Canons Of Dort (4): Unconditonal Grace

Under the Remonstrant revisions the covenant of grace becomes a covenant of works

“I have elsewhere noted that Synod characterized the Remonstrants as heretics. They did so because they saw the Remonstrants not merely disagreeing on minor or technical points (e.g., the logical order of the decrees). They saw the program of the Remonstrants as an all-out assault on the Reformation and the gospel.”

 

In the preface to the Canons of Dort, Synod characterized the challenges she faced and the promise on which she relied to face those challenges. The preface characterized the Christian life as a “this wretched pilgrimage.” It is one, however, that is conducted under the shepherding care of Jesus, our high priest, who has “entered the heavenly sanctuary to go to his Father,” who is fulfilling the Great Promise behind the Great Commission: “A Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20).

Synod’s characterization of the opponents of the Reformed faith in the Netherlands is instructive too. She mentions two threats. First, “the public force of enemies and the ungodly violence of heretics” and second, “the masked subtleties of seducers.” The former is an evident reference to Philip II (King of Spain), who sought to exterminate the Reformed in the Netherlands. Under his campaign about 12,000 Reformed Christians were murdered at the hands of the Spanish. The subtle seducers refers to Arminius and the Remonstrants. Indeed, absent the Great Promise, the churches would have been “naked without the beneficial consolation of his promised presence” and oppressed and seduced.

The Remonstrant (Arminian) narrative and self-identity is that of victim. They see Arminius as the innocent victim of unwarranted hostility. They see the Remonstrants as righteous protesters unjustly treated. The Synod, however, painted a very different picture. According to the Reformed, it was not Arminius nor his followers who were victims but the Reformed churches:

This Church has been attacked, first secretly and then publicly, by Jacobus Arminius and his followers (bearing the name of Remonstrants). They did this by means of various old and new errors. These flourishing churches, being persistently disturbed by offensive disputes and schisms, have been brought into such grave peril that they were in danger of being consumed by a dreadful fire of discord.

I have elsewhere noted that Synod characterized the Remonstrants as heretics. They did so because they saw the Remonstrants not merely disagreeing on minor or technical points (e.g., the logical order of the decrees). They saw the program of the Remonstrants as an all-out assault on the Reformation and the gospel. Under the Remonstrant revisions the covenant of grace becomes a covenant of works. The gospel becomes law and assurance of faith is destroyed.

The first thing that Synod confessed against the Remonstrants was not, as the (early 20th century) TULIP arrangement suggests, “total depravity” but unconditional grace. Properly, the expression unconditional grace is redundant (since by nature grace is unconditional) but I use it because of what the Arminians were teaching: that election is conditioned upon foreseen faith (fides praevisa). In that case, grace is no longer grace since, in the Remonstrant scheme, our faith is imputed to us and is the product, to some degree, of our cooperation with grace. As we have seen already, the Remonstrants made our salvation contingent upon our faithfulness and perseverance. Remember, they re-defined grace as resistible. In their scheme, our free cooperation with grace makes “grace” efficacious. Without it, then redemption and grace remains nothing but a potential.

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