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Historical Forward to the Acts of the National Synod of Dordrecht (4)

Voice of Our Fathers, TheThe 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


The time had come for the annual synod of the churches of South and North Holland. According to custom the protests of the churches of every classis were forwarded to the synod. Among others, there was this objection from the classis of Dordrecht: “Since the report is abroad that in the academy in the church of Leiden certain differences have arisen concerning the doctrine of the Reformed churches, the classis considered it necessary that the synod deliberate concerning the means by which these differences can be resolved in the best and speediest way, in order that all schisms and offenses that might arise from this can be promptly warded off and the unity of the Reformed churches can be preserved against the slanders of the enemies.”

Arminius took this very ill and did his best to have this objection recalled. When he could not achieve this, he obtained from his fellow professors, with the help of the honorable curators of the academy, a testimony dated August 10 that there were indeed more disputes among the students than pleased them, but that among the professors of theology, as far as was known to them, there was no differences regarding the fundamentals.

On August 30 the synod of the South Holland churches was convened in Rotterdam. The delegates of the classis of Dordrecht informed the synod that there were many and weighty reasons for sending this protest. The synod also heard from the synodical deputies concerning the situation at Leiden and matters under discussion with Arminius and the other professors. After due deliberation, the synod decided promptly to pursue that creeping evil and not to postpone the matter on the basis of the uncertain hope that a national synod would be convened. For this reason they charged the deputies of the synod to find out with all diligence which points of doctrine the students of theology in the Academy of Leiden were especially disputing. Further, the deputies were instructed to request the honorable curators to charge the professors of theology forthrightly and uprightly to declare their views concerning these points of doctrine, in order to reveal their agreement or disagreement and thus to free the churches of concern regarding the seriousness and existence of differences, and in case the differences were found to be serious, to take prompt remedial action. The synod on November 8 also enjoined all the ministers to testify of their agreement in doctrine by subscribing to the Confession and Catechism of these churches, something which had been neglected in many classes and refused by others.

The synodical deputies, after diligent investigation of the case, delivered to the curators nine questions about which there was much dispute, and they begged the curators to demand the theological professors to declare fully their views concerning these questions. The curators answered that there was some hope that within a short time a national synod would be called, and therefore they deemed it more advisable to reserve those questions for the synod, rather than to give more occasion for disunity through further investigation.

There were also ministers who had adopted the view of Arminius and here and there in the classes refused to obey the order of the synod to subscribe to the Confession and the Catechism. The concern of the churches increased when they saw that these ministers, banking upon the favor of some, despised the synod’s authority and boldly proceeded in their purpose.

Since the evil could not be remedied in this manner, the synodical deputies showed the States General in detail the great danger the churches were in. To ward off this evil, they petitioned the States General to decree at the earliest opportunity the convening of a national synod, which had for so many years been postponed.

Historical Forward to the Acts of the National Synod of Dordrecht (3)

Voice of Our Fathers, TheThe 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


At first he [Jacobus Arminius] sought to free himself from all suspicion of strange doctrine by defending the doctrine of the Reformed churches concerning the satisfaction of Christ, justifying faith, justification through faith, the perseverance of true believers, the certainty of salvation, the imperfection of men in this life, and other chief points of doctrine, all of which he later contradicted and which his disciples oppose today in public disputations, contrary to his own views (as Johannes Arnoldi Corvenus openly admitted in a certain German document).

After serving in his office [at the University of Leiden] for a year or two, Arminius openly and secretly slandered many doctrines accepted in the Reformed churches and created suspicion among his pupils. He sought to render impotent the chief proofs by which these doctrines had been established from God’s word, using the same exceptions and subterfuges that the Jesuits, Socinians, and other enemies of the Reformed church had attempted to use, and Arminius exalted the proofs of the opposite doctrines. Moreover, to his students he secretly distributed his handwritten tracts in which he had incorporated his views. Besides, he recommended the writings of Castalio, Cornhert, Suarez, and such like writers to his pupils and spoke deprecatingly of the writings of Calvin, Beza, Martyr, Zanchius, Ursinus, and other outstanding teachers of the Reformed churches. Yea, he also openly testified that he had many insights and suspicions against the adopted doctrine that he would reveal in his own time.

