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Part II The Synod of Dort

The States-General summoned the

delegates to meet at Dordrecht, also
ImownasDort, on November 13,1618.
The Dutch delegation consisted of
fifty-eight ministers and elders; ap-
pointed by the individual classes of
each province. There were five Dutch
theologians present from the various
universities in the Netherlands. The
States-General commissioned eighteen
delegates as representatives of their
interest. There was a foreign delega-
tion of twenty-six theologians repre-
senting England, Germany, Switzer-
land, and the Southern Netherlands.
The States-General provided the funds
necessary for the meeting of the Synod,
including the delegates' accommoda-
The Remonstrant delegation con-
sisted of thirteen men including their
leader, Simon Episcopius. They ar-
rived at Dort on December 6. Prior to
their arrival, the Synod dealt with the
following issues: an adequate Bible
translation, the requirements of cat"
echism preaching and catechetical in-
struction, the baptism of slaves, the
status of theology students, and cen-
sorship. Upon their arrival, the Re-
monstrant delegation protested the
Synod's authoriry to act as a judge over
matters of conscience. The Remon-
strants called for a conference between
equals. The Synod granted their re-
quest. Both parties made concessions,
however, the Remonstrants still re-
fused to cooperate and be subject to
the Synod. These contentions led to
their expulsion from the Synod on
January 14,1619.
The Synod continued to meet after
the expulsion of the Remonstrants.
The delegates agreed to make the Word
of God the sole standard for judging
the controversy. The Synod fOTIllU-
lated five Canons which refuted the
doctrines of the Arminians. The Can-
ons were adopted unanimously and
delivered to the States-General as the
doctrines of the Reformed church. The
Synod dismissed on May 29, 1619,
after 136 sessions.
The Canons of Dort
The Canons ofDort consist of both
pOSitive and negative statements. The
positive statements set forth the Re-
formed doctrines. The negative state-
ments are a rejection of the five heads
of doctrine promoted by the Remon-
strants: conditional election on the
ground of foreseen faith, universal
atonement, partial depravity, resist-
ible grace, and the possibility ofa lapse
from grace. The Canons contain the
five doctrines of the Reformed church,
but are divided into four chapters be-
cause the third and fourth heads of
doctrine (penaining to total depravity
and irresistible grace) are combined
into one chapter. Due to the length of
the Canons, only a brief treatment of
them will be given.
First Head of Doctrine:
Divine Election and Reprobation
This Canon contains eighteen ar-
tides advancing the doctrine com-
monly called "unconditional election."
The Canon lists nine paragraphs reject-
ing the en-ors of those who teach con-
trary to the doctrine previously set forth.
The doctrine stated
All men are worthy of death be-
cause they have sinned in Adam and
God would have done no injustice had
He allowed all men to perish. But God
manifests His love to us in that He sent
his only begotten Son into the world,
that whosoever believeth on him
should not perish, but have eternal life
Oohn 3: 16). Therefore, God has or-
dained that through the preaching of
His Word, men should be brought to
repentance and faith in Chl1st cruci-
fied. The wrath of God abides upon
those who refuse to believe this gos-
pel, but those who receive it He deliv-
ers from His wrath. The cause and
guilt of unbelief and sin lie solely in
man; God can in no way be charged
with being the author or cause of sin.
Faith in Jesus Christ, however, is the
gift of God bestowed upon the elect.
Election is the unchangeable pur-
pose of God, whereby, beforethefoun-
dation of the world, He has out of mere
grace, according to the sovereign good
pleasure of His own will, chosen from
the whole human race, which had
fallen through their own fault from
their plimitive state of rectitude into
sin and destruction, a certain number
of persons to redemption in Christ,
whom He from eternity appointed the
Mediator and Head of the elect and the
foundation of salvation. 12
Thereis one decree of God pertain-
ing to those whom He shall save; it
encompasses the elect of the Old and
New Testaments. The condition offore-
seen faith is not the basis for God's
election. God's good pleasure is the
sale cause of a person's election and
His election cannot be changed, an-
nulled, or interrupted. The contem-
plation of one's election must drive him
to funher praising and glorifying God as
he understands his wickedness and un-
wOlthiness of this; God's gracious gift.
