Historical Forward to the Acts of the National Synod of Dordrecht (8)

The following is an excerpt from  “The Voices of Our Fathers: An Exposition of the Canons of Dordrecht” and is used by permission from the Reformed Free Publishing Association

Click here to start at the beginning of the series. 

As the churches persisted in trying to resolve matters through lawful ecclesiastical judgment, Arminius tried to escape this trap. Through requests to the States on April 30, 1608, he managed to get his case treated by the counselors [politicians in distinction from ecclesiastics] in the High Council. On May 14 Gomarus was ordered to appear before the counselors in conference with Arminius in the presence of the ministers from South and North Holland who recently had been in a preparatory gathering.

The deputies of the churches, having understood this, again requested the States of Holland and West Friesland to authorize the provincial synod instead of this conference before the High Council, so the synod could understand this ecclesiastical matter and pass judgment concerning it. Their reason was that ecclesiastical persons, experienced in these things and lawfully delegated by the churches and empowered to pass judgment, should deal with this matter. The States answered that to take cognizance of such a matter was enjoined upon the High Council and that judgment concerning it would thereafter be left to the provincial or national synod.

At this conference they first debated at length concerning the order of treatment. Arminius asserted that Gomarus must assume the position of accuser and that he [Arminius] was responsible only to defend himself. Gomarus thought that such a procedure was unfair and improper, especially in an ecclesiastical matter before political judges. Further, he said that he was indeed ready to show before a lawful synod that Arminius had proposed doctrines that conflicted with God’s word and the Confession and the Catechism, but that this showing could not be done without prejudgment of the case. Rather than conducting the conference by mutual accusations, Gomarus believed each of them should clearly present and express his views concerning every item of doctrine. According to him this was the best way to bring out clearly on what points they agreed or disagreed and this procedure would adhere to the purpose of the States. He stated that he would not refuse to declare fully and forthrightly his views concerning all matters of doctrine, as much as might be desired of anyone. He also said that if he wanted to present himself as a faithful teacher, Arminius was obligated to declare his views in the same way and no longer to use alibis.

“He [Gomarus] also said that if he wanted to present himself as a faithful teacher, Arminius was obligated to declare his views in the same way and no longer to use alibis.”

In spite of this Arminius stuck to his original intention, so that he finally cried out that he was amazed—considering the various rumors of his false teachings flying through all the churches, and considering that they said that the fire he had kindled was bursting out above the roofs of the churches—that until now no one had been found who dared to present any accusation against him.

To counteract Arminius’ boldness Gomarus proved that Arminius taught one of the chief articles of the Reformed faith—the justification of man before God—in such a way that his doctrine conflicted with God’s word and the Netherlands Confession. For proof he adduced Arminius’ words from a document written in his own hand, in which he had asserted that in man’s justification before God the righteousness of Christ is not reckoned for righteousness, but that faith itself, or the act of faith, through God’s gracious acceptance is by him held and accounted for righteousness whereby man is justified before God.

When Arminius saw that he was trapped and that because of the clear proof he could not deny this accusation, he proposed a different procedure, namely, everyone should put in writing and sign his opinions concerning the chief items of doctrine about which he believed there was disagreement, should comprehend these views in certain articles, and thereafter everyone would signify his objections from the opposite side.

This conference being ended, the counselors of the High Council gave a report of it to the States, saying that they judged that insofar as they had been able to gather from the conference, the differences between the two professors were not of such great importance and consisted chiefly of some cunning disputes concerning predestination that through the exercise of mutual forbearance could be overlooked. But Gomarus insisted that the difference in their views were so important that with the views of Arminius he would not dare appear in the judgment of God.

“Gomarus insisted that the differences in their views were so important that with the views of Arminius he would not dare appear in the judgment of God. “

Moreover, he warned that unless in due time they would remedy matters, in a short time one province would rise against the other, one church against the other, one city against the other, and the citizens against one another. 

The States wanted the documents signed by both sides in this conference to be kept in the High Council until the national synod and the contents imparted to no one.

(To be continued…)