Synod of Dort (Part Two)

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It was the “ardent wish of the Calvinists only to have the company of those choice spirits of other countries that would readily coalesce with themselves in devising measures to crush Arminianism. To obtain the presence of a few thus enlightened and unanimous was the great object at which they aimed; and by this maneuver they endeavoured to impart to their National Synod the dignified and imposing appearance of a General Council. In this object, however, they would have been defeated had not King James of England entered into their views and given that party his overpowering assistance.

“James is said to have prided himself more on account of being an able casuist [a person who uses clever but unsound reasoning] and theologian than on any other personal qualification. It was in this capacity that his Majesty, in 1611, addressed a letter in French to the States of Holland, in which he talks largely about ‘God having honoured him with the title of DEFENDER OF THE FAITH,’ and that ‘he should be compelled not only to separate himself from such false and heretical churches’ as countenanced Vorstius [a non-Calvinist philosopher], ‘but to call upon all the other Reformed Churches to devise the best means of extinguishing, and sending back to hell, these cursed heresies that have newly broken forth’ . . .

“[King James,] in imitation of his great predecessor Elizabeth, took an uncommon interest in the ecclesiastical affairs of the Low Countries. In the year 1613, soon after the Delft conference between three Ministers of the Remonstrant and three of the Calvinistic persuasion, his Majesty addressed a letter in French to their High Mightiness, in which he observes:

“‘We acquaint you with what experience has caused us to know, that questions of this kind are only terminated with great trouble, by means of disputes into the pulpit or among the common people, and giving express commands to maintain peace by a mutual toleration of each other, in the difference of opinion which they severally hold on the points which have been mentioned; at least till such time as, after a full investigation of the whole affair by public authority, as ordinance to the contrary be issued by ourselves.

“‘We seem to have the stronger reasons why we ought thus to persuade you, because, in a manuscript which your Ambassador, the Chevalier Carron, has presented to us, having seen very amply deduced the opinions of each of the parties and the reasons on which they are founded, we do not find either of them to be so absurd as to be inconsistent with the truth of the Christian faith or with the salvation of souls’ . . .

“[However, by the beginning of] 1617, his Majesty had a conversation with Bishop Overall on the existing theological differences in the Low Countries . . . [Not hearing what he wished, he then] transmitted orders to Sir Dudley Carleton to employ all his influence at the Court of the Hague to oppress the Remonstrants. In all the benevolent schemes into which this King entered, there is every appearance of a superior understanding; but in the vacillating policy which hindered their execution, a most lamentable [lack] of judgment is displayed.

“This has always been considered, both by friends and foes, as the greatest defect in James the First; and these two witty lines may with almost as great propriety be applied to him, as to his profligate grandson, Charles the Second, to whom they were addressed:

He never said a foolish thing, And never did a wise one . . .

“The designs which Prince Maurice had long cherished against the ancient liberties and internal jurisdiction of the States (each of which possessed by the act of Union the complete management of its own affairs), were then in a course of execution . . . To the party, therefore, that had forwarded his views he willingly gave all the weight of his influence, and that of the States General, the majority of whom, in virtue of the late unlawful changes effected in the Provinces, were favourable, not only to Calvinism, but to any measure which the Prince might think fit to propose.

“It was in allusion to the revolution, thus craftily completed, that Bogerman, as president of the Synod of Dort, told Episcopius [successor of Arminius], in a sarcastic style, ‘You may remember what you told the Foreign Divines in your letter to them, that there had of late been a great metamorphosis in the State. You are no longer Judges and men in power, but persons under citation.’ (HALES’S LETTERS.)

“In such a state of affairs, an ordinance of government was easily obtained for convening a National Synod, which was to consist of native Divines appointed by the different classes and presbyteries, of civil deputies chosen out of each province by the States, and of Foreign Divines deputed by such Churches as had adopted both the platform and the doctrine of Geneva.

“The temper and intolerant conduct of the various ecclesiastical meetings with whom rested the inland appointments, may be [clearly] seen . . . And time had not mollified [to reduce the severity of] their intolerant principles: For, under the new order of things, and with the sanction of the fresh race of magistrates, they were emboldened to effect a schism in many of the chief towns, and forcibly to exclude the Arminian ministers from the churches which they occupied.

“In other towns in which these bold practices could not be attempted with any probability of success, they employed the ecclesiastical arms of the classes, provincial Synods, and other packed vestry-meetings, the members of which (consisting generally of Calvinists), summoned before them all the chief Arminian pastors in the various districts, accused them of holding heterodox opinions [not holding to accepted or orthodox standards] on the subject of Predestination, and suspended or expelled them from the ministry.

“This work of expulsion and suspension was carried on by the dominant party, even during the time in which the fate of Arminianism was in a course of determination by the Synod of Dort: So that, had that far-famed and reverend assembly decided in favour of a toleration of the Arminian Doctrines, the minor church-meetings had left few ministers of that persecuted denomination to profit from such a decision.

“The Calvinistic account of this summary and iniquitous process is thus given in the Preface to the Acts of the National Synod: ‘And since there were several pastors in that province (Guelderland) some of whom had been suspected of many other errors beside the Five Points of the Remonstrants—others of them had illegally intruded into the office of the ministry—while others were men of profligate [recklessly extravagant] habits; certain persons of this description being cited before the (provincial) Synod (of Guelderland and Zutphen, held at Arnheim, in July, 1618) were suspended from the ministry for some of the before-mentioned reasons, and by no means on account of the opinion contained in the Five Points of the Remonstrants, which was reserved for the cognizance of the National Synod.

“‘The trial of the rest of these men being dismissed in the name of the Synod, was committed to a deputation from their body, to whom the States added certain of their own delegates. When they had fully investigated the cases of these men in their classes, they suspended some of them from the ministry, and entirely removed others.’

“They were exceedingly desirous to induce a belief among their contemporaries and to convey it to posterity, that not one of these persecuted ministers was molested [harassed] on account of the FIVE POINTS . . .

“The last of them is too remarkable to be omitted: Speaking of a Committee appointed by the Synod of South Holland, which met in Oct. 1618, they say, ‘But it was expressly enjoined upon this deputation that they should not pass a censure upon any minister on account of any opinion contained in the FIVE POINTS of the Remonstrants, because the adjudication of those POINTS was to be reserved untouched for the National Synod.

“‘Although this deputation condemned a great number of ministers in general, even during the sitting of the National Synod, by suspending some of them from the office of pastors, and by entirely removing others from the ministry, for the before-mentioned most serious causes (which were, profane lives, turbulent conduct, Socinian errors [which included anti-Trinitarianism and denial of the deity of Christ], and illegal calls to the pastoral functions), yet they marked no man with any censure for his sentiments on the Five Points, as may be clearly shown from the account of their transactions.’

“From these very transactions it will be impossible for an unprejudiced person to draw any other conclusion than one—which is, that had not the greater part of the sufferers been pious Remonstrants, unproved surmises would not in many of their cases have been accounted sufficient reasons for their suspension, nor would tainted evidence have been industriously sought against others that were expelled.”1

1 James Nichols, “Oration I. The Object of Theology,” footnote, James Arminius, The Works of Arminius, Vol. I, trans. James Nichols (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1986), 475-479.