September, 1994 'I' THE COUNSEL of Chalcedon 11
Reprobation means that God in
"His sovereign, most jUst,
irreprehenstble, and unchangeable
good pleasure" 13 has passed overthose
whom He willed to leave iri their sin
and misery, which they have willfully
Those in whom a living faith in
Christ, an assured confidence of soul,
peace of conscience, an earnest en-
deavor after filial obedience, a glorify-
ingin God through Chrtst, is not as yet
strongly felt, and who nevertheless
make of the means which God has
appointed for working these graces in
us, ought not to be alarmed at the
mention of reprobation, nor to rank
themselves among the reprobate, but
diltgendy to persevere in the use of
means, and with ardent desires de-
voutly and humbly to wait for a season
of richer grace. Much less cause to be
terrified by the doctrine of reproba-
tion have they who, thoughthey seri-
ously desire to be turned to God, to
please Him only, and to be delivered
from' the body of death, cannot yet
reach that measure of holiness and
faith to which they aspire; since a
merciful God has promised that He
will not quench the smoking flax, nor
break the bruised reed. But this doc-
trine is justly terrible to those who,
regardless of God and of the Savior
Jesus Chrtst, have wholly given them-
selves up to the cates of the world and
the pleasures of the flesh, so long as
they are not seriously converted to
God. li
SinCe God, in His Word, testifies
that children of believers are holy by
virtUe of the cOvenant, we are not to
doubt the salvation of those whom
God calls out of this life in infancy.
The rejection of errors
The Synod rejected all those who
teach: .
That the decree of election consists
only ofthe will of God to save those
who believe and persevere in their
faith, nothing more than this being
revealed in Scripture,
That there arevarious kinds of elec-
tion "one general and the other par-
ticular" or that there is one election to
. faith and another unto salvation.
That God did not elect some as
opposed to others out of His good
pleasure, but rather that He chose out
of all the possibilities the act of faith as
, the condition of salvation,
That man's proper use of the light
of nature, his piety, meekness, and
humility renders him fit for election
unto faith and thereby eternal life.
That faith, the obedience of faith,
holiness, godliness, and perseverance
are not fruits of election but condi-
tions for Therefore, the one
chosen is more worthy of election than
the one not chosen.
That those elected to salvation are
able to fall from grace and thereby
That in this life there can be no
assurance of salvation.
That there is no doctrine of repro-
That God gives the gospel wane
people rather than another because
those to whom He delivers the gospel
are more worthy.
Second Head of Doctrine:
The Death of Christ, and the
Redemption of Men Thereby
This Canon contains nine articles
stating the doctrine commonly called
"limited atonement"or, more prefer-
ably, "particular redemption." The
Canori lists seven paragraphs rejecting
the errors of those who teach what is
contrary to the docttine previously set
The doctrine stated
God is supremely just and His jus-
tice requires that sin be punished, not
only in this life but for all eternity ..
12 'I' THE COUNSEL of Chalcedon 'I' September, 1994
Therefore, man is worthy of God's
judgment and cannot esCape it. God in
Hisinfinite mercy gave His only begot-
ten Son on behalf ofthe electto satisfy
His justice. The death of Jesus Christ
. was the only. perfect and sufficient
sacrifice for sin, Christ's death is of
infinite value and dignity because He
was really man and really God. The
declaration of the promise of the gos-
pel "that'whoso",er beli",es in Christ
cructfiedshall not perish but have eternal
life" must be published to all nations
and all persons without distinction
and wherever possible. The calling of
the elect is always effectual.
The unbelief of man is not due to a
defect or insufficiency in the work of
Christ but is wholly the guilt of the
unbeliever. In contrast, those who
believe do so solely by the grace of God
and are indebted to Him for that grace.
Those forwhotn Christ died are purged
of their sins and will be delivered to
the Father free from spot and blemish.
The efficacioils atonement of Chrtst
for His elect is according to the &over-
eign counsel and will of God from the
begtnning of the world.
The rejection of errors
1)le Synod rejected all those who
That there was' never a definite
decree to save any, so that the redemp-
tion accomplished by Christ's atone-
ment tnay never have been applied.
That the death of Christwas merely
to acqUire from the Father His right to
establish a covenant with man whereby
,he might be saved; be it a covenant of
works'or a covenant of grace.
That Christ merited by His work
the right to deal with men again and to
determine the conqition of salvation.
Thl! obedience of men to, the condition
depended upoT) their free will. Thus, it
could be that none would seek to fulfill
, .
fhe condition.
That the covenant of grace is not
that man is justified by faith and thereby
receives the merits of Christ's work;
but that God has revoked the demand
for perfect obedience and regards faith
itselfand the obedience offaith, though
imperfect, as worthy of the reward of
eternal life.
That aU are free from the guilt of
original sin.
That grace is offered unto all man-
kind and it is up to their free will
whether or not to accept the grace
That God loved some in such a
high degree that Christ's death was not
Third & Fourth Heads of Doctrine:
The Corruption of Man,
His Conversion tD God,
and the Manner Thereof
This Canon contains seventeen ar-
ticles expressing the doctrines com-
monly called "total depravity" and "ir-
resistible grace.' The Canon lists nine
paragraphs rejecting the errors of those
who teach contrary to the doctrines
previously set forth.
