When one reads this description of the Arminian doctrine of election, it is not difficult to understand that the fathers felt constrained to add to their positive presentation of the truth a negative section. For the treacherous part of the Arminian position consisted exactly in this, that while they retained the word“election,” they did not at all retain the Scriptural and Reformed concept of election; and thus they were able to deceive and to confuse people. Their false doctrine, therefore, stood, and still stands, in need of being exposed.
The fundamental error mentioned in this article of rejection is that the Arminians taught a manifold election. The result of this teaching of various kinds of election was ambiguity, of course. Whenever the Arminian spoke of election, it was necessary to inquire whether he really meant that one was chosen unto everlasting life and glory, or whether he merely mouthed the term, meanwhile reducing the idea of divine election to nothing, or less than nothing. For, you understand too; the Arminian would not present a nicely outlined scheme of his doctrine of election such as the fathers present here in the Rejection of Errors. Then, of course, there would have been little difficulty in discerning their error. But the scheme which the fathers here outline, though frequently left unexpressed by the Arminian heretic, was nevertheless in his mind when he spoke so freely of election, and it was the scheme which logically enabled him to present the error of free-willism and conditional salvation. You can imagine the confusion and difficulty which this caused. People would hear a Reformed preacher denounce the Arminians for their denial of election. And then, probably from the same pulpit even, they would hear an Arminian preacher freely speak of election. And, not comprehending the clever arid intricate scheme of a manifold election which lay behind the Arminian preaching, people would be greatly troubled, and would begin to wonder whether the Arminians were not being falsely accused, and perhaps they would even be inclined to sympathize with those “poor, misunderstood men.” For after all, what heretic worthy of mention ever comes “wearing wooden shoes?”
But now notice all that is involved when the Arminian speaks of election. First of all, he might have in mind a “general and indefinite” election. You would have to ask him, of course, to discover his meaning. This general and indefinite election had no reference to certain definite persons, but concerned men in general and certain indefinite persons, even though it did not mention men at all but consisted in an election of certain conditions. We will give more detailed attention to this in connection with Article 3. The insidious character of this error, however, was that it allowed the Arminian to say that God’s election was sure. He would mean, of course, “sure” in the sense that the reward of eternal life was surely attached to the fulfillment of the necessary conditions. In the second place, the Arminian might also have in mind a “particular and definite” election. Again, you would have to ask him in order to discover his meaning. Under this “kind” of election he could even speak of. God choosing certain definite persons in distinction from others, so that, unless you investigated his real meaning, you might be deceived into thinking he was Reformed. Of these things the fourth and fifth articles of rejection speak, as well as the sixth; and we shall note the details at the proper time. These certain definite persons were those, of course, whom God foresaw as meeting the conditions of salvation. But wait a moment! The Arminian conception of election is well-nigh a doctrinal maze, through which one finds his way only with difficulty. Even this particular and definite election, though in some cases it may be complete (ending in eternal life), irrevocable (not being recalled and revoked at the last moment), decisive (so that it definitely means that you are of God’s saved ones)? and absolute (not uncertain and conditional, that is, after the last condition has been met at least), might, on the other hand, be incomplete (so that you never reach the goal), revocable (so that you end a reprobate), non-decisive (so that it determines nothing at all concerning your final state), and conditional (so that the decision still remains in your hands). To be sure, the Arminian does not explain how in any real sense such an election can be particular and definite. He does not, because he cannot. For in last instance, the only kind of election that he really knows is one that is general and indefinite, and which is for that very reason no election whatsoever. And thus, finally, with the above scheme the Arminian is able to speak also of one election unto faith, which has a Reformed sound, but of another election, that is, an election of a different sort, unto salvation. The result is that he could play such doctrinal “hocus-pocus” that he would actually end by maintaining that though a man was chosen unto justifying faith, that is, faith by which we are judged righteous before God in Christ, nevertheless that did not necessarily mean that he would be among the saved on the day of judgment. It would then be an election unto justifying faith without being a decisive election unto salvation.
