Dordt’s aftermath: Did orthodoxy win the battle but lose the war?

This article is written by Prof. Douglas Kuiper and will be published in the May 1, 2019 issue of the Standard Bearer.

 Click to read pdf as printed in the May 1, 2019 issue.

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Sometimes an army has won a major battle during a war, but lost the war in the end. The Synod of Dordt marked a decisive victory for Reformed orthodoxy and a blow to Arminianism. But Dordt’s victory appears to have been short-lived. Did Reformed orthodoxy win the battle at Dordt, only to lose the war? In answering that question, this article surveys the history of the Remonstrants and of Arminianism after the Synod of Dordt.

Synod’s outcome: The battle won

Dordt’s victory was doctrinal: the Synod expressed its condemnation of Arminian theology in the Canons of Dordt. This victory was also church political: on April 24, 1619 (session 138) the Dutch delegates declared that the Remonstrants whom it had cited were deposed from their church offices.

After the national synod was over, provincial synods enforced Dordt’s decision by deposing almost two hundred Remonstrant ministers. The provincial synods of Utrecht and South Holland deposed thirty and sixty ministers, respectively; other provincial synods deposed smaller numbers.

Changes also took place at the university level. Remonstrant curators (trustees) and professors were removed and replaced with orthodox men. Notably, Simon Episcopius, the Remonstrant leader at Dordt, was succeeded by Festus Hommius, one of the clerks at the great Synod.

Synod could not enforce civil punishments for the Remonstrants; the States General (the national government) had authority to do that. In July, 1619 the States-General permitted those Remonstrants who submitted to their deposition to remain in the country and collect their salary for six months. Most Remonstrant ministers would not submit and were banished from the United Provinces. The government also forbad any defense or promotion of Remonstrant doctrine.

Other nations recognized and appreciated Dordt’s victory, particularly its doctrinal aspect. Outside the Netherlands, the French Reformed churches and the Reformed church in Geneva officially adopted the Canons. The Reformed church in Zurich, though not officially adopting the Canons, considered it to be in complete agreement with their Helvetic confession. In England, influential people suggested that the British adopt the Canons, but this never happened, due in part to some Arminian sympathy there.

The victory was monumental. But the enemy regrouped.

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Is God the Author of Sin?

In response to my last blog post (we welcome responses!), The Errors of Arminianism, a reader asked me (by email) to answer the Arminian charge that the Reformed faith is guilty of making God the author of sin. I intended to write my own answer to the question: is God the author of sin. But in doing some research I came across this brief and yet thorough treatment of the question by Prof. H. C. Hoeksema (posed to him by a reader of The Standard Bearer). Below is the question and the full answer, but if you want to look it up for yourself you can find it here.

Question 

How can God ordain sin and still remain a perfect God?

Reply 

This is a large question, on which much could be written. I will try to make a few pertinent remarks. 

In the first place, let us remember that neither of the two truths mentioned in the question—that God ordained sin and that God is the eternally perfect God—is dependent upon our understanding of the relation between them for their truth. If scripture teaches both—and it does—then we bow in childlike faith before the scriptures, whether we can fathom the possibility of both truths or not. 

In the second place, I wish to emphasize that it is not a pet Protestant Reformed doctrine that God ordained sin. That is simply the age-old truth which our Reformed confessions maintain. Thus we read, for example, in Article XIII of the Confession of Faith: “. . . so that nothing happens in this world without his appointment: nevertheless, God neither is the author of, nor can be charged with, the sins which are committed. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible, that he orders and executes his work in the most excellent and just manner, even then, when devils and wicked men act unjustly. And, as to what he doth surpassing human understanding, we will not curiously inquire into, farther than our capacity will admit of; but with the greatest humility and reverence adore the righteous judgments of God, which are hid from us, contenting ourselves that we are disciples of Christ, to learn only those things which he has revealed to us in his Word, without transgressing these limits.” 

In the third place, notice that the truth that God ordains sin is a scriptural doctrine. There are several classic examples of this in scripture; but let me mention just one outstanding example, the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ, Acts 2:23: “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” Notice that the most heinous sin in history is indeed the responsibility of wicked men, not of God, who is perfect; yet it takes place according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God. 

In the fourth place, bear in mind that the alternative to the doctrine that God sovereignly ordains sin is the denial of the sovereignty of God: for then sin comes about without God and apart from God and his control. And from a practical, spiritual point of view, where would you rather have sin controlled—by the devil, or by our sovereign heavenly Father? To ask this question, it seems to me, is to answer it. Our Confession of Faith puts it aptly when it says in Article XIII: “This doctrine affords us unspeakable consolation, since we are taught thereby that nothing can befall us by chance, but by the direction of our most gracious and heavenly Father; . . . being persuaded, that he so restrains (bridles, HCH) the devil and all our enemies, that without his will and permission, they cannot hurt us.” 

In the fifth place, let me submit the following statements in answer more specifically to the “how” of your question: 

1) God ordains sin without himself becoming the author of sin

2) God ordains sin perfectly, that is, holily—in a holy manner and for a holy purpose. 

3) Part of the purpose for which God ordains sin is, certainly, that he may reveal his own perfect and infinite holiness over against it.

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