From Dort to Today (4): The Development of the Reformed Faith – The Great Synod

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.