This is a subject which has been much discussed in recent Reformed theology in connection with the doctrine of predestination and especially in connection with the doctrine of reprobation. Appeal has been made by some theologians to the fact that this expression, eodem modo, is rejected in the Conclusion of the Canons of Dordrecht in order to modify—in fact, to change radically—the doctrine of reprobation as taught and confessed in the first chapter of the Canons. It is worthwhile, therefore, to make a study of this subject and to see whether the claims of these theologians are true.
What Is Meant By This Expression?
The expression is, of course, Latin. It means “in the same manner.” It is taken from the Latin version of the Canons, Latin being the language in which the Canons were first composed at the Synod of Dordrecht. For those of our readers who know Latin, here is the entire statement in which this expression is found: “eodem modo, quo electio est fons et caussa fidei ac bonorum operum, reprobationem esse caussam infidelitatis et impietatis.” The English translation is as follows: “that in the same manner in which the election is the fountain and cause of faith and good works, reprobation is the cause of unbelief and impiety.”
It is important, however, to understand the setting in which this statement is found. In the first place, the statement is found in a paragraph which contains a long series of slanders, or calumnies, by the Arminian enemies of the truth. These slanders and false charges of the Arminians were used by them in their attempt to discredit the Reformed and to picture them as teaching terrible, God-dishonoring, and immoral doctrines. In the Conclusion of the Canons this entire series of slanders is put in quotation marks. In other words, these are things which the Arminians said that the Reformed churches taught, but which they did not really teach. In the second place, this is clearly indicated in the Conclusion when this quotation is introduced by the words: “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:”—and then follows the paragraph which quotes the Arminian slanders. In the third place, at the end of the series of Arminian slanders the Conclusion states: “. . .which the Reformed Churches not only do not acknowledge, but even detest with their whole soul.” It is in this sense, therefore, that this “eodem modo” is rejected in the Conclusion; it is rejected as a false charge, a slander. This certainly implies that our fathers denied that they taught what is stated in this slanderous charge of the Arminians. It is important to take note of what I have just stated. By rejecting this “eodem modo” the Synod did not reject the doctrine against which this slander was brought. But they denied the truth and validity of the slander. This important distinction must be kept in mind; we shall return to it later.
Finally, we should keep in mind that the doctrine against which this slander was brought by the Arminians is the doctrine of reprobation as it is taught especially in Articles 6 and 15 of the First Head of Doctrine and Paragraph 8 of the Rejection of Errors of the First Head. It would take us too far afield at this point to offer an exposition of these articles. I refer the reader to the articles themselves and to my exposition of them in The Voice Of Our Fathers.
The Misuse Made Of This Expression.
When we refer to the “misuse” of this expression in the Conclusion, we mean to point to the fact that the rejection of the “eodem modo” in the Conclusion has been played over against the doctrine of reprobation as taught in the First Head in order to water down that doctrine of sovereign reprobation and, eventually, to deny it completely. There has been some variation in the degree to which this has been done, as we shall see. But about the fact that this attempt has been made there can be no question. In other words, some theologians claim that this expression in the Conclusion really contradicts what is taught in the First Head; and they want to maintain what is taught in the Conclusion at the expense of what is really taught in Articles 6 and 15 of the First Head.
The leading theologian in this respect has been Dr. G.C. Berkouwer. As early as 1955, when the Dutch original of his Divine Election was published, he began to modify the Reformed doctrine of reprobation with an appeal to this “eodem modo.” He does this in a lengthy chapter on “Election and Rejection.” There are many facets to his treatment of this subject—among them, in our opinion, a repeated attempt to present Calvin and Bavinck more mildly than they really are—and it is impossible in this space to repeat all that Dr. Berkouwer wrote. But he refers to the “eodem modo” as follows (p. 175 of the American edition):
This becomes evident from the fact that the Reformed doctrine of election repeatedly discusses this parallel and always rejects it. A serious warning is constantly given here, but critics always neglect this warning and thereby attack a mere caricature. This warning is met not only in dogmatical discussion but also in the Confessions of the Church; it is even explicitly mentioned in the Canons of Dordt, that is to say, in the “defense and warning” supplied to the Canons; for there, where the doctrine of election is defended against misunderstanding and caricatures, it is denied “that in the same manner in which the election is the fountain and the cause of faith and good works, reprobation is the cause of unbelief and impiety (Conclusion of the Canons). Then it is emphatically stated that the Reformed churches “not only do not acknowledge, but even detest with their whole soul” such teaching.
