The Canons of Dort represent the conclusions of a national synod of the Dutch Reformed Church, convened in the Dutch city Dordrecht (historically Dort in English) in 1618-1619. The synod was convened in response to Five Arminian Articles of 1610, published by the followers of Jacobus Arminius. Dort affirmed an orthodox Calvinist position on predestination, summarized in five points responding to their Arminian counterpoints. Along with The Belgic Confession and The Heidelberg Catechism, it is one the Three Forms of Unity, which are the doctrinal standards to which many Reformed churches around the world subscribe.
Of the National Synod of the Reformed Belgic Churches, assembled at Dort, ann. 1618 and 1619; (in which Synod were admitted many Divines of note, being of the Reformed Churches of Great Britain, of the County of Palatine of Rhene, of Hassia, of Helvetia, of the Correspondence of Waterau, of Geneva, of Breme, and of Embden:) concerning The Five Articles controverted in the Belgic Churches.
In the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Amongst the manifold comforts, which our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ hath imparted to his Church militant in this troublesome pilgrimage, that is deservedly extolled, which he left unto her at his departure to his Father into the heavenly sanctuary, saying, “I am with you always unto the end of the world” (Matt 28:20). The truth of this comfortable promise is manifested from time to time in all ages of the Church: which having from the beginning been oppugned, not only by the open violence of enemies, and impiety of heretics, but further by the under-hand cunning of seducers; certainly, if at any time the Lord should have left her destitute of the guard of his saving presence, she had now long since been either oppressed by the power of tyrants, or, to her utter overthrow, seduced by the fraud of impostors.
But that good Shepherd, who loves his flock to the end, for whom he hath laid down his life (John 10:11‡), hath always opportunely, and many times miraculously, with an outstretched arm, repressed the rage of persecutors, and discovered the winding by-paths of seducers, and scattered their fraudulent purposes; by each of which he hath evidently shewed himself to be present in his Church. Fair evidence hereof is given in the histories concerning godly emperors, kings, and princes, whom the Son of God hath so often raised up for the safeguard of his Church, and inflamed with a holy zeal of his house; and by their means hat not only curbed the fury of tyrants, but also, in his Church’s behalf, when it grappled with false teachers diversely corrupting religion, hath procured the remedy of sacred Synods: wherein the faithful servants of Christ have jointly with their prayers, counsels, and labours, courageously stood for God’s Church and his truth, fearlessly opposed the instruments of Satan, howsoever changing themselves into angles of light, rooted up the weeds of errors and dissension, preserved the Church in agreement of the pure religion, and left unto posterity the sincere worship of God uncorrupted.
With like favour our faithful Saviour hath given a testimony of his gracious presence at this time to the long distressed Church of the Low Countries. For this Church, being by God’s mighty hand set free from the tyranny of the Romish antichrist, and from the fearful idolatry of Popery, so often wonderfully preserved amidst the dangers of a long-continuing war, and flourishing in the concord of true doctrine and discipline, to the praise of her God, the admirable increase of the weal-public, and the joy of all other Reformed Churches; hath first covertly, afterwards openly, with manifold both and new errors been assaulted by one James Harmans, alias Arminius, and his followers, assuming the title of Remonstrants, and brought into so great hazard through the ceaseless turmoils of scandalous dissentions and schisms, that, had not our Saviour’s merciful hand in time been interposed, these flourishing Churches had been utterly consumed with the horrible flames of discord and schism. But blessed for ever be the Lord, who, after he had for awhile hidden his countenance from us (who had many ways provoked his wrath and indignation), hath witnessed to the whole world that he is not forgetful of his covenant, and despiseth not the sighs of his people (Exod 2:14‡).
For when in man’s understanding, scarce any hope of remedy appeared, God did put into the minds of the most illustrious and mighty the States General of the United Provinces, by the counsel and direction of the most renowned and valiant Prince of Orange, to determine to meet these outrageous mischiefs by such lawful means as have been long time approved by the example of the apostles themselves (cf. Acts 15:1-35‡), and of the Christian Church following them; and also heretofore with great benefit used even in the Belgic Church itself: and by their authority to call together a Synod out of all the Provinces subject to their government, to be assembled at Dort: many most grave divines being intreated thereto, and obtained by the favour of the most high James, King of Great Britain, and of most illustrious and potent Princes, Landgraves, and Commonwealths; that by common judgment of so many divines of the reformed Churches, those opinions of Arminius and his followers might be accurately examined and determined by the rule of God’s word only, the true doctrine established, and the false rejected, and concord, peace, and tranquility (by God’s blessing) restored to the Church of the Low Countries. This is that good gift of God, wherein the Belgic Churches triumph, and both humbly confess, and thankfully profess, the never-failing mercies of their Saviour.
Wherefore (a fast and public prayers being formerly enjoined and performed in all the Belgic Churches by the authority of the chief magistrate, for the deprecations of God’s anger, and imploring his gracious aid) this venerable Synod, assembled together at Dort in the name of the Lord, inflamed with the love of God’s honour, and of the salvation of his Church; and upon the invocation of God’s holy name bound by oath, that they would hold the sacred scripture as the only rule of their verdict, and demean themselves in the hearing and determining of this cause with a good and upright conscience; hath diligently and with great patience laboured herein, to persuade the chief patrons of these assertions, cited to appear before them, more largely to unfold their opinion concerning the five notorious controverted Articles, as also the reasons of such their opinion. But they rejecting the judgment of the Synod, and refusing to answer the interrogatories in such manner as was fitting; (whenas neither the admonitions of the Synod, nor instance of the generous and worthy deputies of the States General, nay, nor the commands of the most illustrious and mighty lords, the States General themselves, could prevail any thing at all with them;) the Synod, by the commandment of the said lords, the State General, was fain to take another course, heretofore used and received in ancient Synods. And so the search of their tenets concerning The Five Articles was undertaken out of their own books, confessions, and declarations, partly heretofore set forth, partly now exhibited to this Synod.
With search and examination being now by God’s singular mercy dispatched and finished with all diligence, conscience, and faithfulness, and with the joint consent of all and every one; this Synod, for the advancement of God’s glory, for the upholding of that truth which leadeth to salvation, and for the maintenance of peace and tranquility, as well in men’s consciences, as in the Belgic Churches, determineth to publish this their judgment; wherein the true doctrine agreeable with God’s word, touching the five aforesaid heads of doctrine is declared, and the false and disagreeing with God’s word is rejected: as followeth.
Forasmuch as all men have sinned in Adam, and are become guilty of the curse, and of eternal death (Rom 5:12†); God had done wrong unto no man, if it had pleased him to leave all mankind in sin, and under the curse, and to condemn them for sin: according to those words of the apostle: All the world guilty before God (Rom 3:19). And: All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). And: The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23).
But herein was the love of God made manifest, in that he sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have life everlasting (1 John 4:9; John 3:16).
And, that men may be brought unto faith, God in mercy sends the preachers of this most joyful message, to whom he will, and when he will (Isa 52:7†;); by whose ministry, men are called unto repentance, and faith in Christ crucified (1 Cor 1:23-24†). How they believe in him, of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach, except they be sent? (Rom 10:14-15).
Whosoever believe not these glad tidings, the wrath of God remains upon them (John 3:36†; cf. John 3:18†; Rom 1:16-17†): but they which receive them, and embrace our Saviour Jesus with a true and lively faith, they are delivered by him from the wrath of God, and destruction, and eternal life is given them (Mark 16:16† [TR]; Rom 10:9†).
The cause, or fault of this unbelief, as of all other sins, is no wise in God, but in man (Heb 4:6†). But faith in Jesus Christ, and salvation through him, is the free gift of God; as it is written, By grace ye are saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God (Eph 2:8). In like manner, Unto you it is (freely) given to believe in Christ. (Phil 1:29).
But whereas, in process of time, God bestoweth faith on some, and not on others, this proceeds from his eternal decree (Acts 13:48†). For from the beginning of the world God knoweth all his works (Acts 15:18 [TR]). Who worketh all things after the counsel of his will (Eph 1:11). According to which decree, he graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however otherwise hard; and as for those who are not elect, he in just judgment leaveth them to their malice and hardness (1 Pet 2:8†).
