Prof. Hanko is professor of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
The Synod of Dordrecht was the greatest assembly of Reformed churches that ever met. Though some may argue that Dordt was exceeded in greatness by the Westminster Assembly, which met less than 30 years later, Westminster was not, as Dordt was, a gathering of the Reformed churches from all Europe. Nor were the theologians at Dordt in any respect inferior in learning, skill in debate, and genuine orthodoxy than the best of Westminster.
But the synod was necessary, after all, because of heretics present in the church, who were bent on destroying the Reformed faith because they hated the doctrines of sovereign grace. The wonder is that these and the faithful were used by God to give us our treasured Canons of Dordt. The truth of God is never developed in an ivory tower, far from the battlefield on which the great issues of God’s truth are decided. The weapons of our spiritual warfare are forged in doctrinal controversy. So it has always been. So it was at Dordt. I have often pondered what we would do today if it had not been for the Synod of Dordt and the Canons it gave us. I shudder to think of it.
Here then are a few of the men, some bad, many good.
Although Arminius lived and died before the Synod of Dordt met, he was the most important character in the drama. The controversy and heresy which occasioned Dordt are known by his name, and the synod would not have been called if he had not spread his poison through the churches.
Born in 1560, he was left an orphan when his parents were killed by the Spaniards. A guild in Amsterdam took on the responsibility to support him in his studies, and this enabled him to acquire a good and solidly Reformed education in Leiden, Geneva, and Basel.
It is impossible to tell when Arminius began to entertain thoughts of heresy. It may have been during his studies under Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor in Geneva, who was a no-nonsense teacher of all the truths of sovereign grace. But whenever it was, his sentiments were not revealed until he became minister in the Reformed Church in Amsterdam.
A characteristic of heretics is dishonesty. Arminius was never honest with the church. When he was asked to refute Dirk Coornhert, a theologian who denied the doctrine of sovereign predestination, Arminius never prepared the answer and never revealed that the reason was his own disagreement with this crucial doctrine.
His duplicity also appeared in his preaching. While preaching on the book of Romans, and particularly on Romans 7, he denied that Paul’s description of himself in verses 14-25 was a description of the apostle after his regeneration. Paul was, so Arminius claimed, describing himself as unregenerated —an interpretation that opens the door to a denial of total depravity (“The good that I would …”). And when he came to Romans 9, he flatly denied sovereign reprobation.
I say this was duplicity. The creeds (the Heidelberg Catechism and the Confession of Faith) binding the Reformed churches clearly taught these doctrines, and Arminius knew it. But he always claimed to agree with and be faithful to the creeds.
Surprisingly, Arminius was appointed professor of theology at the University of Leiden and was there a colleague of Gomarus, the man who became his implacable foe. Here too, when called to give an account of his teachings, Arminius was less than frank, devious in the extreme, and guilty of hiding his true sentiments as much as possible, all the while continuing to teach his students his erroneous views.
By the time Arminius died in 1609 (one year before the five Articles of the Remonstrants were drawn up) the poison of his teachings had spread throughout the churches, especially through the preaching of those who had studied under him and had been led astray by his heresies.
Arminius was an extremely intelligent man, very learned, a brilliant thinker, and gifted preacher. He was friendly and a person whom people found it easy to like. Although Arminius used all his extraordinary gifts to bring damnable heresies into the church, God turned almost certain defeat into victory and used the heresy of Arminianism to give us our Canons.
Other than Arminius himself, no one had more influence in the Arminian cause than Uytenbogaert. Born in 1557, three years before Arminius, he was converted from Roman Catholicism when Roman Catholic authorities forbade him to attend the services of a Protestant-inclined pastor.
Uytenbogaert had intended to pursue a career in law, but, upon joining the Reformed churches, he decided to enter the ministry. Under the strange ways of God’s providence, he studied in Geneva under Beza at the same time as Arminius. Arminius, not Beza, was the one who influenced Uytenbogaert, and he returned to the Netherlands a firm believer in the heresies of his fellow student.
Nevertheless, he became a preacher in the Reformed churches, and, perhaps because of his reputation for piety, was invited by Prince Maurice to become minister in the Hague. Many government dignitaries attended his church and he became a close friend of Oldenbarnevelt, the effective ruler of the Netherlands.
Always a close friend of Arminius, Uytenbogaert assumed the leadership of the Arminian party when Arminius died and was chiefly responsible for composing the Five Articles of the Remonstrants, which outline the doctrinal position of the Arminians and against which the five articles of the Canons were written.
When Oldenbarnevelt, just prior to the Synod of Dordt, was arrested and tried for treason, Uytenbogaert thought it best to flee the country. The Synod deposed him in absentia, banished him, and ordered his goods confiscated.
It was only after a change of government that he secretly returned from exile and became a pastor of a church where he continued till his death, promoting the cause of Arminianism in the Netherlands.
Episcopius was born in 1583 and studied theology under both Gomarus and Arminius at the University of Leiden. The teachings of Arminius appealed to him rather than those of Gomarus, and he became a follower of his mentor and an eloquent defender of his views.
In 1610, the year the Articles of the Remonstrants were drawn up, he began his work as a pastor, but soon took the place of Gomarus as professor in Leiden when Gomarus resigned. He was so widely known as Arminian in his thinking that he was cited along with twelve other pastors to appear at the Synod of Dordt to give account before the synod of his views.
