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

Article 7. For in the first place, in these. falls he preserves in them the incorruptible seed of regeneration from perishing, or being totally lost; and again, by his Word and Spirit, certainly and effectually renews them to repentance, to a sincere and godly sorrow for their sins, that they may seek and obtain remission in the blood of the Mediator, may again experience the favor of a reconciled God, through faith adore his mercies, and henceforward more diligently work out their own salvation with fear and trembling

The above translation is a bit too free, so that while it correctly gives the gist of the article, it does not accurately express the relationships between the various clauses. We call attention to the following corrections, most of which are in harmony also with the Dutch version: 1) The first clause is much more emphatic and also concise in the original, and should read: “For in the first place, in these falls he preserves in them this his own immortal seed; out of which they are regenerated, lest it should perish or be cast out.” 2) The second main thought is accurately expressed in the above version, but it stands in a cause-and-effect relation to all the rest of the article. We could better render it as follows: “and again, through His Word and Spirit he certainly and effectually renews them to repentance, in order that they should sincerely sorrow after God over the sins committed, that they should through. faith, with a contrite heart, desire and obtain forgiveness in the blood of the Mediator, that they should again feel God’s favor, having been reconciled, that they’ should through faith adore his mercies, and that henceforth they should more diligently work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.” 3) We call special attention to the expression found in both the Dutch and the English versions, “a reconciled God.” This is rendered in the Dutch: “. . . . God, die nu met hen verzoend is.” As indicated under “2” we would refer this term “reconciled” not to God, but to God’s’ people who are renewed unto repentance. This is, of course, a radically different translation. It. means that we are reconciled to God, not God to us. It so happens that the question of translation in this case cannot be settled absolutely on the basis of the original Latin. The Latin would allow both translations. It reads: “Deinde per verbum et Spiritum Suum, eos certo et efficaciter renovat ad poenitentiam, ut . . . . gratiam Dei reconciliati iterum sentient.” The term reconciliati can be taken as the masculine, genitive, singular, modifying Dei. The result then is the translation of the accepted English and Dutch versions; However, the same term can be taken as the masculine, nominative, plural of the perfect passive participle, modifying “they,” the subject of this clause. The result then is: “that they, having been reconciled, should again feel God’s favor.” We prefer the last translation. We do so not on the ground that the original Latin is decisive in this instance, for it is not; but we do so on the ground that our translation is the only one that is in harmony with Scripture. The Word of God never speaks of God being reconciled to us, but as often as it speaks of reconciliation speaks of us as being reconciled to God. This is an important difference. Even though rather commonly the matter is presented as though reconciliation is two-sided, accomplished by a third party, the Mediator, so that Christ reconciles God to us and. us to God, we must insist that this is never the Scriptural presentation. God reconciles us unto Himself. Not God is reconciled, but we are reconciled. The interruption of the experience of God’s favor is not caused by God, but by us, by our sin. Hence, there must be a change not on God’s part but on our part. We must become reconciled to God. So much for the translation. 

As far as the general thought of the article is concerned, we may notice that it is a continuation of the thought of Article 6 and a further delineation of the truth which the fathers there began to set forth. This is also indicated by the introductory word “for.” We may probably connect this article directly with the very last part of Article 6, where we read that God does not allow His elect to proceed so far even in their grievous falls that “having been inwardly deserted by the Holy Spirit they plunge themselves into everlasting destruction.” Upon this follow in Article 7 two reasons. The first is that God in these falls preserves in them the incorruptible seed out of which they are regenerated, so that it cannot perish or be cast out. The second is that God by His Word and Spirit renews them unto repentance surely and efficaciously. To these two reasons, therefore, we must give our attention. 

