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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 18 — History of Protestantism in the Netherlands

Chapter 29 — The Synod of Dort

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First Moments after William's Death – Defection of the Southern Provinces – Courage of Holland – Prince Maurice – States offer their Sovereignty to Henry III. of France – Treaty with Queen Elizabeth – Earl of Leicester – Retires from the Government of the Netherlands – Growth of the Provinces – Dutch Reformed Church – Calvinism the Common Theology of the Reformation – Arminius – his Teaching – His Party – Renewal of the Controversy touching Grace and Free-will – The Five Points – The Remonstrants – The Synod of Dort – Members and Delegates – Remonstrants Summoned before it-Their Opinions Condemned by it – Remonstrants Deposed and Banished – The Reformation Theology of the Second Age as compared with that of the First.

William, Prince of Orange, had just fallen, and the murderous blow that deprived of life the great founder of the Dutch Republic was as much the act of Philip of Spain as if his own hand had fired the bullet that passed through the prince's body, and laid him a corpse in the hall of his own dwelling-house. Grief, consternation, despair overspread the Provinces. The very children cried in the streets. Father William had fallen, and the Netherlands had fallen with him; so did men believe, and for a time it verily seemed as if the calamity had all the frightful magnitude in which it presented itself to the nation in the first moments of its surprise and terror. The genius, wisdom, courage, and patriotism of which the assassin's shot had deprived the Low Countries could not possibly be replaced. William could have no successor of the same lofty stature as himself. 'While he lived all felt that they had a bulwark between them and Spanish tyranny; but now that he was dead, the shadow of Rome and Spain seemed again to approach them, and all trembled, from the wealthy merchant on the exchanges of Antwerp and Brussels, to the rude fisherman on the solitary coast of Zealand. The gloom was universal and tragical. The diplomacy of Parma and the ducats of Spain were instantly set to work to corrupt and seduce the Provinces. The faint-hearted, the lukewarm, and the secretly hostile were easily drawn away, and induced to abandon the great struggle for Netherland liberty and the Protestant faith. Ghent, the key-stone of that arch of which one side was Roman Catholic and the other Protestant, reconciled itself to Philip. Bruges, Brussels, Antwerp, Mechlin, and other towns of Brabant and Flanders, won by the diplomacy or vanquished by the arms of Parma, returned under the yoke. It seemed as if the free State which the labors and sacrifices of William the Silent had called into existence was about to disappear from the scene, and accompany its founder to the tomb.

But the work of William was not so to vanish; its root was deeper. When the first moments of panic were over, the spirit of the fallen hero asserted itself in Holland. The Estates of that Province passed a resolution, the very day of his murder, "to maintain the good cause, by God's help, to the uttermost, without sparing gold or blood," and they communicated their resolve to all commanders by land and sea. A State Council, or provisional executive board, was established for the Seven Provinces of the Union. At the head of it was placed Prince Maurice, William's second son, a lad of seventeen, who already manifested no ordinary decision and energy of character, and who in obedience to the summons of the States now quitted the University of Leyden, where he had been pursuing his studies, to be invested with many of his father's commands and honors. The blandishments of the Duke of Parma the States strenuously repelled, decreeing that no overture of reconciliation should be received from "the tyrant; " and the city of Dort enacted that whoever should bring any letter from the enemy to any private person "should forthwith be hanged."

It was Protestantism that had fired Holland and her six sister Provinces with this great resolve; and it was Protestantism that was to build up their State in the face of the powerful enemies that surrounded it, and in spite of the reverses and disasters to which it still continued to be liable. But the Hollanders were slow to understand this, and to see wherein their great strength lay. They feared to trust their future to so intangible and invisible a protector. They looked abroad in the hope of finding some foreign prince who might be willing to accept their crown, and to employ his power in their defense. They hesitated some time between Henry III. of France and Elizabeth of England, and at last their choice fell on the former. Henry was nearer them, he could the more easily send them assistance; besides, they hoped that on his death his crown would devolve on the King of Navarre, the future Henry IV., in whose hands they believed their religion and liberty would be safe. Willingly would Henry III. have enhanced the splendor of his crown by adding thereto the Seven United Provinces, but he feared the wrath of the League, the intrigues of Philip, and the ban of the Pope.

