The Canons of Dordrecht, Part Two, Exposition of the Canons, Fifth Head of Doctrine, Of the Perseverance of the Saints, Conclusion

And this is the perspicuous, simple, and ingenuous declaration of the orthodox doctrine respecting de five articles which have been controverted in de Belgic churches; and the rejection of the errors, with which they have for some time been troubled. This doctrine the Synod judges to be drawn from the Word of God, and to be agreeable to the confessions of the Reformed churches. Whence it clearly appears, that some whom such conduct by no means became, have violated all truth, equity, and charity, in wishing to persuade the public. 

“That the doctrine of the Reformed churches concerning predestination, and the points annexed to it, by its own genius and necessary tendency, leads off the minds of men from all piety and religion; 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; that it makes God the author of sin, unjust, tyrannical, hypocritical; that it is nothing more than interpolated Stoicism, Manicheism, Libertinism, Turcism; 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 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; 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 world to eternal damnation; and, has created them for this very purpose; that in the same manner m which the election is the fountain and the cause of faith and good works, reprobation is the cause of unbelief and impiety; that many children of the faithful are tom, 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;” and many other things of the same kind, which the Reformed Churches not only do not acknowledge; but even detest with their whole soul. 

Wherefore, this Synod of Dart, in the name of the Lord, conjures as many as piously call upon the name of our Savior Jesus Christ, to judge of the faith of the Reformed Churches, not from the calumnies, which, on every side, are heaped upon it; nor from the private expressions of a few among ancient and modern teachers, often dishonestly quoted, or corrupted, and wrested to a meaning quite foreign to their intention; but from the public confessions of the Churches themselves, and from the declaration of the orthodox doctrine, confirmed by the unanimous consent of all and each of the members of the whole Synod. Moreover, the Synod warns calumniators themselves, to consider the terrible judgment of God which awaits them, for bearing false witness against the confessions of so many Churches, for distressing the consciences of the weak; and for laboring to render suspected the society of the truly faithful. 

Finally, this Synod exhorts all their brethren in the gospel of Christ; to conduct themselves piously and religiously in handling this doctrine, both in the universities and churches; to direct it, as well in discourse, as in writing, to the glory of the Divine Name, to holiness of life, and to the consolation of afflicted souls; to regulate, by the Scripture, according to the analogy of faith, not only their sentiments, but also their language; and, to abstain from all those phrases which exceed the limits necessary to be observed in ascertaining the genuine sense of the holy Scriptures; and may furnish insolent sophists with a just pretext for violently assailing, or even vilifying, the doctrine of the Reformed Churches. 

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. 

That this is our faith and decision we certify by subscribing our names. Here follow the names, not only of President, Assistant President, and Secretaries of the Synod, and of the Professors OF Theology in the Dutch Churches, but of all the Members who were deputed to the Synod, as the Representatives of their respective Churches, that is, of the Delegates from Great Britain, the Electoral Palatinate, Hessia, Switzerland, Wetteraw — The Republic and. Church of Geneva — The Republic and Church of Bremen — The Republic and Church of Emden — The Duchy of Gelderland and of Zutphen — South Holland — North Holland — Zeeland — The Province of Utrecht—Friesland — Transylvania — The State of Groningen and Omland — Drent — The French Churches. 

This “Conclusion” is, for the purpose of our discussion, quite adequately rendered in the above version, of our “Psalter.” And therefore, although several improvements could be made in translation and punctuation, we will not risk either boring or confusing the reader by trying to point out in such a lengthy document the various points at which improvements could be made. If necessary, we can note such changes as we proceed with our discussion. 

