Triumphant Easter, day of first-fruits, in which Christ arose as Victor over sin, death and the grave.
Glorious ascension, for he went through the heavens to Father’s throne, where he was crowned with glory and honor to rule over the works of God’s hands.
Blessed Pentecost, feast of harvest, when he came to dwell with us in the Spirit, to bless us with all spiritual blessings from heaven and to take us unto himself that we may be where he is.
Without his ascent into heaven there could be no outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost, no more than there could be an ascension without the resurrection from the grave. Nor could there be a resurrection unless it was preceded by the atoning death of the cross, no more than there could be a cross unless the Son of God came into the likeness of our sinful flesh, born of the virgin.
Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Day and Pentecost are so many links in the chain of our salvation, filling our hearts with joy and praise to God.
Yet Ascension Day is a forgotten occasion. And Pentecost suffers the same lot.
Who would forget Christmas? If for no other reason than that the stores and display windows are decorated in festive array weeks in advance and carols are as popular as turkey on Thanksgiving. Even Good Friday gains recognition, and Easter vies with Christmas in growing popularity. But who bothers about Ascension Day or Pentecost?
Even in the church the interest waxes warm at Christmas time, for the story of the Christ-child never seems to lose its appeal. Also the passion weeks, climaxing in Good Friday, hold our attention to the suffering and death of the cross. And interest once more flames high on Easter as we follow the rapid flow of events on the amazing, glad day of the resurrection. But we need a special note on our memorandum pad to remind us of Ascension Day, and a similar note, twice underscored, not to forget Pentecost.
What may be the reason? Are these last two occasions less important than the others? Is it of lesser importance to the church of Jesus Christ here on earth that Christ ascended to heaven and poured out his Spirit upon the church than that he was born, suffered, died and arose again on the third day? Perish the thought.
Or is it because historical facts, which always have a special appeal to us, are somewhat lacking at these last two occasions? It is true that the story of Christ’s ascent into heaven is very brief. The historical facts of Jesus’ last appearance to his disciples on the mount, his final words, his being received up into heaven, so that a cloud received him out of their sight, and the sudden appearance of the angels and their message, are all soon told. And the known facts accompanying the outpouring of the Spirit are also few. There was the fact that it was Pentecost and the disciples were all with one accord met in one place awaiting the promise of the Spirit. There were the signs of the rushing, mighty wind, cloven tongues as of fire sitting upon each of them, and the speaking in various languages. There was the gathering of the multitude that had come together to investigate more closely into these things that were noised about, the speaking of the disciples to each in their own language, the reaction of the people and the sermon of Peter, followed by the conversion of about three thousand souls. More facts than could be mentioned about the resurrection. Yet, when we stop to think of it, do we have so many facts immediately connected with the birth of Christ that Christmas should take such a predominant place, even in the church? And even so, what do we have left if we have nothing but the historical facts of Christ’s birth and death and resurrection? What spiritual value lies in a mere story, if we lose ourselves in that? A story cannot save us, no more than it can fill our hearts with praise to God.
The facts of the case seem to be that there is some natural appeal to the historical events connected with Christ’s life on earth. That appeal we fail to find in the ascent into heaven and the outpouring of the Spirit. Yet if we lose ourselves in that natural appeal, Christ’s birth, suffering, death and resurrection cannot have any real significance for us. Nor will we look forward in anticipation toward the commemoration of Ascension Day and Pentecost.
The shepherds found more than a mere babe in the manger. They found the promised Messiah, the Saviour, born in poverty and shame to bring glory to God and peace on earth in the people of his good pleasure. When Jesus died on the cross the disciples lost more than a friend and master, for they confessed him to be the Christ, the Son of the living God. When he died they seemed to have lost all for time and eternity. Therefore the glad day of the resurrection left Mary Magdalene without her Rabboni, but enriched her and all the true disciples with the hope of an eternal and blessed reunion in Father’s house with its many mansions. The resurrected Lord has gone into heaven, whither he now dwells and rules over all things, whither he blesses us with all spiritual and eternal blessings in the Spirit, and whence we expect him in that day when he will change our vile bodies into the likeness of his glorious body. Christ in heaven means more to us than his presence on earth could ever mean. Besides, he is busily engaged in preparing a place for us there, and preparing us for that place, that we may be where he is. And he will take us unto himself in a perfect and eternal reunion in glory.
Of that we are assured through his Spirit in our hearts. Triumphant Easter.
“In the beginning of the seventeenth century, Arminianism rose as a necessary and wholesome reaction against scholastic Calvinism, but was defeated in the Synod of Dordt, 1619, which adopted the five knotty canons of unconditional predestination, limited atonement, total depravity, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints. The Bible gives us a theology which is more human than Calvinism, and more divine than Arminianism, and more Christian than either of them.”
“It was only a century after Martin Luther had nailed his theses on the door of the church at Wittenberg, and not even a hundred years since the undaunted Genevan Reformer (John Calvin) had flaunted Rome’s power, when the Arminian errors appeared not only sporadically, here and there, upon the scene of Dutch Calvinism, but threatened seriously to split both state and church wide open, and necessitated a National Synod, which should with bold strokes cut down the devils of heresy which assailed the precious heritage of the truth from their very ranks!”
Such are the contradictory opinions that have prevailed in the Reformed church world among historians and common laymen until the present day whenever the Arminian controversy of the 16th and 17th centuries is discussed.
The staff of Beacon Lights has requested a series of articles which deal with the development of the Reformed faith beginning with the Synod of Dordrecht and continuing through to the present day.
It can be said without contradiction that the development of the Reformed faith throughout this entire period has been, more than anything else, a development of the sovereign grace of God over against the vicious error of Arminian free-willism. This has not always been true in the Church.
In its earliest history, shortly after the times of the apostles, the truth of the trinity and the divinity of Christ were the subjects of development and defense. Heresies of every conceivable kind arose which necessitated terrible battles for the defense of the faith, battles which lasted the better part of five centuries. The Reformation was a development of the truths of justification by faith, the authority of Holy Scripture and the priesthood of all believers over against the Roman Catholic lies of salvation by works, indulgences, the infallibility of tradition and the clergy, and the right of the church to forgive sins.
But, since Dordt, the greatest battles and, in fact, the only battles in which the Church has engaged have been the battles of the sovereign grace of God in the work of salvation over against the God-dishonoring and salvation-destroying errors of Arminianism. Though Arminianism was officially condemned by the Synod of Dordt, Arminianism marches on through the entire church world—Reformed and otherwise—with the most astonishing success, until it is almost impossible to find a place today where the truth of the sovereignty of God in salvation is stedfastly maintained and where the Calvinism of Calvin and the Synod of Dordt is honored and respected—yea, and even known.
There are other battles being fought today—battles against Modernism, Barthianism, Roman Catholicism, Communism, etc. But these errors are fought where the principle and leaven of Arminianism has already worked through the Church. And, because the church may have yet strength in part to fight against Modernism, but has capitulated to Arminianism, the battle is really lost. But where the truth of Calvin and the Canons of Dordt is maintained, not Modernism and Communism constitute threats, but Arminianism is the enemy to be resisted unwaveringly.
Yet, in a sense, the conflict between Arminianism and Calvinism (or, more correctly, Arminianism and Scriptural theology) is age old—a conflict that has persisted from Paradise. Arminianism is but another manifestation of man’s pride—a pride that caused our first parents to fall; a pride that continuously seeks salvation by works; a pride that comes to its most refined expression in Arminianism. Pride lies at the root of all sin. Pride leads men to rebel against God, deny his glory and seek glory for man “For by grace,” says Paul, “are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8, 9). But by works men have always tried to save themselves. Already in Israel there were those who, in the wanderings in the desert, insisted that the whole congregation was holy altogether apart from the sacrifice of Aaron and the intercession of Moses. (Cf. Num. 16:3). The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were no exception. It is not strange then that this basic error should develop into the Pelagianism of the early church, the work-righteousness of Roman Catholicism, the Arminianism of the 16th and 17th centuries, and the thorough-going Arminianism of our present day. It may be that an Arminian will object and insist that he maintains salvation by faith only; but by making faith man’s work he makes faith a work and denies what Scripture means by salvation by faith alone.