And here especially is discovered unto us the deep, and both merciful and just, difference put between men, equally lost; that is to say, decree of election and reprobation, revealed in God’s word. Which as perverse, impure, and wavering men do wrest unto their own destruction (2 Pet 3:16‡), so it affords unspeakable comfort to godly and religious souls.
Now election is the unchangeable purpose of God, by which, before the foundation of the world, according to the most free pleasure of his will, and of his mere grace, (Eph 1:4, 11†), out of all mankind (fallen, through their own fault, from their first integrity into sin and destruction) he hath chosen in Christ unto salvation a set number of certain men, neither better nor more worthy than others, but lying in common misery with others. Which Christ also from all eternity he appointed the Mediator, and head of all the elect, and foundation of salvation (John 17:2, 12, 24†; 6:37, 44†). And so he decreed to give them to him to be saved, and by his word and Spirit effectually to call and draw them to communion with him (1 Cor 1:9†): that is, to give them a true faith in him, to justify, sanctify, and finally glorify them, being mightily kept in communion of his Son, to the demonstration of his mercy, and the praise of the riches of his glorious grace; as it is written, He hath chosen us (in Christ) before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ unto himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved (Eph 1:4-6). And: Whom he hath predestinated, them also he hath called; and whom he hath called, them also he hath justified; and whom he hath justified, them also he hath glorified (Rom 8:30).
This election is not manifold, but one and the same of all which are to be saved, both under the Old and New Testament: because the Scripture speaks but of one only good-pleasure, purpose, and counsel of the will of God (Deut 7:7†; 9:6†; Eph 1:4-5); by which he hath chosen us from eternity both unto grace and glory, both unto salvation and the way of salvation, which he hath prepared that we should walk therein (Rom 8:30 [?]; Eph 2:10).
This said election was made, not upon foresight of faith, and the obedience of faith, holiness, or of any other good quality or disposition, as a cause or condition before required in man to be chosen; but unto faith, and the obedience of faith, holiness, &c. And therefore election is the fountain of all saving good, from whence faith, holiness, and the residue of saving gifts, lastly everlasting life itself, do flow, as the fruits and effects thereof (Rom 8:30†); according to that [testimony] of the apostle, He hath chosen us (not because we were, but) that we should be holy, and without blame before him in love (Eph 1:4).
The true cause of this free election is the good-pleasure of God is; not consisting herein, that, from among all possible means, he chose some certain qualities, or actions of men, as a condition of salvation: but herein, that out of the common multitude of sinners he called out to himself, for his own peculiar, some certain persons; as it is written, Ere yet the children were born, when they had neither done good nor evil, &c. (Rom 9:11-13) it was said unto her (namely to Rebecca), The elder shall serve the younger (Gen 25:23†): as it is written, Jacob have I loved, and have hated Esau (Mal 1:2-3†). And, As many as were ordained to eternal life, believed (Acts 13:48).
And as God himself is most wise, unchangeable, omniscient, and omnipotent: so the election made by him can neither be interrupted, nor changed, revoked, or disannulled (Heb 6:17-18† [?]), nor the elect cast away (John 6:37†), nor their number diminished (John 10:28†).
Of this their eternal and immutable election unto salvation, the elect, in their time, (although by several degrees, and in different measure,) are assured; and that, not by searching curiously into the depths and secrets of God (Deut 29:29†; 2 Pet 1:10† [?]; 1 Cor 2:10-11†), but by observing in themselves (2 Cor 13:5†), with spiritual joy and holy pleasure, the infallible fruits of election, marked out unto us in God’s word; such as are, a true faith in Christ, a filial fear of God, grief for our sins according to God (2 Cor 7:10†;), hungering and thirsting after righteousness, &cf. (Matt 5:6†).
Out of the sense and certainty of this election, the children of God daily draw more and more matter of humbling themselves before God, of adoring the depth of his mercies, of purifying themselves (1 John 3:3†), and of loving him fervently who first loved them so much (1 John 4:19†): so far in this doctrine of election, and the meditation thereof, from making them carnally secure, or backward in observing God’s commandments. Which abuse, by God’s just judgment, is want to befall those, who either rashly presume, or vainly and malaperty prate the grace of election, refusing withal to walk in the ways of the elect.
And as this doctrine touching God’s election was by God’s appointment declared by the prophets, Christ himself, and the apostles, as well under the Old Testament as the New, and afterwards commended to the records of holy writ; so at this day in God’s Church (Acts 20:27†; Job 36:23-26†) (for which it is peculiarly ordained) it is be propounded with the spirit of discretion, religiously and holily, in its place and time, without any curious searching into the ways of the Most High, and that to the glory of God’s most holy name, and lively comfort of his people (Rom 11:33-34†; 12:3†; 1 Cor 4:6†; Heb 6:17-18†).
Moreover, the holy scripture herein chiefly manifests and commends unto us this eternal and free grace of our election, in that it further witnesseth, that not all men are elected, but some not elected, or passed over in God’s eternal election (Rom 9:22†): whom doubtless God in his most free, most just, unreproachable and unchangeable good pleasure hath decreed to leave in the common misery (whereinto by their own fault they precipitated themselves [1 Pet 2:8†]), and not to bestow saving faith and the grace of conversion upon them; but, leaving them in their own ways, and under just judgment (Acts 14:16†), at last to condemn and everlastingly punish them, not only for their unbelief, but also for their other sins, to the manifestation of his justice. And this is the decree of reprobation, which in no wise makes God the author of sin, (a thing blasphemous once to conceive,) but a fearful, unreproveable, and just judge and revenger.
Those who as yet do not effectually perceive in themselves a lively faith (Jas 2:26†) or a sure confidence of heart in Christ, the peace of conscience, an endeavour of filial obedience, a glorying in God through Christ (2 Cor 1:12†; Rom 5:11†; Phil 3:3†), and nevertheless use the means by which God hath promised that he will work these things in us; such as these ought not to be cast down at the mention of reprobation, nor reckon themselves amongst the reprobate, but must diligently go forward in the use of those means, and ardently desire, and humbly and reverently expect, the good hour of more plentiful grace. Much less then ought those to be terrified with the doctrine of reprobation, who, albeit they heartily desire to turn unto God, to please him only, and to be delivered from this body of death (Rom 7:24†), yet cannot make such progress in the way of godliness and faith, as they wish. For our merciful God hath promised that he will not quench the smoking flax, nor break the shaken reed (Isa 42:3†; Matt 12:20†); but to those, who, forgetting God, and our Saviour Jesus Christ, have wholly enthralled themselves to the cares of the world and pleasures of the flesh (Matt 13:22†), this doctrine is not without cause terrible, so long as they are not seriously converted unto God (Heb 12:29†).
Seeing we must judge of God’s will by his word, which testifies unto us that the children of the faithful are holy, not in their own nature, but by the benefit of the gracious covenant, wherein they together with their parents are comprised; godly parents ought not to doubt the election and salvation of their children, whom God calls out of this life in their infancy (Gen 17:7†; Isa 59:21†; Acts 2:39†; 1 Cor 7:14†).
Whosoever murmurs at this grace of free election, and severity of just reprobation (Job 34:34-37†; 40:1–5†), we stop his mouth with that of the apostle: O man, who art thou, that repliest against God? (Rom 9:20). And that of our Saviour: Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? (Matt 20:15). But we, for our part, religiously adoring these mysteries, cry out with the apostle: O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? or who hath given to him first, and it shall be recompensed to him again? For of him, and through him, and to him are all things: to him be glory for ever. Amen (Rom 11:33-36).
The Synod, having delivered the orthodox doctrine concerning Election and Reprobation, rejecteth the errors of those:
Who teach, That the will of God to save such as shall believe, and persevere in faith, and the obedience of faith, is the whole and entire decree of election unto salvation; and that nothing else concerning this decree is revealed in the word of God. For these teachers deceive the simpler sort, and plainly gainsay the holy scripture, which witnesseth that God not only will save such as shall believe, but also from eternity hath chosen some certain men, upon whom, rather than others, he would bestow faith in Christ, and perseverance: as it is written: I have declared thy name unto the men which thou gavest me (John 17:6). In like manner, As many as were ordained to eternal life, believed (Acts 13:48). And: He hath chosen us before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, etc. (Eph 1:4).