The infant States next repaired to Elizabeth with an offer of their sovereignty. This offer the Protestant queen felt she could neither accept nor decline. To accept was to quarrel with Philip; and the state of Ireland at that moment, and the numbers and power of the Roman Catholics in England, made a war with Spain dangerous to the stability of her own throne; and yet should she decline, what other resource had the Provinces but to throw themselves into the arms of Philip? and, reconciled to the Netherlands, Spain would be stronger than ever, and a stage nearer on its road to England. The prudent queen was in a strait between the two. But though she could not be the sovereign, might she

not be the ally of the Hollanders ~ This she resolved to become. She concluded a treaty with them, "that the queen should furnish the States with 5,000 foot and 1,000 horse, to be commanded by a Protestant general of her appointment, and to be paid by her during the continuance of the war; the towns of Brill and Flushing being meanwhile put into her possession as security for the reimbursement to her of the war expenses" It was further stipulated "that should it be found expedient to employ a fleet in the common cause, the States should furnish the same number of ships as the queen, to be commanded by an English admiral."

The force agreed upon was immediately despatched to Holland under the command of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Leicester possessed but few qualities fitting him for the weighty business now put into his hands. He was vain, frivolous, greedy, and ambitious, but he was an immense favourite with the queen. His showy accomplishments blinded at the first the Hollanders, who entertained him at a series of magnificent banquets (December, 1585), loaded him with honors and posts, and treated him more as one who had already achieved their deliverance, than one who was only beginning that difficult and doubtful task. The Provinces soon began to see that their independence was not to come from the hand of Leicester.

He proved no match for the genius and address of the Duke of Parma, who was daily winning victories for Spain, while Leicester could accomplish nothing. His prudence failing him, he looked askance on the grave statesmen and honest patriots of Holland and Zealand, while he lavished his smiles on the artful and the designing who submitted to his caprice and flattered his vanity. His ignorance imposed restrictions on their commerce which greatly fettered it, and would ultimately have ruined it, and he gave still deeper offense by expressing contempt for those ancient charters to which the Dutch were unalterably attached. Misfortune attended all that he undertook in the field. He began to intrigue to make himself master of the country. His designs came to light, the contempt of the Provinces deepened into disgust, and just a year after his first arrival in Holland, Leicester returned to England, and at the desire of Elizabeth resigned his government.

The distractions which the incapacity and treachery of the earl had occasioned among the Dutch themselves, offered a most inviting opportunity to Parma to invade the Provinces, and doubtless he would have availed himself of it but for a dreadful famine that swept over the Southern Netherlands. The famine was followed by pestilence. The number of the deaths, added to the many banishments which had previously taken place, nearly emptied some of the great towns of Brabant and Flanders. In the country the peasants, owing to the ravages of war, had neither horses to plough their fields nor seed wherewith to sow them, and the harvest was a complete failure. In the terrible desolation of the country the beasts of prey so multiplied, that within two miles of the once populous and wealthy city of Ghent, not fewer than a hundred persons were devoured by wolves.

Meanwhile Hollland and Zealand presented a picture which was in striking contrast to the desolation and ruin that overspread the Southern and richer Provinces. Although torn by factions, the result of the intrigues of Leicester, and burdened with the expense of a war which they were compelled to wage with Parma, their inhabitants continued daily to multiply, and their wealth, comforts, and power to grow. Crowds of Protestant refugees flocked into the Northern Provinces, which now became the seat of that industry and manufacturing skill which for ages had enriched and embellished the Netherlands. Having the command of the sea, the Dutch transported their products to foreign markets, and so laid the foundation of that world-wide commerce which was a source of greater riches to Holland than were the gold anal silver mines of Mexico and Peru to Spain. [1]

We have seen the throes and agonies amid which the Dutch Republic came to the birth, and before depicting the prosperity and power in which the State culminated, it is necessary to glance at the condition of the Dutch Church. From and after 1603, dissensions and divisions broke out in it, which tended to weaken somewhat the mighty influences springing out of a free conscience and a pure faith, which were lifting the United Provinces to prosperity and renown. Up till the year we have named, the Church of the Netherlands was strictly Calvinistic, but now a party in it began to diverge from what had been the one common theology of the Reformation.

