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Arminianism (5) Events Leading Up to the Synod of Dordt (2)

We ended the last article with three tactics used by the Arminian party to further their cause. They attempted to infiltrate the seminaries; they discredited the creeds of the Reformed churches; and they used every means available to short-circuit the proper ecclesiastical operations of the churches. Their tactics many times were successful to the great disturbance of the Netherlands churches.

As time went on, these enemies of the truth were emboldened in their opposition. After Arminius’ death, with no synod in sight, the ministers siding with Arminius militated against the doctrines of election, perseverance, the certainty of salvation, and others. They secretly formed a confederation, apart from “the existing body of their Fellow Ministers” (The Voice of Our Fathers, p. 69). As a confederation they delivered a request, a remonstrance, to the states, putting in a bad light the doctrines of the Reformed Churches concerning the grace of God, perseverance, and divine predestination. In this Remonstrance was included “a declaration of their opinions concerning the same Articles” (V.O.O.F., p. 69). The remonstrant ministers prevented other ministers from getting copies of the Remonstrance, and they also appealed to the States to protect them from ecclesiastical censures.

In March, April, and May of 1611, the Five Articles of the Remonstrance were debated in the presence of the States by six ministers chosen from each side. Among the Remonstrants were Uitenbogaard and Simon Episcopius. Among the Reformed were Plancius, Bogardus and Hommius. The States of Holland and West-Friesland ordered the participants of this conference to put in writing their differences, along with their advice as to how the situation should best be resolved for the peace of the churches.

The Remonstrants advocated “mutual tolerance,” letting both parties freely teach their views. The Reformed recommended a National Synod to come to a judgment on the differences and to determine which position was in accordance with God’s Word. “With regard to this advice, the votes of the States were divergent” (V.O.O.F., p. 77). The result was that nothing was decided and the disturbance continued to grow.

As the disunity increased, the Remonstrants “incited the Magistrates” against the ministers who “opposed their purposes” (V.O.O.F., p. 78). Many sound ministers were driven out of the ministry. Some were even driven out of their cities as well. Others were excluded from the ministry, even though they were gifted and lawfully called. In some cities, Arminian preachers were forced upon congregations against their will. It became necessary for some faithful saints to go to neighboring churches to hear edifying sermons and to separate from the fellowship of others. For this they were mocked.

Meanwhile, in the Province of Utrecht, Uitenbogaard brought it about that a “new form of Church Order” was framed which approved toleration of the views of the Remonstrants. About this new Church Order it was written that “one finds very many innovations concerning ecclesiastical rule in this Church Order, so that it was to be seen from this that these men intended nothing less than that everything, not only in the doctrine but also in the order and government of the church, should be changed” (V.O.O.F., p. 80).

The tactics which the Remonstrants employed to further their cause and to bring harm to the churches were many. We list them as they are recorded for us in the Historical Foreword to the Acts of the Synod of Dordrecht.

The Remonstrance did not cease to push their cause diligently, to win the favor of the great, to gain the hearts of the Magistrates, and to render suspect and prevent all Synodical gatherings with the Political leaders, to gain the vacant Churches, to spread their views through public sermons and writings, to violate sound doctrine with terrible slanders, to draw the people to their side and more and more to alienate them from the doctrine of the Reformed Churches (V.O.O.F., pp. 81, 82).

The Remonstrants also continued to press for toleration. The argument that they used to promote tolerance was that the articles of faith in question “were of such little importance that they did not concern the fundamentals of salvation and that in the case of such kinds of articles of doctrine people ought to be tolerant” (V.O.O.F., p. 87). This promotion of tolerance on the part of the Remonstrants ought to immediately strike the reader of this history as hypocritical at best. It is usually the case that those who preach tolerance are themselves intolerant of opposing views. Their tolerance ends where the truth begins. This was especially the case with the Remonstrants. They cruelly drove out sound Reformed ministers. They were never afraid to blacken the names of men such as Calvin and Beza. They rarely missed an opportunity to turn the authority of the Magistrates against those who opposed them. In other words, they were masters of intolerance when it came to the views of the Reformed.

As time went on and many of the delaying and obfuscating tactics of the Remonstrants no longer were effective, the authorizing of a National Synod was “urgently recommended” (V.O.O.F., p. 92). When the Remonstrants knew a National Synod to be inevitable, they once again tried to avoid ecclesiastical judgment upon their doctrines and actions. They did so by proposing yet another conference at which both political and ecclesiastical men would come up with a way to fix the differences. Their solution would then be imposed upon the churches by the States. When this attempt failed, the Remonstrants became very desperate and attempted in some cities, such as Utrecht, to incite the magistrates of the city to engage their militias in order to deny the authority of the States in the convening of the National Synod. This attempt at breaking up the unity of the States was soon suppressed and the convening of the National Synod was considered even more important.

On December 11, 1617, the States-General “ordered the convening of the National Synod, to be held, in the name of the Lord, on May 1 of the following year” (V.O.O.F., p. 93). They also “saw fit to invite from all Reformed Churches from neighboring Lands, … certain theologians outstanding in godliness, learning and wisdom, in order that they should support the delegates of the Netherlands Churches by their judgments and counsel” (V.O.O.F., pp. 93, 94). Again the Remonstrants tried to delay the start of the synod, but the States-General again decided that the convening of the synod would take place immediately. The place would be the City of Dordrecht on the first day of November. On November 13, 1618, the first session of “The Great Synod” of Dordrecht was held.

As we read and contemplate this history we can clearly see the hand of God guiding and directing events to the glory of His name, the further development of the truth, and the salvation and comfort of His people. As one looks back at what took place in the Reformed churches at this period in history it can seem as if the Reformation was headed for certain failure. The enemies of the truth were attempting to lead the Reformed back to Rome. Yet God was sovereignly working in these events to bring about further reformation and understanding of the truth.

We must always remember God’s absolute sovereignty when studying difficult periods of church history. We soon forget that it is God who not only controls the defenders of the faith, but also those who would destroy the truth. During this period in history the Arminians sought to move the church off of the foundation of Christ by perverting the doctrine of predestination, by claiming man’s free will, and by reducing the grace of God to a common grace which can be refused. However, God used these men and their teachings to cause believers to grow in their understanding of true doctrine and to clearly expose the opposing lies. The great document which came out of this struggle was the Canons of Dordrecht. The enemies of the truth were nothing more than the servants of God used for the building up of His church.

As they were at that time and especially today, the Canons are a gracious gift of the Spirit of Truth to the true church in the world. The Canons address many of the errors which are today threatening the Reformed churches. It is good that we know the contents of this creed and that we hear many references to it in the preaching. In the following articles, Lord willing, we hope to address the doctrinal aspects of Arminianism. We hope to review what the Arminians taught by examining the two documents which they produced, the Five Articles of 1610 and the Opinions of the Remonstrants (Sententiae Remonstrantium) delivered at the Synod of Dordrecht. We will also see how the Reformed faith was defended and developed in the Canons.

Endnote

Much of the information in this article has been taken from the book The Voice of Our Fathers, An Exposition of the Canons of Dordrecht, by Homer Hoeksema. Reformed Free Publishing Association, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Copyright 1980.