Who teach, That the election of God unto salvation is manifold; one general and indefinite, another singular and definite: and this again either incomplete, revocable, not peremptory, or conditional; or else complete, irrevocable, peremptory, or absolute. Likewise, that there is one election unto faith, another unto salvation: so that election unto justifying faith may be without peremptory election unto salvation. For this is a figment of man’s brain, devised without any ground in the scripture, corrupting the doctrine of election, and breaking that golden chain of salvation: Whom he hath predestinated, them also he hath called; and whom he hath called, them also he hath justified: and whom he hath justified, them also he hath glorified (Rom 8:30).
Who teach, That the good pleasure and purpose of God, whereof the Scripture makes mention in the doctrine of election, doth not consist herein, that God did elect some certain men rather than others; but in this, that God from among all possible conditions (amongst which are the works of the law also), or out of the rank of all things, did choose, as a condition unto salvation, the act of faith, in itself ignoble, and the imperfect obedience of faith, and was graciously pleased to repute it for perfect obedience, and account it worthy of the reward of everlasting life. For by this pernicious error, the good pleasure of God, and the merit of Christ, is weakened: besides that, by such unprofitable questions, men are called off from the truth of free justification, and from the single plainness of the scriptures; and that of the apostle is outfaced as untrue: God hath called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose, and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before the world began (2 Tim 1:9).
Who teach, That in the election unto faith this condition is first required; viz. that man use the light of reason aright, that he be honest, lowly, humble, and disposed unto life eternal, as though in some sort election depended on these things. For these teachers have a strong tang of Pelagius, and broadly enough tell the apostle that he is wide, when he says, We all had our conversation, in times past, in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the will of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature the children of wrath, as well as others. But God which is rich in mercy, through his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved,) and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that he might shew, in the ages to come, the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness toward us through Jesus Christ. For by grace ye are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any one should boast (Eph 2:3-9).
Who teach, That the incomplete and not peremptory election of singular persons is made by reason of foreseen faith, repentance, sanctity, and godliness begun, and continued for some time; but the complete and peremptory election by reason of final perseverance of foreseen faith, repentance, sanctity, and godliness: and that this is the gracious, and evangelical worthiness, by which he that is chosen becomes worthier than he that is not chosen: and therefore that faith, the obedience of faith, sanctity, godliness, and perseverance are not the fruits or effects of unchangeable election unto glory, but conditions and causes, sine quibus non (that is to say, without which a thing is not brought to pass) before required, and foreseen, as already performed by those who are completely to be chosen. A thing repugnant to the whole scripture, which everywhere beats into our ears and hearts these and such like sayings: Election is not of works, but of him that calleth (Rom 9:11). As many as were ordained unto life eternal believed (Acts 13:48). He hath chosen us that we should be holy (Eph 1:4). Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you (John 15:16). If of grace, not of works (Rom 11:6). Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son, etc. (1 John 4:10).
Who teach, That not all election unto salvation is unchangeable; but that some which are elected, withstanding God’s decree, may perish, and for ever do perish. By which gross error they both make God mutable, and overthrow the comfort of the godly concerning the certainty of their salvation, and contradict the holy scriptures, teaching, That the elect cannot seduced (Matt 24:24). That Christ doth not lose those which are given to him of his Father (John 6:39). That God, whom he hath predestinated, called, and justified, them he doth also glorify (Rom 8:30).
Who teach, That in this life there is no fruit, no sense, no certainty of immutable election unto glory, but upon condition contingent and mutable. For, besides that it is absurd to make an uncertain certainty, these things are contrary to the experience of the godly: who, with the apostle, triumph upon the sense of their election, and extol this benefit of God (Eph 1†); who rejoice with the disciples, according to the admonition of Christ, that their names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20); and lastly, who oppose the sense of their election against the fiery darts of devilish temptations (Eph 6:16†), demanding: Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? (Rom 8:33).
Who teach, That God out of his mere just will hath not decreed to leave any man in the fall of Adam, and common state of sin and condemnation, or to pass over any in the communication of grace necessary unto faith and conversion. For that stands firm, He hath compassion upon whom he will, and whom he will he hardeneth (Rom 9:18). And that, To you is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given (Matt 13:11). In like manner, I glorify thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding men, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, O Father, because thy good pleasure was such (Matt 11:25-26).
Who teach, That the cause, why God sends the Gospel rather unto this nation than to another, is not the mere and only good pleasure of God; but because this nation is better, and more worthy of it than that unto which he hath not communicated the Gospel. For Moses gainsays this, speaking thus unto the people of Israel, Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord’s thy God, and the earth with all that therein is: notwithstanding the Lord set his delight in thy fathers to love them, and did choose their seed after them, even you above all people, as appeareth this day (Deut 10:14-15). And Chris, Woe be to thee, Chorazin! woe be to thee, Bethsaida! for if the great works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they had repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes (Mat 11:21).
God is not only most merciful, but most just also. Now his justice requires (as he hath revealed himself in his word [Exod 34:6-7†]) that our sins, committed against his infinite Majesty, be punished (Rom 5:16†; Gal 3:10†) not with temporal pains only, but eternal also, and those both of body and soul: which punishments we cannot escape, unless God’s justice be satisfied.
But seeing we ourselves cannot make satisfaction, and free ourselves from the wrath of God, God of his infinite mercy hath given his only-begotten Son to become a surety for us (John 3:16†; Rom 5:8†): who, that he might satisfy for us, was made sin (2 Cor 5:21†), and a curse upon the cross for us, or in our stead (Gal 3:13†).
The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sins (Heb 9:26, 28†; 10:14†), of infinite price and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2†).
And therefore is this death of so great value and price, because the person which suffered it is not only a true and perfectly holy man (Heb 4:15†; 7:26†); but the only-begotten Son of God also (1 John 4:9†), of the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the Holy Ghost: such an one as it behoved our Saviour to be. Again, because his death was joined with a feeling of God’s wrath, and of curse (Matt 27:46†) which we had deserved by our sins.
Furthermore it is the promise of the Gospel, that whosoever believes in Christ crucified, should not perish, but have life everlasting (John 3:16†); which promise, together with the injunction of repentance and faith (Acts 2:38†; 16:31†), ought promiscuously, and without distinction, to be declared and published to all men and people (1 Cor 1:23†; Matt 28:19†), to whom God in his good pleasure sends the gospel.
But forasmuch as many, being called by the Gospel, do not repent, nor believe in Christ, but perish in their infidelity (Matt 22:14†; Ps 95:11†); this comes not to pass through any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross, but by their own proper fault (Heb 4:6†).
But as many as truly believe, and are freed by Christ’s death from their sins, and saved from destruction; they by God’s grace alone (which he owes no man [Eph 2:8-9†]), given unto them from eternity in Christ, obtain this benefit (2 Cor 5:18†).
For this was the most free counsel, gracious will, and intention of God the Father, that the lively and saving efficacy of the most precious death of his Son should manifest itself in all the elect (John 17:9†), for the bestowing upon them only of justifying faith, and bringing them infallibly by it unto eternal life (Eph 5:25-27†). That is, God willed, that Christ by the blood of his cross (whereby he was to establish a new covenant [Luke 22:20†; Heb 8:6†]) should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language (Rev 5:9†), all them, and them only, who from eternity were elected unto salvation, and given to him by the Father, that he should bestow faith on them (Phil 1:2, 9†) (which, as also the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, he purchased for them by his death), that by his blood he should cleanse them from all sins (1 John 1:7†) both original and actual, as well committed after as before they believed, and finally should present them before him in glory (John 10:28†), without all spot or blemish (Eph 5:27†).
This counsel, proceeding from his eternal love toward the elect, (the gates of hell bootlessly resisting it [Matt 16:18†],) hath from the beginning of the world to this present time been mightily fulfilled, and hereafter also shall be fulfilled; so that the elect in their times must be gathered into one (John 11:52†), and there must always be some Church of believers (1 Kgs 19:18†) founded in the blood of Christ, which should constantly love, steadfastly worship, and here and for ever and ever praise him her Saviour, who laid down his life upon the cross for her, as the bridegroom for his bride (Eph 5:25†).