Some preachers who associated with Arminius boasted that he had an entirely new theology. When his students came home from the academy or departed to other academies, they brazenly took doctrinal positions against the Reformed churches and disputed, contradicted, and criticized the Reformed doctrine. Noting these and other things and being rightly concerned that the orthodoxy of the Reformed doctrine was thus weakened, and that the youth, who were being trained in this “greenhouse” for the hope of the churches, were taken in by strange doctrines, and that this matter would ultimately burst forth to the great harm, disturbance, and detriment of the churches, the Holland churches deemed it necessary through their delegates (to whom the common care of the churches was entrusted) to take more careful note of this entire matter, so that at the next synod provisions could be made to prevent damage to the church. For this reason the South and North Holland church deputies went to Arminius and confronted him regarding rumors about him and his doctrine. They told him how much all the churches were concerned and in a friendly manner begged him uprightly to inform the brethren if he had anything to say concerning these adopted doctrines, in order that either he could be satisfied through a friendly conference or the whole matter could be brought to a lawful synod.

Arminius answered these deputies that he had never given just cause for such rumors and he did not deem it advisable to go into conference with them as deputies (if they would make a report of this to the synod). If they would put aside their capacity as deputies, he would not refuse to confer with them as private preachers concerning the doctrine, with the condition that if they did not agree they would not report that to the synod.

Since the deputies judged this to be improper and since such a conference would not free the churches of their concern, they parted ways with the matter unresolved. Nevertheless, the deputies understood from other professors of theology that among the students of theology various disputes and questions concerning predestination, free will, preservation of the saints, and other chief points of doctrine were being conducted with great seriousness, such as had not taken place among them prior to Arminius’s arrival.

On July 26, 1604 Arminius was also admonished by the church of Leiden, where he was a member. Two elders of that church—the honorable Phaedo van Brouckeroven, mayor of Leiden, and Paulus Merula, professor of history—admonished him to come to a friendly conference with his colleagues or fellow professors in the presence of the consistory of the church of Leiden to make known his disagreements with the adopted doctrine. The purpose of the conference was to bring out whether he would agree or not agree with his colleagues and other preachers and to specify the points of doctrine on which there was agreement or disagreement. Arminius answered the elders that he could not do such a thing without the consent of the honorable curators and that he did not see what profit the church would gain from such a conference.

Prof. Ron Cammenga

Prof. Ron Cammenga


Prof. Ron Cammenga graduated from the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary in 1979.  In 2013 he earned his Th.M. degree from Calvin Theological Seminary.  He served four congregations in the PRCA before accepting the appointment to serve as the professor of Reformed Dogmatics and Old Testament Studies in the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary.  He and his wife Rhonda are approaching their 45th wedding anniversary.  They have 11 children and 38 grandchildren.

Prof. Cammenga will be speaking on the Canons on Reprobation

Historical Forward to the Acts of the National Synod of Dordrecht (2)

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


The great unity during the preceding century among the congregations of the United Netherlands churches in all points of the pure doctrine and the good order and decency that were always maintained in the government of those churches are so well known in Christendom that it is hardly necessary to recount them at length.

Some men sought to disturb this peace and unity, which is lovely in the sight of God and pleasing to all the godly. These men, not fully purged of the leaven of the papacy, forsook the papacy, came to our churches, and were admitted to the ministry during the early period when there was a scarcity of preachers. These men, characterized by unbridled audacity, were Casper Coolhaas of Leiden, Hermannus Herbertz at Dordrecht and at Gouda, and Cornelius Wiggers at Hoorn. However, they did have great success. In the aforementioned places they gained some followers who were not too well versed in the Reformed religion. Nevertheless, the wicked audacity of these men was suppressed in due time by the authority of the government, the carefulness of other ministers, and appropriate censures of the churches. Coolhaas was dealt with in the national Synod of Middelburg; Herbertz in the Synod of South Holland; and Wiggers in the Synod of North Holland.

Thereafter Jacobus Arminius, preacher in the famous church of Amsterdam, boldly attempted the same thing. He had a keen understanding, but he delighted in novelty and seemed to be nauseated by the greater portion of the doctrines accepted in the Reformed churches, for no other reason than the churches’ acceptance of them. Arminius first openly and secretly prepared the way for his cause by belittling and blackening the name, fame, and authority of the most outstanding teachers of the Reformed church—Calvin, Zanchius, Beza, Martyr, and others—aiming to achieve respect for himself at the expense of their good names.

