The Arminian or Remonstrant Struggle

In our previous article we were occupied with the principal section of the “Remonstration’’ of Wtenbogaert and his party—the Remonstrants—a section in which they set forth their own beliefs regarding the points of doctrine in dispute.

The close of the “Remonstration” contains a number of requests.

“That their noble Lords be pleased to give to these things their full attention, according to the authority given them of God in all matters ecclesiastical as high Christian rulers of these lands and churches; and doing so, first to see to it that—considering that their noble Lords are acknowledged by all to be such as to whom is due supreme supervision and highest jurisdiction in matters ecclesiastical and worldly under God and according to his Word (which point they well understand to be such as according to God’s Word must be taught and explained)—(that) in a lawful gathering of synod, to be held under the authority, presidency, guidance, cojudgment, and moderatorship of the States Lords, the Remonstrants, their reasons having been properly considered, be given a full hearing, and the aforesaid doctrines be more closely examined and investigated; or else that the Remonstrants and the other Reformed ministers from both sides bear and endure each the other in these matters without anyone being suspected, suspicioned, outlawed or in the least troubled on account of the aforesaid doctrines as explained on either side—be that one in the service of the church or in the service of the state or still to be called to either of these services—that he be not troubled no more for the present than in the future; or else, if they do not want to do this, that then they instruct us better from God’s Word, further their request and petition is that it please their noble Lords to take them under their protection against all church censure that on account of this their Remonstration and the stigma thereof might be proclaimed against them jointly or against any of them separately.”

Rightly considered, this closing section contains the sixth article of faith of the Remonstrants, a faith or conception according to which the civil government is under God the head also over all things in the church. As was explained in another connection, in this conception the Christian state and its citizenry is the church and the church is the state, and in this Christian commonwealth the sole ruler under God is the civil government. Consistories are allowed but only as so many executive committees of the government. As has also been explained, the conception goes by the name of Erastianism. The request of Wtenbogaert and his party was that the government make the conception its own and act upon it, first by declaring the Confessions to be in error and on this account devoid of power to limit the teaching ministry in its interpretation of the Scriptures, and then second by ordering the clergy of both camps to tolerate each other respecting their doctrinal differences.

Once having become known, this secret “Remonstration” could be counted on to arouse the ire of the Calvinists such as Gomarus. Fully aware of this and fearing the wrath of their opponents, Wtenbogaert and his party also petition their government to take them under the protection against all church censure.

The concluding part of the “Remonstration”’ is a protest.

“In closing the Remonstrants protest before God and His holy congregation and likewise before their noble Lords and even before the whole world that this our doing by no means tends towards any partisanship, strife, separation, or schism, be it in church or state, much less toward any change in the religion, but that their only purpose is to free themselves, by this candit, voluntary disclosure and declaration of their sentiments, from all strange suspicions by which they now for some time abroad and here at home have been troubled; (and) to request correction (of the confessions—0) or better instruction (in the same—0) or at any rate forebearance on both sides and peace and love; or in case against all hope and expectation they could obtain neither and as a result could no longer with good conscience and in peace perform their public services, they in that event by order of their government will leave them in order henceforth to serve God and their neighbor according as they in good faith and in full submission to their government will find it proper to do.”

Having now before us the “Remonstration” in its entirety, it may be well to state in their order the several petitions contained in it—let us take notice, petitions directed by its author and signatories to their government.

1.  A petition to the effect that their government authorize a revision of the Confessions, that is, order the Confessions to be changed and this despite the fact that they had been officially adopted by the churches.

2.  A petition to the effect that their government wait with the calling of a national synod until a synod could be convened willing to do their bidding (change the Confessions).

3.  A petition to the effect that their government make an end of the Confessions as a limiting instrument in the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures and thus allow the teaching ministry to explain the Scriptures as it pleased and this on the ground that the Confessions belong to a species of writings from the nature of matters always in error.

4.  A petition to the effect that their government make room in the churches for their peculiar doctrinal tenets (heresies) by outlawing the Confessions in their present form.

