In the third number of the 28th volume of The Standard Bearer I presented, in the course of my treatment of the above-cited subject, the “Five Articles of the Remonstrants” in both languages (the Dutch and the English); and in the following number the “Contra-Remonstration” of the Calvinists. The translation is mine.
It was with this “Remonstration” of the Calvinists that I was last occupied. In commenting on this treatise, I wrote:
Certainly the Contra-Remonstration of the Calvinists is a noble document despite the fact that there are weaknesses in it. The theme of its seven articles is that God is God and none else, and that, accordingly, His predestination—election and reprobation, his saving grace—are sovereign. This doctrine it successfully champions and defends in opposition to the lying theories of the Remonstrants. All the complaints and requests that it voices and directs to the rulers in the state are just. The spirit that pervades the document is thoroughly Christian throughout; it is humble, contrite, sincere and respectful. Not once did the author and the signatories of this writing forget that it was their government that they were addressing. Yet in stating their complaints and in exposing the errors of their opponents they did not mince words. On the contrary, their sentences bespeak a firmness of spirit born of the conviction that the doctrine championed is the truth and nothing but the truth.
The “Remonstration” contains some passages that I here want to quote and comment upon. First this passage:
“The ministers sin with reckless boldness, if they spread—and if the rulers allow to be spread—among the churches opinions that militate against the accepted doctrine before they have been investigated by their brethren and have been generally approved. Had the Remonstrants indeed but acted according to the admonition of this celebrated theologian (Ursinus), we would have preserved rest and unity in our churches. What makes it that some of our churches are so divided, that some do not desire to hear their ministers and eat with them the Lord’s Supper? The reason is that even the common man notices that some ministers preach differently than until now it has always been the custom to teach in the Reformed Churches, yea, even differently than they, themselves were accustomed to teach.”
We need only observe here that so it always goes when a different sound is heard from the pulpit.
Further, this passage:
“Therefore we cannot by any means approve that the Remonstrants have submitted to your Noble Lords certain points that they have never laid before any Consistory or Classis, and that they by the authority of your Noble Lords (the civil government) want to compel their brethren not alone to bear with them regarding these views, but also to maintain future ministers who share these views with them in the hope that eventually they will prevail in the Reformed churches of these lands.”
The Calvinists were certainly justified in protesting against this doing of the Remonstrants. Apart from every other consideration, it meant that they were unfaithful to their promise implied in their subscription of the Formula of Subscription.
“When they set forth some teachings and say that among us almost nothing is being preached but these points, we find that therein they act unjustly and not in good faith, since they begin with the high point of predestination, which is preached in our churches with moderation and caution only to bring out that the grace of God is unmerited and to take away all human merit and worth.”
From these lines it appears that the Remonstrants were saying of the Calvinists that they almost preached nothing but election. Such is the complaint of the enemies of the true preaching of the gospel of today as well as of that day. The Calvinists, of course, did not deny it. On the contrary, they justified their doing on the ground that it was necessary in order to bring out that the grace of God is unmerited and to take away all human worth.
But the Remonstrants (Arminians) had serious objections to the doctrine of sovereign election and reprobation. In the introduction to their “Five Articles” we come upon these lines:
“In order further that neither their noble lords (it is the Remonstrants that here speak—O) nor anyone else may imagine that there is something strange about their considerations that cannot bear light, they shall reveal which points of doctrine grieve and burden them most…These points of doctrine are the following: that God—as some teach—by an eternal and unchangeable decree predestinated from the human race some unto everlasting life, and others unto everlasting damnation, solely because He so willed, and without any respect to righteousness and obedience. Further that by a second decree the elect necessarily and inevitably must be saved and cannot perish, and that the reprobated—whose number exceeds that of the elect—necessarily and inevitably are damned.
“Others teach that God did indeed regard the human race as fallen in Adam and in consequence thereof as ill-deserving, and decreed to save some but also to allow others to abide under the curse, young as well as old, even children of covenant members, who die in their infancy—and so decreed without any respect to penitence and faith in the some and to unbelief and impenitence in the others. In consequence thereof— according to these teachers—Jesus Christ did not die for all men, but for the elect alone. In the latter according to these same teachers, the Holy Spirit is operative with a power that cannot be resisted, so that they must believe and repent and necessarily be saved.”
“The undersigned…cannot in any case hold these points to be in agreement with the Word of God. To their mind they are unedifying and harmful.”
Mark this last statement. The doctrine of sovereign election and reprobation and the doctrine that grace is irresistible is harmful. This, they said, is fatalism. It makes of men stocks and blocks and denies human responsibility. In these doctrines is to be found a cause for carelessly following the evil lusts of the flesh. Of course, these objections the opponents of the truth always and forever do raise against the true Gospel of the Scriptures.