The Synod, having delivered the orthodox doctrine, rejecteth the errors of them:
Who teach, That God the Father ordained his Son unto the death of the cross without any certain and determinate counsel of saving any particular man expressly; so that its necessity, profit, and dignity, might have remained whole and sound, and perfect, in every respect complete, and entire, to the impetration of Christ’s death, although the obtained redemption had never actually been applied to any particular person. For this assertion is reproachful unto the wisdom of God the Father, and the merit of Jesus Christ; and contrary to the scripture, where our Saviour Christ saith: I lay down my life for the sheep: and I know them (John 10:15, 27). And the Prophet Isaiah speaks thus of our Saviour: When he shall make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand (Isa 53:10). Lastly, it overthrows the article of faith; namely that, wherein we believe that there is a Church.
Who teach: That this was not the end of Christ’s death, that he might establish a new covenant of grace by his blood; but that he might only procure unto his Father the bare right of making again with men any covenant whatsoever, whether of grace, or of works. For this thwarteth the scripture, which teaches that Christ is made the Surety and Mediator of a better, that is, a new covenant: and that the testament is confirmed when men are dead (Heb 7:22; 9:15, 17).
Who teach: That Christ by his satisfaction did not certainly merit for any man salvation itself, and faith by which this satisfaction of Christ may be effectually applied unto salvation: but only, that he purchased to his Father a power, or a resolution, to enter a new match with mankind, and to prescribe them what new conditions soever he pleased; the performance of which conditions should depend upon man’s free-will: and that therefore it might fall out that either no man, or every man, might fulfil them. For these esteem too basely of Christ’s death, in no wise acknowledging the chiefest and most excellent fruit and benefit thereby, and call up again the Pelagian error out of hell.
Who teach: That the new covenant of grace, which God the Father, by the mediation of Christ’s death, made with men, doth not consist herein, viz. that we are justified before God, and saved by faith, insomuch as it apprehends the merit of Christ: but herein, viz. that God (the exaction of perfect legal obedience being abrogated) reputes faith itself, and the imperfect obedience of faith, for perfect obedience of the law, and graciously thinks it worthy of the reward of eternal life. For these contradict the scripture, All are justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that is Christ Jesus; whom God hath set forth to be a reconciliation through faith in his blood (Rom 3:24-25). And, with the wicked Socinus, they bring in an uncouth and strange justification of man before God, contrary to the consent of the whole Church.
Who teach: That all men are received into the state of reconciliation and grace of the covenant, so that no body shall be condemned for original sin, nor, in respect of it, be liable unto death or damnation; but that all are acquitted, and freed from the guilt of that sin. For this opinion is contrary to the scripture, which affirms, that we are by nature children of wrath (Eph 2:3).
Who employ the distinction of impetration and application, to the end that they may infuse this opposition into unskilful and unwary wits, namely, that God, as much as concerns him, would confer upon all men equally those benefits, which are procured by Christ’s death: and whereas some, rather than others, are made partakers of forgiveness of sins, and life eternal, that this diversity depends upon their own free-will, applying itself unto grace indifferently offered; but not upon the singular gift of mercy, effectually working in them rather than others, that they may apply this grace unto themselves. For they, whilst they bear the world in hand that they propound this distinction with a sound meaning, go about to make people drink of the poisonous cup of Pelagianism.
Who teach, That Christ neither could, nor ought to die, neither did die, for those, whom God dearly loved, and chose unto eternal life, seeing such stood in no need of Christ’s death. For they contradict the apostle, who saith, Christ loved me, and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20). In like manner, Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s chosen? It is God that justifieth: who shall condemn? it is Christ which is dead (Rom 8:33-34), to wit, for them. And our Saviour averring: I lay down my life for my sheep (John 10:15). And, This is my commandment, that ye love one another, as I have loved you: greater love than this hath no man, that a man lay down his life for his friends (John 15:12-13).
Man, in the beginning, being made according to God’s image, was adorned in his mind with true and saving knowledge of his Creator, and of things spiritual; in his will and heart with righteousness; in all his affections with purity; and so was in all his parts and faculties holy (Gen 1:26-27†). But he, by the devil’s instigation, and liberty of his own will, revolting from God, bereaved himself of these excellent gifts (Gen 3:1-7†), and contrariwise, in lieu of them, gat in his mind horrible darkness, vanity, and crookedness of judgment; in his heart and will, malice, rebellion, and obduration; and in all his affections, impurity (Eph 4:17-19†).
And such as man after the fall, such children he begat; namely, a corrupt issue from a corrupt father (Job 14:4†; Ps 51:5†): this corruption being by the just judgment of God derived from Adam to all his posterity (Rom 5:12†) (Christ only excepted [Heb 4:15†]), and that not by imitation (as of old the Pelagians would have it), but by the propagation of nature with her infection.
All men therefore are conceived in sin, and born the children of wrath, untoward to all good tending to salvation, forward to evil, dead in sins, slaves in sin (Eph 2:1, 3†; John 8:34†; Rom 6:16-17†), and neither will nor can (without grace of the Holy Ghost regenerating them [John 3:3-6†; Tit 3:5†]) set straight their own crooked nature, no nor so much as dispose themselves to the amending of it.
Certes, there are still in lapsed man some remains of the light of nature; by virtue whereof he retaineth some principles concerning God (Rom 1:19-20†), and of things natural, and of the difference between good and evil; as also he sheweth some care of virtue, and of outward discipline (Rom 2:14-15†): but so far short is he from being enabled by this inbred light, to come to the saving knowledge of God, and to convert himself unto him, that he does not make right use thereof in natural things, and civil affairs; nay, such as it is, he many ways defileth it all, and withholdeth it in unrighteousness; and by so doing becometh unexcusable before God (Rom 1:18, 20†).
As it is with the light of nature, so it is also touching the Decalogue, or Ten Commandments, delivered to the Jews from God in special manner by the hand of Moses. For, inasmuch as the law doth indeed lay open the grievousness of sin, and more and more deeply attaindeth man at the bar of justice, but neither reacheth forth any remedy, nor affordeth strength to wade out of misery, and so, being weakened through the flesh, leaveth a sinner under the curse; it is not possible that by it a man should obtain saving grace (Rom 3:19-20†; 7:10, 13†; 8:3†; 2 Cor 3:6-7†).
That, therefore, which neither the light of nature, nor the law could do, God bringeth to pass by the power of the Holy Ghost, through his word, or the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18-19†) (namely, the gospel concerning the Messias), whereby it pleased God to save those that believe (1 Cor 1:21†), as well under the Old, as New Testament.
Under the Old Testament God disclosed unto but a few this secret of his will; but in the New (the distinction of people being taken away) he manifesteth the same unto many (Eph 1:9†; 2:14†; Col 3:11†). The cause of which his diverse dispensation is not to be imputed to the worthiness of one nation above another, or to the better using of the light of nature by some than by other some, but to God’s most free good pleasure, and undeserved love (Rom 2:11†; Matt 11:26†). And therefore they, to whom, without any their good desert, nay, notwithstanding their ill desert, so great a favour is vouchsafed, are bound, for their part, to acknowledge the same with all humility and thankfulness (Rom 11:22-23†); and as for others, to whom such grace is not afforded, without curious sifting (Deut 29:29†), to admire (with the Apostle) the severity and justice of God’s judgments upon them (Rev 16:7†).
Now, as many soever as are called by the Gospel, are called seriously (Isa 55:1†; Matt 22:4†). For God by his word doth seriously and most truly declare what is acceptable to him; namely, that those that are called, come unto him (Rev 22:17†): and moreover doth seriously promise to all such as come to him, and believe in him, rest for their souls, and life eternal (John 6:37†; Matt 11:28-29†).
