Synod of Dort (Part Three)

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“Because the members of the regular provincial Synods could not be long absent from their respective congregations, such galloping commissions as these, endowed with ample powers, were appointed to traverse every province in which Arminianism had been planted; and they soon showed to the world the most compendious [a brief expression] method of rooting out reputed Heresies.

“Their track through the land resembled that of the Angel of destruction; it was marked by anguish, mourning, and desolation. Nor did the evil consequences of these unparalleled Calvinistic practices terminate with that generation; for their pernicious example served as a precedent to their brethren in England.

“When Calvinism, in the form of Presbyterianism and Independency, had attained the supremecy in this country during the Inter-regnum [a period during which the normal functions of government are suspended], the celebrated TRIERS and EJECTORS and the Committee for Scandalous Ministers were constituted on the same plan, and became, for the time being, the extirpators [to pull up by the root] of Arminianism.

“After this detail, so well deducted and established from the Synodical documents, few words will suffice to point out the purely Calvinistic constitution of the Synod of Dort. When very few Remonstrant ministers remained in the land, except such as were ejected from the Church or under suspension, it was no difficult matter to procure an assemblage of men that were of one heart respecting the main object that was then sought to be accomplished.

“On this subject Dr. Heylin has very pertinently remarked: ‘It is reported that at the end of the Conference between the Protestants and Papists, in the first convocation of Queen Mary’s reign, the Protestants were thought to have had the better, as being more dextrous [skillful] in applying and enforcing some texts of scripture than the others were; and that, thereupon, they were dismissed by Weston the Prolocutor, with this short come-off: You have the WORD, and we have the SWORD. His meaning was that what the Papists wanted in the strength of argument, they would make good by other ways–as afterwards indeed they did by fire and faggot [burning them at the stake].

“‘The like is said to have been done by the Contra-Remonstrants, who, finding themselves at this Conference . . . to have had the worst, and not to have thrived much better by their pen-comments than in that of the tongue, betook themselves to other courses; vexing and molesting [harassing] in their Classes or Consistories, endeavouring to silence them from preaching in their several churches, or otherwise to bring them unto public censure.’

“Having described the arbitrary conduct of the Prince of Orange, and the changes in the provincial governments which he effected, he adds: ‘This alteration being thus made, the Contra-Remonstrants thought it a high point of wisdom to keep their adversaries down, now they had them under, and to effect that by a National Council, which they could not hope to compass by their own authority: To which end the States General appointed a National Synod to be held at Dort, . . . a synod much like that of Trent, in the motives to it, as also in the managing and conduct of it. For as neither of them was assembled till the sword was drawn, the terror whereof was able to effect more than all other arguments: So neither of them was concerned to confute but to condemn their opposites’ . . .

“King James . . . himself not unfriendly to the doctrine of conditional predestination [unlike the Calvinists] . . . knew the liberal construction of the public formularies of the Established Church . . . It was therefore one of his most particular charges to the Divines whom he deputed to the Synod that they should not assist in deciding anything that had been left undetermined by the Church of England; and that while they entered into the measures to be adopted by the Synod for humbling the Arminians, they should be particularly guarded in withholding their sanction from every doctrine which seemed repugnant to General Redemption [emphasis mine] . . .

“The chief difficulty to be apprehended was their introduction to the Synod ostensibly as representatives of their different churches, when they were, in reality, only his Majesty’s agents for accomplishing a particular object . . .

“The elder Brandt, without being aware of the true reason of this transaction, gives the following relation of it: ‘Then the foreign Divines were asked, Whether they had any credentials to produce to the Synod? But the lay-commissioners answered for them, that they had already presented them to the States General; and that some of them had likewise brought credentials to his Excellency, by which they had proved their deputation. This answer contented the Synod.

“The States themselves had also written to their Commissioners at Utrecht, to be careful in not suffering the English and Genevan Divines to be pressed to produce letters of credence to the Synod; their High Mightinesses having considered the presentation of those documents to themselves to be amply sufficient. These Divines therefore had no more questions addressed to them on this subject.

“‘But this circumstance appeared very strange to some persons, because on former occasions no ecclesiastical deputy would have been admitted to a Synod if he brought with him no other commission than one from the civil powers, and if he even scrupled about producing that. But since the members of the Synod had received assurances that these foreigners favoured the Contra-Remonstrant party, they overlooked all minor considerations at this season. However, the deputes of Geneva produced their commission.’

“Having thus surreptitiously [to snatch secretly], and contrary to all ecclesiastical usage, obtained an entrance into this assembly, they assisted, like regularly accredited members, in the predetermined condemnation of the Arminians, without prejudice to the tenets of the Churches of England and Scotland, that were not in the least implicated in their decisions.

“This artful and paltry [inferior, trashy] trick, so worthy of that occasion, is generally either misunderstood or overlooked by those Calvinistic writers who treat on this subject. They wilfully or ignorantly consider all the opinions delivered by the English Divines at Dort as the standard opinions of the Established Church propounded according to its instructions by its own deputies: When the truth is that the sentiments which they delivered and their appearance at that Synod received no more sanction from the Church of England than from the Church of Rome.

“In conclusion, it ought to be stated, in justice to the character of the British Divines, that they do not seem to have been aware of the informality of their introduction, or of the reasons for it: This affair was entirely under the management of the King’s Ambassador, who furnished them with instructions on every emergency, according to the progress of the business and the agitation of particular questions.”1

1 James Nichols, “Oration I. The Object of Theology,” footnote, James Arminius, The Works of Arminius, Vol. I (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 479-482.