, especially represented by Gomarus.
(2) There were the infralapsarians who also exerted influence. In fact, the articles are written in the Infra strain.
(3) There were some who were doctrinally sympathetic with the Arminians, particularly the delegates of Bremen, led by Martinus.
Finally, it would hardly do to fail to remark that Johannes Bogerman was the president. Of him it is said that he was courageous, tactful, decisive, and a man of action. His piercing eyes were said sometimes to emit flames of fire, his thundering voice demanded respect, and the wave of his arm expressed authority, He is said to have had the most attractive beard of all the delegates, gold-blond, wavy hair, extending to his waist-line.
Finally, the Rev. Hoeksema gives us the following brief resume of the meetings of this great synod:
a. The Arminians were called to the Synod to defend themselves. But they only stalled for time. They objected to the legality of the Synod, to the president, to the procedures. They refused to give their answers on paper and accused the Contra-remonstrants at every opportunity. (To this the undersigned, H.V., may add that the Remonstrants really accused this synod of being a “packed” synod. They wanted to meet with these synodical delegates on equal terms. They wanted this synod to be a conference between themselves and these various delegates. And it was their desire that the findings or conclusions. reached should then be submitted to the magistrates for their approval. They, of course, objected strenuously to the fact that they had been called by this synod to defend themselves. But the synod maintained that they had been convened legally, and that they, therefore; had authority to act).
b. The Synod put up with this until even the foreign delegates grew weary of it. On the 14th day of January, 1619, they were told by the thundering president: Dimittimini, exite! You are dismissed, get out! Appealing to the day of judgment, they withdrew.
c. On the basis of their writings, the objections to the errors were formulated. The Canons were finished by the 18th of April and the meetings were ended with the 130th session.
Of course, in our present discussion of the doctrine of the atonement, we are primarily interested in the second point of the Five Points of the Remonstrants. In this second point the Arminians set forth their view of the work of our Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross. It is well to quote this point once more:
That, agreeably thereto, Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that He has obtained for them all, by His death upon the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer, according to the word of the Gospel of
“God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And in the First Epistle of
“And He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
In this second article, the Arminians state their view of the cross of Christ very clearly and unambiguously. ‘This cannot be said of the other articles of the remonstrants’ although it is true that they declare in the fifth article that they are not ready as yet to say that the saints will certainly persevere to the very end. In Article I they speak of an eternal and unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ, His Son, that it is before the foundation of the world, and that, according to this eternal and unchangeable purpose, the Lord has determined to save in Christ, for Christ’s sake, and through Christ, those who shall believe on His Son through the grace of the Holy Ghost. And we may ask, “Is it not true that God has eternally and unchangeably decreed and determined to save those who believe in Christ Jesus and who shall persevere in this faith and obedience of faith?” And is it not also true that the Lord has determined to leave the incorrigible and unbelieving in sin and under wrath and to condemn them as alienate from Christ? Do not our reformed fathers also declare that the Lord leaves the wicked in their sin and obduracy? However, we know what the Arminians meant in this first article on Divine predestination. Did they mean that the eternal counsel of God has sovereignly determined these things, and that their being left h their sin and disobedience is the fruit of God’s eternal and unchangeable decree? Indeed, not! What they meant was that God foresaw this sin and continued disobedience, and that the Lord, in His decree of predestination, election and reprobation, was determined by the faith of those who are saved and by the unbelief of those who perish. But, their language in Point I is surely ambiguous and vague.
Their second point, however, is clear. Here they declare that Christ died for all men and for every man. Here they state that the Saviour has obtained redemption and the forgiveness of sins for them all. And when they add that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer, then they surely mean that, although Christ died for all men and for every man, the actual benefit and fruit of that cross is dependent upon the believer. As far as Christ’s intent is concerned, He died for all and would have all men be saved. But, as far as our actual salvation is concerned, that is not determined by the work of Christ upon the cross but only by the sinner who determines his own salvation. And this is also the position of Professor H. Dekker of Calvin Seminary. The Arminians, therefore, believed in universal atonement, and, as we shall see later, this is really no atonement at all. If Christ died for everybody, then nothing really happened upon the cross of Calvary.