Whereas many, being called by the Gospel, do not come, and are not converted, this default is not in the Gospel, nor in Christ offered by the Gospel, nor in God who calleth them by his Gospel, and moreover bestoweth divers gifts upon them but in themselves, that are called (Matt 11:20-24†; 22:1–8†; 23:37†); of whom some are so careless, that they give no entrance at all to the word; others entertain it, but suffer it not to sink into their hearts, and so, having only a fading smack of joy, bred by a temporary faith, afterward become revolters; others choak the seed of the word with the thorns of worldly cares and fleshly pleasures, and so bring forth no fruit at all; as our Saviour teacheth in the parable of the sower (Matt 13).
But whereas others, being called by the ministry of the Gospel, do come, and are converted, this is not to be ascribed unto man, as by his free-will distinguishing himself from others endowed with the like or with sufficient grace for their belief and conversion, (as Pelagius, in the pride of his heresy, would have it;) but must be attributed unto God (Rom 9:16†), who, as he hath from all eternity chosen in Christ those that are his, so in the process of time effectually calleth them, endueth them with the gift of faith and repentance, and, delivering them out of the power of darkness, translateth them into the kingdom of his Son (Col 1:13†; Gal 1:4†), to the end that they should magnify him who hath so mightily called them out of darkness into this wonderous light (1 Pet 2:9†), and that they should not boast in themselves but in the Lord (1 Cor 1:31†; 2 Cor 10:17†; Eph 2:8-9†), as is often avouched by the Apostles in many passages of their Epistles.
Furthermore, whereas God bringeth to pass this his own good-pleasure in the elect, (namely, when he worketh true conversion in them,) he not only provideth that the Gospel may to be outwardly preached unto them, and powerfully enlighteneth their minds by the Holy Ghost, that they may understand aright, and judge of the things of the Spirit of God (Heb 6:4-5†; 1 Cor 2:10-14†); but also, by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit, he pierceth into the most inward parts of man (Heb 4:12†): whose heart being close shut up, he openeth it; being hard, he softeneth it (Acts 16:14†); being uncircumcised, he circumciseth it; and as for the will, he infuseth new qualities into it (Deut 30:6†), and maketh it of a dead will lively; of an evil, good; of a nilling, willing; of a stubborn, buxom (Ezek 11:19†; 36:26†); and stirreth it up also, and strengtheneth it, whereby it is enabled, like a good tree, to bring forth the fruits of good works (Matt 7:18†).
And this is that regeneration, second creation, raising from the dead, and quickening, (so often incalculated in the holy scriptures [John 3:3†; 2 Cor 4:6†; 5:17†; Eph 5:14†; 2:5‡],) which God worketh in us, but not with us: and which is not brought to pass by bare instruction sounding to the outward ear, nor by moral inducements, no, nor by any kind of operation so carried on, that, when God hath done his part, it should remain in man’s choice to be or not to be regenerate; to be or not to be converted: but in a very supernatural, a most powerful, and withal most sweet, a wonderful, hidden, working, being, the mightiness thereof, (according to the scriptures, which are the doubtless word of the very author o this mighty work,) not inferior to the creation of the world, or raising of the dead (John 5:25†; Rom 4:17†). So that all those, in whose hearts God worketh after this admirable manner, are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and actually believe (Phil 2:13†). And then the will, being now renewed, is not only drawn and moved by God, but, God having now set it on going, itself also worketh: whereupon a man is rightly said, by this grace received, himself to repent and believe.
The faithful cannot in this life attain to the full knowledge of the manner of this working; yet in the mean time they content themselves, and rest in this, namely, that by the same grace of God they know and feel, that in their hearts they believe and love their Saviour (John 3:18†; Rom 10:9†).
So then faith is the gift of God (Eph 2:8†): not in that it is proffered by God unto man’s free-will, but because it is really bestowed, inspired, and infused into man: likewise, not as though God did give only a power of believing, and then should wait the leisure of man’s will for consenting, or for the very act of believing; but because both the willingness to believe, and the act itself are wrought in man by him that worketh both the will and the deed (Phil 2:13†), and worketh even all in all.
This grace God oweth to no man. For how can God become debtor to him, who hath nothing to give first, that it might be recompensed to him again (Rom 11:35†)? Nay, what can God owe him, who hath nought of his own, but sin and untruth? Whosoever therefore is made partaker of this kind of grace, ever oweth, and ever payeth, thanks to God only: and whoso hath it not, he either, framing to himself content in what he findeth himself, regardeth not all these special things, or carnal security vainly boasteth of having that which he hath not (Amos 6:1†; Jer 7:4†).
Furthermore, as for those that make outward profession of the faith, and amend their lives, we are, by the example of the Apostles, to judge, and speak the best of them (Rom 14:10†); the closet of the heart being unsearchable. But as for those, who are not as yet called, we must pray for them to God, who calleth those things that are not, as if they were (Rom 4:17†): but in no wise may we wax proud against them (1 Cor 4:7†), as if we ourselves had caused that distinction, whereby we are made unlike them.
On the other side, as, by the fall, man cease not to be man, endued with understanding and will, nor did sin, spreading itself through all mankind, abolish nature in us, but corrupted and spiritually slew it (Rom 8:2†; Eph 2:1†); in like manner this regenerating grace of God worketh not upon men as if they were stocks and stones, nor doth it abolish the will and properties thereof, or maugre constrain it, but doth spiritually revive it, heal it, rectify it, and powerfully yet gently bend it (Ps 51:12†; Phil 2:13†): so that where formerly the rebellion of the flesh, and stubbornness, did domineer without controul, now a willing and sincere obedience to the Spirit begins to reign; in which change the true and spiritual rescue and freedom of our will doth consist. And surely, unless the wonderful worker of all goodness should not deal with us in this sort, there were no hope left for man to arise from his lapse by his own free-will, through which, when he stood sound, he threw himself headlong into destruction.
Moreover, as that powerful operation of God, by which he giveth being to this our natural life, and sustaineth the same, doth not exclude, but require, the use of means, by which it pleaseth God, according to his wisdom and goodness, to employ this his own power (Isa 55:10-11†; 1 Cor 1:21†), even so the aforesaid supernatural working of God, by which he regenerateth us (Jas 1:18†), doth in no wise exclude or overthrow the employment of the Gospel, which God, in his great wisdom, hath ordained to be the seed of regeneration, and food of the soul (1 Pet 1:23, 25†; 2:2†). Wherefore, as the Apostles and their successors did piously deliver unto the people the doctrine of this grace of God, for the advancing of his glory, and beating down of all manner of pride; and yet withal neglected not by holy admonitions, taken out of the Gospel, to keep their Christian flocks within the compass of the word, sacraments, and exercise of discipline (Acts 2:42†; 2 Cor 5:11-21†; 2 Tim 4:2†): so in these days also far be it from either teachers or learners in the Church to presume to tempt God by disjoining those things, which God, according to his good-pleasure, hath appointed to go together inseparably. For by such admonitions grace itself is derived to us (Rom 10:14-17†); and the more readily we perform our duty, thereby the good gift of God working in us made more sensible unto us, and his work itself best cometh to perfection. To the which God alone is due for evermore all the glory of these means, and of the saving fruit and efficacy of them (Jude 24-25†). Amen.
The Synod, having laid down the true doctrine, now rejecteth the errors of those:
That teach, That it cannot well be avouched, that original sin of itself is sufficient for condemning of all humankind, or for the deserving of temporal and eternal punishment. For they go against the Apostle, who saith, By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all sinned (Rom 5:12). And, The judgment was by one to condemnation (Rom 5:16). The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23).
That teach: That spiritual gifts, or good qualities and virtues (such as goodness, holiness, and righteousness), could not be seated in the will of man in his first creation, and therefore in his fall the will could not be bereft of them. For this is contrary to the description of the image of God, laid down by the Apostle (Eph 4:24), where he describes it by righteousness and holiness, which doubtless are placed in the will.
That teach, That in spiritual death no spiritual gifts were separated from the will of man; for that the will of itself was never corrupted, but only encumbered by the darkness of the understanding, and unruliness of the affections: which impediments being removed, the will may put in use her own inbred faculty of freedom, (that is, her self-will,) and will and choose, or not to will and refuse, any kind of good set before her. Verily, this is a new-fanged and erroneous piece of doctrine, bent on purpose for the enhancing the forces of the free-will, contrary to that of the prophet Jeremiah, The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked (Jer 17:9). And that of the Apostle, Among whom (namely, children of disobedience) all we also had our conversation in times past, in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the wills of the flesh and of the mind (Eph 2:3).