First of all, then, there is the truth that God preserves in His people “this His own immortal seed, out of which they are regenerated.” In this connection we may assume that the fathers had in mind especially two passages of Holy Writ which are directly quoted in the Rejection of Errors, Articles 3 and 8. The one passage, from which the language of this article is partially quoted, is I Peter 1:23, where we read: “Being born again, not of (out of) corruptible seed, but of (out of) incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever.” And the other passage is I John 3:9: “Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” This idea stands, of course, in close connection with the fact mentioned in the preceding article, namely, that the saints are never totally and inwardly deserted by the Holy Spirit. As far as their conscious life and manifestation are concerned, they may be far gone indeed. Temporarily they may walk very stubbornly in their sin, refuse to confess it and to repent, so that if we were to judge from their manifestation at the time of that impenitence, we would come to the conclusion that they are no children of God at all. Nevertheless, God preserves His elect. No matter how far gone they may appear to be, in their inmost being they are not deserted by the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of regeneration. The seed of God remaineth in them. That seed is the principle of regeneration that is implanted in the heart of every child of God out of God, through Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. That seed is the beginning of the new, spiritual life. And now if we distinguish between that seed, that very essential life-principle of regeneration, and its implanting, on the one hand, and regeneration in the wider sense, as the unfolding of that seed and the development of that seed in the consciousness of the believer, on the other hand, remembering that the latter is out of the former through the efficacious calling, through the living and abiding Word of God, that is also “preached unto you,” then we may see what the article means. That seed itself, out of which the whole of the conscious life of regeneration develops, can never perish out of God’s children; no matter what changes the child of God passes through in the “ups and downs” of sanctification, that seed, that inner principle of the new life, always remains. In the first place, that seed itself is incorruptible and, as the article itself has it, immortal. It cannot possibly be affected by the power of sin and death. The seed of our first birth is corrupt and corruptible. It has in it the very principle of death. But the seed of our second birth, of the new birth, the birth from heaven, is incorruptible. It is not subject to corruption, and therefore it is not subject to death. It is immortal. The reason is that it is the principle of the life of God in Christ. It is the seed, the sperm, of God in Christ. Christ is incorruptible and immortal. He died as the prince of life once. But death could not hold Him because He is the resurrection and the life. And the life of the risen and glorified Son of God in the flesh is the life of the children of God. The principle of their life is in the deepest sense of the word Christ, the Son of God incarnate. And therefore, the seed that is implanted in the children of God is itself incorruptible and can never die. Nor can they lose that seed. For, in the second place, that seed of God remaineth in them. Once having that seed of regeneration, the believer always continues to have that seed in his heart. It is not thus, that the seed of regeneration is occasionally in us and occasionally not in us. No, it continues in us without interruption, once it has been implanted. “In the first place, in these falls he preserves in them this his own immortal seed, out pf which they are regenerated, lest it should perish or be cast out.” Notice again that the article speaks of the work of God. This is a distinctly divine work, absolutely free and unconditional. This is the reason why the sins and falls of the children of God do not precipitate them into everlasting destruction. The work of God cannot be initiated by them or by the fulfillment of any conditions on their part. And by the same token the work of God cannot be ended and destroyed by them or by any action which they do or do not perform. That work of the implanting of the principle of the new life is absolutely independent of them. It is performed without their consciousness. In the work of regeneration they are passive. It is God’s unaided work. They can do nothing to prevent it initially, and they can do nothing that can possibly destroy it and remove it once it has been implanted. There is no sin that the children of God can and do perform that is so terrible that it can ever affect that seed of God that is in them. God preserves His people!

But there is much more to this wonder of preservation. After all, the question still remains, even granting that this inner principle, this seed, of the new life abides in the elect: what causes them to come up out of their deep falls? How is it that a child of God can live in some sin for a while, stubbornly refuse to repent and to confess his sin, and that then, all of a sudden, he sees his sin, comes to repentance, is sorry, seeks forgiveness, and walks once more in the path of sanctification? Throughout that period of impenitence he remained principally a child of God. During that time God’s seed remained in him. Yet at one time that seed appears to be slumbering, dormant, does not blossom out in the conscious life of regeneration. And then suddenly that seed no more is dormant. The answer is: God also certainly and efficaciously renews His people unto repentance. It is not up to the sinning child of God to see to it that the seed of regeneration blossoms out in his conscious life. Nor is this conscious manifestation of the new life simply the effect of the preaching of the Word. This would be impossible. For such a child of God who walks temporarily in sin may be constantly under the preaching of the Word and its admonitions, but only at long last does he repent. No, also the conscious life and activity of that seed of regeneration is initiated strictly by God Himself. God does not only call His children once out of darkness into His marvelous light. He continually speaks the mighty Word of His calling. And He never forsakes the work of His own hands. It would be utterly inconceivable that Gods would regenerate a man and preserve in him the seed of regeneration, and then not efficaciously call him to repentance. He surely and effectually renews unto repentance. The result of that effectual renewal unto repentance is that the child of God actively repents and walks in sanctification. This result is stated in the article, and is five-fold. We need not go into detail in this connection, for the language of the article speaks for itself. Besides, these elements are mentioned in another connection later in the chapter. For the present: we want to emphasize two things: 1) The order of this five-fold result as stated in the article must be maintained, and that too, strictly. Thus, for example, there is no desiring and obtaining of forgiveness in the blood of the Mediator until there is first a sincere sorrow after God over the sins committed. 2) This result is ooze, with a five-fold aspect. Wherever through His Spirit and Word God effectually renews unto repentance, all five of these aspects will result: a) sorrow over the sins committed; b) the desire for and obtaining of forgiveness in the blood of Christ; c) the renewed experience of God’s favor when we are reconciled to Him; d) the adoring of His mercies; e) a renewed diligence to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. 

—H.C.H.