To The Praise Of His Glory - Outline II - Outlines On The Canons Of Dort
DIVINE ELECTION AND REPROBATION (Articles 1-6, 18)
1. (Article 18)
A. When studying the Canons of Dort at our societies, we must realize well what we are doing. With this in mind we first want to make a few preliminary remarks.
The purpose of our discussion ought to be: wonder at God's gifts of mercy in Jesus Christ, and through His Holy Spirit respectful gratitude because it pleases Him to enrich us too by them, and also praise because the ways by which He, the eternal God, came to us are so untraceable, that nobody will ever be able to follow the LORD in this respect. God's grace is unexpected. (Read : 1 Art. 18, and 1 Cor. 2 : 9).
B. The topic for discussion (God's election) is described in 1, 18 as "these mysteries". This does not mean "unknown things", but "secrets of salvation". We are only able to understand them if we have been let into them by God Himself. For ''the secret of the LORD is with them that fear Him" (Psalm 25 : 14. Find some more texts, please !). You cannot act here as an "onlooker" or "stranger" who wants to add a word or two on the matter of election. The character of God's election simply does not permit this. This means that we can only have a good discussion at our meetings on the topic of election if we speak about it completely from faith. So, do not let us ask any questions as an onlooker would do who wants to know how things are related to each other. We must talk about them with deep respect. For we are dealing with the "secrets" of God's love, which we have been let into. (Read 1 Cor. 2, in particular verses 9-16). (See Remark No.I at end).
C. Now we understand also how grateful we have to be for the Canons of Dort. For as the Church of the LORD we respond in them to the revelation of the Spirit concerning the "deep things" of God. Are not we dealing with God's "purposes", His "choice", the eternal love of His heart?
We would be acting in an ungrateful and indifferent way if we were silent on the Canons of Dort. (Remark No. II). It will not always be easy to keep the right path when we are going to ask questions and answer them. We certainly must learn to speak in the right way, i.e. in the way that pleases God. But we must not neglect our riches. let us take courage and make a beginning. The LORD will certainly reward our respectful efforts.
D. From the first Outline we may remember that in the past the LORD has called our Churches, against the Arminians, to humiliate man together with his so-called dignities and natural good abilities ("Humanism"), that the glory of God's redemptive work would not be obscured. The grace and love of God are sovereign, i.e. royal in omnipotence and strength. Praise be to God alone!
II. (Articles 1- 4)
A. Against this background we have to first read Article 1, the confession about our original sin and God's absolute right to condemn all men. This is how we stand before the tribunal of God, without the right to speak, even without the right to live. This is the death-blow to any kind of Humanism, which does not want to confess that man is incapable of doing any good, and guilty and to be punished. Article 1, then, puts us all in our right place before God. We begin in great humbleness. We can only listen to whatever God will reveal to us and accept in eager faith whatever He wants to give us. Any self redemption, any glorying in men is excluded here.
B. Our confession does not immediately speak on the matter of election, but first we are shown what God has revealed to us in His work (Articles 2-4). In God's Word and work His heart is opened to us I This is what we have to discuss first of all 1 Otherwise we would speculate in haughtiness on God's thoughts, apart from His clear revelation in His only begotten Son. (Read Articles 2-4, and discuss the texts that are quoted).
C. John says that God sent His Son, and not only that He sent Jesus or gave us Christ. He did so to shed a clearer light upon the character and the greatness of God's love. He even adds : "the only begotten", to show us that He gave us what was most precious to Him. He had one Son only. This Son was His beloved One. Yet He even gave Him to be crucified for us. This is love, this is true love And "to send Him into the world" indicates that God has given His Son into the hands of men, so that they could satisfy and execute their wickedness and corruption on Him. He did not save Him from all this, but had Him mocked and rejected and killed in the most painful and disgraceful manner by the world, the human world, that let itself be led by the prince of darkness." (Prof. S. Greijdanus, in "Korte Verklaring" on 1 John 4 : 9).
D. In these paragraphs we confess the love of God, as it has made its way in the preaching of the Word of God in the midst of a human generation that by nature refuses to accept the love of God. Yet God goes on with the work which He has begun in Christ (Art. 2), in the preaching (Art. 3), unto salvation (Art. 4). When we think about this way of God's work of salvation in this world, that wondrous way of the missionary work all through the ages and all over the world, we can ascertain that God reveals Himself as a free God. Nobody shows Him the way which He has to go. Nowhere was there a creature worthy to be redeemed. God himself decided the time of the proclamation of the salvation that has appeared in Christ (Art. 3 speaks of "messengers", which are the heralds of Christ). He also decided upon the order in which the nations would hear the Gospel. The lord came to Western Europe much later than to Greece, while the West Europeans were given preference to e.g. the Papuans of New Guinea. This, then, is God's good pleasure, His free choice, His sovereign plan, which He fulfills by gathering a Church unto Himself. Whenever we find the preaching of the Gospel, there we can see the Lord, engaged in His work of redemption. (Read: Acts 16 : 6-10, and Rejection of Errors, Paragraph 9).
E. Further, we must give considerable attention to the fact that our confession in Article 3 says "that men may be brought to believe". We cannot put ourselves on the way towards faith. We cannot meet God half-way. God has to draw us. (Read : Eph. 2 : 3-9; Rejection of Errors, Par. 4, and Chapter III/IV, Art. 7). (Remark No. III).
Besides, already here at the beginning of the Canons of Dort it is shown that the Reformed confession does not take anything away from the necessity of faith and a positive response to the preaching of the Word of God.