It is an error to suppose that Calvin held and propagated a doctrine peculiar to himself or different from that of his fellow-Reformers. His theology contained nothing new, being essentially that of the great Fathers of the early Christian Church of the West, and agreeing very closely with that of his illustrious fellow laborers, Luther and Zwingle. Our readers will remember the battles which Luther waged with the champions of Rome in defense of the Pauline teaching under the head of the corruption of man's whole nature, the moral inability of his will, and the absolute sovereignty of God. It was on the same great lines that Calvin's views developed themselves. On the doctrine of Divine sovereignty, for instance, we find both Luther and Zwingle expressing themselves in terms fully stronger than Calvin ever employed. Calvin looked at both sides of the tremendous subject. he maintained the free agency of man not less strenuously than he did God's eternal fore-ordination. He felt that both were great facts, but he doubted whether it lay within the power of created intelligence to reconcile the two, and he confessed that he was not able to do so. Many, however, have made this attempt. There have been men who have denied the doctrine of God's

eternal fore-ordination, thinking thereby to establish that of man's free agency; and there have been men who have denied the doctrine of man's free agency, meaning thereby to strengthen that of the eternal fore-ordination of all things by God; but these reconcilements are not solutions of this tremendous question – they are only monuments of man's inability to grapple with it, and of the folly of expending strength and wasting time in such a discussion. Heedless of the warnings of past ages, there arose at this time in the Reformed Church of Holland a class of divines who renewed these discussions, and attempted to solve the awful problem by attacking the common theology of Luther, and Zwingle, and Calvin [2] on the doctrines of grace and of the eternal decrees.

The controversy had its beginning thus: the famous Francis Junius, Professor of Divinity at Leyden, died of the plague in 1602; and James Arminius, who had studied theology at Geneva under Beza, and was pastor at Amsterdam, was appointed to succeed him [3] Arminius was opposed by many ministers of the Dutch Church, on the ground that, although he was accounted learned, eloquent, and pious, he was suspected of holding views inconsistent with the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism, which since 1570 had possessed authority in the Church. Promulgating his views cautiously and covertly from his chair, a controversy ensued between him and his learned colleague, Gomarus.

Arminius rested God's predestination of men to eternal life on his foresight of their piety and virtue; Gomarus, on the other hand, taught that these were not the causes, but the fruits of God's election of them to life eternal. Arminius accused Gomarus of instilling the belief of a fatal necessity, and Gomarus reproached Armthins with making man the author of his own salvation. The controversy between the two lasted till the death of Arminius, which took place in 1609. He died in the full hope of everlasting life. He is said to have chosen for his motto, Bona conscientia Paradisus [4]

After his death, his disciple Simon Episcopius became the head of the party, and, as usually happens in such cases, gave fuller development to the views of his master than Arminius himself had done. From the university, the controversy passed to the pulpit, and the Church was divided. In 1610 the followers of Arminius presented a Remonstrance to the States of Holland, complaining of being falsely accused of seeking to alter the faith, but at the same time craving revision of the standard books of the Dutch Church – the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism-and demanding toleration for their views, of which they gave a summary or exhibition in five points, as follow –

1. That the decree of election is grounded on foreseen good works.

2. That Christ died for all men, and procured remission of sins for all.

3. That man cannot acquire saving faith of himself, or by the strength of his free-will, but needs for that purpose the grace of God.

4. That, seeing man cannot believe at first, nor continue to believe, without the aid of this co-operating grace, his good works are to be ascribed to the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

5. That the faithful have a sufficient strength, through the Divine grace, to resist all temptation, and finally to overcome it.