5.  A petition to the effect that their government acknowledge itself to be under God the head also over all things in the church and assert itself accordingly; thus a petition that their government pronounce the Reformed Church Order that the churches had officially adopted null and void and replace it by the Erastian.

Every one of these petitions is contained in the “Remonstrantion” either as clearly enough expressed or as suggested.

Finally the manifest aim of the “Remonstration” in its introduction was to make it appear that the God of the Calvinists’ is the fatum of the pagan religion of the Romans, who spins the thread of men’s lives arbitrarily without rhyme, reason and purpose, and that thus the Calvinists’ doctrine of predestination—election and reprobation—is fatalism pure and simple.

Yet despite these their petitions and this their aim, Wtenbogaert and his party in the closing section of their “Remonstration” could communicate to their government sentiments such as these: “The Remonstrants protest before God and His holy congregation . . . that this our doing by no means tends toward partisanship, strife, separation, schism . . .” and “but their purpose is peace and love . . .” Peace and love indeed but on their terms, of course. They say, too, in this closing section of their “Remonstration” that their purpose is forbearance. But we shall see of how much forbearance they themselves were capable.

There is now this question. Did the government yield to Wtenbogaert and his party? As we shall see, the government yielded to the Remonstrants on every point. Relentlessly did it strive to put into execution all their petitions.

Wtenbogaert immediately placed the “Remonstration” in the hands of the States Counsel, Oldenbarnevelt. Rut the document as to the thrust of its content must have frightened him. For it was not until a half year thereafter that he was able to muster sufficient courage to submit it to his government and then as a piece not meant for publication. Not that he was at variance with the aims of the Remonstrants. These aims had his full sympathy. But he feared the reaction of the Calvinists.

Also Wtenbogaert evidently thought it wise to proceed with caution. When the “Remonstration” was still locked in the cabinet of Oldenbarnevelt he wrote and published a tract in which he strove to provide the sixth article of his “Remonstration” with proof from the Scriptures and from history. Doubtless his purpose was to feel out his countrymen before allowing his secret doing to become known. The States of Holland were highly pleased with his production. To their minds its argument was irrefutable and they commanded the classis and the curators to see to it that no one openly write against it.

The indignation of the Calvinists at being thus mandated by their government was great. And they did not keep silence. Fact is that through the years Wtenbogaert had completely reversed himself. Twenty years previous in a sermon on John 10:3 “To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name and calleth them out” he had championed the principle of the autonomy of the church with reference to the government and accordingly had set forth the government merely as an executive committee of the church and had thus allowed it simply the right to cooperate with the church and to approbate and execute her resolutions. How Wtenbogaert had changed? But so it goes. Nevertheless it raises the question what in the world had come over Wtenbogaert, this court-preacher of the Prince. This sermon was published, needless to say, to the great embarrassment of Wtenbogaert.

There were several assailants of Wtenbogaert’s argument. But the reasonings, however well-meant, were not always correct. So one, Van Mehen, set forth the view in which he coordinated under God the high government (for example in this land of ours the president and the congress in contradistinction to, let us say, the state governors) and Christ as the head of His church, and thereby proclaiming the legal parity of the two. As the lower lay rulers (the state governors) are subject to the president and the congress, so the rulers in the church, and they only, are subject to Christ. Such was here the conception. But the Scriptures teach us differently. According to Holy Writ, Christ is not coordinate with the high government but as seated at God’s right hand and thus under God its supreme Lord. The Potentate of potentates is He, and as such also the head over all things in the church which He rules by His Spirit and His Word. Not only the rulers in the church but the rulers in the state as well are subject to Christ, He being the Lord of lords and the King of kings as well as the king of His church.

The government by now had adopted measures for protecting the Remonstrants against any action that the churches might want to take against them. It forbade the convocation of synods. It sent the classes the five articles of the Remonstrants and required that they regard them as not being in conflict with the sentiment of the church. In examining the students no one might sound them regarding their attitude toward these articles. The ministers were commanded to remain silent in the preaching respecting “the high mysterious points that at the present time were being disputed far too much” and to bear one another in love.

