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§ 67. The Canons of Dort.
The Canons of Dort are likewise confined to five points or 'Heads of Doctrine,' and exhibit what is technically called the Calvinistic system—first positively, then negatively, in the rejection of the Arminian errors.992992 The term 'rejectio errorum,' instead of the condemnation and anathemas of the Greek and Roman Churches in dealing with heresies, indicates that Protestant orthodoxy is more liberal and charitable than the Catholic. Each Head of Doctrine (subdivided into Articles) is subscribed by the Dutch and foreign delegates.
FIRST HEAD OF DOCTRINE.
Of Divine Predestination.—Since all men sinned in Adam and lie under the curse [according to the Augustinian system held by all the Reformers], God would have done no injustice if he had left them to their merited punishment; but in his infinite mercy he provided a salvation through the gospel of Christ, that those who believe in him may not perish, but have eternal life. That some receive the gift of faith from God and others not, proceeds from God's eternal decree of election and reprobation.
Election is the unchangeable purpose of God whereby, before the foundation 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 has fallen through their own fault from their primitive 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. These elect, though neither better nor more deserving than others, God has decreed to give to Christ to be saved by him, and bestow upon them true faith, conversion, justification and sanctification, perseverance to the end, and final glory (Eph. i. 4, 5, 6; Rom. viii. 30).
Election is absolute and unconditional. It is not founded upon foreseen faith and holiness, as the prerequisite condition on which it depended; on the contrary, it is the fountain of faith, holiness, and eternal life itself. God has chosen us, not because we are holy, but to the end that we should be holy (Eph. i. 4; Rom. ix. 11–13; Acts xiii. 38). As God is unchangeable, so his election is unchangeable, and the elect can neither be cast away nor their number be diminished. The sense and certainty of election is a constant stimulus to humility and gratitude.
The non-elect are simply left to the just condemnation of their own sins. This is the decree of reprobation, which by no means makes God the author of sin (the very thought of which is blasphemy), but declares him to be an awful, irreprehensible, and righteous judge and avenger (Cat. Ch. I. Art. 15).
SECOND HEAD OF DOCTRINE.
Of the Death of Christ. [Limited Atonement.]—According to the sovereign counsel of God, the saving efficacy of the atoning death of Christ extends to all the elect [and to them only], so as to bring them infallibly to salvation. But, intrinsically, the sacrifice and satisfaction of Christ is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world. This death derives its infinite value and dignity from these considerations; because the person who submitted to it was not only really man and perfectly holy, but also the only-begotten Son of God, of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and Holy Spirit, which qualifications were necessary to constitute him a Saviour for us; and because it was attended with a sense of the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin.
Moreover the promise of the gospel is, that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of his good pleasure sends the gospel.
And, whereas many who are called by the gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief; this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves.993993 The advocates of a limited atonement reason from the effect to the cause, and make the divine intention co-extensive with the actual application; but they can give no satisfactory explanation of such passages as John iii. 16 ('God so loved the world,' which never means the elect only, but all mankind); 1 John ii. 2 ('Christ is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world'); 1 Tim. ii. 4; 2 Pet. iii. 9. All admit, however, with the Articles of Dort, that the intrinsic value of the atonement, being the act of the God-man, is infinite and sufficient to cover the sins of all men. Dr. W. Cunningham says: 'The value or worth of Christ's sacrifice of himself depends upon, and is measured by, the dignity of his person, and is therefore infinite. Though many fewer of the human race had been to be pardoned and saved, an atonement of infinite value would have been necessary, in order to procure for them these blessings; and though many more, yea, all men, had been to be pardoned and saved, the death of Christ, being an atonement of infinite value, would have been amply sufficient, as the ground or basis of their forgiveness or salvation' (Historical Theol. Vol. II. p. 331). Similarly, Dr. Hodge, Vol. II. pp. 544 sqq. After such admissions the difference of the two theories is of little practical account. Full logical consistency would require us to measure the value of Christ's atonement by the extent of its actual benefit or availability, and either to expand or to contract it according to the number of the elect; but such an opinion is derogatory to the dignity of Christ, and is held by very few extreme Calvinists of little or no influence. Cunningham says (p. 331): 'There is no doubt that all the most eminent Calvinistic divines hold the infinite worth or value of Christ's atonement—its full sufficiency for expiating all the sins of all men.'
