28 May, 2016

Canons of Dordt, III/IV: 8—“Comply with the Invitation”

As many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly called. For God hath most earnestly and truly shown in his Word what is pleasing to him, namely, that those who are called should come to him. He, moreover, seriously promises eternal life and rest to as many as shall come to him and believe on him (Canons of Dordt, III/IV, 8).

Alternate Version:

As many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly called; for God hath most earnestly and truly declared in his Word what will be acceptable to him, namely, that all who are called should comply with the invitation. He, moreover, seriously promises eternal life and rest to as many as shall come to him, and believe on him” (Canons of Dordt, III/IV, 8, in Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom, pp. 565, 566).



David J. Engelsma

[Source: Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 47, no. 2 (April 2014), pp. 72–73]

[It] is worth noting that the Latin original of the phrase, “should comply with the invitation,” is: “ut vocati ad se veniant.” The literal translation of the phrase is: “that the called should come to Him.” . . . What [the defender of the well-meant offer] must prove is that God on His part, with this serious call desires, or intends, or wills the salvation of all who are summoned, because He is gracious to them, that is, has an attitude of favor towards them. The Canons certainly suggest nothing of this gracious attitude and desire for salvation on the part of God towards all men. . . . [On the contrary,] the Canons as [confess] particular grace, governed by predestination, expressed in a limited atonement, and effectual by the regenerating work of the Spirit within and upon the elect, and the elect only.



Rev. Herman Hoeksema

[Source: The Clark-Van Til Controversy, pp. 55-57]

Superficial, too, and erroneous, is the quotation the complainants offer from the Canons, and the argument based on this erroneous quotation. The quotation as it appears in the Complaint is as follows:

As many as are called by the gospel, are unfeignedly called. For God hath most earnestly and truly declared in His Word what will be acceptable to him; namely, that all who are called should comply with the invitation (Third and Fourth Heads of Doctrine, art. 8).

And the argument the complainants base on this quotation is as follows:

In the course of his examination Dr. Clark did indeed express agreement with this teaching of Dort, but he made it clear that in doing so he conceived of the gospel as a command…. He said that it is the preceptive will of God that those who hear shall believe the gospel, and it is “acceptable” to God that they do so because he insists on being obeyed. But the Synod of Dort obviously meant much more than that when it employed the word “acceptable.” That appears from its description of the gospel as an invitation, from its insistence that all who are called are called “unfeignedly,” as well as from the fact that it was refuting the Arminian contention that the Reformed faith leaves no room for a sincere offer of salvation made by God to the reprobate. What the authors of the Canons had in mind was that God has “no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn form his way and live” [Ezekiel 33:11].

Now, we do not have to defend Dr. Clark’s position that the gospel is a command. This is not the point we wish to make. Nor is it our purpose at present to refute the interpretation the complainants give to this passage of the Canons, though it may be remarked that on the face of the matter it seems very farfetched. Surely, if it had been the intention of the fathers of Dordt to express that God sincerely seeks the salvation of the reprobate, they could have chosen less ambiguous words.

But the point we do wish to make is that the complainants very superficially quote a wrong translation, arrive at the conclusion that the Canons characterize the Gospel as an invitation, and make this error the basis of their argument against Dr. Clark’s refusal to call the Gospel by that name.

If laymen, who have access only to existing translations, make such errors, it is excusable. But that men of learning—who are able to consult the Latin original, and, besides, are acquainted with the Holland translation of the Canons—make such blunders is not to be excused. When they, nevertheless, do meet their opponents with such erroneous arguments, they give evidence of having done very superficial and careless work.

Fact is that the Canons, in the passage quoted, do not describe the Gospel as an invitation at all. The Latin original is as follows: “Serio enim et verissime ostendit Deus verbo suo, quid sibi gratum sit, nimirum, ut vocati ad se veniant.”
That is: “God seriously and truly declares in His Word what is pleasing to him, namely, that the called come unto him.” And this is correctly rendered in the Dutch translation: “Want God betoon ernstiglijk and waarachtiglijk in Zijn Woord, was Hem aagenaam is; namelijk, dat de geroepen tot Hem komen.”

The passage, therefore, does not describe the Gospel as an invitation. And the argument that is based on this wrong translation must fall together with the translation.

As far as this passage of the Canons is concerned, Dr. Clark does not have to call the Gospel an invitation and retains the right to his interpretation that it is a command and that the command obeyed is pleasing to God, because it is pleasing to him that men glorify him. This interpretation is given of the eighth article of the Canons, III, IV, more than once. (See, for example, Ds. T. Bos, De Dorstsche Leerregelen, page 155.)

But whether this is the correct interpretation of the passage or not, the complainants should not make the blunder of basing an argument on an erroneous translation.



Rev. Herman Hoeksema

In passing, we wish to remark that someone might well serve a gravamen against the English translation of this article of the confession, at least if, as it appears in our Psalter, it has tacitly been adopted by our Protestant Reformed Churches. If that is not done, the entire article should be re-examined and after approval should be adopted by us, since we do need an official English translation of the Three Forms of Unity.6 The translation that we have at present is of the Reformed (Dutch) Church of America. This article has been translated in such a way that the meaning is vague and has received an Arminian flavor. Indeed, the Dutch translation, (“That those called should come to Him”) is translated as, “That all who are called should comply with the invitation.” This is very poor, but also a deceptive translation that can give occasion for the thought that Rev. Keegstra’s general offer is included in the calling. This translation not only fails to translate the Dutch, but it also fails to translate the Latin, in which the Canons were composed. There we read: ut vocati ad se veniant (that the called should come to Him).



More to come! (DV)

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