Let us briefly take notice of the various calumnies against the Reformed doctrine of predestination that are mentioned in this Conclusion. It is not our purpose in this connection to explain all these false charges in detail and to refute them. This has been done in connection with the Canons themselves. In fact, in many cases our Canons literally face these same charges and refute them. Here, therefore, we shall simply cite these errors, and point out how and where our fathers, in the body of the Canons, dealt with them.
The first two charges are closely related: in fact, we may say that they constitute one charge from two different points of view. They are: 1) That the doctrine of the Reformed churches concerning predestination, and the points annexed to it, by its own genius and necessary tendency, leads off (leads away) the minds of men from all piety and religion. 2). That it is an opiate administered by the flesh and the devil, and the stronghold of Satan, where he lies in wait for all; and from which he wounds multitudes and mortally strikes through many with the darts both of despair and security. This second statement, by the way, is far from literal. It is the expression which has occurred before, “a cushion, or couch, for the flesh,” in the Dutch, “een oorkussen voor het vlees.” It may readily be seen that these two charges really aim at presenting the Reformed doctrine as an immoral doctrine, contrary to godliness and religion, and for that reason also a wicked doctrine practically speaking, because it leads to despair and carnal security, and is therefore nothing less than a cunning device of the devil to ensnare God’s people. Over against these and like charges the Canons testify as far as the doctrine of predestination itself is concerned in the First Head of Doctrine, Articles 9, 12, 13, and in the Rejection of Errors, Articles 5 and 7. As far as the other heads of doctrine (“the points annexed to it”) are concerned, we have seen repeatedly how our fathers faced this objection. We may mention especially III and IV, A, Articles 11, 12, 16, 17, and V, A, Articles 4, 5, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, and V, B, 6.
The next slander concerns God Himself: “that it makes God the author of sin, unjust, tyrannical, hypocritical.” Over against this charge we would mention especiallyCanons I, A, 15, 16, and 18, and III and IV, 8 and 9.
The “Conclusion” next cites the calumny that the Reformed doctrine “is nothing more than interpolated Stoicism, Manicheism, Libertinism, Turcism.” These four “isms,” the first of which is a Graeco-Roman philosophy that was current in the apostles’ time, the second a type of Gnosticism which made its appearance in the ancient period of church history, the third an immoral counterfeit of Christian liberty which appeared in the Geneva of Calvin’s time, and the fourth referring to the Turkish Mohammedan doctrine—these four agree in two respects: they are all fatalistic in their view, and they all are alike opposed to all true morality. By interpolated is meant that the Reformed doctrine is merely the doctrine of Stoicism, etc., in a modified form, in a new garb. From the above it is plain that the two following charges belong with this one: 1) “that it renders men carnally secure, since they are persuaded by it that nothing can hinder the salvation of the elect, let them live as they please; and therefore, that they may safely perpetrate every species of the most atrocious crimes”; and, 2) “that, if the reprobate should even perform truly all the works of the saints, their obedience would not in the least contribute to their salvation.” To mention these charges is to expose their evil and slanderous nature. Anyone who knows the Reformed truth as set forth in our Canons knows that there is no slightest resemblance between our Reformed doctrine of predestination and these calumnies. And the various articles of our Canons which we have already mentioned above make it abundantly clear that this is true.
The same is true of the next evil charge: “that the same doctrine teaches, that God, by a mere arbitrary act of his will, without the least respect or view to any sin, has predestinated the greatest part of the would to eternal damnation; and, has created them for this very purpose; that in the same manner in which the election is the fountain and the cause of faith and good works, reprobation is the cause of unbelief and impiety.” There are Reformed people today who are afraid of the true Reformed view of reprobation and who are afraid of this calumny that was brought already against our fathers’ doctrine. And therefore they speak of a “modified” doctrine of predestination, which really makes reprobation, and, with it necessarily also election, conditional. They maintain that a sovereignelection and reprobation is arbitrary. This is nothing new, of course. And we must remember that this calumny of the Arminians will never be registered against any view that denies the sovereignty of predestination. Our fathers did not face this charge and answer it by teaching that reprobation was in some way because of sin. Nor did they place sin outside of the sovereign counsel of the Most High. Nor, by any means, did they make reprobation the fountain and cause of sin just as election is the fountain and cause of every saving good. They did maintain that the decree of reprobation is out of God’s sovereign, most just, irreprehensible and unchangeable good pleasure. And they did maintain, as infralapsarians, that God decreed to leave the reprobate in the common misery into which they have willfully plunged themselves. And over against this charge of arbitrariness they teach very plainly that when God decrees to cause the reprobate to be condemned and to perish forever, He does this in the way of their own sin and unbelief. This is very plainly taught in Article 15 of the First Head of Doctrine. And again, both this charge of arbitrariness and this false presentation of the relation between reprobation and the sins of the reprobate are clearly contradicted in the further treatment by Article 16: “But this doctrine is justly terrible to those, who, regardless of God and of the Savior Jesus Christ, have wholly given themselves up to the cares of the world, and the pleasures of the flesh, so long as they are not seriously converted to God.”