Thereafter he openly proposed and spread abroad various strange views that had great fellowship with the errors of the old Pelagians, especially his explanation of the epistle to the Romans. Through the carefulness and authority of the honorable consistory of the church of Amsterdam, his intention was partially frustrated and he could not bring about such upheavals in the churches as he apparently had intended.

He did not cease promulgating his opinions in every manner possible among the preachers in his own church and various other preachers, namely, Johannes Uytenbogaert, Adrianus van den Borre, and others, whose friendship and favor he had enjoyed as a fellow student. He even called into conference with regard to his views Franciscus Junius, the renowned professor of sacred theology at the college at Leiden.

When Doctor Junius was taken away from the Academy of Leiden by death on August 22, 1602, to the great sorrow of the Netherlands churches, Uytenbogaert, who already then supported the views of Arminius, diligently and earnestly recommended him to the honorable curators of the Academy of Leiden to replace Junius in the office of sacred theology. When the deputies of the churches understood this, they feared that calling a person so strongly suspected of strange doctrines would readily become the cause of confusion and schism in the churches, and they pleaded with the honorable curators not thoughtlessly to subject the churches to this danger. They would much prefer that the curators accept another capable person who was free from suspicion. They also admonished Uytenbogaert to withdraw his recommendation. Despising these admonitions, Uytenbogaert continued to promote this call until he gained his purpose.

When the call was issued, the consistory of Amsterdam did not approve the dismissal of Arminius chiefly because the most prudent among them considered that such a skittish and inquisitive mind would function with great danger in the academy that instructed the youth who had been accepted for the service of the churches. For in the academy there is more freedom of teaching than in the local churches, where that freedom is suppressed and held in check through the diligent oversight and authority of the consistory. Through repeated and numerous requests of the curators, Uytenbogaert, and Arminius himself, his dismissal was finally gained, with the condition that he would have a conference with Franciscus Gomarus concerning the chief points of doctrine. He was also required to clear himself of all suspicion of strange views by a forthright declaration of his views and firmly to promise that if he had a peculiar view not to spread it abroad.

This conference was conducted in the presence of the honorable curators and the deputies of the synod on May 6 and 7, 1603. In that conference Arminius testified that he expressly rejected the Pelagians’ chief points of doctrine concerning natural grace, the powers of the free will, original sin, the perfection of man in this life, predestination, and others. He testified also that he agreed with all that Augustine and other fathers had written against the Pelagians, yea, that he judged the Pelagian errors to have been rightly refuted and rejected by the fathers. Moreover, he promised to teach nothing that conflicted with the adopted doctrine of the churches. Thereafter he was admitted to the office of theology.

Historical Forward to the Acts of the National Synod of Dordrecht (1)

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


This historical foreword furnishes a firsthand and detailed account of the involved events of the years preceding the Synod of Dordrecht. It also furnishes an insight into the ecclesiastical and political maneuverings of the Remonstrants prior to the synod. The foreword was prefixed to the published Acts of the National Synod of Dordrecht. It is to be distinguished from the much briefer foreword adopted by the synod and prefixed to the Canons, which is not included in the common English versions of the Canons. For those interested in the church history leading up to the great synod, this foreword can be classified as a primary source.[1]

The author of the foreword is unknown, but it is evident that he had firsthand knowledge of the history, was probably a participant in many of the events, and had access to the records and documents. An educated guess would be that the author was Festus Hommius, one of the clerks of the synod.


Historical foreword addressed to the Reformed churches of Christ (in which the origin and progress of the differences in the Netherlands, for the removal of which this synod was chiefly convened, are briefly and faithfully recounted).

Two summers ago there was published in canons, or articles, the opinion of the honorable Synod of Dordrecht concerning some main points of doctrine about which, until the synod, there was disagreement that greatly disturbed the Netherlands churches. When the States General, the supreme authority of the United Provinces, convened the most illustrious synod, mainly for the purpose of removing these religious differences, the States at first thought it sufficient to publish only the judgment of the synod concerning the doctrinal differences. However, later when it was discovered that many had failed to learn from the synodical proceedings themselves what had taken place, besides the adoption of the canons, especially how the synod had dealt with the ministers called Remonstrants. Since the Remonstrants, to hide their stiff-neckedness, would surely not publish anything trustworthy concerning these matters, the States General for the benefit of the churches printed the acts and proceedings of the synod, faithfully reproduced from the public documents.