THIRD AND FOURTH HEADS OF DOCTRINE.
Of the Corruption of Man, his Conversion to God, and the Manner thereof.—Man was originally formed after the image of God. His understanding was adorned with a true and saving knowledge of his Creator, and of spiritual things; his heart and will were upright, all his affections pure, and the whole Man was holy; but revolting from God by the instigation of the devil, and abusing the freedom of his own will, he forfeited these excellent gifts, and on the contrary entailed on himself blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity, and perverseness of judgment; became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in [all] his affections.
Man after the fall begat children in his own likeness. A corrupt stock produced a corrupt offspring. Hence all the posterity of Adam, Christ only excepted, have derived corruption from their original parent, not by imitation, as the Pelagians of old asserted, but by the propagation of a vicious nature in consequence of a just judgment of God.
Therefore all men are conceived in sin, and are by nature children of wrath, incapable of any saving good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto; and, without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, they are neither able nor willing to return to God, to reform the depravity of their nature, nor to dispose themselves to reformation.
What, therefore, neither the light of nature nor the law could do, that God performs by the operation of his Holy Spirit through the word or ministry of reconciliation: which is the glad tidings concerning the Messiah, by means whereof it hath pleased God to save such as believe, as well under the Old as under the New Testament.
As many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly called; for God hath most earnestly and truly declared in his Word what will be acceptable to him, namely, that all who are called should comply with the invitation. He, moreover, seriously promises eternal life and rest to as many as shall come to him, and believe on him.
It is not the fault of the gospel, nor of Christ offered therein, nor of God, who calls men by the gospel, and confers upon them various gifts, that those who are called by the ministry of the Word refuse to come and be converted. The fault lies in themselves.
But that others who are called by the gospel obey the call must be wholly ascribed to God, who, as he hath chosen his own from eternity in Christ, so he calls them effectually in time, confers upon them faith and repentance, rescues them from the power of darkness, and translates them into the kingdom of his own Son, that they may show forth the praises of him who hath called them out of darkness into his marvelous light; and may glory not in themselves but in the Lord, according to the testimony of the Apostles in various places.
Faith is therefore the gift of God, not on account of its being offered by God to man, to be accepted or rejected at his pleasure, but because it is in reality conferred, breathed, and infused into him; nor even because God bestows the power or ability to believe, and then expects that man should, by the exercise of his own free will, consent to the terms of salvation, and actually believe in Christ; but because he who works in man both to will and to do, and indeed all things in all, produces both the will to believe and the act of believing also.
FIFTH HEAD OF DOCRINE.
Of the Perseverance of the Saints.—Whom God calls, according to his purpose, to the communion of his Son our Lord Jesus Christ, and regenerates by the Holy Spirit, he delivers also from the dominion and slavery of sin in this life; though not altogether from the body of sin and from the infirmities of the flesh, so long as they continue in this world.
By reason of these remains of indwelling sin, and the temptations of sin and of the world, those who are converted could not persevere in a state of grace if left to their own strength. But God is faithful, who having conferred grace, mercifully confirms and powerfully preserves them therein, even to the end.
Of this preservation of the elect to salvation, and of their perseverance in the faith, true believers for themselves may and do obtain assurance according to the measure of their faith, whereby they arrive at the certain persuasion that they ever will continue true and living members of the Church; and that they experience forgiveness of sins, and will at last inherit eternal life.
This certainty of perseverance, however, is so far from exciting in believers a spirit of pride, or of rendering them carnally secure, that, on the contrary, it is the real source of humility, filial reverence, true piety, patience in every tribulation, fervent prayers, constancy in suffering and in confessing the truth, and of solid rejoicing in God; so that the consideration of this benefit should serve as an incentive to the serious and constant practice of gratitude and good works, as appears from the testimonies of Scripture and the examples of the saints.
In opposition to the Canons of Dort, Episcopius prepared a lengthy defense of the Arminian Articles and a confession of faith in Dutch, 1621, and in Latin, 1622. It claims no binding symbolical authority, and advocates liberty and toleration.994994 A German translation in Böckel's Bekenntniss-Schriften, pp. 545–640.
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