Some people say : Everything has already been decided, so it is of no value at all whether one accepts and obeys the Word of God or not. But this is not true. Our personal responsibility is clearly pointed out in the texts which are mentioned in Art. 4. In the way of accepting the promises and demands of God the eyes are opened to the grace of the redemption which is given us by Christ in the preaching of the Gospel. Only in this way we learn to see the depth of God's love, as it is revealed in His Son. (See also under Art. 6).
Ill. (Articles 5- 6)
A. If we watch the results of the preaching of God's Word among men, it appears that the one believes, and the other does not believe. This cannot be denied. But now it is very important to speak rightly of the work of the Lord, in a truly Scriptural way, as it is done in Art. 5 : GOD grants the gift of faith, but MAN himself is the origin of unbelief.
And far be it from God, that He should do wickedness; and from the Almighty, that He should commit iniquity" (Job 34: 10). This has to be the unshakable ground on which we stand when speaking about the miracle that we are permitted to believe and about the awful reality of unbelief in the world. Any question or thought, that strains this truth, must be rejected. We should not "reason" in a "logical" way, as the Arminians were doing : If the cause of unbelief is lying in man himself, then the cause of faith is also lying in man partly 1 Or: If God only gives us faith, then unbelief cannot be man's own fault only. This seems to be very logical, but it is nothing but a matter of human reasoning. It is the haughtiness of measuring God's work with a human measuring- rod !
We do not have a confession in order to be able to explain everything with our own intellect, but to repeat God's Word in obedience. There are always some questions that cannot be answered, because God has not revealed everything we would like to know. His Word contains ---only-what is necessary for our salvation, and this is a matter of God's glory and our eternal happiness. (Art. 2 Belg. Conf. of Faith; read also III/IV Art. 9, 10).
B. When we want to continue and listen in a humble and obedient way, then "HEREIN is especially displayed- (mark the choice of words in Art. 6 1) the discrimination between men by His election and reprobation. It is not a man who made this discrimination. For all are -equally involved in ruin". Nobody can make himself an exception, or free himself from this ruin by his own strength. GOD MADE AND MAKES THIS DISCRIMINATION. (Remark No. IV). (See also Rejection of Errors Par. 8).
This discrimination becomes apparent in our eyes from the different choices which men make, faith or unbelief. But when we let our eyes be further opened by the Scriptures, we may now see "God's eternal decree" lying in the background and being executed HERE. God fulfils His plan and will in this wonderous thing, that the one believes the preaching of God's love in Christ, and the other does not believe. (Read the texts with each other 1). God is not surprised by unbelief. Neither does He owe any thanks to those who believe. He only sees how His sovereign decree, which He has formed in His eternal pleasure triumphs time and again.
This decree propels as it were His redemptive work and is therein executed in a perfect way. This is why even in this world full of great sinners faith becomes apparent. This is the wonder of regeneration ! (Read III/IV Art. 11, 12). God does not owe this gift to anybody. He bypasses many people, again, in His good pleasure which we cannot understand. It is really true, this is a profound, merciful, and at the same time righteous discrimination.
Please, do not let us reason about things which God has not revealed to us! But let us gratefully repeat and confess all that God has made known to us. For the decree of election and reprobation has been "revealed to us in God's Word".
C. Finally Art. 6 puts some emphasis on the fact that all this has been revealed as a consolation for the holy and pious souls.
It is not a subject for quarrels, or to be silent about. Neither has it been published to work any feelings of doubt into the hearts of the God- fearing people : "Would 1 belong to the elect?". It has been given them to make them stand firm in this consolation. Behind the miracle which happened in our life, that God came to us with the preaching of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, there is another wonder : God's eternal decree concerning this is opened to us !
Our life is founded in God's eternal will. Everything is from God and it is unmovable: Because of this we can put our trust in this God the God of election. (Read also Rejection of Errors Par. 6 : " the comfort which the godly obtain out of the firmness of their election"). But we will find these hidden treasures only when we let ourselves be led to them by all the Scriptures. Otherwise we would talk and dispute about election but only in self-conceit, distorting God's revelation. This is no wonder, for if we do not accept the preaching of the free grace of God as a power of God unto salvation, it becomes an offence and foolishness (1 Cor. 1 : 18-25; 2 : 6-16; II Peter 3 : 16).
Now you will be able to understand why the proof texts of the Canons of Dort are mostly from the New Testament. For there God's revelation arrived at its culminating point. Compare lord's Day 12, No. 31 on Christ's work as our Teacher.
"For the Scriptures are from the school of the Holy Spirit. And just as nothing is omitted from them that is necessary and useful to be known by us, nothing is taught therein unless it is useful. We must be careful not to keep the believers away from what the Scriptures teach us concerning predestination . lest we rob them in malice from the benefit of their God, or accuse the Spirit or abuse Him, because He would have made known things concerning which it would have been very useful if they had been concealed to us in one way or another . . . This only I want, that we will not curiously inquire into the things which the lord has kept secret for us, neither that we neglect that which He has brought to light; lest we are condemned on the one hand because of too great a curiosity, and on the other because of lack of gratitude" (John Calvin).
As for Pelagians, read a History book, as e.g. "Young People's History of the Church" by W. Meijer, Volume 1, page 37; and A. VanderJagt, "Struggle and Triumph", page 25.
This is very important even in our own days, because many people speak about "solidarity in being guilty" but do not at the same time honour God by making a distinction between the people (they reject the establishing of Christian organisations, and the "antithesis"). At the background of these ideas lies Karl Barth's doctrine concerning election. Barth does not want to make a distinction between men. All people are elected in Christ, he says.