If such a series of articles as this needs any justification, the following may be noted:
1) There are many today who claim to stand in the tradition of Calvin and the Synod of Dordt; but who deny the very genius of the Genevan Reformer and the very heart of the Canons. Their teachings are wholly irreconcilable with the truth we confess as Protestant Reformed Churches—we who claim also to stand in this same tradition. Who stands in the line of Geneva and Dordt then? This is not only a question which needs answering, but the answer which we claim needs an intelligent defense.
2) The cry is made today, also within Reformed circles, that Dordt is outdated inasmuch as the Calvinism of that great Synod is no longer a Calvinism applicable to our modern times. “Either discard the Canons, revise the Canons or ignore the Canons; but let’s not leave them the way they are. We need something else.” To this cry we must give answer that it is a lie. But why? Thus these articles.
3) To deal with the history of the Reformed faith is to deal with the history of the Protestant Reformed Churches. If one is to be a faithful member of the Protestant Reformed Churches, and, in this way, of the church of Jesus Christ, one must know history. This is true even in any country where a man expects to be a loyal and good citizen. Good citizenship demands a knowledge of the history of the country along with a knowledge of the principles on which his country stands. Far more true is this of the church. The history of the church is the history of the kingdom of heaven in which we have our citizenship. To be a faithful citizen of the kingdom of heaven (while here on earth) requires that we know this history of that kingdom as that history has unfolded in the church—and indeed, in our own. A knowledge of the eternal and unchangeable truths and principles upon which that kingdom is founded and which the church confesses is essential to our own responsible “citizenship” in the kingdom. An awareness of the battles fought by those who have gone before us, the “strategy” they employed, is necessary for us to know that we may fight the battles of today. That which our spiritual forebears believed, confessed, fought for and died for is our heritage, entrusted to our care which we must also believe, confess, and if need be, die for. Their steadfastness in trouble, faithfulness in suffering, dauntless courage against the attacks of the enemy can only inspire within us the same loyalty and utmost consecration to the truth which inspired them. A generation which ignores, or worse, despises, her past is a generation that enters the battle without weapons or training—a generation helpless on the battlefields of Christ’s kingdom.
4) If any justification for this series appearing in Beacon Lights is needed, it only need be said that our young people form the church of tomorrow and will have to take their place when it is time for the generation of today to depart. And tomorrow is, to all appearances, a troublous day—more troublous perhaps than any that have preceded it; for we stand in the end of the ages, and the days are evil. To know what our fathers taught yesterday, what the church believes today, will enable you of tomorrow to carry on this great heritage of the truth in the days that remain.
In his work on the Lutheran Reformation, Philip Schaff discusses the home-life of Martin Luther and writes: He began the day, after his private devotions, which were frequent and ardent, with reciting in his family the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and a Psalm.
In a letter to Melanchthon, Veit Dietrich wrote concerning Luther during the Diet of Augsburg: No day passes that he does not give three hours to prayer, and those the fittest for study. Once I happened to hear him praying. Good God! How great a spirit, how great a faith, was in his very words! With such reverence did he ask, as if he felt that he was speaking with God; with such hope and faith, as with a Father and a Friend. ‘I know,’ he said, ‘that Thou art our Father and our God. I am certain, therefore, that Thou art about to destroy the persecutors of Thy children. If Thou doest it not, then our danger is Thine too. This business is wholly Thine, we come to it under compulsion; Thou, therefore, defend.’…In almost these words I, standing afar off, heard him praying in a clear voice. And my mind burned within me with a singular emotion when he spoke in so friendly a manner, so weightily, so reverently, to God.
Private devotions, including the reading of Scripture and prayer have always been considered an important part of life by God’s people. The “habit” of these daily private devotions ought to begin early; it ought to begin when we are still young people, a habit to be carried with us through all our life.
Life is hectic and filled with much hustle and bustle. There are so many demands placed upon us today that there seems no end to it. This busy-ness of life is sometimes used as an excuse to forget the important matter of personal and private devotions. “There just simply is no time for such things,” is often the anguished cry that is made. Yet rather than letting this be an excuse to lay aside this important part of life, the very busy-ness of life ought to be added incentive not to neglect Scripture reading and prayer. It was the same Luther whom we quoted above who said in a different place that the busier he was, the more time he needed for prayer and the quiet meditation of God’s Word. It seems paradoxical and contradictory; but it remains an important truth for all that.
Every Christian family has its periods of devotions. In these devotional periods the family itself joins in worship of God. In our homes (although this is not necessarily the only time for devotions) usually these devotions are held at mealtimes. The family together turns to the Word of God and bows together in prayer. This is as it should be. Every child of God closes the day with prayer. In the privacy and quiet of his or her own bedroom, and before sleep brings refreshment and renewed vigor for a new day, the child of God pauses to pray to God giving thanks for the blessings of the day, confessing the sins which have been committed and seeking the throne of Him Who neither slumbering nor sleeping watches over Israel. All of this is as it should be.
When we speak in this article of “private devotions” however, we refer to the need for everyone, but especially our young people, to find some time for personal and private reading of Scripture, for prayer and meditation. The need for this is unspeakably great.
Why Scripture reading?
We can perhaps get at this question best by reminding ourselves of the many figures which Scripture itself uses to describe the Word of God.
Sometimes Scripture speaks of itself as bread. When Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness to make stones into bread, He responded by saying: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God” (Luke 4:4). The figure is quite obviously important. There is bread for the body – so sustain our earthly life in the world; there is bread for the soul. The bread for the body, potatoes, hamburger, peas and carrots, will not do for the soul. It was the sin of the rich fool that he thought it would (Luke 12:19). The child of God has the life of Christ within him. This needs nourishment. The Word of God is the only good which will do.
Sometimes Scripture speaks of itself as a lamp and a light – a lamp unto our feet and light on our path (Ps. 119:105). The figure is made against a background which assumes that our way in life is very dark. It is dark because of sin. If we walk in the darkness, we stumble and fall and lose the way. We need a light to find our way in this darkness; a light which will show us the way to walk from here to the house of our Father. There is only one light which can shine unerringly and brilliantly enough to show us this way. It is the Word of God. If that light shines upon our path, we will know the way to go. Without that light we will not.
Then again Scripture speaks of the Word of God as armor and weapons for warfare (Eph. 6:13-17). Paul is speaking of one of the chief characteristics of the life of the Christian. This is warfare. The Christian is a warrior – must be a warrior. The enemies are strong and intent on destroying us. Life is a fight, a battle. It can be no different. It is ordained by God that it should be so. There is enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. Life is filled with the noise of the clash of weapons, the cries of wounded men, the hard breathing of those who exert all their energies in fighting. In the midst of the battle stands the Christian warrior called by the Captain of his salvation to protect himself from the enemy’s weapons and called to advance on the battle field of faith in the cause of the kingdom, fighting all the while under the banner of the cross. As Paul describes the armor and weapons which the Christian warrior needs, it is striking to notice that almost all his regalia is the Word of God. His loins must be girt about with the truth; his feet must be shod with the preparation of the gospel; he must carry the shield of faith; he must swing vigorously the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. This is all that will do. Without this armor he is easy prey. Without these weapons he will soon lie mortally stricken on the battlefield of life. But with this armor and carrying these weapons he will stand through all hell and countless hosts of the world hurl repeated attacks against him.
It is interesting and instructive to note that Paul concludes his description of the Christian warrior’s armor with the words: “Praying always with all prayer and supplication…” (Eph. 6:18).