As to the question whether those who have once believed to the saving of the soul can again fall away from faith, and lose the grace of God, the authors of the Remonstrance were not prepared to give any answer. It was a point, they said, that needed further examination; but the logical train of the previous propositions clearly pointed to the goal at which their views touching the "perseverance of the saints" must necessarily arrive; and accordingly, at a subsequent stage of the controversy, they declared, "That those who have a true faith may, nevertheless, fall by their own fault, and lose faith wholly and for ever." [5]

It is the first receding wave within the Protestant Church which we are now contemplating, and it is both instructive and curious to mark that the ebb from the Reformation began at what had been the starting-point of the Reform movement. We have remarked, at an early stage of our history, that the question touching the Will of man is the deepest in theology. Has the Fall left to man the power of willing and doing what is spiritually good? or has it deprived him of that power, and inflicted upon his will a moral inability? If we answer the first question affirmatively, and maintain that man still retains the power of willing and doing what is spiritually good, we advance a proposition from which, it might be argued, a whole system of Roman theology can be worked out. And if we answer the second question affirmatively, we lay a foundation from which, it might be contended on the other hand, a whole system of Protestant theology can be educed. Pursuing the one line of reasoning, if man still has the power of willing and doing actions spiritually good, he needs only cooperating grace in the matter of his salvation; he needs only to be assisted in the more difficult parts of that work which he himself has begun, and which, mainly in the exercise of his own powers, he himself carries on to the end. Hence the doctrine of good works, with all the dogmas, rites, penances, and merits that Rome has built upon it. But, following the

other line of reasoning, if man, by his fall, lost the power of doing what is spiritually good, then he must be entirely dependent upon Divine grace for his recovery – he must owe all to God, from whom must come the beginning, the continuance, and the end of his salvation; and hence the doctrines of a sovereign election, an effectual calling, a free justification, and a perseverance to life eternal. The point, to an ordinary eye, seems an obscure one – it looks a purely speculative point, and one from which no practical issues of moment can flow; nevertheless, it lies at the foundation of all theology, and as such it was the first great battle-ground at the period of the Reformation. It was the question so keenly contested, as we have already narrated, between Dr. Eck on the one side, and Carlstadt and Luther on the other, at Leipsic. [6] This question is, in fact, the dividing line between the two theologies.

Of the five points stated above, the third, fourth, and fifth may be viewed as one; they teach the same doctrine – namely, that man fallen still possesses such an amount of spiritual strength as that he may do no inconsiderable part of the work of his salvation, and needs only cooperating grace; and had the authors of the Remonstrance been at Leipsic, they must have ranged themselves on the side of Eck, and done battle for the; Roman theology. It was this which gave the affair its grave aspect in the eyes of the majority of the pastors of the Church of Holland. They saw in the doctrine of the "Five Points" the ground surrendered which had been won at the beginning of the Reformation; and they saw seed anew deposited from which had sprung the great tree of Romanism.

This was not concealed on either side. The Remonstrants-so called from the Remonstrance given in by them to the States – put forward their views avowedly as intermediate between the Protestant and Roman systems, in the hope that they might conciliate not a few members of the latter Church, and lead to peace. The orthodox party could not see that these benefits would flow from the course their opponents were pursuing; on the contrary, they believed that they could not stop where they were – that their views touching the fall and the power of free-will must and would find their logical development in a greater divergence from the theology of the Protestant Churches, and that by removing the great boundary-line between the two theologies, they were opening the way for a return to the Church of Rome; and hence the exclanlation of Gomarus one day, after listening to a statement of his views by Arminius, in the University of Leyden. Rising up and leaving the hall, he uttered these words: "Henceforward we shall no longer be able to oppose Popery." [7]

Peace was the final goal which the Remonstrants sought to reach; but the first-fruits of their labors were schisms and dissensions. The magistrates, sensible of the injury they were doing the State, strove to put an end to these ecclesiastical wars, and with this view they summoned certain pastors of both sides before them, and made them discuss the points at issue in their presence; but these conferences had no effect in restoring harmony. A disputation, of this sort took place at the Hague in 1611, but like all that had gone before it, it failed to reconcile the two parties and establish concord. The orthodox pastors now began to demand the assembling of a National Synod, as a more legitimate and competent tribunal for the examination and decision of such matters, and a more likely way of putting an end to the dissensions that prevailed; but the Remonstrant clergy opposed this proposal. They had influence enough with the civil authorities to prevent the calling of a Synod for several years; but the war waxing louder and fiercer every day, the States-General at last convoked a National Synod to meet in November, 1618, at Dort.