The doctrines stated
God created man in His image, as a
holy being. He had true and saving
knowledge of his Creator and spiritual
things, and he was upright in all his
ways. Man, by his own free will, re-
belled against God and forfeited his
excellency and because of his rebel-
lion, man's mind was darkened, his
judgment became perverse, and his
heart became rebellious and wicked.
All men proceeding by natural genera-
tion from Adam are infested with his
corruption, not by imitation but be-
cause of their very nature as his off-
spring. Therefore, all men are con-
ceived and born in sin and are in
bondage to sin. Apart from the work of
the Holy Spirit all men are unwilling
and unable to tum to God. There
remains inman the knowledge of God,
so that he is inexcusable before God,
however, he seeks to suppress this
knowledge in unrighteousness. Even
by the God-revealed law delivered by
Moses to the jews, man cannot obtain
salvation due to the weakness of his
flesh. Whereas God revealed His will
to a small number during the Old
Testament era, He has seen fit in the
New Testament era to reveal His will
to many. We must npt speculate as to
the reason for the distinction in num-
bel' between the Old and the New
Testaments, nor seek to understand
why various people are not elected.
It is not the fault of the gospel nor
of God that those called to believe do
not believe. Nor must one who heeds
the call of the gospel suppose he has
properly exercised his free will. Belief
must be ascribed solely to God and His
mercy. When God works true conver-
sion in man He not only delivers to
him the gospel, but through the regen-
eration of the Holy Spirit, He pervades
his inner recesses. All in whom God
works conversion are certainly, infalli-
bly' and effectually regenerated and
though this cannot be comprehended
in this life, it is revealed that by God's
grace men are enabled to believe and
to love their Savior. Faith is the gift of
God. God is not obligated in any way
to bestow His grace upon anyone.
Therefore, those who experience this
grace owe eternal gratitude to God and
must remove all pride and self-love
when they realize it is nothing within
themselves. Man retains the image of
God, even in his unregenerate state,
and upon regeneration man is to strive
toward conformity to the law of God
and seek after all obedience.
The rejection of errors
The Synod rejected all those who
That original sin is an insuffident
cause to render all men guilty before God.
That man was not created with
original righteousness.
That the will of man has not fallen.
It is merely hindered, and upon the
removal of these hindrances, is able to
choose or decline that which is good
and proper.
That the unregenerate man is not
totally dead in his sins, but that he may
still hunger and thirst after righteous-
That the unregenerate can use com-
mon grace in such a manner that he
may obtain saving grace.
That in conversion no new gifts are
added to the will. Therefore,faith must
previously be present, for it could not
be added.
That God's role in conversion is
that of advising the will of man. Man
still possesses a good nature; God
merely advises the man to choose His
promises rather than the promises of
That God does not exercise His
omnipotence in man's conversion, for
man can still resist the work of the
That grace and free will work to-
getherto bring about conversion. Grace
only comes to bear when the will pro-
duces a desire for conversion.
Fifth Head of Doctrine:
The Perseverance of the Saints
This Canon contains fifteen articles
expounding the doctrine commonly
called by the same title. The Canon
lists nine paragraphs rejecting the er-
rors of those who teach contrary to the
doctrine previously set forth.
The doctrine stated
Those whom God has elected, He
delivers from dominion and slavery to
sin, though they remain in the body of
sin and suffer the infirmities of the
flesh. This taints even the best works
with sin and results in the daily sins of
infirmity. Therefore, the regenerate
must daily ask forgiveness and seek to
mortify his old nature, striving daily
September, 1994 THE COUNSEL of Chalcedon 13
for perfection though never obtaining
it until that day ofhis deliverance from
the body of death. Due to the sinful
nature of man, those whom God re-
generates would not ifleft to
their own strength, but God by His
grace upholds and preserves them.
Sin Continues to tempt the regener-
ate, but through constant prayer and
meditation upon the Word of God
they must guard yielding to
temptation. The neglecting of which
makes the regenerate liable to fall into
sin even as God allowed David and
Peter to succumb to their temptations.
Such sins offend God, cause guilt,
grieve the Holy Spirit, interrupt the
exercise of faith, and sometimes create
the sense of having lost the favor of
God. Though God does allow His elect
to stumble and fall into sin, He does
not allow them to go so far as to lose
the grace of adoption nor their state of
justiftcatlon. Neither are they able to
sin unto death. Nor does the Holy
Spirit wholly withdraw from the elect.
