The Canons of Dordrecht, Part Two, Exposition of the Canons, Third and Fourth Heads of Doctrine, Of the Corruption of Man, His Conversion to God, And the Manner Thereof


Article 3. Who teach: That in spiritual death the spiritual gifts are not separate from the will of man, since the will in itself has never been corrupted, but only hindered through the darkness of the understanding and the irregularity of the affections; and that these hindrances having been removed, the will can then bring into operation its native powers, that is, that the will of itself is able to will and to choose, or not to will and not to choose, all manner of good which may be presented to it. This is an innovation and an error, and tends to elevate the powers of the free will, contrary to the declaration of the Prophet: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt,” Jer. 17:9; and of the Apostle: “Among whom (sons of disobedience) we also all once lived in the lusts of the flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind,” Eph. 2:3. 

With the above translation we have little fault to find, except that: 1) The word “separate” could better be translated “separated.” 2) The rather clumsy expression, “the will can then bring into operation its native powers,” could more simply be translated: “the will is free to exercise its native (or: inborn) power.” 3) The texts quoted should be quoted from our Authorized Version, as follows: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked,” Jer. 17:9; and, “Among whom (the children of disobedience) also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind,” Eph. 2:3.

This article follows quite logically upon the preceding one. It stands to reason that if the spiritual gifts, or good qualities and virtues, could not belong to the will of man when he was first created, and that these, therefore, could not have been separated therefrom in the fall, then it is also true that in spiritual death the spiritual gifts are not separated from the will of man. And this logical connection is also indicated by the clause, “since the will in itself has never been corrupted.” We must bear in mind, however, what is meant by th6 last clause. What the Arminian means by the statement that “the will in itself has never been corrupted” is plain from the preceding article. And it is indeed important to understand this, so that we may be able to discern the Arminian error also today. Let us therefore investigate this a little more closely. 

First of all, we should remember that the Arminian aim is to deny the truth of total depravity. This, as we have observed before, is the crucial stage of the Arminian error; and the truth of total depravity is a crucial truth with regard to the Reformed doctrine of efficacious grace. If the Arminian wants to maintain his theory of conditional salvation, he must destroy the truth of total depravity, because he must have a man that is able to fulfill the conditions of salvation. However, the Arminian is confronted by the plain fact that Scripture speaks of the fall of man and of his corruption and his spiritual death. Hence, he cannot very well flatly contradict the fact that man has fallen into spiritual death. He must follow a devious course. He must recognize these Scriptural facts, and must employ the terminology of Scripture, and in the meantime get rid of the truth by constructing a new explanation of these Scriptural facts and terms. 

Hence, in the second place, the Arminian, as we saw in connection with the previous article, begins with creation, and claims that the spiritual gifts of righteousness and holiness and goodness did from the creation not inhere in the will of man as such, and that therefore, there was no possibility that these gifts could be separated from man’s will in the fall. This is what the Arminian means by the statement in the present article, “the will in itself has never been corrupted.” 

Thence, in the third place, the Arminian arrives at the position that the will of the natural man is of itself able to will and to choose, or not to will and not to choose, all manner of good which may be presented to it, just as soon as there are no hindrances in the way of that inherently free win. 

Thus, you see, the Arminian has arrived at his goal, namely, a man with a free will. He denies the depravity of the will. But if then you would accuse him of denying the fall and depravity of man, he would adroitly sidestep you by making the claim that you cannot speak of a corrupt will since, to begin with, the term “holy and righteous will” is itself a misnomer. And so, characteristically heretical, he fellows a deceitful and devious course in his denial of the truth. 

In what, then, does the fall and corruption of man consist, according to the Arminian? And, if the will is not corrupt in itself, whence does sin arise? The Arminian answer is two-fold. In the first place, man’s mind is darkened somewhat, so that he does not discern the good clearly. Fundamentally, this implies that in the Arminian view sin is an error, a mistake. It is due to ignorance. And the solution to the problem of man’s sin and misery is, accordingly, that man must be educated, enlightened, persuaded of the good. And in the second place, man’s affections, or inclinations, have through the fall become irregular, disorganized, so that he is somewhat inclined toward the evil, and so that he does the evil more easily than the good. But the will itself is untouched by the fall and retains its power to choose or not to choose the good. Hence, this darkness of the mind and irregularity of the affections constitute a hindrance, an impediment, to the will. And if only the hindrance is removed, then the will can again freely function in choosing or not choosing whatever good is presented to it. 

Now let us clearly see the implications of this view. 