And the direction in which Berkouwer wants to go becomes plain on pp. 180, 181:
Election is the fountain of all saving good, and out of it flow the fruits of faith, holiness, and other gifts, and finally also life eternal (CD, I, 9). This line of thinking is not followed when sin and unbelief are discussed. Rather, man is then indicated as the cause and reason of unbelief (CD, I, 5; cf. also II, 6). [But Canons I, 5 speaks of the “cause of guilt” of unbelief and sin. HCH]
But there is one passage that seems to contradict this, namely, where the Canons say: “That some receive the gift of faith, and others do not receive it, proceeds from God’s eternal decree” (CD, I, 6). The question arises how we must reconcile this “non-granting” with the statement of I, 5, where it is said that God is not the cause of sin and guilt. One’s first impression is that this is a simplistic way of explaining causality. But when we read I, 6, we see that it directs our attention to the acts of God in the life of man. He softens man’s heart and bends it to faith, but other hearts He leaves in their sin and stubbornness. Unless we want to interpret the Canons in a supralapsarian manner—which is impossible—we shall have to interpret this as a connection which is laid between sinfulness and stubbornness on the one hand, and the judicial acts of God on the other hand, not in the sense that either belief or unbelief become an independent and autonomous power over against the counsel of God, but in the sense that the non-granting is evidently meant as the judicial act of God toward man in sin. And when all the acts of God are regarded in the light of His counsel and decree, then this does not imply a deterministic explanation but a reference to the sovereignty of God, who in a lost world does not elect on the basis of merit because all men are in the same state of damnation (CD, I, 6).
Now a careful comparison of this paragraph with Canons I, 6 will show that this is by no means the meaning of Article 6. The reader may check this for himself.
But my point in making this quotation is to point out the direction in which Dr. Berkouwer wants to go. Already here he wants to reduce reprobation as taught in Article 6 to an activity of God in time: “the acts of God in the life of man.” Further, he wants to make of reprobation simply a judicial activity, that is, not a matter of God’s decree but a matter of God’sjudgments.
In close connection with this stands the fact that in this chapter Dr. Berkouwer clearly is already moving in the direction that reprobation means only that God rejects those who reject Him. This is plain from the following emphasis on p. 183:
Most prominent in this connection is the fact that Scripture repeatedly speaks of God’s rejection as a divine answer in history, as a reaction to man’s sin and disobedience, not as its cause. . . . The rejection here is obvious; it is not an arbitrary, obscure act of Jehovah; it is clearly His holy reaction against sin. Whenever rejection is mentioned in the relationship between God and His people, not a static but a dynamic relationship is evident. The rejection and the curse are mentioned in connection with the warning “if thou wilt not. . .” (cf.
ff.). There is a clear connection between sin and curse, sin and rejection. The “therefore!” of divine rejection is an answer to the causality which is at work here, the actual and only cause of sin, which can be denied but is nevertheless real. . . .”
All of this becomes more explicit in the later Berkouwer and in his disciples. And we shall make this plain in what follows.
But even now we may point out that if the position spelled out in these questions were correct, that is, if this were actually the teaching of the theologians of Dordrecht, there would never have been any room for (nor any need on the part of the Arminians) the slander that the Reformed taught “that in the same manner in which the election is the fountain and cause of faith and good works, reprobation is the cause of unbelief and impiety.” This is a slander which will only be brought against the doctrine of sovereign reprobationfrom eternity, never against a doctrine of judicial rejection in time.
(to be continued)