The Calvinists (Fathers of Dordt) replied also to these slanders. The seventh and final article of their “Contra-Remonstration” reads in part:
“That even so the true believers do not take from this doctrine a cause for carelessly following the evil lusts of the flesh, seeing that it is impossible that those who by a true faith have been planted into Christ should not bring forth fruits of gratitude. The very opposite takes place. The more they hold themselves persuaded and understand that God works in them both to will and to do according to His good pleasure, the more they work out with fear and trembling their salvation, seeing that they know that this is the only means whereby it pleases God to make them to stand and to lead them unto salvation.”
The italics are of the undersigned. But let us take notice of this statement. The Arminians said: The preaching of a sovereign election is a cause for carelessly following the evil lust of the flesh.
The fathers of Dordt said: the very opposite is true. The doctrine that God works both to will and to do—and this is sovereign election—is in the elect the very and only incentive to holy living.
This is so very true. Substitute for the preaching of election—and election is the Gospel and Gospel is election—law, the demand of the law, exhortation to right living, and the result will be deterioration of spiritual life of the flock; and the end will be a church from which the candlestick has been removed. To keep silence about election is to do the flock a great injury. What is music to the true believers is precisely that he loves God, serves God, lays off sin and puts on Christ just because and for the only and very reason that the Father of Christ makes him to love and to serve Him, to lay off sin, and put on Christ, that thus his faith, also as an act, is God’s work in him. How well our Reformed fathers understood this.
Notice, too, how that according to these fathers, the believer’s faith, His seeking and striving, etc., that is, faith as his act is God’s means whereby it pleases God to make him to stand. Let us take careful notice of this teaching: faith as the believer’s act is God’s means (not his) for making him to stand. And why is this? Simply because faith as the believer’s act is God’s very own work in him. God worketh in him both to will and to do. This has reference to faith also as an act. These things being true, how can faith as the believer’s act be a condition that he must fulfill in order to be saved. This cannot be.
Well, now, according to the teaching of the Reformed fathers here encountered, just because the believer knows that his working out of his salvation, his faith as his act, is God’s work and therefore also God’s means, he, the believer, is thus active,—active in working out his salvation. That knowledge, which, of course, implies the knowledge that he, himself, is a believer and therefore an elect, is to him the sole and mighty incentive to work out his salvation. And why? Because he loves God and because, loving God, he wants to be holy in order that he may see God as He is in the face of Christ.
All things considered, our fathers meant to be saying, how utterly impossible, how unspeakably absurd, therefore, the contention that sovereign election and the preaching thereof is, can be, to the believer, the elect of God, a cause for their following after the evil lusts of their sinful flesh.
Were then our Reformed fathers opposed to exhortation in the pulpit? They were not certainly. They wanted it, because, occupying the position that they did, doctrinally, they saw the need of and the true reason for it. This also is evident from their “Remonstration”. The statement occurs (Art. 7):
“For this purpose (namely, for the purpose of causing, making His elect to stand—O), He (the Lord) also in His word employs various exhortations and threats. For he does that (they go on to say) not to cause them to despair or to make them doubt their own salvation but to awaken in them a childlike fear, doing so with a view to the weaknesses of their flesh” (Art. 7). And, of course, these fathers meant to say these admonitions and threats do always without exception bear precisely this fruit in His elect, seeing that the true Preacher of the word is not man but Christ, mighty to speak His exhortations in the hearts of His sheep.
A final question. Was, on account of their doctrinal position regarding election, the God whom they worshipped, the Allah of the Mohammedans? And is according to their conception, the believer a stock and a stone, and the reprobate an irresponsible puppet in God’s hands, one who, though he so very much likes to go to heaven, must, nevertheless go to hell, because God so determined?
The concluding lines of their “Remonstration” make it very plain what their stand was regarding these points. These lines read:
“This, noble, potent and mandating lords, is in brief what we insist is being taught in our churches. What the Remonstrants add to it to make it appear as hateful as possible is but a mass of consequences and slanderings that the carnal mind, which is enmity against God, deduces from it. However, he who holds that God was not resolved to damn anyone but for his sins; that he does not move anyone to sin and that also they who, being dead in sin, cannot otherwise but sin, yet sin voluntarily (italics—O) will not be offended by this doctrine.”
In a word, they made it plain that their doctrine of sovereign election and grace was free from all such erroneous and horrible ideas, and that, therefore, there could be no valid reason why anyone should be offended by it. Nevertheless, the Remonstrants were offended by it, as we have seen. Nothing is more hateful to the natural man than the idea of a God, who is God.
Such then, was the doctrinal position of the Reformed fathers as set forth in their “Contra-Remonstration”.