Article 8. As many as are called by the gospel, are unfeignedly called. For God hath most earnestly and truly declared in his Word, what will be acceptable to him; namely, that all who are called, should comply with the invitation. He, moreover, seriously promises eternal life, and rest to as many as shall come to him, and believe on him.
It is rather well-known that the above rendering of this article is far from accurate. The Christian Reformed “Psalter Hymnal” corrects what is perhaps the most serious inaccuracy in its revised translation, which reads as follows:
“As many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly called. For God has most earnestly and truly declared in His Word what is acceptable to Him, namely, that those who are called should come unto Him. He also seriously promises rest of soul and eternal life to all who come to Him and believe.”
Even this version, however, is not all that could be desired. And therefore I would like to furnish a thoroughgoing revision of my own, quoting first of all the Latin and Dutch versions of this article, by which I want to support my suggested changes, and pointing out what I consider some rather crucial points in the translation.
The original Latin of this article is as follows:
“Quotquot autem per Evangelium vocantur, serio vocantur. Serio enim et verissime ostendit Deus verbo sue, quid sibi gratum sit, nimirum, ut vocati ad se vemant. Serio etiam omnibus ad se venientibus et credentibus requiem animarum, et vitam aeternam promitttit.”
The Dutch translation, adopted by the Synod of Dordt, is as follows:
“Doch zoo velen als er door het Evangelie geroepen worden, die worden ernstiglijk geroepen. Want God betoont ernstiglijk en. waarachtiglijk in Zijn Woord, wat Hem aangenaam is, namelijk; dat de geroepenen tot Hem komen. Hij belooft ook met ernst allen, die tot Hem komen, en gelooven, de rust der zielen en het eeuwige leven.”
Here follows my own translation of this paragraph, In which, for the sake of reference, I will italicize the corrections:
As many, however; as are called by the Gospel, are seriously called. For God hasseriously and most truly shown his Word, what is pleasing to him, namely, that the called should come unto him. He even promises seriously to all those coming to him and believing rest of soul and eternal life.
The reader may compare for himself the three English translations, and those who are able may also compare them with the Latin and Dutch versions. Some of the changes suggested above may be rather minor. But there are others which, though they may at first glance seem rather innocuous, are nevertheless in my opinion rather important when we deal with this crucial subject of the calling as it is delineated in our Canons. And therefore I want to call special attention to them and also to their importance. This, I believe, will be of assistance in coming to a proper understanding of the subject at hand.
The crucial points of translation which I wish to note are the following:
1. The conjunction “however.” This is autem in the Latin, and may be rendered variously. But it is aptly translated “doch” in the Dutch version, while it is simply ignored in both the extant English translations. Now this little term indicates that the fathers were not starting a new line of thought in this article, something that has nothing to do with the preceding. Article 8 does not stand all by itself. It is an integral part of the line of reasoning which begins in Article 7, and which is further developed in Articles 9 and 10 especially. The reader will note that in Article 7 there is a distinction made among men between those to whom the grace of the revelation of the mystery of God’s will is communicated and those to whom this grace is not given and in whom the severity of God’s judgments is displayed. And it is this statement of Article 7 which, in the minds of the fathers, might give rise to the Arminian charge that in the Reformed view the call of the gospel cannot be seriously meant to all to whom the gospel is preached,—seriously meant, that is, on the part of the God Who sends the gospel. It is the old, old accusation,—one to which in Protestant Reformed circles we have become quite accustomed to hearing even from those who as Reformed brethren are supposed to maintain the same Canons with us, but who corrupt them and deny them,—the charge, namely, that if you have a gospel of salvation for sovereignly elected men only, then you must also proclaim that gospel only to the elect, and cannot possibly have a gospel that can be proclaimed to elect and reprobate without distinction. Our Reformed fathers felt the sting of that charge from the Arminians. The Remonstrants accused them that in their view God really mocked men in the proclamation of the gospel, was not serious, tantalized them by dangling before them the precious gift of salvation which was not meant for them and to which they could not attain anyway. Over against this Arminian argument of the impossibility of a serious general gospel call under the Reformed view, the fathers here say: “However, as many as are called by the Gospel, are seriously called.”
2. Secondly, there is the most glaring inaccuracy of the translation “should comply with the invitation.” It is difficult to understand how the translators could ever arrive at such a rendering, except upon the basis that they deliberately attempted to insert their own view into the Canonsand had themselves already lost the spirit of Dordt. For certainly the article in the original breathes nothing of an “invitation.” Both the Dutch and the Christian Reformed revision of the English render the Latin literally and accurately by “should come unto him.” On the other hand, it is rather ironic that the Christian Reformed Churches who in 1924 principally adopted the Arminian view in their infamous First Point of Common Grace should make this revision, and thus eliminate from our creeds any mention of an “invitation.” But thus it is. And surely, this same correction is long overdue in our official Protestant Reformed version of the Canons.