There are several different words used in Scripture for prayer and they mean different things. One word means “prayer in general.” It includes all different kinds of prayer: petitions, praise, thanksgiving, etc. Another word means “petitions.” It is the word used to describe our bringing of our needs to God. And yet another word speaks of what our Heidelberg Catechism refers to when it says that prayer is the chief part of thankfulness. Not necessarily is thankfulness the chief part of prayer – although this too may sometimes by true. But prayer is the chief part of thankfulness. All kinds of prayer are important. All are necessary.
It must have made a profound impression upon the disciples that they saw how often the Lord Jesus Himself resorted to prayer. It was not at all uncommon, especially in times of crisis, that Jesus would spend a whole night in prayer. How strange. Jesus was perfect. He had no sin. He was Emmanuel – God with us. Yet He needed prayer; needed it desperately and often. Moved by this, the disciples asked the Lord; “Lord, teach us to pray…” (Luke 11:1).
On the wings of prayer we are carried into the presence of the Most High God. In the sanctuary of prayer we are brought consciously into the throne room of Him Who is our Help and Strength. All sorts of wonderful things happen when we pray – truly pray. We are overwhelmed with the consciousness of the greatness of Him Who is our Savior. And praise breaks forth from our lips. This is necessary if we are to achieve the chief end of man: to glorify God forever. We are moved deeply by the greatness of the salvation which is our inheritance and our portion. If some sense of the greatness of our salvation catches at our hearts, the result will be that all our grumbling and complaining, our dissatisfaction and criticism of the ways of the Most High get stuck in our throats. We are thankful. We may have a long list of needs which we think it well to bring to the throne of grace; but the list is drastically shortened and the items on it are remarkably altered in God’s presence when there, bowing before God, we see that the only need we really have is an abundance of the Spirit to walk as saints in life.
Prayer is communion with our heavenly Father. It is the fountain f strength. It is the nearest to heaven we get in this valley of tears. It is the way to peace and quietness of spirit. It is the joy of the believing heart. Paul speaks somewhere of the need to pray without ceasing (I Thess. 5: 17). He means, no doubt, that all our life, each step of the way, we must walk in the consciousness of God’s presence. This will never happen except we have time to enter the sanctuary of prayer.
Scripture reading and prayer go together. They are two sides of the same coin. They are two halves which make a whole. They complement each other. It is impossible to pray in the right way except we pray according to the Scriptures. These Scriptures must then be deeply in our hearts and minds; they must conquer us and be ingrained into our very being, if we are to pray. But we cannot read Scripture in such a way that the Scriptures speak to us unless we read them prayerfully and meditatively. The Scriptures speak only to those who have the Spirit to lead them; only to those who bow humbly before them; only to those who say all the while they read: “Lord, speak, for they servant heareth.”
Why devotions? And why personal and private devotions?
The first question first.
While it has been true throughout all ages that the saints of God have needed these quiet moments of prayer and meditation upon the Word of God, the urgency increases as the days move on towards the end.
The night of sin grows darker. Who can doubt it? Look around you. How much more then do we need the light which only God’s Word can bring. The battle gets hotter and more fierce. We had better be sure that our armor is firmly buckled on and our weapons ready at hand. A gluttonous world thinks only of its belly; but its belly, stuffed with fat, goes to the grave for all that. And the grave opens to hell. The bread of life is what we need to nourish us to eternal life.
These are days of fierce temptation. Who can stand? Only he who stands in the strength of God and Christ. Many are the sins which we commit. Is there forgiveness to be found anywhere else but at the foot of the cross? We live in a world of compromise and ungodly tolerance. Someone has said, and rightly so, that tolerance – in the sense in which it is meant today – is the worst sort of intolerance: for it is tolerance for all but the truth of God. It is hard to be different. It is hard to stay pure. It is hard to walk as pilgrims and strangers. It is hard to stay on the right side of the chasm that separates by grace the wicked from the faithful. Always we are building bridges across this chasm to reach out to pull the world to us – or allow the world to catch us in her slimy clutches. Prayer and the Word of God will alone keep us on the right side of this chasm. It will hold us tightly so that we cannot and will not want to escape. Do we now have problems with dress? with music less than Christian? with the tug of pleasure? with dissatisfaction over the preaching and worship services? with countless other temptations which drag the young people – even of the church – away from the safety of the antithesis? If we have no time for devotions, it is no wonder. We can expect nothing else to happen.
Why personal devotions?
Worship in Church is congregational – and is fundamental for all of life. Devotions with the family are times for the family to bring the needs of the family to God and share in the communion of a Christian home before the throne of God. But each of us has his (or her) own problems temptations, sins, reasons for gratitude and praise. We must seek, alone in the quietness of the communion of our own hearts with God, the help that we need.
I speak to you who are the young people of the Church; and, therefore, the Church of tomorrow. If you do not create this habit now, in the days of your youth, most likely you never will. God knows how much shall be required of you when you take our places in the pews, in the consistory rooms, on the pulpit, in the classrooms, in the daily defense of the faith. Now is the time to form these habits which will serve you in good stead in the fearful years ahead. Do not fail. The issues are too urgent.
Originally Published in:
Vol. 30 No. 10 February 1971
The country in which we live is called a Christian country. About 65% of the population belongs to some church while the remainder of the population has, at one time or another, been connected with the Church. There are many denominations in the country, some very large, numbering better than 10,000,000 members. There are others which are very small, not much larger than our own. Within this vast conglomeration of churches if sound the Protestant Reformed Churches, a denomination which totals 19 congregations, 663 families, 2,906 members—if baptized members are included. This is little more than a spot on the ecclesiastical map.
The question inevitably arises: What justification can a denomination of such smallness offer for its separate existence within the ecclesiastical world?
This is a question which needs answering from more than one point of view. It needs answering because the existence of the Protestant Reformed Churches must be justified in distinction from all the other denominations within the country—some of which are large and some small. It needs answering to explain why it exists separately from the Christian Reformed denomination from which it came out. It needs answering because there are those outside the denomination who cannot possibly imagine what business this little denomination has continuing its separate existence—especially when swift-moving ecumenical currents engulf many others. It needs answering because we who are members of this denomination need to know for ourselves why we continue when we are so small, and why we insist on continuing in the future.
In the final analysis the answer to this question is simply that we fervently and passionately believe that the truth which we confess is the truth of God’s Word. And this answer is made without apology and in the clear consciousness of the fact that there are many other denominations who claim the same thing. In making this answer, therefore, we insist without equivocation, that it can be clearly shown from Scripture itself to anyone who is willing to listen and will take the time to examine the matter honestly that this truth which we love and confess is the truth which God has revealed on the pages of Holy Writ.
And along with this assertion, we insist (and shall continue to insist) that it is our undisputed calling to preserve this truth with every means at our disposal as long as the Lord calls us to remain in the church militant.
God’s Word is the ultimate determining factor, the final standard, the most basic rule of our faith and life. Before it we must bow, and no one shall swerve us from this calling. All the other circumstances in the world cannot alter this.
But there is here another consideration. This consideration must not be divorced from our calling to submit without reservation to the Word of God. I am not going to say something which undermines what I have just said. It is a consideration which flows forth from the all-encompassing authority of God’s Word.
It can be conclusively shown (to our own personal satisfaction not only, but objectively as well) that the Protestant Reformed Churches stand in the line of the Reformed tradition. This Reformed tradition began with the Calvin Reformation. It continued through the Reformation in the Netherlands. It came over the sea to this country with our forbearers. It was preserved in this country through the history of the Christian Reformed Church and our own Churches since 1924 up to the present. Compare what we believe today with the teachings of Calvin. Weigh in the balances what we confess with what our fathers wrote own in the great creeds of the Post-Reformation times. Examine our faith in the light of the faith of our fathers. And the conclusion is absolutely inescapable: We confess what has always been Calvinistically, Confessonally, and Historically Reformed.