Episcopius was really the spokesman of the Arminians at the synod and the strategist of their campaign to delay the synod and prevent it from discussing the real problems. When in fury Bogerman dismissed the Arminians from the synod, Episcopius left piously shouting: “With Christ I shall keep silence about all this. God shall judge between me and this synod.”
He too was banished, but returned in 1626 when the antipathy towards Arminianism had waned. He established an Arminian congregation and an Arminian seminary in which he taught, and he wrote an Arminian Dogmatics.
What is of particular interest is the fact that he was living proof that Arminianism is incipient Modernism, for his Arminianism led him in the direction of Socinianism, which denies the Trinity and the divinity of Christ. Would that present-day Arminians would learn this lesson from history.
Pieter Plancius knew persecution. He was born in what is now Belgium, but fled when the Roman Catholic Church persecuted the Reformed.
He had received his education in strongly Calvinistic schools in Germany and England, and became a defender of the Reformed faith until the day of his death. His early ministry was spent in Brabant, Flanders, and Brussels, all of which came under Spaniard domination.
Plancius occupies a notable place among the great men of Dordt because, in addition to being elected a delegate to the synod, he was one of the first to warn the churches against the horrors of the Arminian heresy.
This came about because he was called to be minister of the church of Amsterdam, where Arminius also became a minister. It was in the pulpit of the church in Amsterdam that Arminius first began to militate in his preaching against Reformed doctrine. Plancius was alarmed and, when Arminius’ answers proved unsatisfactory, he alerted the churches to the dangerous doctrines being proclaimed by Arminius. But, sadly, the authorities would not listen, and Arminius and those he influenced were permitted to propound their views for many years before the Synod of Dordt finally condemned them. Plancius’ role was a major one, for many were not aware of the grievous dangers hidden behind the subtle and devious teachings of those who would deny the great truth of God’s sovereignty.
Plancius also worked in revising the Dutch translation of the Old Testament part of the Staten-Bijbel, which is to the Dutch what the AV is to us. But equally as interesting, the church in Amsterdam was the calling church in sending missionaries along with the Dutch traders to all parts of the world. He was responsible for the development of nautical and geographical knowledge and skills which were given to Dutch sea captains as they made the Netherlands for a short time “Queen of the Oceans.”
As suave and friendly as Arminius was, so gruff and blunt was his chief opponent, Francis Gomarus.
Born in Germany in 1563, he was a refugee from the Palatinate. His education was extensive and the best available, for he studied in Strasburg, Oxford, Cambridge, and Heidelberg, enjoying instruction from Ursinus (one of the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism) and Jerome Zanchius (who wrote a still popular book on predestination).
Gomarus was first pastor at Frankfurt, but his abilities and learning soon brought him a professorship, first at Frankfurt, then at Leiden. In Leiden Gomarus was the colleague of Arminius, and he fought him as Plancius had done in Amsterdam. When Arminius died and Konrad Vorstius, a greater heretic than Arminius, was appointed to take Arminius’ place, Gomarus resigned in utter disgust and took a pastorate in Middleburg, although at the demand of various schools he continued his career in teaching.
He was a professorial delegate to the Synod of Dordt and made his own deep love for the Reformed faith and his implacable opposition to Arminianism a factor in all the discussions.
Gomarus was a supralapsarian, a profound theologian, and a gifted and influential preacher. His name has almost become synonymous with consistent Calvinism, and he emerged from the conflict at Dordt with the justifiable reputation of one who loved the Lord and the Lord’s truth more than anything or anyone else. The Arminians often wished him dead. The Lord used him, with all his bluntness and gruffness, to preserve the glorious truths of sovereign grace.
Though Johannes Bogerman is one of the lesser known men at Dordt, his name will be remembered, by all who love the Reformed faith, as the fiery president of the synod who finally, totally exasperated, dismissed the Arminians with such fierce words that they were literally driven out.
Bogerman was born in East Friesland in 1576 and served as pastor in the Dutch Reformed churches. He was an ardent defender of the biblical truths of sovereign grace, and he fought from his pulpit the deadly heresies of Arminius which were strangling the churches.
Delegated to the Synod of Dordt, he was chosen as the president because of his commitment to the Reformed faith and his great ability. He was a short man, and he possessed a beard which reached his waist. He was an imposing figure, due chiefly to the fire that flashed from his eyes when he was angry.
And angry he did become—at the Arminians. Patiently and with as much understanding as he could muster, he led the synod during the many days during which the Arminians used every delaying tactic they could think of to keep the synod from its work; when they vented their hatred and spite against the doctrines of the confessions; and when they attempted with subtlety and guile to win influence and approval among the foreign delegates and the representatives of the state.
But finally he had had enough. He rose in righteous indignation, and, after a short speech, ended with the words: “You have begun with lies, and you end with lies. Dimittimini, ite, ite! (You are dismissed! Get out! Get out!).”
So powerful was his voice and so fiery were his flashing eyes that the Arminians almost stumbled over each other in exiting the hall. It was the end of their presence at the synod, and without them the synod could now get on with its work.
The greatest part of that work is the Canons, an incomparable creed in the defense of the doctrines of sovereign and particular grace.