Archive for the ‘Diversity at Dort’ Category


W. Robert Godfrey and the Path to Compromise at Dort

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism


1) Path to Compromise

This sensitivity [for Protestant unity concerning Reformed relations with Lutheranism] did not move the strict group, however. The strict German and Swiss delegations through bitter experience had already been disillusioned about hopes of concord with Lutherans. The Dutch provincial delegations had other reasons for disregarding an appeal to Lutheranism. They read such an appeal in the context of their own struggles with the Remonstrants and construed the call to Protestant unity as another Remonstrant smoke screen designed to obscure the real issues. This fear seemed to be supported because as early as 1609 defenders of Arminius had claimed that their teachings were no different from what was taught by Lutherans on the matters at hand.44 On January 16, 1619 the Remonstrants wrote to Maurice asking for toleration if they could not support the decrees of the Synod. Brandt summarized this letter: “. . . they humbly pray’d that the same freedom might be allowed to them which the Lutherans had enjoy’d in these Provinces, and who were of the same opinion themselves, in the business of the Five Points, and who moreover differed from the Reformed in other matters.”45

Brandt also noted the appeal of March 19, 1619 that the Remonstrants made to the political delegates at the Synod when they submitted the last of their written defense:

Observe then how inconsistently they act with themselves; they who in Germany call Melanchthon, a most pious Soul, and cry him up for his extraordinary virtues and gifts of all kinds (as Zanchius and all the Palatine Divines are wont to do) yet here in the Low-Countries will not so much as admit, either to the exercise of their Ministry, or to the Table of the Lord, one who practices Melanchthon’s moderate way of preaching, and who, for the sake of peace, is contented to forbear meddling with the doctrines of the Contraremonstrants.46

Although the strict Calvinist group at the Synod was not moved by an appeal to Lutheran feelings, there were three grounds upon which an effective appeal for compromise might succeed with them. In fact, the final compromise was accomplished on the basis of these appeals. The first plea was the need for the decisions of the Synod to be approved unanimously. The second appeal was the form in which final Canons were to be stated, and the third was the need to placate the English delegation that represented the largest Reformed church and was the strongest political ally of the United Provinces. On the basis of these three considerations, the strict group was willing to compromise.

Read the rest of this entry »


Robert Letham on Dort: Finding the Middle Ground

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism


Thirdly, controversy raged over the extent of the atonement. Martinius, one of the Bremen delegation, as well as Davenant and Ward of the English delegation wished to stress the universal significance of Christ’s death. Their language proved unacceptable to many and the resultant disagreement threatened to stall the Synod’s progress and even to destroy its hopes of success. The English delegation made hasty consultation with the authorities at home. Eventually, they were instrumental in encouraging agreement and effecting an ingenious compromise that did justice to the universal sufficiency of Christ’s death in a way calculated to win the support of Martinius, Ward and Davenant, while at the same time safe-guarding the orthodox concern for the particularity and efficacy of the intent of the atonement.13 Consequently, in the second head of doctrine, the Canons devote four sections to the universal significance of Christ’s death. It is an atonement abundantly sufficient for the sins of the whole world.14 The value of Christ’s death is infinite both because of who he is and what he endured.15 Therefore, the promise of the gospel, as it focuses on Christ and his death, should be proclaimed to all men without exception.16 The unbelief of man is attributable in no way to any supposed defect or limitation in the death of Christ but is fully man’s own responsibility.17 Only then do the Canons move on briefly to refer to the intent of the atonement. God intends that the efficacy of Christ’s death should be extended to the elect.18 God’s purpose will be accomplished and the elect will receive salvation.19 Such a statement is nothing if not eirenic. Its balance leans, if anything, in the opposite direction from popular caricatures of limited atonement. Together with the statements on infralapsarianism, Dort is faced by an extreme hard-line option and firmly rejects it, choosing instead a moderate course acceptable to the bulk of international Reformed opinion.20

Robert Letham, “Saving Faith and Assurance in Reformed Theology: Zwingli to the Synod of Dort,” (Ph.D. dissertation, University of Aberdeen, 1979), 1:326-327 [Footnotes: 2:168-169.] [Letham’s original underlining converted to italics, footnote and numbers original; and underlining mine.]