This is not to say that the truth of Calvinism was not preserved in other denominations in other countries from the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands. There were Calvinists in France, in England, in Scotland, in Germany, and elsewhere. The Calvinism which came from these places to these shores was a thorough Calvinism which was represented also at Dordt and which put its stamp of approval on what Dordt decided. But this Calvinism, to a considerable degree, has been lost in one way or another as the Church has gone its dreary way through the decades of the history of the Unites States. Especially Arminianism has erased much of this Calvinism; while it was precisely this Arminianism which was condemned by all the Churches of the Calvin Reformation (not only in the Netherlands, but also in all the countries of the continent of Europe) now some 350 years ago.
And the point is that the reason why we exist separately as churches, why we shall insist on continuing this separate existence, why we shall, by God’s grace persevere in this confession which we make—the reason is our calling to be faithful to “the faith of our fathers.”
This is said without apology. Indeed we are small. And there is no point in trying to ignore the fact. But smallness is an insignificant price to pay in the fulfillment of such a noble and blessed calling.
This is said without a grain of pride, for it arises out of firm conviction. There is no reason for pride anyway when we know so well and experience each day anew that the reality of this preservation is caused by the power of God’s mercy and grace.
But this conviction is necessary, for on it hinges the well-being of our denomination.
When this is said, we have not ignored Scripture. No, the Reformed faith coming down to us along the lines of Dordt and 1924 is the truth of Scripture. We are saying that there is a tradition of the truth of Scripture handed down over the years by valiant defenders of the faith—a Scriptural tradition which has now been entrusted to our care by our fathers who precede us to glory. In this tradition we stand. Nothing else really makes any difference.
In maintaining this, we are obligated to raise our voices loudly and clearly in defense of our position. We register our protests against the current deformation of Calvin’s teachings. We complain that the decisions of Dordt have been ignored or effaced. We decline invitations to participate in movements of church union on the grounds that our heritage is sacrificed by these unions. We raise our voice in anguish and condemnation over the loud cries on every side that we must forget our past, “get with it,” “go back to Dordt to change it” and make the gospel relevant to the needs of the 20th Century. We shout loudly that the creeds are ignored, contradicted, and bypassed in favor of something more palatable to a man who knows not what he want and cares less. We cannot substitute the milk of God’s Word for a tasteless and weak gruel.
This is our heritage; this is our calling.
With showing this as it touches upon our existence today as Protestant Reformed Churches, we shall bring this series to its close.
In the far northwest corner of the rolling and corn-covered hills of Iowa are two of our Protestant Reformed Churches which have been here almost as long as our churches have been in existence. While this distant outpost of our denomination is sometimes referred to as “the sticks”, here also people of God have long congregated on the Sabbath Day to worship God and have fought valiantly and hard in the defense of the faith.
While one who has lived all his life in the city can scarcely appreciate the advantages of rural life, they are real nonetheless. Here the hectic pace of city life has not yet penetrated. Her is not yet the scurry and aimless rush which wearies the soul of one living in a large city. Here is not the need to punch time-clocks, for the work day still begins with the dawn and ends with the setting of the sun in the distant West. Life is leisurely and quiet—and this is good for the soul. There is yet time here among these rolling hills to ponder life with its problems and trials. There is opportunity to spend quiet and beneficial evenings with one’s family talking of the things of value in life. There is occasion again and again to stop in life’s turmoil and look at the pathway one walks with the perspective of God’s Word. In the serenity of a countryside clothed in green, one still receives his daily bread directly from the hand of God. And in the bursting sunshine of a new summer morning, listening to the birds sing and gazing at lands which are bringing forth their harvest, God is near and it is good to be here.
And here too are people who know the truth and love deeply the cause of Christ’s kingdom. There are dedicated efforts put forth therefore to establish a Protestant Reformed Christian School.
The story is quickly told.
Prior to the split in our churches in 1953, there was a school society organized for the purpose of providing Reformed instruction for our children. But before a school was established, the split destroyed the society and stymied the efforts of the people to establish such a school. This school society was an endeavor of Hull.
Soon after the split another society was formed, this effort being a joint endeavor of Hull and Doon. But there was much work to be done in the West after the split: churches had to be re-organized; buildings for meeting had to be obtained; energies had to be guided into consolidating the position of the Western Churches; and there was little time left to be busy with the affairs of the school.
But things have changed since then. God has blessed our churches here in the years since, and once again the people are turning their attention to the need to provide covenant instruction for the children of the church.
Our people who have been busy all these years in establishing school of our own know the problems which are involved. In some respects, these problems are multiplied here in the mid-West. Nevertheless, they are not insurmountable. There was some hope that by September of 1965 a school would be established, but this was evidently not the will of our God. There is every hope that one more year will see a school also here.
There are several remarks of general interest to our readers.
The people are not unaware of the desperate need of a school. They fully realize that time is short and that a school must be established in the very near future. They regret deeply that many years have passed without a school being built. And they offer no excuses for the delay.
One problem which, in a way, surmounts all others is the problem of transportation. The fact of the matter is that in a farm community the people are very widely scattered and the distances are great. Perhaps within a circle of a 60 mile radius all our people could be encompassed; but it is not less than that. Add to this very severe winters which send temperatures far below zero and clog roads with drifting snow, and you will see this is no minor problem.
There is a unique program in this area geared to keeping the school movement healthy. This is a program of lectures which are given at least once a year in which the people of the area are called together to listen to several of our ministers discuss the problems and the calling of covenant instruction. These have proved very beneficial, and there would be a lack in the society’s activities if they were discontinued. Besides this, there are also news sheets which are periodically written and distributed in the two churches which do not simply inform the people of progress being made in the school, but which also discuss the various problems involved in establishing a school whose main characteristic and foundation is the truth of the Reformed faith which we are called to maintain.
The need is felt deeply of teachers. It is well understood that in order to obtain teachers for our school, it is also necessary to provide teachers for our schools—teachers who come from this area. But there is here also a close relationship. For while we need to supply teachers for our schools in order to obtain them for this school, it is also true that a school of our own will aid immeasurably in encouraging our young people and children to pursue teaching as a vocation in God’s kingdom.
The plans are being given their final touches; help is being sought in erecting a building; a site is being purchased; the society has demonstrated its willingness to establish a school; the end, under the blessing of our covenant God, cannot be far distant.
We have called attention to some aspects of the history of the Christian Reformed Church in 1924, a history which resulted in the establishment of our own Protestant Reformed Churches. At the very end of that article we quoted both the decisions of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church concerning the dogma of common grace, and the testimony which that Synod attached to the three points.
Before we enter into our discussion of the doctrinal implications of these three points, there are a few loose ends which we ought to tie up.
In the first place, the testimony which was appended to the three points was intended to be sent to all the churches. The reason why Synod wanted this is obvious. The testimony spoke of the fact that “dogmas are not made but are born out of the conflict of opinions, and, therefore, it is desirable that the establishment of a certain dogma be preceded by a lengthy exchange of opinions. Participation in such a discussion must be as general as possible and must not be limited to a single group or church.” Besides this, Synod also said that “a certain truth must live clearly in the consciousness of the Church in general, or in the consciousness of a particular group of churches, before the Church is able to profess such a truth in her Confession. It cannot be said, that this indispensable condition exists at the present or will exist after two or four years.” Thus Synod urged “the leaders of our people, both ministers and professors, to make a further study of the doctrine of Common Grace; that they give themselves account carefully of the problems that present themselves in connection with this matter, in sermons, lectures and publications. It is very desirable,” Synod added, “that not a single individual or a small number of persons accomplish this task, but that many take part in it.”
The remarkable part of this is that this testimony was never sent to the churches at that time. Nor, as far as I know, was this ever done in succeeding years. As desirable as Synod considered a further discussion of the question to be, it was never brought to the attention of the churches that this was Synod’s anxious wish. Why this failure occurred I have no way of knowing. Why it was not sent is lost in the misty past.