That teach, That an unregenerate man is not properly nor totally dead in sins, nor destitute of all strength tending to spiritual good; but that he is able to hunger and thirst after righteousness, or everlasting life, and to offer the sacrifice of an humble and contrite heart, even such as is acceptable to God. For these assertions march against the direct testimonies of scripture: Ye were in trespasses and sins (Eph 2:1, 5). And, Every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil continually (Gen 6:5; 8:21). Moreover the hungering and thirsting for deliverance out of misery, and for life eternal, as also the offering to God the sacrifice of a broken heart, is proper to the regenerate, and such as are called blessed (Ps 51:17; Matt 5:6).
That teach, That a corrupt and natural man can so rightly use common grace (by which they mean the light of nature), or those gifts which are left in him after the fall, that, by the good use thereof, he may attain to a greater, namely, evangelical or saving grace, and by degrees at length to salvation itself. And that God, for his part, sheweth himself ready in this manner to reveal Christ to all men: seeing he doth sufficiently and efficaciously afford to every man necessary means for the making Christ known, and for faith and repentance. For this is convinced to false, as by the experience of all ages in the world, so also by the scriptures. He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel; he hath not dealt so with any nation, and as for his judgments, they have not known them (Ps 147:19-20). God, in times past, suffered all nations to walk in their own way (Acts 14:16). Paul and his company were forbidden of the Holy Ghost to preach the word in Asia: and after they were come to Mysia, they essayed to go into Bithynia; but the Spirit suffered them not (Acts 16:6-7).
That teach, That in the true conversion of a man there cannot be infused by God any new qualities, habits, or gifts into the will; and so that faith, by which we are first converted, and from which we are styled faithful, is not any quality, or gift, infused by God, but only an act of man: and that this faith cannot be called a gift otherwise than in regard of the power or means given us of attaining it. For these strange positions are contradictory to the holy scriptures, which testify unto us that God doth infuse into our hearts new qualities of faith, obedience, and sense of his love towards us, I will put my law into their inward parts, and write it in their hearts (Jer 31:33). I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed (Isa 44:3). The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us (Rom 5:5). They contradict also the continual practice of the Church, which useth to pray after the manner described by the prophet, Convert me, O Lord, and I shall be converted (Jer 31:18).
That teach, That the grace, whereby we are converted unto God, is nothing else but a gentle inducement; or (as others explain it) that the most noble kind of working in man’s conversion, and most suitable to our nature, is that which is performed by suasory motives, or advice: and that no cause can be alleged why even such moral grace alone should not of natural man make spiritual: nay, moreover, that God doth not produce the consent of our will otherwise than by way of moral counseling: and that the efficacy of God’s working, wherein he exceedeth the working of the devil, consisteth in this, that the devil promoteth temporary things, but God things eternal. For this is down-right Pelagianism, and warreth against the whole course of the scriptures, which, besides this suasory kind of moving, acknowledge in the conversion of man another manner of working of God’s Spirit, and that more divine, and of far greater efficacy, I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh, etc. (Ezek 36:26).
That teach, That God, in regenerating a man, doth not employ that omnipotent strength, whereby he may powerfully and infallibly bow and bend his will unto faith and conversion: but that, all the gracious operations works which God useth for our conversion being accomplished, nevertheless man can withstand God and his Holy Spirit intending that man’s conversion, yea, and oftentimes doth make actual resistance, to the utter defeating of his own regeneration: so that it lieth in man’s power to be, or not to be, regenerate. For this amounteth to no less, than the denying all the efficacy to God’s grace in our conversion, and the subjecting the work of the Almighty unto the will of man: which is flat contrary to the doctrine of the Apostles, that we believe according to the working of his mighty power (Eph 1:19). That God fulfilleth all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power (2 Thess 1:11). And that God’s power hath given unto us all things, that pertain unto life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3).
That teach: That grace and free-will are coparcening causes, jointly concurring to the beginning of conversion; and that grace doth not in order of causality go before the action of the will: that is, that God doth not effectually help man’s will unto conversion, before the will of man moveth and determineth, or setteth itself thereunto. For this doctrine was long since condemned by the ancient Church among the Pelagian errors, out of the Apostle’s authority, It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy (Rom 9:16). And, Who maketh thee to differ? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? (1 Cor 4:7). Also, It is God which worketh in you, both to will, and to do, of his good pleasure (Phil 2:13).
Whomsoever God, according to his purpose, calls unto the fellowship of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and regenerates by the Holy Spirit, those certainly, in this life, he frees from the dominion of sin, and slavery under sin (John 8:34†; Rom 6:17†), but not altogether from the flesh, and body of sin (Rom 7:21-24†).
From hence arise in holy men daily sins of infirmity, and even their best works have their blemishes (1 John 1:8†), which yield unto them perpetual matter of humbling themselves before God, of making their recourse unto Christ crucified, of mortifying the flesh more and more by the Spirit of prayer, and by holy and godly exercises (Col 3:5†), and of striving and sighing after the goal of perfection, so long till (1 Tim 4:7†; Phil 3:12, 14†), being delivered from this body of death, they may reign with the Lamb of God in the heavens (Rev 5:6, 10†).
By reason of these relics of sin dwelling in them, and, besides this, the temptations of the world and of Satan, they which are converted could not continue in the state of grace, if they were left to their own strength (Rom 7:20†): but God is faithful, who mercifully confirmeth them in that grace, wherein he hath once accepted them, and mightily preserveth them in the same, even unto the end (1 Cor 10:13†; 1 Pet 1:5†).
But although that power of God, confirming and keeping the truly faithful in the state of grace, is greater than can possibly be overcome by the flesh (Eph 1:19†): nevertheless they which are converted, are not always so led and moved by God, that they cannot, through their own fault, stray, and depart from the guidance of grace in some particular actions, and be seduced by the concupiscence of the flesh, and give way unto the same. Wherefore they must continually watch and pray, that they be not led into temptation (Matt 26:41†). Which when they do not (1 Thess 5:6, 17†), it is not possible that they should be carried away by the flesh, the world, and the devil, into grievous and heinous sins, but sometimes also, by God’s just permission, they are carried away: which the lamentable fall of David, Peter, and other of the saints, described unto us in the scripture, evidently shew (2 Sam 11†; Matt 26†, esp. vv. 30–35 and 69–75).
Now, by such enormous sins they greatly offend God, incur the guilt of death, grieve the Holy Spirit, break off the exercise of faith, most grievously wound the conscience, now and then for a time lose the sense of grace (2 Sam 12†; Eph 4:30†), until, upon their returning into the way by true and earnest repentance, God’s fatherly countenance shines again upon them (Ps 32:3-5†; Num 6:25†).
For God, who is rich in mercy (Eph 2:4-5†), according to the unchangeable purpose of election (Eph 1:11†), doth not wholly take away his Spirit from his, no, not in their grievous slips (Ps 51:13†), nor suffers them to wander so far as to fall away from the grace of adoption, and state of justification (Gal 4:5†), or to commit the sin unto death (1 John 5:16-18†) or against the Holy Ghost (Matt 12:31-32†), or to be altogether forsaken of him, and throw themselves headlong into everlasting destruction.
For first of all, in these slips, he preserveth in them that his immortal seed, by which they were once born again, that it die not, nor be lost (1 Pet 1:23†): afterward, by his word and Spirit, he effectually and certainly reneweth them again unto repentance (1 John 3:9†), so that they do heartily, and according unto God, grieve for their sins committed, and with a contrite heart (2 Cor 7:10†), by faith in the blood of the Mediator, crave and obtain forgiveness of them, recover the apprehension of the favour of God reconciled unto them, adore his mercies and faithfulness (Ps 32:5†; Ps 51:19†), and from thenceforward more carefully work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12†).