Strictly speaking, I suppose, this “Conclusion” does not belong to our Canons as a creed and as one of our Three Forms of Unity. It is for this reason too, undoubtedly, that many Dutch and English versions of the Canons omit it. Nevertheless, I think its omission is a mistake, and that for the following reasons. In the first place, in the mind of the Synod of Dordrecht this “Conclusion” was associated very closely with theCanons themselves, both as to occasion, necessity, and content. After the Canons were formulated and individually approved, the proposal to add a rejection of some of the most outstanding calumnies against the true doctrine of predestination was brought to the Synod and approved in its 131st session. The Synod was furnished with such a proposed conclusion, spent four sessions in revising and debating it for reasons which we need not consider at present, and finally adopted the, “Conclusion” in its above form at the 134th session. Then, in the 135th and 136th sessions all five heads of doctrine, plus the “Conclusion,” were once more read and finally adopted and separately subscribed to by all the delegations, foreign and domestic. This “Conclusion,” therefore, was treated really as an integral part of the Canons. In the second place, this “Conclusion” is of historical value and sheds much light on the occasion and necessity of theCanons, as well as on their content. The calumnies cited therein help us to understand several of the formulations, both positive and negative, found in theCanons themselves. In the third place, this “Conclusion” was undoubtedly necessary and valuable for Reformed believers of that time and formed a fitting affirmation and exhortation to all who were involved in the Arminian struggle. But there is after all nothing new under the sun. And it is striking how up-to-date this affirmation of the truth, expose of calumnies, earning to calumniators, and exhortation to the faithful actually is. We may see from it not only how vile and false were the calumnies against the Reformed doctrine in the days of our fathers, but also observe that the opponents of the truth of predestination today have learned their lessons from the Remonstrants. They come with the same calumnies and false conclusions. And therefore, all the more is it necessary, especially in these days of doctrinal ignorance and indifference and of a woefully inadequate acquaintance with the confessions, that those who confess the truth and the name of our Lord Jesus Christ be acquainted with their opposition, and be admonished to know the truth, to esteem their heritage, and to maintain it piously.

Hence, rather than abruptly close this series at the end of the Fifth Head of Doctrine, we prefer to associate ourselves with the fathers of Dordrecht in this “Conclusion,” and, at the same time, properly conclude also our exposition of the Canons

This “Conclusion” may be readily divided into several main sections. 

In the first place, it contains a brief and positive affirmation of the Canons as a declaration of the orthodox doctrine with respect to the Five Articles of the Remonstrants, at the same time pointing to the occasion and need of the formulation of the Canonsas lying in the rise of the Arminian heresy. We may notice that our fathers characterize the doctrine of ourCanons as “perspicuous,” or clear, as “simple,” and as “ingenuous,” or upright, candid, undisguised. This is an obvious reference to the fact that the Arminian teachings were lacking in clarity, were involved, and were purposely disguised and devious, while the Arminians charged the Reformed doctrine exactly with these shortcomings. We have reminded the reader of this fact several: times during the course of our discussions and we need not go into detail on this score again. Let us remember, however that the charge so often brought today too that the Reformed doctrine of predestination is heavy and involved and so complex that only a theologian can grasp it is as false as it is frequent. This truth is clear, simple, and undisguised, so that a child can grasp it. And ourCanons are the evidence of it. The reason for this is also simple. This doctrine, as the “Conclusion” has it, is drawn from the perspicuous and, simple Word of God itself. And the fact of the harmony between ourCanons and our other Reformed confessions is also a testimony to the truth. One of the beauties of our Reformed doctrine is the fact that all the various aspects of the truth constitute together a harmonious system of the truth. And through them all beats the pulse of the heart of the church, God’s eternal predestination.

In the second place, our fathers strike out against those who oppose and slander the truth, at the same time enumerating some of their most slanderous attacks upon the truth. We may note here, incidentally, that it would be better to punctuate this sentence with a colon after the word “public,” and then proceed to quote the slanders which are mentioned here. As far as the content of this section is concerned we may remark, first of all, that our fathers were obviously not given to that false tolerance and sentimental but false charity that is so prevalent today with respect to heresy and heretics. They understood indeed that the matter of the confession and maintenance of the truth and that of the promulgation of heresy are spiritual, ethical matters. To them therefore, the controversy between Reformed and Arminian was not a mere academic debate. Nor could they assume the stand that all were entitled to their opinions. But standing as before the face of God they had no other course than to condemn the Arminian propaganda as a violation of all truth, equity, and charity. Serious charges? Indeed; but those who love the truth will admit that they are every whit true. Arid those whop read these Arminian slanders in the light of our Canons will be compelled to admit that these calamities indeed appear contrary to truth, equity, and charity. And those who love the Reformed faith and who have themselves been witness to these or similar calumnies in their own experience will readily understand that our fathers, as a matter of conviction, felt as they did toward those who insidiously infiltrated the Reformed churches, unethically propagated their evil heresy, willfully fought to deprive the church of its heritage, and wickedly sought to destroy the churches, even enlisting the aid of a sympathetic government in order to persecute the faithful. And they will agree that our fathers are not in need of twentieth century excuses for their sharp language. Yes, and they will also express the earnest wish that there might be more of such warm zeal for the truth and upright enmity against the enemies of God’s cause in our own time. 

(to be continued) 

—H.C.H.