And finally, the very wicked—because of its sentimental appeal—charge is mentioned: “that many children of the faithful are torn, guiltless, from their mothers’ breasts, and tyrannically plunged into hell; so that neither baptism, nor the prayers of the Church at their baptism can at all profit by them.” We may cite over against this calumny, first of all, the often-discussed Article 17 of the First Head: “Since we are to judge of the will of God from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they, together with the parents, are comprehended, godly parents have no reason to doubt of the election arid salvation of their children, whom it pleaseth God to call out of this life in their infancy.” Does this careful and quiet statement of the truth sound at all like the vicious calumny of the Arminians? And besides, who can bring such a charge as this without denying the age-old doctrine of original guilt? For note that these children are pictured as “guiltless” in this accusation. Hence, we may also mention Canons III, IV, A, 1-3 in answer to this charge.
When one takes the time to consider these charges and to observe that it is indeed true that the Reformed churches neither “acknowledge, but even detest with their whole soul” all of them, then one can also understand how it is possible that our fathers charged their opponents with violating “all truth, equity, and charity.” The Arminians slandered the truth; they presented a grossly unfair picture of the Reformed doctrine in their charges, and thus violated all equity; and they, who attempted to sound so lovely and sentimental, violated all genuine charity in so doing, because charity seeks truth.
The next section of the “Conclusion” is an earnest exhortation to the faithful, that is, to “as many as piously call upon the name of our Savior Jesus Christ,” given “in the name of the Lord” to judge the doctrine of the Reformed churches from the confessions and from the Canons. There is a bit of history connected with this section. Originally, this “Conclusion” was to contain only a rejection of the Arminians’ calumnies against the truth. Later, however, it was proposed that some of the strong expressions of certain Reformed teachers also be included and condemned. The Synod refused to do this for three reasons. In the first place, they felt that no occasion should be given for a condemnation of sound doctrine through association with some of these improper expressions. In the second place, it was maintained that the Holy Spirit Himself uses some such strong expressions in the Scriptures. And, in the third place, it was felt that many of these expressions, if viewed charitably, could be very well explained. Hence, the Synod makes reference to this matter in a different way, and emphasizes: 1) That the Reformed faith is not to be judged from the calumnies above cited. 2) That it is not even to be judged from the private expressions of a few teachers—whether ancient or modern—especially since these expressions are often dishonestly quoted (something which is very simply done through the mere device of quoting out of context), or are corrupted and twisted to mean something quite foreign to their intention. 3) But that if any wishes to know and to judge properly, the doctrine of the Reformed churches, the only fair way to do so is from the public and officially adopted doctrinal expressions of those churches, namely, from their confessions, including the Canonsthemselves.
The next section contains a warning to the calumniators. The Synod charges them with a heavy responsibility indeed, and evinces a different spirit than that of many compromisers of today, who glibly speak of ecumenicity. The Synod reminds these evil opponents of the deeply serious fact that they must one day face the Judge of heaven and earth, the God of His church. And it charges them with a three-fold sin. In the first place, they are guilty of bearing false witness against the confessions not only of the Dutch church, but of many churches which in that day held the same faith. In the second place, they are guilty by their opposition to the truth and their calculated slander of the truth of distressing the consciences of those who are weak in the faith. And, in the third place, they are guilty of trying to put the truly faithful in an evil light, trying to present them as false teachers and heretics, and of thus attempting to place them under suspicion.
The last section of this “Conclusion” is an exhortation to the brethren to use this true doctrine aright. We need not enlarge on this because the Canonsthemselves also reflect on this matter more than once. The general thrust of this admonition is that the truth must be handled piously and religiously. This includes the following elements: 1) Both in teaching and in preaching this truth must be used to the glory of God, unto holiness of life, and unto the consolation of afflicted souls. 2) The standard of such proper use of this doctrine is the Scripture; and the Scripture must control not only our views, but also our language. 3) We must beware that we observe the proper limits of Holy Scripture, and thus abstain from excessive language in the exposition of the Word of God, lest we furnish the opponents with a just pretext for attacking and vilifying the doctrine of the Reformed churches. Suffice it to say that our fathers did not include their own Canons, either positive or negative, nor their own “Conclusion,” both of which contain much sharp language, nor the views of either infralapsarian or supralapsarian, of whom there were many who subscribed to the Canons, in the excessive opinions and language referred to.
And thus we come to the end of our discussion of theCanons. Well may we in our day conclude our discussion with the petition which closes this “Conclusion”: “May Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who, seated at the Father’s right hand, gives gifts to men, sanctify us in the truth, bring to the truth those who err; shut the mouths of the calumniators of sound doctrine, and endue the faithful ministers of his Word with the spirit of wisdom and discretion, that all their discourses may tend to the glory of God, and the edification of those who hear them. AMEN.”