However, one thing is certain. Thirty-five years after Synod decided this, there was still nothing like Synod wanted. A deep and strange silence about common grace hung over the churches. There were rare occasions when a small pamphlet appeared discussing the matter. There were times when one author or another made a passing reference to the three points in some article appearing in a church periodical. There was a discussion of common grace in the “Dogmatics” of the late Prof. L. Berkhof. But there never was anything approaching a “lengthy exchange of opinions…as general as possible” which Synod called for.
This may be, in part, because the testimony itself was never sent through the Churches. It is however, doubtful whether this is a major contributing factor since the entire history of 1924 and the doctrinal issues involved soon became a topic for discussion in almost every Christian Reformed congregation throughout the entire land.
It is also possible that the Church itself was somewhat ashamed not only of the doctrine that was so hastily formulated into the three points of common grace, but of the wretched history which produced the three points. The result would then naturally be that those involved in the whole matter would just as soon forget about it and bury it in the archives of history.
It is also possible that there never was any general discussion or any attempt made through “conflict of opinions” to develop this doctrine because it just can’t be developed. It just isn’t possible—except that development take the way of increasing error.
This latter is worth a pause. I said above that for thirty-five years there was pretty much silence about the whole business. But we are now about forty years removed from 1924. The point is that within the last few years there has suddenly been a revival of interest in the three points of common grace. There are leaders today (especially on the staff of the Reformed Journal which is an independent Christian Reformed publication; but also in the Torch and Trumpet and The Banner) who are taking up the discussion of the three points once again. They pointedly refer to the testimony of the Synod of 1924, remind the Churches that Synod called for such a discussion, remark that this has never been done, and launch into their views on the whole matter. They use this testimony as a basis upon which to reopen the discussion and begin a serious evaluation of that decision.
But (and here is the hitch), they use the decisions of 1924 as a springboard to jump off into all kinds of other heresies which have never been maintained in the Reformed Churches, which in fact, have been explicitly condemned, and which is stirring up no end of trouble within that denomination today.
We shall have opportunity, the Lord willing, to return to this.
While we are busy tying up loose ends, we ought also to notice that the Synod which adopted the three points issued a warning. They wrote: “Now synod expressed itself on three points that were at stake in the denial of Common Grace and thereby condemned the entire disregard for this doctrine, she feels constrained at the same time to warn our Churches and especially our elders earnestly against all one-sided emphasis on and misuse of the doctrine of Common Grace. It cannot be denied that there exists a real danger in this respect. When Doctor Kuyper wrote his monumental work on this subject he revealed that he was not unconscious of the danger that some would be seduced by it to lose themselves in the world. And even now history shows that this danger is more than imaginary…” (For the remainder of this warning, cf. our last article.)
In these words, Synod proved to be very prophetic. They, gazing ahead, with extraordinary accuracy were able to predict the consequences of their own decisions. For today a terrible spirit of worldliness has indeed seized their denomination. And, worse, a growing spirit of cooperation between the church and the world has manifested itself so that the church seems prepared, at the drop of a hat, to join hands with the world in the pursuit of worldly goals, The stand of the Christian Reformed Church on the unions is evidence enough of this.
But the Synod made one mistake. In their testimony they warned against what they called “a one-sided emphasis on and misuse of the doctrine”. The spirit of worldliness against which Synod warned, was not due to a misuse of the doctrine; nor even a one-sided emphasis of it. Rather the doctrine of common grace was itself responsible for this worldliness that, as a matter of fact, has settled upon the church. The very evil which frightened Synod was inherent in the doctrine which they accepted. The fact that a warning, in Synod’s opinion, was necessary seems to indicate that Synod sensed this. After all, the truth has no dangers in it. It’s the doctrine itself which causes all the trouble, not a misuse of it. The reason is obvious. The doctrine of common grace builds a bridge across the chasm of the antithesis which separates the church from the world. It builds a bridge over which it is easy for the world to walk into the Church, and over which it is easy for the Church to walk into the world. The bridge is there. It has never been knocked down. In fact, in recent discussion it is being buttressed. The consequences are inevitable.
We are now ready to discuss the Synod of Dordrecht itself. You recall that, through the overthrow of the government of Oldenbarneveldt in the Netherlands by Prince Mauritz, a government sympathetic to the Reformed cause had come into power. This government convened the Synod that met in the city of Dordrecht and dealt with the problem of Arminianism.
The Synod began its meetings on November 13, 1618 and met until May 9, 1619. In all, 154 sessions were held, although the Synod dealt with considerably more than the error of Arminianism.1 The first month of the Synod (until December 6, 1618) was occupied with other business. It was toward the end of April in 1619 that the Arminian controversy was finally settled by the adoption of our present Canons of Dordt.
1 E.g., they also adopted our present Church Order, as well as our other two creeds—the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism—as the confessions of the Reformed Churches.
The Delegates at the Synod:
The Synod was not, as is sometimes supposed, simply a “Dutch” Synod. There were delegates present at the Synod from practically all the Calvinistic Churches of the continent of Europe. It is true that these foreign delegates did not have a deciding vote at the Synod (their vote was more advisory); but the fact remains that they did a tremendous amount of work, entered freely into all the discussions, served on the committees of study, composed their own written opinions about the articles of the Arminians and the Canons themselves, and even signed these Canons when they were finally adopted.
There were, in all, 57 delegates from the Netherlands Churches. Thirty-four of these were ministers, 18 were elders, and five were professors from the Reformed Universities and Seminaries in the Netherlands.
Among the professors, we ought to take special notice of Gomarus. He was the man that had opposed Arminius for many years while they were both professors at the University of Leiden. He had long argued for the convocation of just such a Synod as now was meeting to treat the Arminian heresy. He had seen from personal contact with Arminius and his followers, the terrible danger of these views. It was with deep thanksgiving, no doubt, that this venerable defender of the faith now saw the Synod convened which could treat the errors of Arminius and his followers and settle the terrible controversies that were raging in the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands.
There were 27 foreign delegates which came to the Synod from all parts of the continent—Great Britain, the Palatinate (where the Heidelberg Catechism had been written). Hessia, Switzerland, Wettersaw, Geneva, Bremen and Emden. The delegates of France could not attend although they had been invited. They were refused permission to leave their land by the French government. Another staunch defender of the faith, Dr. Paraeus, who was professor of theology in the University of Heidelberg, also could not come because of the infirmities of old age. But he did send to the Synod a written opinion of the five articles of the Arminians which agreed essentially with the position that was finally adopted by the Synod in its Canons.
All of these men were leaders in the Reformed and Calvinistic Reformation. They were the theologians, the scholars, the brilliant lights of the Post-Reformation period. They represented Calvinism at its purest and had a hand in developing the great principles of the Genevan Reformer in the Century following the Reformation. Many of them had studied in the centers of Reformed and Calvinistic thought—the University of Heidelberg in the Palatinate where Ursinus and Olevianus had taught; and in the University of Geneva founded by Calvin and administered later by Calvin’s successor, Theodore Beza.
There were also present at the Synod representatives of the government. This was due to the unique relation between Church and State that existed in the Netherlands, which we have discussed before. The State could convene a Synod; and all the decisions of the Synod were also approved by these governmental representatives. The former government of Oldenbarneveldt would never have approved of what the Synod did, for it was always sympathetic towards the Arminians. But the present government of Mauritz favored the Reformed cause, and the Synod had no trouble in its work from the government’s delegates.
Finally, you may perhaps wonder why the Arminians are not listed above as also being present at the Synod. The fact of the matter is that they were there. But, in the first place, they were only there from December 6, 1618 (when they were invited to come) until they were dismissed on January 14, 1619. When the Synod finally got to work in the formulation of the Canons, the Arminians were gone. In the second place, the Arminians never had a vote on the Synod. This was due to the Church Polity then in effect. They were, prior to the convocation of the Synod, indicted for heresy; and the Synod was called to pass judgment on this indictment. They could be present to defend their views and state their objections to the Synod’s actions; but they could not vote in their own case and in the proceedings that dealt with their matter.