By this time one may well say that any resemblance between the above and the Scriptural teaching of election is strictly coincidental. So thoroughly did the Arminians corrupt the true doctrine of election in this scheme that it is neither necessary nor, I would almost say, possible to quote Scripture to refute them. One is well-nigh at a loss as to where he must begin his criticism. Evidently the fathers felt this, and saw, moreover, that once this clever scheme is set forth in plain language, it is so evidently false that no argument is necessary. They condemn it as “a fancy of men’s minds.” They make bold to say that it is invented “regardless of the Scriptures,”—thought up outside the bounds of Scripture, as the Dutch has it. In other words, when the Arminian corruption of the doctrine of election is preached, or underlies the preaching, you hear not the Word of God, but the word of man! In our day this boldness of the fathers to call an error by its correct name is almost unknown. Instead error is excused and covered up by the sickly claim that the proponents of this false doctrine are “sincere and pious students of the Scriptures, who put many a Reformed man to shame.” But let him who claims to be Reformed, who claims to be a Calvinist, yea, who claims to acknowledge the Scriptures as the only infallible rule of faith and practice, imitate the fathers of Dordt, then, and condemn that which is invented “regardless of the Scriptures.”
Nor, mark you well, is all this without practical significance as far as the people of God are concerned. The fathers point this out when they accuse the Arminians here of breaking the golden chain of our salvation, that is, the chain which inseparably links predestination and glorification, through calling and justification, with eternally and divinely forged links. Actually, of course, that chain cannot be broken. Doctrinal and conceptually however, the Arminians do break it by corrupting the truth of election. And when this is done in the preaching, the child of God is cut adrift as far as his assurance is concerned. This the Reformed fathers discerned, and about it they were concerned at the Great Synod. And, practically viewed, this is always at stake in the Reformed controversy against the Arminians.
In conclusion, we emphasize our opening remark under this second article: who has a simple gospel,—the Arminian, with his error of various kinds of election, of the Reformed man, with his Scriptural teaching that there is but one decree of election?
Article III. Who teach: That the good pleasure and purpose of God, of which Scripture makes mention in the doctrine of election, does not consist in this, that God chose certain persons rather than others, but in this, that he chose out of all possible conditions (among which are also the works of the law), or out of the whole order of things, the act of faith, which from its very nature is undeserving, as well as its incomplete obedience, as a condition of salvation, and that he would graciously consider this in itself as a complete obedience and count it worthy of the reward of eternal life. For by this injurious error the pleasure of God and the merits of Christ are made of none elect, and men are drawn away by useless questions from the truth of gracious justification and from the simplicity of Scripture, and this declaration of the Apostle is charged as untrue: “Who saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal.”
In this third article of rejection the fathers elaborate on the Arminian heresy of a “general and indefinite” election, already rejected in Article II. By way of distinguishing, we may say that the present article rejects the error of conditional salvation, while the next article rejects the error of conditional election. As we have had occasion to remark before, the two errors are logically inseparable. It is simply impossible that the fathers could combat conditional election without combatting conditional salvation, even though the contrary has been alleged also in our own recent controversy. Logically, since salvation has its source in election, if salvation is conditional, then election must needs also be conditional; and if election is unconditional, then salvation must also be unconditional. This consequence cannot be avoided. That this is true is very evident in the present article. For while it rejects the idea that the act of faith, as well as its incomplete obedience, is a condition of salvation, on the ground that it enervates the merits of Christ and the grace of justification, it at the same time speaks of the good pleasure and purpose of God. And it insists that also his truth is denied, and the good pleasure of God made of none effect.
The error that is here rejected is not difficult to understand. It contains the following elements:
1) God indeed has a good pleasure and a purpose. Again, let it be rioted, we have to do here with Scriptural terms, which the Arminians could not very well ignore, lest their heretical tendencies should be too obvious. The fathers also point to this in the words, “of which Scripture makes mention in the doctrine of election.”
2) This good pleasure and purpose of God, however, does not consist in an election of certain persons rather than others. Here the idea of a general and indefinite election is negatively introduced. In this part of the Arminian doctrine, therefore, one could not speak of elect persons and reprobate persons.
3) When establishing His elective purpose and good pleasure, God was faced by a choice of all possible conditions unto salvation. There was the condition of perfect obedience, the condition of the works of the law, the condition of, the act of faith, the condition of the imperfect obedience of faith. And thus there was “the whole order of things” from which God could make a choice in establishing a condition unto salvation. God’s good pleasure, therefore, consists in choosing one condition rather than another. And whoever fits into that conditional scheme, or rather fits himself into it, shall be elect; whoever does not shall be reprobate. No one does God call by name from eternity. He merely determines upon the condition of salvation.
(to be continued)