Than the Synod of Dort there is perhaps no more remarkable Assembly in the annals of the Protestant Church. It is alike famous whether we regard the numbers, or the learning, or the eloquence of its members. It met at a great crisis, and it was called to review, re-examine, and authenticate over again, in the second generation since the rise of the Reformation, that body of truth and system of doctrine which that great movement had published to the world. The States-General had agreed that the Synod should consist of twenty-six divines of the United Provinces, twenty-eight foreign divines, five theological professors, and sixteen laymen. The sum of 100,000 florins was set apart to defray its estimated expenses. Its sessions lasted six months.

Learned delegates were present in this Assembly from almost all the Reformed Churches of Europe. The Churches of England, Scotland, Switzerland, Geneva, Bremen, Hesse, and the Palatinate were represented in it. The French Church had no delegate in the Synod. That Church had deputed Peter du Moulin and Andrew Rivet, two of the most distinguished theologians of the age, to represent it, but the king forbade their attendance. From England came Dr. George Carleton, Bishop of Llandaff; Joseph Hall, Dean of Worcester; John Davenant, Professor of Theology and Master of Queen's College, Cambridge; and Samuel Ward, Archdeacon of Taunton, who had been appointed to proceed to Holland and take part in the proceedings at Dort not indeed by the Church of England, but by the King and the Archbishop of Canterbury. Walter Balcanqual represented Scotland in the Synod. [8]

The Synod was opened on the 16th of November, 1618, with a sermon by Balthazar Lydius, minister of Dort. Thereafter, the members repaired to the hall appointed for their meeting. Lydius offered a prayer in Latin. The commissioners of the States sat on the right of the president, and the English divines

on his left. An empty seat was kept for the French deputies. The rest of the delegates took their places according to the rank of the country from which they came. John Bogerman, minister of Leeuwarden, was chosen president; Daniel Heinsius was appointed secretary. Heinsius was an accomplished Latin scholar, and it had been agreed that; that language should be used in all the transactions of the Assembly, for the sake of the foreign delegates. There came thirty-six ministers and twenty elders, instead of the twenty-six pastors and sixteen laymen which the States-General had appointed, besides deputies from other Provinces, thus swelling the roll of the Synod to upwards of a hundred.

The Synod summoned thirteen of the leading Remonstrants, including Episcopius, to appear within a fortnight. Meanwhile the Assembly occupied itself with arrangements for a new translation of the Bible into Dutch, and the framing of rules about other matters, as the catechising of the young and the training of students for the ministry. On the 5th of December, the thirteen Remonstrants who had been summoned came to Dort, and next day presented themselves before the Assembly. They were saluted by the moderator as "Reverend, famous, and excellent brethren in Jesus Christ," and accommodated with seats at a long table in the middle of the hall. Episcopius, their spokesman, saluting the Assembly, craved more time, that himself and his brethren might prepare themselves for a conference with the Synod on the disputed points. They were told that they had been summoned not to confer with the Synod, but to submit their opinions for the Synod's decision, and were bidden attend next day.

On that day Episcopius made a speech of an hour and a half's length, in which he discovered all the art and power of an orator. Thereafter an oath was administered to the members of Synod, in which they swore, in all the discussions and determinations of the Synod, to "use no human writing, but only the Word of God, which is an infallible rule of faith," and "only aim at the glory of God, the peace of the Church, and especially the preservation of the purity of doctrine."