However, we must not be left with the impression that the Synod simply condemned them without a hearing. They were given abundant opportunity to defend themselves, to prove, if they could, that their views were in harmony with Scripture, to point out what they considered to be errors in the Synod’s actions. In fact, they were given so much opportunity to do this that even the foreign delegates, who generally knew very little or nothing about the Arminian controversy, concluded that Synod had exhausted a most remarkable patience in dealing with them.
Not only this, but there were always delegates on the Synod who favored to a greater or a lesser degree the position that the Arminians had taken. This was especially true of some of the delegates from England and Emden. Thus, in one way or another, the position of the Arminians was represented on the Synod throughout the entire proceedings.
This is important to emphasize because those who object to the Canons of Dordrecht sometimes make the charge that the Canons are not very important because they were adopted by a “straw Synod” or a “packed Synod” that allowed no other views to be entertained but the views of a minority who were determined to foist their minority position on the Churches. This is a slanderous charge and does grave injustice to the fathers who composed this important and beautiful confession.
Finally, it ought to be remarked that the foreign delegates did not speak for the Churches they represented. They were not at the Synod as representatives of the Reformed Churches in their particular countries. They were merely called in to help the Netherlands Churches and to serve them with advice. And, even though they latter signed the Canons, they did not do this as official representatives of their Churches in order to make the Canons binding also upon them. This is also misunderstood. One Church historian, evidently adopting the position that they served in an official capacity, claims that the Synod was an attempt to unite all the Reformed Churches. He writes, “An attempt made at a general synod at Dort to unite all the Reformed national churches under one confession failed.”2 This was not the purpose of this Synod, and the attempt was not made. It was a matter concerning only the Dutch Churches.
2 Kurtz’s Church History, Vol. III, page 50.
The basic question which needs answering (which we are discussing in these articles) is, “Who are the ones today which stand in the line of the Calvin Reformation?” This means, as far as our present discussion of the Arminian controversy is concerned, that we want to know whether the Arminians were, as they claimed, those who were the true Calvinists; or whether our fathers who met at Dordrecht and composed the Canons could justly claim to be the ones defending Cabin’s doctrines.
More particular, this is the question of who stood on the solid foundation of Scripture. It is not necessarily good to be a Calvinist; one must teach the truth of Scripture. Nevertheless, it was the question of what is Calvinism, because it was (and is today agreed) admitted by all that Calvin taught the truth. The Calvinistic tradition is the tradition of the Scriptures.
If we put the question in today’s setting, then we ask. “Are those who teach that God loves all men: that Christ died for all men; that predestination is based on foreseen faith; that God intends all to be saved, and really wants this?” — are these the ones who have a just claim to being Calvinistic? Or are we — Protestant Reformed Churches — who deny these errors, faithful to the teachings of Calvin? and thus faithful to Scripture?
We were discussing the five points of the Arminians adopted by them in the city of Gouda in the year of our Lord, 1610.
We have discussed the first three. We turn now to the last two.
Calvin had taught that the work of salvation was by grace alone. It was a work of God Who accomplished it all through His Spirit. It was performed in the heart of man as God’s work, not man’s. God not only chooses those whom He saves; He not only sends His only Son into the world to die for these whom He chooses; He also comes into the hearts of these elect and redeemed people whom He loves, and saves them by His power and His grace. The only possibility of salvation in any sense is the work of God,
In addition to this, Calvin taught that: when God comes into the hearts of His people, He comes irresistibly. There is no man who can resist this work of God. He may hate God, rebel against the truth, be a bitter enemy of the Church, walk in the deepest paths of sin; but he cannot resist God. When God works salvation, he is helpless in God’s hand. Those whom God wants to save are actually saved.
In this teaching, Calvin followed closely the doctrine of St. Augustine who lived many centuries before him. And he followed in the footsteps of Martin Luther, his contemporary and fellow-reformer who taught this especially in his Bondage Of The Will.
It seemed at first as if the Arminians agreed on this point. In their fourth article they wrote:
“That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of all good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself, without prevenient or assisting, awakening, following and co-operative grace, can neither think, will nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements, that can be conceived, must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ.”
There isn’t anyone who would criticize what is taught here: least of all the leaders in the Netherlands who met at the Synod of Dordrecht. This is good Reformed doctrine. Calvin would have said, “Amen.” And we have no criticism to make of this, either.
But, the trouble is that this is not the whole article. As so often happens, men who are determined to bring evil doctrine into the Church, try to sound as Reformed and Scriptural as they can. They only come with their evil doctrines by the back door.
And so, the rest of this article reads quite differently from the first part.
“But as respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is irresistible, inasmuch as it is written concerning many, that they have resisted the Holy Ghost. Acts, vii, and elsewhere in many places.”
So, this is, after all, what they wanted. Salvation is by grace they say. They wouldn’t want you to think that they deny it. But, this grace was not resistible. You don’t have to take it if you prefer not to. It only comes to you as an offer of God. You can reject it, and it will then never be yours. Even if God wants to save you, you don’t have to be saved if it is your choice to remain in your fallen state.
And, of course, it follows from this (and this was and is also good Arminian theology) that grace can only come to you and be your salvation if you accept it. You must want it. You must agree to receive the Holy Spirit. You must be willing. Only then can you actually be saved.
So . . . salvation is dependent upon the will of man. He must make the first advance towards God. He must initiate this work in his heart. Else it is all hopeless after all. Christ died for such a man; but it makes no difference; he is not saved until he agrees to salvation.
And . . . only this decision of a man will result in his election of reprobation — depending on what decision he makes. If he does agree, well, then he becomes elect. He may not agree however. This agreement and rejection of God’s willing grace makes him a reprobate.
Our fathers knew this was not the truth of Calvin —and not the truth of Scripture. They severely condemned this doctrine in the third chapter of the Canons.
It follows from all these cardinal doctrines (sovereign predestination, limited atonement, total depravity, irresistible grace) that when God saves His people for whom Christ died, that they are saved not only in this life, but they are also brought safely into heaven to enjoy the blessings of salvation forever. God preserves His work of salvation in the hearts of His people. He maintains this work faithfully. He keeps His people in the midst of temptation from falling away. He protects them and defends them from the attacks of persecution. He makes it impossible for their evil flesh to win over them throughout all their life. Once saved, saved forever.
Calvin saw this truth in Scripture and taught it. But the Arminians (quite naturally) wanted nothing of it. In their last article they said:
“That those who are incorporated into Christ by a true faith, and have thereby become partakers of his life- giving Spirit, have thereby full power to strive against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and to win the victory: it being well understood that it is ever through the assisting grace of the Holy Ghost; and that Jesus Christ assists them through his Spirit in all temptations, extends to them his hand, and if only they are ready for the conflict, and desire his help, and are not inactive, keeps them from falling so that they, by no craft or power of Satan, can be misled nor plucked out of Christ’s hands, according to the word of Christ, John x.28: ‘Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.’ But whether they are capable, through negligence, of forsaking again the first beginnings of their life in Christ, of again returning to this present evil world, of turning away from the holy doctrine which was delivered them, of losing a good conscience, of becoming devoid of grace, that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scripture, before we ourselves can teach it with the full persuasion of our minds.”
There are two points which the Arminians make.
The first point is that a person who is once saved is quite capable of falling away so that after all, he goes to hell. He can return again to the evil world. He can turn away from the truth of Scripture which once was his. He can lose a good conscience which he once possessed. He can become devoid of grace. There is every possibility of this happening, His salvation is like a fortune gained or lost on the stock market depending on the whims of investors.
It is true that the Arniinians did not really state this as their position. They merely ask a question. They suggest the possibility that this might be true; but they are willing they say, to withhold final judgment of this question. Only, they want to be shown that Scripture teaches the opposite.
