Grace and Assurance: The Message of the Canons of Dordt
by Rev. Martyn McGeown
Four hundred years ago (1618) the great Synod of Dordt met to examine the doctrine of the Arminians. The fruit of their deliberations was the Canons of Dordt, which have defined the Calvinist, Reformed faith for four centuries. Readers unfamiliar with the great Synod might be tempted to think that the Canons would be cold, scholastic theology, the work of hard-nosed theologians and heresy-hunters. Younger readers might be disinclined to read the Canons out of fear that they are too deep and abstract for the ordinary child of God. It is the hope of the author that this book will contribute to the dispelling of those myths.
The Calvinist fathers at the synod were certainly theologians—the finest of that age—but they were especially pastors of souls. They saw Arminianism, as it was popularized by the followers of James Arminius (1560-1609), as a threat to the gospel of grace and, therefore, a threat to the comfort and assurance of God’s children. It troubled pious souls, it upset grieving parents, it caused sensitive, doubting, struggling saints to despair, and it robbed God of his glory in salvation. Conditional theology—that is theology based on the works or will of the sinner—always robs the church of the comfort of the gospel and always robs God of his glory. Only grace, sovereign, particular, efficacious grace, saves; only the gospel of God’s grace in election, the cross, regeneration, and preservation comforts God’s people; and only the gospel of God’s grace ascribes all glory to God in salvation.
Two words sum up the teaching of the Canons of Dordt, which are the original five points of Calvinism—grace and assurance. God’s grace is his favor extended to undeserving sinners: grace that flows from the fountainhead of election, grace that is purchased by Christ for elect sinners on the cross, and grace that is given sovereignly to such elect, redeemed sinners by the Holy Spirit in regeneration. But not only does God save by his grace, he also assures those whom he saves that he has eternally elected, effectually redeemed, and sovereignly regenerated them, and that he will unconditionally preserve them in that salvation forever. To have such salvation and be assured of that salvation both now and forever is to enjoy unspeakable consolation.
Read the Canons of Dordt, believe the gospel of grace expounded and defended by the great Synod of Dordt, and enjoy the comfort and assurance afforded to believers in that gospel.
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