In the meantime the secret doing of Wtenbogaert and his party, their addressing to their government a secret “Remonstration”, had become known, definitely to the synodical deputies of North and South Holland.

Their informants were the States-members of Amsterdam and Dordrecht.

These deputies met together, Aug. 3, 1610. Together they read and appraised the “Remonstration” of Wtenbogaert. Jointly they decided to oppose to it a writing known to posterity as “The Contra-Remonstration.” On the 10th of November they appeared with their document on the meeting of the States and let it be known by their spokesman Plancius that they were prepared in a lawful synod to prove that the articles of Wtenbogaert’s “Remonstration” were in conflict with the Word of God and with the Confession and the Catechism. Whereas these articles had never been examined in any lawful ecclesiastical gathering, they requested the States not to impose them on the churches, but rather to convoke a synod for the investigation of these articles.

The Lords of the States were of the opinion that a Provincial Synod could as yet serve no good purpose, but if the aggrieved ministers had need of proving that the V articles militated against God’s Word, opportunity would be given them so to do in the meeting of the States; let us take notice, in the meeting not of synod but of the States. So the Lords of the States (government) insisted. The Calvinists yielded the point, though reluctantly; whereupon the States decided that each side—Calvinists and Remonstrants—delegate six persons for the discussion of the “points” in a conference to be held in the presence and hearing of the States. But the discussion, so the States insisted, had to be friendly; it had to be carried on in a spirit of love (These people—Wtenbogaert and Oldenbarnevelt and their party—always and forever were shouting: love! love! love! But at the same time they were selling the truth down the river. So it goes) ; moreover the purpose of the conference had to be to see if it were possible for the parties to the dispute to understand and bear each other, and if not, they must clearly state their difference, circumscribe, fix, indicate its limits, in order that their government might know what next to do.

On the specified day the twelve debaters were assembled with a delegation of the high government (the States General). The Calvinist Hommius surprised his Remonstrant opponents by producing the previously composed “Contra-Remonstration”, which, upon the insistence of his Calvinist colleagues, he was permitted to read when Wtenbogaert had done reading his “Remonstration”, This “Contra-Remonstration” is an arresting bit of composition. As freely translated it reads thus:

‘‘Noble, Noble born, potent, exceptionally wise, Mandating (Lords! The undersigned, commissioned by the classes to confer with some co-workers in the Gospel reply to the contention of the Remonstrants as follows: that the Remonstrants are sorely mistaken in thinking that they have not occasioned the rumors that they strive after a change in the doctrine. The only explanation of the present unrest is that some ministers oppose their peculiar opinions to the general sentiment of the church, and that they have never been willing to give a candid and open statement of their opinions, much less to submit themselves to the judgment of the churches. They cause themselves to be suspected not only by their insistence on the revision of the Confession and the Catechism but especially by allowing it to be said that they have something new while refusing to reveal in any classical meeting what it is. We, too, admit that the Confessions as to their authority and worth may not be compared with the Holy Scriptures; he who says differently wrongs us. But considering that all sects abuse God’s Word by using it as a covering for their opinions,

It is highly necessary for the better preservation of peace and unity that the Church possess some general Forms of Unity setting forth what she believe to be the truth of God’s Word and by subscription binding on all the ministers in the Church. It is a cause of concern when such general Confessions of the Church are brought under a cloud and disputed about; this is harmful to the church and leads to suppression of the truth. This fruit is discernable also in these lands, where Revision has been sought though there be no need. As a result the common doctrine of the Reformed Churches is being distrusted! If there is something in Catechism or Confession that is in conflict with the word of God or is not in sufficient agreement with it, no one among us is so unwise that he would not admit that the Word of God is the only standard by which all doctrine must be proved; but the error would first have to be pointed out, and this has not been done to this day, despite the fact that the Remonstrants often have been requested and urged so to do.

(continued in the following article)