So, not by their own merits or strength, but by God’s free mercy, they obtain thus much, that they neither totally fall from faith and grace, nor continue to the end in their falls and perish; which, in regard of themselves, not only full easily might, but doubtless would, come to pass: yet, in respect to God, it cannot so fall out; since neither his counsel can be changed (Ps 33:11†), nor his promise fail, nor the calling according to his purpose be revoked (Heb 6:17†; Rom 8:30, 34†; 9:11†), nor Christ’s merit, intercession, and custody, be made of none effect (Luke 22:32†), nor the sealing of the Holy Spirit be frustrated or defaced (Eph 1:13†).
Of this preservation of the elect to salvation, and perseverance of true believers in the faith, the faithful themselves may be and are ascertained (Rom 8:31-39†) according to the measure of their faith (2 Tim 4:8†), by which they assuredly believe that they are, and shall for ever continue, true and lively members of the church, and that they have remission of their sins, and everlasting life (2 Tim 4:18†).
And therefore this certainty is not from any special revelation made beside or without the word, but from faith in God’s promises, which he hath most plentifully revealed in his word for our comfort; from the testimony of the Holy Spirit bearing witness with our spirit, that we are the sons of God, and heirs (Rom 8:16-17; 1 John 3:1-2†); lastly, from a serious and holy care of keeping a good conscience (Acts 24:16†), and endeavour of good works. And if God’s chosen should want in this world this solid comfort of obtaining the victory (Rom 8:37†), and this infallible pledge and earnest of eternal glory, they were surely of all men the most miserable (1 Cor 15:19†).
Nevertheless, the scriptures witness, that the faithful do wrestle in this life with divers doubts of the flesh, and, being plunged in deep temptations, do not always perceive in themselves this full assurance of faith, and certainty of perseverance: but God, the Father of all consolation (2 Cor 1:3†), suffers them not to be tempted above that they are able, but with the temptation makes a way to escape (1 Cor 10:13); and by his Holy Spirit revives in them the certainty of perseverance.
Now, so far is assurance of perseverance in the truly faithful for making them proud and carnally secure, that, on the contrary, it is the very root of humility, of filial reverence (Rom 12:1†), of true godliness, of patience in all conflicts, of fervent prayer, of constancy in bearing the cross and confessing God’s truth, and, lastly, of solid joy in God (Ps 56:12-13†): and that moreover the consideration of this benefit becometh a goad, or spur, to incite them to a serious and continual exercise of thankfulness and good works (Ps 116:12†; Tit 2:11-14†; 1 John 3:3†); as appeareth by the testimonies of the scriptures, and examples of the saints.
Nor doth the revived confidence of perseverance beget wantonness, or reckless neglect of piety in those who are restored upon their fall (2 Cor 7:10†), but a far greater care to walk more circumspectly in the ways of the Lord, which are prepared to this end (Eph 2:10†), that by walking therein they may hold fast the certainty of their perseverance; lest by reason of the abuse of his Fatherly bounty, God’s gracious countenance (the beholding whereof is sweeter than life, the withdrawing more bitter than death [Jer 33:5†]) be again turned away from them (Ps 63:4†; Isa 64:7†), and so they become more grievously wracked in conscience than before.
And as it has pleased God to begin this work of grace in us by the preaching of the Gospel, so by the hearing, reading (Deut 6:20-25†), meditation, exhortations, threats, and promises of the same (2 Tim 3:16-17†), as also by the use of the sacraments (Acts 2:42†), he maintaineth, continueth, and perfecteth his said gracious work.
The doctrine concerning the perseverance of true believers and saints, and the certainty thereof (Rev 14:12†), (which God, to the glory of his name, and comfort of godly souls, hath most abundantly revealed in his word, and imprinteth in the hearts of the faithful,) howsoever flesh and blood apprehends it not, Satan hates it, the world laughs at it, ignorant men and hypocrites abuse it, and erroneous spirits impugn it; yet the spouse of Christ hath always most tenderly loved, and constantly defended it, as a treasure of unvaluable price (Eph 5:32†). Which that she may still do, God will provide and bring to pass: against whom neither can any counsel avail, nor strength prevail (Ps 33:10-11†).
To which only God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, be honour, and glory for ever and ever (1 Pet 5:10-11†). Amen.
The Synod, having declared the orthodox doctrine, now proceedeth to disavow the errors of those:
That teach, That the perseverance of the faithful is not an effect of election, or any gift of God purchased by the death of Christ; but that it is a condition of the new covenant, which is to be performed on man’s part, by his own free-will, before his (as they themselves speak) peremptory election and justification. For the holy scripture witnesseth that it follows upon election, and is given to the elect by virtue of Christ’s death, resurrection, and intercession, But the election obtained it, and the rest were hardened (Rom 11:7). Likewise, He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ Jesus that died, yea or rather that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? (Rom 8:32-35).
That teach, That God indeed furnisheth the faithful man with sufficient strength to persevere, and is ready to maintain that strength in him, if he himself be not wanting to his duty: yet, notwithstanding, whenas all abilities necessary unto perseverance, and all things which God will is pleased to use for the preservation of faith, are granted and set in readiness, that is still remaineth in the choice and pleasure of man’s will to persevere, or not. For this opinion is easily discovered to be an imp of Pelagianism, which, whilst it strives to make man free, makes him sacrilegious: contrary to the uniform and perpetual consent of evangelical doctrine, which quite strippeth man of all matter of boasting, and ascribeth the glory of this benefit to God’s grace only; and contrary to the Apostle, witnessing that it is God, who shall confirm us even unto the end, that we be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 1:8).
That teach, That the regenerate and true believers not only may totally and finally fall from justifying faith, as also from grace and salvation, but that frequently also they indeed do fall from all these, and perish everlastingly. For this opinion makes the vey grace of justification and regeneration, and Christ’s continual custody, void and of no effect; contrary to the express words of St. Paul, While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us: much more, then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him (Rom 5:8-9). And contrary to the Apostle St. John, Whosoever is born of God, doth no commit sin: for his seed remaineth in him, neither can he sin, because he is born of God (1 John 3:9). And also contrary to the words of our Saviour, I give eternal life unto my sheep, and they shall never perish, neither shall any pluck them out of my hand: my Father which gave them me, is greater than all; none is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand (John 10:28-29).
That teach, That the regenerate and true faithful, may sin the sin unto death, or against the Holy Ghost. Where the same apostle John, in the fifth chapter of his first Epistle, after having (vv. 16–17) made mention of such as sinned unto death, and forbidden to pray for them, presently (v. 18) addeth: We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not (to with that kind of sin); but he that is begotten of God, keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not (1 John 5:18).
That teach, That no certainty of future perseverance can be had in this life, without special revelation. For by this doctrine the solid comfort of true believers in this life is quite taken away, and the doctrine of doubtfulness (avouched by the Papists) is brought again into the Church. Whereas the holy scripture everywhere draweth this assurance, not from special and extraordinary revelations, but from the proper marks and signs of God’s children, and from the unfailable promises made by God himself: especially the Apostle Paul, No creature is able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Jesus Christ [or Christ Jesus our Lord] (Rom 8:39). And St. John, He that keepeth his commandments, dwelleth in him, and he in him: and hereby we know that he abideth in us, even by the Spirit which he hath given us (1 John 3:24).
That teach, That the doctrine maintaining assurance of perseverance and of salvation, is, of its own nature and guise, a soft pillow for the flesh, and hurtful to good manners, godliness, prayer, and other holy courses: and contrariwise, that it is a very commendable thing to be doubtful such perseverance. For the opposers of this assurance do evidently shew, that they know not the powerfulness of God’s grace, nor the operation of the Holy Ghost dwelling in the heart, and spare not to outface the apostle St. John, affirming the contrary in express terms, Beloved, now are we the sons of God: and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know, that when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself even as he is pure (1 John 3:2-3). They are also refuted by the examples of holy men, both in the Old and the New Testament, who, though well assured of their own perseverance and salvation, yet gave not over prayers, and other exercises of godliness.
That teach, That the faith of those that believe but for a season, differeth not from justifying and saving faith, but only in respect of continuance. For Christ himself (Matt 13:20 and Luke 8:13) manifestly putteth a threefold disparison between temporizers and true believers: saying, that those receive the seed in stony ground, these in good ground, that is, in an honest and good heart: those want root, these have a fast root: those are fruitless, these bring forth their fruit with diversity of yieldance, and that with patience, that is, with constancy and perseverance.
