We may distinguish three main propositions in the chain of reasoning which the Canons follow in this first article. They are the following:
It must be remembered, in connection with the above, first of all, that this article concerns God’s will, His decree. And in the second place, we must bear in mind that the basic premise of the article is the sovereignty, the absolute freedom, of that decree of God. It was against the latter that the charge of injustice was leveled by the Arminians. Their charge might be formulated in the following propositions:
When, therefore, the argumentation of Article 1 is followed to its proper conclusion, and that in the light of the objection which it intends to answer, the conclusion is that the charge of injustice against a divine decree of predestination that is sovereign is a false charge. God’s sovereignty is not in conflict with His justice. The sovereignly decreeing God is also the righteous God. And He is righteous in His decree!
A careful comparison of the two viewpoints at stake in this article will reveal how completely at odds they stand. The Arminian viewpoint which is opposed here puts man in the position of judge. The sovereign God of all is hailed into the court of man, in order to determine whether or not He, the Lord, is righteous. The very opening words of Article 1, “as all men have sinned in Adam,” puts man in his proper place; and that is not the position of judge, but the position of judged. The Arminians charge the God of Reformed theology,—and He is the God of the Scriptures,—with unrighteousness. The Canons take as their basis the “God forbid!” of the apostle Paul, when the charge of unrighteousness is brought against God. The Arminians assume the position of those who in Scripture are the real or imagined opponents of the truth of God’s righteousness and sovereign freedom. The Canons, quoting the Scriptures, assume the stand of holy writ itself.
Briefly let us note the various elements of this article in connection with their Scriptural proof. All men have sinned in Adam. The point of this first proposition is not the truth of original sin, but the fact of universal sin. Also the truth of original sin is maintained by our fathers, but it is not treated until we come to the Third Head of Doctrine. Here already it is mentioned. But it would appear in this brief reference to our relation to Adam that the emphasis is not so much on the element of an inherited corruption, but rather on the mere fact that as long as you can say nothing more than that we are children of Adam, members of the human race, you must necessarily say that we are sinners. And that all men are sinners receives the weight of emphasis here. It is the first link in the chain of universal liability to condemnation. That this is true is plain from the Scriptural proof that is offered,: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” If the fathers had wanted to prove the truth of original sin, they would undoubtedly have referred us to such a passage as ,ff. But now they simply employ a text which teaches that all have sinned.
Hence, they lie under the curse, and are deserving of eternal death, or more correctly, they are become liable to the curse and eternal death. This is really the point upon which the entire article hinges. All men, since they are sinners, are guilty before God. And, since they are guilty, they are worthy of eternal death. For the first part of this proposition, that all are guilty, the Canons offer proof fromb: “…that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.” This quotation is striking not only because it so strongly emphasizes the universality of the guilt-verdict (“every mouth” and “all the world”), but also because it is very applicable to the argument of the Arminians that is being opposed here. The apostle Paul here emphasizes exactly that it is the divine purpose that not only in the final judgment in the day of the Lord, but also in time, every mouth must be completely silenced before God. No one may contradict, no one may be able to offer any objection when God judges.
Even though it is true that wicked men may wickedly rebel against the judgment of God, yet before God they have no ground of justice left. All the world must be guilty, punishable, even in their own conscience before God. How impossible, then, how absurd, how presumptuous, that anyone should charge God with injustice when He saves some out of a race that is all guilty! How absurd to charge God with injustice when He leaves some to perish, when He might justly have left all to perish!
For the second part of this proposition, that all are worthy of eternal death, the proof ofis offered. It is plain without any further exposition. It is simply Scripture that the sinner must die. If, therefore, all men are sinners, guilty before God, they are all liable to eternal death. Death is the wages of sin. And God is the divine paymaster.
From all this the third proposition, that God would have done no injustice had He left all men to perish on account of their sin, follows. The Canons offer no Scriptural proof specifically for this truth. It is a logical conclusion which cannot be gainsaid; it follows inexorably from the two preceding propositions. Moreover, in the light of this argumentation the Arminian position is entirely destroyed. And how strange a position it is. They indeed consider it strange and out of the ordinary that anyone at all should go lost on God’s part. They take it for granted that everyone can be saved as far as God is concerned. That anyone is saved they find to be quite ordinary. But according to Scripture, it would be nothing strange if no one were saved. Scripture teaches that it is a wonder, an extraordinary thing, that anyone at all is saved. In other words, as history has so often confirmed, the objection against predestination is not primarily against the decree of election. If there were only a decree of election, then perhaps there would be no disagreement. But the objection is, strictly speaking, against the decree of reprobation. Sinful man does not want sovereign reprobation. And how striking in the light of the fact that even before his own conscience eternal death is perfectly righteous and completely deserved by every man. No man by nature deserves anything but death. God might have justly condemned all. Let every mouth, then, be stopped, when the Lord of all determines to save some out of the common misery.
Such is the instruction of our Canons here. Man, as a guilty creature, is put in his proper place in relation to God. He has no ground of complaint whatsoever.
However, while it may be granted that this viewpoint of the Canons is correct and perfectly sound doctrine, we may mention in passing that there is also another, and higher, viewpoint. The Canons already here give evidence that they are infralapsarian, that is, they teach that in His decrees God elected some out of a fallen race. And from the infralapsarian viewpoint such argumentation as we find in Article 1 is to be expected. An infralapsarian is almost forced to answer the Arminian argument in this fashion. Scripture, however, teaches not only that the guilty creature has no claim over against God; but it goes a step farther, and emphasizes that the creature as such, apart even from his sin, has absolutely no claim on God. God is sovereign! This is very plainly the teaching of: “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me. Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory…”
Notice, in this passage, that the apostle, after he spontaneously rejects the charge of unrighteousness in God, proceeds not to defend that divine righteousness as such, but rather maintains the sovereign freedom of God over against man, the creature of his hand. This becomes very plain in the passage 19-23. There the apostle addresses not the sinner, but man. Man as such, not the sinner, is the clay. And the divine potter forms out of that one lump of human clay one vessel unto honor and another unto dishonor. God is absolutely free. Not only has the sinner nothing to say. But man, apart from his sin, has absolutely no right to answer against the sovereignly decreeing God. Such is the viewpoint of this passage of holy writ, a viewpoint which is higher than that of our Canons.
But, I say once more, the stand of our Canons is perfectly sound.