In the first place, such a view constitutes the destruction of all true religion. It changes the Christian faith radically. It substitutes education, reform, enlightenment, training, moral suasion for regeneration. It is, basically modernism. Build schools, and teach men social and religious values and virtues, teach a virtuous and religious way of life,—such is the slogan of this view. Then the enlightened mind of man will cause the will to go in the right direction, and also the irregularity of the affections will be overcome. Let us note that by whatever devious means the Arminian arrives at his view, the ultimate result is that man is not corrupt, but inherently good; there are only circumstances, both external and internal, that hinder the development and expression of this inherently good man. Remove those hindrances, and man will become manifest in his true greatness. God’s help may be necessary in the removal of the hindrances; but the improvement comes from man himself. It is a religion of self-improvement through self-development. The damnable part of it all is that the Arminian is not nearly as honest as the modernist. If only the Arminian was as crass and as blunt as the modernist, he would not trouble the church as much as he does. 

In the second place, it may be noted that the Arminian conception of man and of his spiritual and psychological make-up is very unrealistic. The Remonstrant makes separation between the various faculties of the soul, and he presents matters as if the fall could have more influence upon the one faculty, the mind, than upon the other faculty, the will. But man is one. And his soul, even though it may be distinguished into the faculties of mind and will, is also one. And if man falls into corruption, the entire man becomes subject to sin. And the presentation as if a man could be corrupt and darkened in his understanding, but not in his will, is a very strange and impossible view indeed. 

This view the fathers here call both an error and an innovation. It is something new and strange and erroneous to the Reformed faith. And it is an innovation upon Scripture itself. And the article points out clearly that it is contrary to the Scriptures. The first passage, Jeremiah 17:9, is very happily chosen. For it speaks of the heart. And the heart is the spiritual, ethical center of the whole man and of his entire life. From the heart are the issues of life. Make the heart good, and the entire man will be good. Let the heart be corrupt, and the whole man and all the issues of his life will be corrupt. A good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and a corrupt tree bringeth forth corrupt fruit. Hence, if it is true, according to Scripture, that the heart of man is deceitful and desperately wicked above all things, then it can but follow that the entire man is deceitful and desperately wicked, both in mind and will in all his affections and inclinations, in all his thoughts and desires and actions. And thus also the passage in Eph. 2:3 teaches us that we all by nature perform the desires (the wills, literally) of the flesh and of the mind. Man has desires, evil desires, according to which he follows after the lusts of the flesh. Whence do those desires arise? From his will. Yes, but the text tells us that they are the desires of the flesh, of our nature as it is carnal, sold under sin. Hence, the will and its desires are under the power of our sinful flesh, are in the power of sin itself. This is the spiritual bondage of the will. Man cannot, and he will not, and he cannot will to follow the good.

Article 4. Who teach: That the unregenerate man is not really nor utterly dead in sin, nor destitute of all powers unto spiritual good, but that he can yet hunger and thirst after righteousness and life, and offer the sacrifice of a contrite and broken spirit, which is pleasing to God. For these are contrary to the express testimony of Scripture. “Ye were dead through trespasses and sins,” Eph. 2:1, 5; and: “Every imagination of the thought of his heart are only evil continually,” Gen. 6:5, 8:21. Moreover, to hunger and thirst after deliverance from misery, and after life, and to offer unto God the sacrifice of a broken spirit, is peculiar to the regenerate and these that are called blessed. Ps. 51:10, 19; Matt. 5:6. 

The above translation is accurate, and can stand without change. 

Here, of course, we have the consequence of the entire corrupt view of man and his fall which the Arminian maintains and which bas been exposed as anti-Scriptural in the two preceding paragraphs of thee Rejection of Errors. This is what the Arminian has been wanting all along: a man who is able yet to hunger and thirst after righteousness and life, and to offer the sacrifice of a contrite and broken spirit, which is pleasing to God. He needs such a man. For, according to the Arminian, the decision for or against salvation rests solely with man. The Arminian does not need a man who is perfect and who is able to fulfill the complete and perfect obedience of the law. But he does need a man who is able to fulfill the condition of faith and of the partial obedience of faith. He does not need a man who can of himself believe; but he does need a man who can accept the proffered gift of faith. He does not need a man who is righteous; but he does need a man who can desire, that is, hunger and thirst after, righteousness and life. This inherent need of the Arminian view, with its Christ for all and its conditional salvation and conditional election, compelled him to twist and to contradict the entire Scriptural teaching concerning the creation, fall, and corruption of man. And here in this fourth article we have the final product: man is not really nor utterly dead in sin, but can yet hunger and thirst after righteousness and life, and offer the sacrifice of a contrite and broken spirit, which is pleasing to God. 

(to be continued)