The Remonstrants did battle on a great many preliminary points: the jurisdiction of the court, the manner in which they were to lay their opinions before it, and the extent to Which they were to be permitted to go in vindicating and defending their five points. In these debates much time was wasted, and the patience and good temper of the Assembly were severely tried. When it was found that the Remonstrants persisted in declining the authority of the Synod, and would meet it only to discuss and confer with it, but not to be judged by it, the States-General was informed of the deadlock into which the affair had come. The civil authority issued an order requiring the Remonstrants to submit to the Synod. To this order of the State the Remonstrants gave no more obedience than they had done to the authority of the Church. They were willing to argue and defend their opinions, but not to submit them for judgment. After two months spent in fruitless attempts to bring the Remonstrants to obedience, the Assembly resolved to extract their views from their writings and speeches, and give judgment upon them. The examination into their opinions, and the deliberations upon them, engaged the Assembly till the end of April, by which time they had completed a body of canons, that was signed by all the members. The canons, which were read in the Cathedral of Dort with great solemnity, were a summing-up of the doctrine of the Reformation as it had been held by the first Reformers, and accepted in the Protestant Churches without division or dissent, the article of the Eucharist excepted, until Arminius arose. The decision of the Synod condemned the opinions of the Remonstrants as innovations, and sentenced them to deprivation of all ecclesiastical and academical functions [9] The States-General followed up the spiritual part of the sentence by banishing them from their country. It is clear that the Government of the United Provinces had yet a good deal to learn on the head of toleration; but it is fair to say that while they punished the disciples of Arminius with exile, they would permit no inquisition to be made into their consciences, and no injury to be done to their persons or property. A few years thereafter (1626) the decree of banishment was recalled. The Remonstrants returned to their country, and were permitted freely to exercise their worship. They established a theological seminary at Amsterdam, which was adorned by some men of great talents and erudition, and became a renowned fountain of Arminian theology.

The Synod of Dort was the first great attempt to arrest the begun decline in the theology of the Reformation, and to restore it to its pristine purity and splendor. It did this, but not with a perfect success. The theology of Protestantism, as seen in the canons of Dort, and as seen in the writings of the first Reformers, does not appear' quite the same theology: it is the same in dogma, but it lacks, as seen in the canons of Dort, the warm hues, the freshness, the freedom and breadth, and the stirring spiritual vitalities it possessed as it flowed from the pens, or was thundered from the pulpits, of the Reformers. The second generation of Protestant divines was much inferior, both fix intellectual endowments and in spiritual gifts, to the first. In the early days it was the sun of genius that irradiated the heavens of the Church: now it was the moon of culture that was seen in her waning skies. And in proportion to the more restricted faculties of the men, so the theology was narrow, stinted, and cold. It was formal and critical. Turning away somewhat from the grander, objective, soul-inspiring truths of Christianity, it dealt much with the abstruser

questions, it searched into deep and hidden things; it was quicker to discern the apparent antagonisms than the real harmonies between truth and truth; it was prone to look only at one question, or at one side of a question, forgetful of its balancings and modifications, and so was in danger of distorting or even caricaturing truth. The empirical treatment which the doctrine of predestination received – perhaps we ought to say on both sides – is an example of this. Instead of the awe and reverence with which a question involving the character and government of God, and the eternal destinies of men, ought ever to inspire those who undertake to deal with a subject so awful, and the solution of which so far transcends the human faculties, it was approached in a proud, self-sufficient, and flippant spirit, that was at once unchristian and unphilosophical. Election and reprobation were singled out, separated from the great and surpassingly solemn subject of which they are only parts, looked at entirely dissociated from their relations to other necessary truths, subjected to an iron logic, and compelled to yield consequences which were impious and revolting. The very interest taken in these questions marked an age more erudite than religious, and an intellect which had become too subtle to be altogether sound; and the prominence given them, both in the discussions of the schools and the ministrations of the pulpit, reacted on the nation, and was productive of animosities and dissensions.

Nevertheless, these evils were sensibly abated after the meeting of the Synod of Dort. The fountains of truth were again purified, and peace restored to the churches and the schools. The nation, again reunited, resumed its onward march in the path of progress. For half a century the university and the pulpit continued to be mighty powers in Holland the professors and pastors took their place in the first rank of theologians. Abroad the canons of the Synod of Dort met with a very general acquiescence on the part of the Protestant Churches, and continued to regulate the teaching and mould the theology of Christendom. At home the people, imbued with the spirit of the Bible, and impregnate with that love of liberty, and that respect for law, which Protestantism ever engenders, made their homes bright with virtue and their cities resplendent with art, while their land they taught by their industry and frugality to bloom in beauty and overflow with riches.


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Thursday, September 20th, 2018
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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