Nevertheless, it was plainly a deceitful way of sowing seeds of doubt about the perseverance of the saints in the minds of the faithful.
Secondly, they insist (and they do this in a very emphatic wav) that, if it is true that a man does succeed in remaining a believer and does safely reach heaven, it is only because he takes hold of the hand that Christ extends to him. If he does not fall away, it is only because he is ready for the conflict, really wants Christ’s help and remains at all times active.
In other words, if it is true that you find anywhere a believer once in a while who does remain faithful to the end, this is his own work, and not God’s work in him. He needs some help, it is true. But it remains his work nonetheless. God’s help becomes the truck driver who brings ammunition to the soldier on the front line.
This error was specifically answered in the last chapter of the Canons.
So you see the evil that had come into the Churches in the Netherlands. If these evils sound familiar to you, it is only because they are so widely taught today.
But the Church was threatened in those days. A blow had been struck at the very foundation of the faith of the gospel.
These are cardinal doctrines that came under attack. They are the fundamentals of Scripture. They are basic because they are necessary to maintain the glory of God. Soli Deo Gloria — this was Calvin’s theme. But the Arminians were trying hard to steal this glory from God and give some of it to man. It may not be done. Our fathers saw to it that it was not done. We can do no less today.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, (and this is, after all the question) lest any man should boast.” Ephesians 2:8, 9.
Who were those who stood in the line of Calvin? Could the Arminians prove their claim that they were the ones? Was it true that they were intent only on developing the Reformed faith, as they claimed? Or was it rather true, as the leaders of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands maintained, that their views were destructive of Calvinism? And, that they had attempted, be it in a devious and crafty way, to destroy the truth of God’s Word?
We will let the Arminians speak for themselves.
Yon recall that in 1610 the Arminians (who were at this time known as Remonstrants) had met in the city of Gouda to formulate their views. The product of this meeting was a document known as the five points of the Remonstrants. In these five articles, they commented on the truths of sovereign predestination, the total depravity of man, the atonement of Christ, the work of salvation in the hearts of the elect, and the perseverance of the saints.
You will not dispute the fact that these five doctrines of the Reformed faith are all the cardinal doctrines. The Arminians were not speaking of rather minor points (if one can properly speak of minor points of the Word of God) of the truth. They were discussing the towering doctrines of Scripture, the foundations of the Christian faith. They were not interested in developing points on which the Church had not spoken before this time. They were formulating opinions on questions on which the Church had for many centuries maintained specific positions. They were calling attention to questions on which Calvin had written extensively.
Calvin had taught (in keeping with the views of St. Augustine) that God sovereignly determined in His eternal counsel by the decree of predestination the ultimate destination of all men, angels and devils. Calvin had taught that this predestination (both election and reprobation) was altogether the sovereign determination of God, and that it was not based on any other consideration, e.g., the works of men. He did not elect those who He knew would do good works. Nor did God reprobate those who He knew would sin. He sovereignly chose His own. He sovereignly rejected the rest.
What did the Arminians say about this crucial question?
The first article of their Formulation made in Gouda reads:
That God, by an eternal, unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ His Son, before the foundation of the world, hath determined, out of a fallen, sinful race of men, to save in Christ, for Christ’s sake and through Christ, those who, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, shall believe on this his Son Jesus, and shall persevere in this faith and obedience of faith, through this grace, even to the end; and, on the other hand, to leave the incorrigible and unbelieving in sin and under wrath, and to condemn them as alienate from Christ according to the word of the gospel in John 3:36: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him,” and according to other passages of Scripture also.
It is a good question whether there are very many today who would be able to detect the error in this point. In fact, one does not find it at all uncommon to read and hear people of Reformed persuasion defend these very views. This is not only due to the fact that the Arminians were very subtle in stating their position (admittedly this is true), but it is also due to the fact that there is terrible ignorance in the Church world today.
The fact is that the above article does not maintain that God sovereignly determines who are elect and who are reprobate. It teaches the very opposite. It teaches that God chose those to be His elect who would believe on His Son Jesus and who would persevere in this faith and obedience of faith to the end. Thus, man’s faith is the condition of his election, and his perseverance in faith is the condition for his remaining elect. This has been called conditional predestination, and so it is.
This may seem as a trivial point to debate; but most emphatically it is not. And the Arminians were fully aware of the importance of this position. If it would be adopted (although Calvin had taught quite the opposite) it would open the flood gates to the view that man of himself can believe. This, in fact, was precisely what happened. He does not believe because he is elect; he is elect because he believes. The Arminians may say that he believes only by grace; but this is more of that terrible subterfuge with which they tried to make their views sound good.
The point had to be answered or the Reformed faith was lost forever.It was answered beautifully and concisely in the first chapter of the Canons of Dordt.
Calvin had taught that the death of Christ on the cross was only for the elect. He taught without any doubt that the blessings which Christ merited for the elect were for them alone. He took away their sins by His blood and earned for them alone eternal life through His obedience. And all this was rooted in a love of God which was towards the elect only. The reprobate were, in an absolute sense, excluded from all this.
Did the Arminians teach this? Let them speak for themselves. Their second article reads:
That, agreeably thereunto, Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer, according to the word of the Gospel of John 3:16: “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And in the First Epistle of John 2:2: “And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
It seems as if the Arminians become bolder here, for they say very clearly that they are firmly convinced that Christ died for every single man and that He merited His blessings for everyone that ever lived.
It is true that they add that only the believers ever receive this forgiveness, but the inescapable conclusion is that Christ died for many that are not saved. And the only reason why they are not saved is that they do not, by their own will, agree to believe on Christ.
Really the Arminians, having written Article I had to write Article II. They are so logically related that the one necessarily follows from the other.
But the cross is destroyed. Christ cannot save those for whom He died.
This had to be answered.
Do you ever hear the same position defended by those who claim to be Reformed? by those who call themselves Calvinists? by those who say they maintain the Canons of Dordt? It’s a very common thing in our day.
The Canons answered this in the second chapter.
Calvin had taught (and in this respect also he simply repeated what Augustine before him had maintained) that man is totally depraved. He could not do any good in the sight of God at all. The fall had robbed him of every ability to fulfill in any respect the law of God. He was sold under sin and thoroughly corrupt. He was (and is) a foul fountain spewing forth a dirty stream of sin.
And, most important of all, because of this total depravity, he can do nothing to save himself.
The Arminians had something to say about this too.
Only, what they had to say sounds very good. They thought, evidently, that at this point they had better hew to the Reformed line lest they arouse undue suspicion. They forgot that they already implied (and later in the articles do state) that man can of himself exercise his own free will. They speak very strongly of total depravity. Their third article reads:
That man has not saving faith of himself, nor of the energy of his free will, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do anything that is truly good (such as saving Faith eminently is); but that it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding, inclination, or will, and all his powers, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will, and effect what is truly good, according to the Word of Christ, John 13:5: “Without me ye can do nothing.”
They did not mean this, of course; it was a camouflage.
It is not at all unusual to hear the same things in our days. Oftentimes, our young people are convinced that a man is sincerely interested in the truth because, although he may bring false doctrine, he nevertheless at the same time speaks the language of Reformed believers. He talks both ways.
We must beware of this. It is intended to deceive.
There is an old Dutch proverb which, freely translated, says, “The devil never comes in wooden shoes, but always in slippers.
The history of the Church of Christ here on earth is the history of men.
Foremost in the controversy that raged in the defense of the Reformed faith over-against the heresy of Arminianism appears the figure of Jacobus Arminius. He more than any other is associated with the error that was condemned by the national Synod of Dordt.
This does not mean that he appeared as an isolated individual on the stage of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and that he single-handedly threatened the existence of Calvinism in the Low Countries. There were others like him.