Credit to Tony for the find.


13See Godfrey, pp. 135-269.

14Canons 2, 3 in Schaff, Creeds, 3:561.

15Canons 2, 4 in Ibid.

16Canons 2, 5 in Ibid.

17Canons 2, 6 in Schaff, Creeds, 3:562.

18Canons 2, 8 in Ibid.

19Canons 2, 9, in Ibid.

20Kendall’s characterization of Dort as rubber-stamping Bezan theology is misguided. Beza was a thoroughgoing supralapsarian; Dort is, almost to a man, infralapsarian. Beza disliked the distinction between the universal sufficiency and limited efficacy of the atonement because he thought it weakened the emphasis on the particularity of redemption; Dort stresses the universal scope of the atonement. See Kendall, pp. 175-177.

The Suffrage concerning the second Article


Out of an especiall love and intention both of God the Father, and of Christ himselfe, Christ dyed for the Elect, that hee might [p. 44] effectually obtaine for them, and infallibly bestow on them both remission of sinnes, and salvation.

This first proposition declareth, that the Elect shall without faile have remission of sinnes, and eternall life by the death of Christ, and that out of the especiall love and intention of God the Father, and Christ. This is proved out of the holy Scriptures, which doe shew forth the efficacie of the death of the Sonne of God in respect of the Elect, John 11. 51. Jesus must dye for the Nation, and not onely for that Nation, but that hee might gather into one the sonne of God, which were dispersed, Ephes. 5. 25. God loved the Church, and gave himselfe for it, that he might sanctifie it, &c. In which words is declared the intention of Christ offering himselfe, as the same offering concemeth the infallible bestowing of salvation, [p. 45]


Out of the selfe same love by and for the merit and intercession of Christ, faith, and perseverance, are given to the same Elect, yea and all other things, by which the condition of the covenant is fulfilled, and the promised benefit, namely, eternall life is obtained.

This position sheweth, that out of the death and intercession of Christ, those gifts of grace doe flow to the Elect, by which they are effectually brought to life eternall. Rom. 8. 32. 33. 39.27 Hee that spared not his owne Sonne, how shall he not even with him give us all things? Heb. 8. 10. I will give my lawes into their mindes, and in their hearts I will write them. For that grace, which is given unto the Elect for the death of Christ, is the grace of effectuall reemption. Now wee understand by the grace of redemption, not such a grace, by which men may bee redeemed, if they will, [p. 46] but by which they are in event mercifully redeemed, because God so willeth.


God taking pitie on mankinde being falne, sent his Son, who gave himself a ransome for the sins of the whole world.

In this oblation of Christ we consider two things: the manner of calling of men to the actuall participation of this sacrifice, and the benefit divers wayes redounding unto men by the same sacrifice.

As for the manner, there is no mortall man, who cannot truly and seriously bee called by the Ministers of the Gospell to the participation of remission of sinnes, and eternall life by this death of Christ. Acts 13. 33.28 39. Bee it knowne unto you that remission of sinnes is preached by Christ. John 3. 17. He that beleeves not, is condemned, because he hath not beleeved in the Sonne of God. There is nothing false, nothing colourably fained in the Gospell, but whatsoever is offered or promised in it by the Ministers of the word, is after the same manner offered & [p. 47] promised unto them by the Author of the Gospell.

Read the rest of this entry »


The year 1618 is one of the historic dates of Calvinism. It was then that in Holland the famous Synod of Dordrecht was convoked to combat the greatest crisis in dogma since the age of the first reformers. From Germany, the United Provinces, Geneva, Switzerland and England the delegates assembled (France, by order of the king, could send no delegates) to deal with the Arminians, or “Remonstrants” as they were often called, who had challenged some of the fundamental orthodox doctrines, threatening to split the Calvinist world in two.7