Among these acts and proceedings are many items belonging to the history of the Netherlands churches that cannot be understood by those who are unacquainted with that history. For this reason the national synod (as is evident in various sessions) appointed the delegates of the South Holland churches to write a brief account of what was done with the Remonstrants. Hence at the beginning of this foreword is an account of certain public events in order for the churches, especially the foreign churches, to understand the origin and the progress of these differences and the occasion and the reasons that at such great expense the States General convened this very excellent synod. This is especially necessary because the Remonstrants claimed in their writings many things that did not harmonize with the truth of the events.

[1] Donner and Van den Hoorn, Acta of Handelingen der Nationale Synode, v–xxxviii.

Key Dates

The Synod of Dordt met from November 1618 to May 1619.  Below is an article discussing key dates written by Prof. D. Kuiper and published in the August 2018 Standard Bearer.

1604: Two professors at Leiden, Jacobus Arminius and Franciscus Gomarus, publicly debate the doctrine of predestination.

1607: Church delegates gather for a national synod to settle the issue. The national government refuses to call a national synod, in part because it is preoccupied with war against Spain. At this time, the national government sympathizes with the Arminians.

1610: Some Arminian sympathizers write five position statements. The statements are called the Remonstrance, and the Arminians became known as the “Remonstrants,” because the word “remonstrate” can mean to present a written demonstration of error or protest. The five heads of the Canons correspond to the Remonstrance.

1611: A conference between Remonstrants and Counter-Remonstrants (representing the truly Reformed position) fails to help settle the issue.

1617, Nov: The national government, now opposed to the Arminians, approves calling a national synod.

1618, Oct. 17: The national government designated this day one of fasting and prayer for God’s blessing on the synod.

1618, Nov. 13: Synod begins. It treats matters of Bible translation, Heidelberg Catechism preaching, baptism of slave children in the Dutch East Indies, and the training of ministers.

1618, Dec. 6: Synod begins treating the Arminian controversy.

1619, Jan. 14: President Bogerman dismisses the Arminians with a memorable speech.

1619, Mar. 25-Apr. 16: Synod recesses while a committee drafts the Canons of Dordt. The word “Canons” refers to a rule or standard; the Synod of Dordt adopted the Canons of Dordt as the standard of orthodoxy regarding the five contested points of doctrine.

1619, May 6: The date on which the Canons were officially adopted in their final form.

1619, May 9: The foreign delegates are dismissed. Synod adopts the Church Order, an official translation of the Belgic Confession, the liturgical forms, and the Formula of Subscription. It also gives its pronouncements regarding Sabbath observance.

1619, May 29: Synod adjourns.

Rev. Angus Stewart

Rev. Angus Stewart

Rev. Angus Stewart is the pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church (CPRC) in N. Ireland and chairman of the British Reformed Fellowship. He has spoken at conferences in the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Portugal, and participated in television debates on Calvinism, Charismaticism and the cross. The dozens of articles he has written in various American and British journals, magazines and newspapers can be found on the extensive CPRC website (www.cprc.co.uk), which also contains the largest on-line collection of translations of the Canons of Dordt.

Rev. Stewart will be speaking on the Canons as the Original ‘Five Points’


Introduction

Welcome to the Dordt400 conference blog.  We are excited about the upcoming conference and hope to use this blog to share our excitement as well as some information about the upcoming conference.

To help our readers gain more of an understand of the context of the Synod of Dordt we are going to be republishing excerpts of the “Historical Foreword to the Acts of the Synod of Dordrecht.”  These excerpts come from Voice of Our Fathers and we are thankful that the RFPA is allowing us to use them.

Lord willing, we will also be publishing excerpts from the Acts of the Synod of Dordt starting in November.  Our intent is to give insight into the week-by-week activities of the Synod.  We are thankful to Prof. Kuiper for his work on this project.

Once the speakers and the topics of the conference are finalized we will be publishing those here are well.

We hope that you share our excitement and  that you would share these posts with others to help build interest for this very important event.