3. In the third place, we should notice the triple use of the term “seriously.” In the accepted English versions the original Latin term, serio, is rendered by three different words. In the first instance a negative term is used, “unfeigned.” In the second instance the word is translated “earnestly” (the use of the superlative “most,” by the way, belongs only with “truly,” so that the correct translation is “seriously and most truly.”) And in the third instance the word “seriously” is used. Now while it may be true that all three of these translations are not far in meaning from the idea of “seriously,” it nevertheless ought to be emphasized that in the original the same term is used throughout; and therefore we prefer to render it uniformly by “seriously.” Besides, the term “earnestly” in many minds carries the connotation of an element of eagerness, and ought to be avoided in this connection, lest the idea of “well-meaningly” be introduced. Moreover, we ought to note in this connection that in the second instance the term seriously is associated with verissime, “most truly.” The Dutch has caught the idea of this term in translating it by “waarachtiglijk.” This is important, for it shows us what the fathers had in mind by their use of the term “seriously.” “Most truly” does not merely mean to emphasize that God has indeed declared in His Word what is pleasing to Him, that it is a fact that God has declared this in His Word. But this expression has to do with the veracity, the truthfulness, the trustworthiness of God and of His Word as it comes to men in the gospel. In this way it is related to the term “seriously.” Does God reveal Himself according to truth in the gospel proclamation? Does He mean what He says? Is it possible that when one obeys the call of the gospel, he will be disappointed and not receive that which he seeks? Is it possible that those who come will be cast out, and not received by God? That is the question. And the answer is: God has seriously and most truly, or truthfully, shown in His Word what is pleasing to Him, namely, that the called should come unto Him.
4. We should, furthermore, notice in the last sentence of this article the term etiam, “even.” This last sentence is not merely an additional statement, as the translation “also” or “moreover” would indicate. But it is intended as an emphatic statement of the seriousness of the gospel call, and that too, as that gospel call comes to men, elect and reprobate, without distinction. God not only states what is pleasing to Him, namely, that the called should come to Him. He even seriously promises to all those coming and believing rest of soul and eternal life.
5. Finally, I think it well to maintain in the English translation as much as possible the word order of the original Latin in this last sentence, in order that the connection between the call to come and believe and the promise of rest and life be maintained. Perhaps I can illustrate best the importance of this by giving a translation that slavishly follows the order of the original, as follows: “Seriously even to all those coming to him and believing, rest of soul and life eternal he promises.” This is rather clumsy English; but the same sense may be kept by the translation I have given above, and which also agrees with the Dutch rendering. In this connection it is well to keep the emphatic and all-comprehensive “all,” omnibus, rather than the “as many as” of our accepted version.
These observations should be helpful in coming to an understanding of this article and those which follow it.
A careful study of these articles is necessary for more than one reason. In the first place, I believe that it must be conceded that the fathers of Dordt are not at their best in this and the ninth article. That is not to say that they were not Reformed; they certainly were. But I do not believe that at Dordt the Reformed truth concerning the calling and closely related subjects had reached the zenith of its development. And there is admittedly a lack of clarity here on certain details, even though the main line of the truth is clearly maintained in this article when it is read in its context. What the immediate reason for this lack of clarity and this failure to touch on certain aspects of the subject is, I could not say with certainty. But in studying the various opinions on this subject which were handed in by both the foreign and domestic delegates to the. Synod I almost gained the impression that under the circumstances this was the best doctrinal statement that could be made, and that possibly dissension and contention would have arisen if the Synod had attempted to say more. At least I found in many of those opinions statements to which I would not subscribe, and which, to my mind, cannot be made to harmonize with the truth as it is expressed in our Canons. In fact, as I studied these opinions. I was at times almost surprised that in our Canons we have as strong and as clear a statement as we actually have. Perhaps in a separate article (for we are studying the Canons, and not the opinions of the delegates) we could quote some of these statements and examine them. But certainly we must be careful to catch the spirit of Dordt in our explanation of this article. And to do this, we must surely view the article against the background of the Arminian conflict.
In the second place, this article and the ninth are of special interest because they were cited by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1924 in support of the First Point of Common Grace, as follows: “. . . This is evident from the Scriptural passages quoted and from the Canons of Dordrecht, II, 5 and III, IV, 8 and 9, which deal with the general offer of the Gospel . . .” And without conceding for a moment that the Synod of 1924 cited this article properly, I nevertheless believe that the lack of clarity in this article to an extent gave occasion for its being quoted in support of so Arminian a doctrine as that of the general, well-meant offer of salvation. And of course, the Synod of 1924 is not alone in this field. It is surprising how easily various writers and readers make the “jump” from “seriously” to “well-meaningly.” But again, rightly to understand this matter requires that we study this article carefully against the background of the Arminian controversy.