It was the pious conviction of the Arminians that the insistence of traditional Calvinism upon God’s omnipotence and man’s helplessness (as expressed in the absolute decrees of election and reprobation and other doctrines concerning the nature of grace and the Divine Satisfaction) led immediately and necessarily to the conclusion that God Himself was responsible for man’s sins and was the cause of his damnation.8 To avoid a conclusion so monstrous in itself, and which made them so vulnerable to accusations by their Catholic adversaries, they remonstrated to the orthodox with five points of doctrine carefully phrased to coincide as closely as possible with the usual orthodox formulae, but which in reality–as the orthodox were quick to see–affected the very foundations of the Calvinist theological system. In order to make it clear that it was man, rather than God, who was responsible for his own damnation the Arminians suggested (1) that the decrees of predestination and reprobation were not always absolute, (2) that Christ had proffered remission of sins to all mankind by His death, (3) that Christ had died for each and every person, (4) that a sinner might resist grace, and (5) that the saints did not always persevere in their faith. These points if adopted would have broken the absolute nature of the divine decrees; they would have implied the existence of a kind of universal grace offered to all (as opposed to the traditional “particular” grace offered only to the elect), and they would have meant that man’s will was partially independent–independent enough to refuse the grace offered in Christ’s death, or even to lose it, if in the wickedness of his heart man chose to do so.

Inevitably the orthodox rejected the five points. They were far from admitting that their traditional doctrines led to such impious consequences as the Arminians claimed; they saw no necessity to revise the whole structure of their theology, especially since their traditional doctrines were so “evidently” supported by the authority of the Scripture, and since Arminianism was clearly another revival of the semi-Pelagian heresy, whose dangers were already well known to the true Church. For months they labored, and at last brought forth the famous “Canons” which redefined the essential doctrines of their belief, and rejected the errors of the heretics.9 All the delegates to the Synod signed their names to each of the articles of the Canons, and at the conclusion of the Synod there were tears of rejoicing and prayers of thanksgiving; medals were struck to commemorate the happy issue of the crisis. A considerable number of Arminians were denied the right to exercise their pastoral functions; many also were placed under surveillance or sent into exile; for political reasons the worthy Oldenbarneveldt was decapitated.

Read the rest of this entry »


Donald Grohman on Dort and the 1649 Genevan Articles

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism

[comments below]


The following extracts are taken from Grohman’s dissertation.1 Some of the material is irrelevant, but included for the sake of context.

The historical context of the following “theses” relates to Alexandre Morus (1616-1670) who was a candidate for ministry in 1641. However, his application and acceptance into the Genevan church ministry was not readily accepted by the “venerable company” of Genevan pastors. He was suspected of being: 1) in agreement with Amyraut on universal grace; 2), that he agreed with Joshua de la Place on original sin; and 3), that he agreed with Piscator on the question of Christ’s active and passive obedience. The company of pastors drew up a list of theses which they demanded Morus sign and thereby assent to. After the theses, I have included Grohman’s comments regarding the theses’ statements relative to Dort and the death of Christ.


1) At the Council’s insistence the Company met on Monday, May 28, and agreed to draw up for Morus a list of theses containing the pure doctrine and rejecting the false doctrine. Theodore Tronchin and Antoine Léger, professors of theology, were appointed to write the theses.

These theses were read and approved at the Company meeting on June 1, and they were signed on behalf of the Company by the moderator Sartoria and the acting secretary Girard. The theses are organized under five headings original sin, predestination, redemption, the disposition of man to grace, and promises made to the faithful and their prerogatives. The theses are as follows:

Original Sin

I. The first sin of Adam (maraptoma) is imputed to his posterity by a just disposition and judgment of God, and corruption is poured-out on each and everyone who proceeds naturally from that source. Thus, there are three things which render man accused before God: (1.) The guilt flowing from the fact that we have all sinned in Adam; (2) the corruption which is the punishment of this guilt, imposed both on Adam and on his posterity; (3) the sins which men commit as adults.

2. The imputation of Adam’s sin and the imputation of the justice of Jesus Christ answer each other mutually. Just as Adam’s sin is imputed to his posterity, so the justice of Christ is imputed to the elect. The imputation in of Adam’s precedes corruption; the imputation of Christ ‘s justice precedes sanctification.

3. The imputation of Adam is sin and impure generation, which are certainly two ways of transmitting original sin, are interrelated and completely inseparable. Nevertheless, when they are considered as antecedent and consequent or cause and effect, to be sure, the corruption of nature in us is derived from Adam, because in him we have sinned and we have been made guilty.

Read the rest of this entry »