It is God's mercy that preserves the
believer froin death, not his merit or
strength. God's preservation and the
promise of their perseverance, is the
believer's assurance that he will obtain
to etemallife. This assurance is not an
added revelation but results from be-
lief in the promises God has given in
His Word. The Scripture testiftes that
the elect must undergo various temp-
tationswhichrnayeause them to doubt
their assurance, but the Father never
tempts them beyond what they can
The doctrine of the perseverance of
the saints mayin no way cause pride or
haughtiness among the elect of Go do
To the contrary, the proper under-
standing of this doctrine will lead one
to humility and piety resulting from
their gratitude. As God has begun the
work of grace through the preaching
of the gospel, so also He maintains
those whom He .has called with the
same means. This doctrine can only be
undeIStood through the regeneration
of the mind, and isthe cause for much
abuse and, scoffing among theunre-
generate . ..
The rejection of errors
The Synod rejected all those who
That perseverance is not the fruit of
. election but is the condition of the new
covenant which man must fulftll
through his free will.
That God provides the believer with
the power to persevere and that the
desire to persevere depends upon the
exercise ofthe will.
That the elect are able to fall from
faith and from grace and
salvatlon so that they are lost forever.
That true believers can sin the un-
pardonable sin agitinst the Holy Spirit.
That the 'assurance of salvation by
perseverance requires additional rev-
that ihe doctrine of pt;rseverance
in.its character and fonn causes man to
sin freely, and thereby to doubt his
That the faith of those who believe
only for a time is the same as saving
faith, differing only in its duration.
.. That one who has "lost" his regen-
eration may return a,nd be born again
repeatedly. . . ,
That Christ never prayed for the
perseverance of the believer.
Effects of the Synod
Upon .the close of the, Synod, the
delegates delivered the Canons to the
States-General. The Refonned
churches believed that the civil magis-
trate is responsible for the protection
of the pure reUgion. This is stated in
the ' Belgic Confession, Ai:ticle
Thirty-six: "Their office [the magis-
trates] is not orily to have regard unto
and watch for the welfare of the civil
14 f THE COUNSEL of Chalcedon September, 1994
state, but. also that they protect the
sacred ministry; and thus mayremove
and preveIitall'idolatry and false wor-
ship, that the kingdom of antichrist
may be thus destroyed and the king-
dom of.Christ promoted:
When the States-General received
the doctrines they immediately began
to enforce them. They banned the
Anninian pastors from their pulpits;
approximately two hundred were de-
posed, Many of them went into exile,
while some went ;'undergro1ind," and
others recanted their errors. Thus the
Reformed party.was able to re-establish
and rnaintairi the pure doctrine of the
church througliout the land.
Even after the Synod of Dort and
the banishment of the Arminiarts, their
theology did not cease to have an
influence. In the Netherlands the
Arminians were banned untilthe death
of Maurice. When he died in 1625, the
magistrates allowed the Anninians to
return. They were not able to return to
theirfonnerprominence; however,and
much of their influence would be wit-
nessed later in England with the
In the five Canons, the Synod of
Dort formulated a pre.cise description
ofsoteriology. God, by Hisprovidenee,
used the Synod for the further devel-
opment of His churCh. The Canons of
Dort clearly states the Refonned posi-
tion. The Dutch Refonned churches
adopted the Canons as a creedal state-
ment of her. position. The Canons of
Dortalong with ,the Heidelberg Cat-
echism and the Belgic Confession are
known as the Three Forms of Unity,
subScription to the Three Forms of
Unity is still. required today in most
Reformed churches.
The canons of Dort contain the
"live points of Calvinism.' For a proper
understanding bf the "five points,' it is
Today'f'J Challengef'J
to the GOf'Jpe/
Dr. Greg Bahn6en
Oatober 29-:30. 1994
Calvary Reformed Pref5. Churah
40:3 Whealton Road
Hampton. VA 25666
(804) 826-5942
Canom. of.Dort. aont.
necessary to understand the historical
setting. It must be understood that the
Canons area rebuttalofArminianism.
As such they are specific and limited.
The Synod did nOt set out to Sllmma-
rize all that Calvin taught. They lim-
ited their discussion to the points raised
by the Arminians. Thus they sought to
summarize God's Word in refuting
what the Arminians taught.
The significance of the "five points"
must not be over emphasized. Calvin-
ism holds as a fundamental principle
the absolute sovereignty of God. This
is the principle of Calvinism. The sov-
ereigntyofGod hasimplicatious forall
areas oflife. We must not limit Calvin-
ism to a certain sphere of activity. The
"five points" must be subsumed under
the sovereignty of God. "When once
you have adopted the view that God
shall be God in the full sweep of his
many relationships to his creatures,
you will arrive at predestination as a
very logicaj. conclusion." 15 The Synod
OfDort understood the sovereignty of
God and the authority of His Word.
They developed the five Canons as a
of, Scripture regarding
$oteriology. ThllS, they were "Calvin-
istic" .. n '
Seiected Bibliography
"Canons of Dort, 1.7.
"Ibid:. 1.15.
"Ibid . 1.16
l'Meeter, 21.
24 THE, COUNSEL of Chalcedon September, 1994
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