When the Calvinistic Reformation came to the Netherlands, there were many priests and monks who left the Romish Church and were given ministerial status in the Reformed Church. Some of these were good men who broke with Rome under deep convictions of the truth. Many were evil men who, with wet fingers held high in the ecclesiastical winds that blew, saw that the power of Rome was broken in the Netherlands. They were determined to abandon a sinking ship. For personal reasons, they came to the side of the Reformation. But they carried with them the errors of Rome — the doctrine of work righteousness and the heresy of semi-pelagianism. They proved fertile soil for the seeds of Arminianism.
Besides there were leaders in the Church (Coornhert, for example) who opposed the doctrine of predestination and who wanted only a very general creed such as the Apostolic Confession to serve as the confessional basis of the Church.
It was Arminius though who united all the erring elements in the Church into one party which became a power to reckon with in the defense of the faith.
Arminius was born in the town of Oudewater in 1560. Very early in life he was left fatherless; but two Reformed ministers sponsored his education in the Academy of Leiden. Finishing his education here at the age of 21, he was sent to study in the University of Geneva, sponsored by a merchant’s guild from Amsterdam. The University of Geneva was famous throughout the continent of Europe as the center of Reformed studies. It was founded by John Calvin himself, and was, after the death of Calvin, under the administration of Theodore Beza, a staunch defender of Calvin’s views.
It was at Geneva that Arminius met Uitenbogaert who became his close friend and who was destined to play such a large role in the Arminian struggle back in the Netherlands. We shall meet him again.
After a brief trip to Italy, Arminius returned to Geneva for a short time, then came back to his homeland where he passed his classical examination and was admitted to the ministry of the gospel by unanimous vote.
Under the wise and inscrutable providence of God, three events took place which soon brought the views of Arminius into the open.
The first of these events really served to strengthen Arminius in heretical views that he had begun to develop already while in Geneva. Coornhert had engaged for some time in agitation against the doctrine of election, and Arminius was asked to refute these views for the benefit of the churches. In his studies, which he made prior to his refutation he came to the conclusion that he was unable to refute the views of Coornhert because he was himself becoming more and more convinced that they were true. This startling fact he did not make public.
The second of these events was the fruit of the preaching of Arminius in his congregation in Amsterdam. He was busy with a series of sermons on the book of Romans. From the beginning of the book, his heretical views occasionally cropped up; but it was emphatically in his sermons on Romans 9 that his congregation noticed his denial of the Reformed and Scriptural view of sovereign predestination. His congregation was alarmed. And especially his fellow minister, Pancius, opposed his views and combatted the evil doctrines he was developing.
The third of these events is very strange. In the midst of all the troubles in Amsterdam, Arminius was appointed professor of theology in the University of Leiden. How it was ever possible for Reformed men to agree to the appointment of this man who was under suspicion in Amsterdam remains partly a mystery.
However, there were two factors that had bearing on the matter. On the one hand, the university was not under the control of the Church, but rather under the control of the State. The relation between the Church and the State was (and is today) different in the Netherlands than it is in our own country. Strictly speaking, the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands were not a “State Church.” Nevertheless, the State did have a certain amount of control over the Church. The Reformed Churches existed under the favor and blessing of the State; the State supported the Church financially; and the State had much to say about such questions of Church polity as the calling of ministers, the appointment of professors, the convening of broader ecclesiastical assemblies, etc. At the time when (and up to the time of the meeting of the Synod of Dordt) the State was in the hands of men who favored Arminianism, or, at least, did not think the entire matter of Arminius’ heresy was sufficiently important to create trouble about it in the Church.
The result was that Arminius was appointed with the blessing of the State.
On the other hand, Arminius himself was a very crafty man. While he was teaching his views whenever the opportunity presented itself, he was also covering up his views and staunchly insisting that he was indeed Reformed. He succeeded for the most part in quieting the fears of those who did not trust him.
And so, the heretic from Amsterdam gained the important chair of theology in the University of Leiden. The year was 1602.
It is not difficult to imagine what a splendid opportunity this furnished Arminius for the spreading of his views throughout the Church. There is no more strategic place to influence others than a school. Here were instructed the ministers of the gospel, the teachers of the schools, the leaders of the Church. Here in the classroom of theology came those who were to carry on the defense of the faith in the years ahead. Here Arminius made good use of his opportunities and his position to spread the leaven of heresy throughout the Church.
He had one strong and tireless opponent. Gomarus was his name. He also taught in the University. And this staunch and outspoken man never ceased to combat the evil which Arminius developed and taught. But Arminius had the protection and blessing of the State that favored him. He had a way that left others with the impression that he was earnestly seeking the truth. He again and again persuaded the authorities (when he was called on the carpet for his views) that there was no cause for alarm. And his disciples went forth thoroughly imbibed with his views to preach and teach them over the whole land.
If he could not with safety teach his views in the University, he retired to the seclusion of his home. Here he gathered select groups of his students to discuss with them what he believed. Here he used his charming ways to make them into his ardent defenders.
In 1609 Arminius became sick and died.
But his cause continued. Especially his good friend Uitenbogaert carried on the heresies which Arminius developed. And a party was organized within the Reformed Churches called the Remonstrants, and dedicated to the cause of establishing the heresy of Arminianism as the official doctrine of the Church.
It is difficult to write an obituary of Arminius — except that there have always been many like him in the history of the Church.
Arminius was a brilliant scholar, a thoroughly educated man, a student who pursued his studies even in the parsonage. He was a man of pleasing personality, not difficult to get along with, easily making friends, refined in manners, elegant in appearance, a popular teacher who could make a lasting impression on the minds and hearts of his students. He was a gifted preacher, a good pastor, easily insuring the favor of those to whom he ministered. Especially this was true if we compare him with Gomarus — his opponent in the University. Gomarus was everything that Arminius was not. He was a stern man, not given to smiling, often crude and gruff, holding people at arm’s length, not easy to know, difficult to “come close to,” not always able to hold his temper. When he opposed Arminius, his voice thundered with wrath, his language was the language of a man who was solely interested in the truth without any concern for what people thought of him or what the reactions would be in the minds of his audience. Yet he was fearless and unbending, wholly dedicated to the cause of the Church of Christ.
Besides, Arminius was crafty. He could play with words, speak out of both sides of his mouth, promote his views with subtlety and in an all but unnoticed way. He always tried to leave the impression that he stood for the Reformed faith and on the basis of the Reformed Confessions, while all the time he carried his views in his pocket. He tried to smuggle his heresy into the Church under the guise of developing the Reformed faith. He tried to lull the people into spiritual slumber the better to feed them the poison of his errors. He worked under the table, behind people’s backs, dealing in treachery and deceit to accomplish his ends.
And thus, it is with many a heretic. They are not satisfied with merely defending their views and, if they are found not to be in harmony with the views of the Church to which they belong, to leave for other places. They are always insistent on dragging with them as many people as they can, making every effort to destroy the Church before finally they are cast out. This had happened before when Pelagius fought with Augustine in the history of the early Church. This has happened since the time of Dordt. This will happen again. And the reason is that behind heresy is the devil who uses heresy to try, if possible, to destroy the Church of Christ.
Arminius was dead. But his view’s continued to plague the Church. The split was widening; the battle lines were sharpening; the entire Church was thrown into turmoil; something had to be done.
“We believe, maintain and faithfully teach that the Father begot the Word, that is the only-begotten Son who is the Wisdom by which all things were created. He is one as the Father is one, eternal as the Father is eternal, and, equally with the Father, is supremely good. The Holy Spirit is, likewise, the Spirit of the Father and of the Son, consubstantial and co-eternal with both. And this whole is a Trinity because of the individuality of the Persons and, yet, a single God because of indivisible divinity and a single Almighty because of indivisible omnipotence. Yet, when we ask concerning each Person individually, the answer must be that each one is God and each is Almighty; and when we inquire concerning the three together, the reply must be that there are not three Gods or three Almighties, but a single God Almighty. Such is the indivisible unity in the Three and such is the way it should be stated.”
— St. Augustine
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