That teach, That it is not absurd that a man should lose his first regeneration, and be again and again new-born spiritually. For they that teach this, do thereby deny the incorruptibleness of that divine seed, whereof we are born anew; contrary to the testimony of the Apostle St. Peter: Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible (1 Pet 1:23).
That teach, That Christ never prayed for the faithful’s infallible perseverance in faith. For they contradict Christ himself, saying to Peter, I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not (Luke 22:32): and the evangelist John also witnessing that himself prayed, not only for his Apostles, but also for all that should believe by their word (John 17:20); when he said, Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me. And, I pray not, that you shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from the evil (John 17:11, 15).
And this is the plain, simple, and natural explication of the orthodox doctrine concerning The Five Articles controverted in united provinces of the Low Countries; as also the rejection of those errors, wherewith the Churches of the said Netherlands have for a time been much troubled. Which their determination the Synod holdeth to be taken out of the God’s word, and agreeable to the Confessions of the Reformed Churches. Whereby it manifestly appeareth, with how small truth, equity, and charity, some (whom such dealings least beseemed) have laboured to beat into the people’s head:
That the doctrine of the Reformed Churches, concerning Predestination, and the points thereon appendant, doth, of its own bent and inclination, call off men’s minds from all religion and piety: that it is the cushion which the devil layeth under our flesh; the very castle of Satan, out of which he layeth watch for all, woundeth most men, and striketh dead very many with the darts, as well of despair as of security:
That this doctrine maketh God the author of sin, unjust, tyrant, an hypocrite; and that it is nothing else but a patched composure of Stoicism, Manicheism, Libertinism, Turcism:
That it maketh men carnally secure, as being thereby persuaded that the elect, live they how they list, must needs be saved, therefore may on God’s name run through all the outrageous villinies in the world: and contrariwise, that it booteth not the reprobates for their salvation, though they should sincerely perform all the good works which any saint hath done:
That by it we are taught, that God, out of his own absolute will, and mere purpose, without any respect at all of sin, hath foreordained and created the far greatest part of men in the world to be damned for ever:
That, as election is the fountain and original cause of faith and good works, so in like manner reprobation is the cause of infidelity and wickedness:
That many of the children of the faithful are, in their infancy, without any guilt at all, taken from their mother’s breasts, and tyrannously cast headlong into hell-fire: so that neither the sacrament of baptism, nor the prayers of the Church at their baptizing, can at all avail them:
And many other obloquies of this strain, which the Reformed Churches not only do not admit, but also detest with all their heart.
Wherefore this Synod, holden at Dort, requesteth, and in the name of the Lord abjureth, all, whosoever in godly zeal call upon the name of our Saviour Jesus Christ, that they would be please to judge of the doctrine of the Reformed Churches, not out of calumnies raked up here and there, no, nor out of private tenets of some, whether old or new, doctors, and those oftentimes either sinisterly cited, or corrupted and strained to a sense never intended by the authores; but out of the published Confessions of the Churches themselves, and (for these points) out of this Declaration of orthodox doctrine, agreed upon and enacted by the joint consent of all and every members of this whole Synod.
And as for rash and slanderous traducers, the Synod earnestly advertiseth them to look unto it, and consider how heavy an account they are to give unto God, that bear false witness against so many Churches, and so many Church Confessions, trouble the consciences of the weak, and labour to draw the society of truly believers into suspicion with many.
Lastly, this Synod exhorteth all their fellow-ministers of the Gospel to have a pious and religious care in the handling of this doctrine, whether in schools or pulpits; and whensoever they undertake it by word or pen, discreetly to accommodate the same to the advancement of God’s glory, to the promoting of holiness of life, and to the comforting of afflicted and affrighted souls: to frame, not only their judgment, but also their style of speech, by the square of the scriptures, and suitably to the analogy of faith: lastly, to forbear all such phrases, or manner of speech, as pass the bounds set out unto us of the right meaning of the holy scriptures, and withal give wayward wranglers just occasion of traducing or slandering the doctrine of the Reformed Churches.
The Son of God, Jesus Christ, who, sitting at the right hand of his Father, bestoweth gifts to men, sanctify us in his truth; bring back into the way of truth those that are gone astray; stop the mouths of those that slander sound doctrine; and endue the faithful ministers of his word with the Spirit of wisdom and discretion; that all they utter may tend to the glory of God, and the edification of their hearers! Amen.
This is our opinion and judgment: in witness whereof we have hereto subscribed.
The Estates General of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, to all that shall see or read these presents, Greeting:
Whereas, for the abolishment of those lamentable and most hurtful controversies, some years since (to the great damage of our commonwealth, the breach of our Church peace) raised about the notorious Five Articles (so called), and the points appendant thereon, we thought fit, according to the good course usually taken, both in God’s Church generally, and particularly in the Belgic Church itself, to summon a National Synod of all the Churches of our United Provinces, to be assembled at Dort; and for the better celebrating the said Synod to be especial benefit of these countries, have, without spare of our labour or charges, requested and obtained to be sent hither many worthy, learned, and notable divines of the Reformed Churches in divers foreign nations, as by their several subscriptions unto the Synodical judgment doth appear; and have also, for the well-ordering of the said Synod, deputed for every several Province our delegates, who, by their presence from the beginning to the ending of the sessions of that Assembly, might take care that all things might be conducted there (according to our sincere intention) in the fear of God, in decent order, and by the rule of God’s word only: and whereas the said Synod hath not, by God’s singular blessing, with so joint a consent of all and every, as well strangers as domestics, given their judgment concerning the aforesaid heads of doctrine, and hath moreover passed a Synodical censure upon the teachers of those erroneous points; and also, with our knowledge and consent, hath, upon the 6th of May last past, published the said decrees and sentences: we, being desirous that the Churches of these countries may fully enjoy the fruit of this great and holy work, (being such as the Reformed Churches never saw before,) and holding nothing more dear, nor more pertinent to our charge, than the glory of God’s most sacred name, the maintaining and spreading of the true Reformed religion, (which is the foundation of our prosperity, and the bond of combination among the confederate Provinces,) and the concord, peace, and tranquillity of our Churches; as also the preserving of correspondence and communion between the Churches within these countries, and all other foreign Reformed Churches, from which we neither may nor can dissever ourselves; having viewed, recognised, and duly examined and weighed the aforesaid five doctrinal heads, other than that which shall be conformable and agreeing with the forenamed judgment, shall be taught or spread in the Churches of these countries. And accordingly we enjoin and command all ecclesiastic assemblies, all Church ministers, professors, and doctors of divinity, rectors of colleges, and all and every one whom these things may any way concern, faithfully and sincerely to follow the same, and to conform themselves thereunto in the performance of their ministry and functions.
And to the end that our good intention may attain full effect on all sides, we enjoin and command the States, Generals, and Deputies of States, the Counsellors and Deputies of the Provinces of Gelders, Zutphen, Holland and Westfriesland, Zealand, Utrecht, Friesland, Overyssel, Groningen, and the Omlands, and all other officers, judges, and justices, to observe and maintain, and cause to be observed and maintained, the aforesaid Synodical judgment, with the appurtenances: so that neither themselves make any immutation of them, nor suffer to be attempted by others in any sort: for that we hold and judge this course necessary to be taken for the promoting of God’s glory, for the welfare and securing of this State, and for the peace and tranquility of this Church.
Given under our seal, signed by our President, and subscribed by our Secretaty, at Gravenhague, Jule 2, 1619.
Peter Hall, The Harmony of Protestant Confessions (London: John F. Shaw, 1844), 539–73. This translation is in the public domain. The titles of the articles, not part of the original, are added from the edition of the Canadian and American Reformed Churches, see “The Canons of Dort,” pages 1–26. Online: http://www.canrc.org/resources/bop/candort/. Accessed: 1/28/2009.
† This symbol indicates references added in later editions of a confession or catechism
‡ This symbol indicates references added by editors of the RSB project