28 May, 2016

Canons of Dordt, III/IV:8—“As many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly (seriously) called”



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).



(I)

Prof. David J. Engelsma

[Source: Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel (RFPA, 2014), p. 102]

That God is serious [i.e. “unfeigned”] in the external call to all who hear, reprobate as well as elect, does not mean, or even imply, that he wishes all to be saved but rather means that he commands all to believe on Christ and that this command is in dead earnest. Coming to God by believing in Jesus is the solemn obligation of every man who hears the gospel. This pleases God. All those called to the marriage in Matthew 22 ought to have come. Those who refuse bring down on themselves the wrath of God for their refusal. Unbelief displeases God. God can be serious in commanding someone to do his duty, even though God has willed that he not obey the command and even though God uses the command itself to harden him in his disobedience. Think only of Jehovah’s dealings with Pharaoh in Exodus 4-14, as explained by Paul in Romans 9:17-23.


-------------------------------------------------

(II)

Prof. Homer C. Hoeksema

[Source: The Voice of Our Fathers: An Exposition of the Canons of Dordrecht (RFPA, 2013), pp. 294–295, 296]

The Latin word serio is translated in article 8 by three different words. The first is the negative “unfeigned,” the second is “earnestly,” and the third is “seriously.” In the second instance, the superlative “most” belongs only with “truly,” so that the correct translation is “seriously and most truly.” Although the three English words are not far from the meaning of serio, the original uses serio throughout the article. I prefer to translate serio throughout the article by “seriously.” Besides, “earnestly” carries the connotation of eagerness and ought to be avoided to prevent introducing the idea of well-meaningly. Moreover, in the second instance seriously is associated with verissime (most truly). This is important, because it shows what the fathers have in mind by “seriously.” “Most truly” does not mean to emphasize merely that God has declared in his word what is pleasing to him, that it is a fact that God has declared this in his word. But this expression also has to do with the veracity, the truthfulness, the trustworthiness of God and of his word as it comes to men in the gospel. In this way it is related to the term “seriously.” Does God reveal himself according to the truth in the gospel proclamation? Does he mean what he says? Is it possible that when one obeys the call of the gospel, he will be disappointed and not receive what he seeks? Is it possible that those who come will be cast out and not be received by God? The answer is that God has seriously and most truly, or truthfully, shown in his word what is pleasing to him, namely, that the called should come unto him.

The last sentence in the Latin original has the term etiam (even): “He even promises seriously to all those coming to him.” Even is intended as an emphatic statement of the seriousness of the gospel call as it comes to men, elect and reprobate, without distinction. God states what is pleasing to him, namely, that the called should come to him, but he even seriously promises rest of soul and eternal life to all those who come and believe.

It is best in the English translation as much as possible to maintain the word order of the original Latin to keep the connection between those who are called to come and believe and the promise of rest and life. The importance of this can be illustrated by a translation that slavishly follows the order of the original, even though it is clumsy English: “Seriously even to all those coming to him and believing, rest of soul and life eternal he promises.” It is best to keep the emphatic and all-comprehensive omnimbus (all), rather than “as many as.” (pp. 294-295)

---------------------------------------------------

Articles 8 and 9 are of special interest because they were cited by the synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1924 in support of the first point of common grace, which teaches a well-meant offer of the gospel:

“This is evidenced by the quoted Scripture passages and from the Canons of Dordrecht, II, 5 and III, IV, 8 and 9, which deal with the general offer of the gospel.”10

Without conceding that the synod of 1924 cited this article properly, I nevertheless believe that the lack of clarity in this article to an extent gave an occasion for its being quoted in support of the Arminian doctrine of the general, well-meant offer of salvation. The synod of 1924 is not alone in this field. It is surprising how easily various writers and readers make the jump from the term “seriously” to “well-meaningly.” (p. 296)


---------------------------------------------------


(III)


Rev. Herman Hoeksema



We notice here:

1. That also in this article reference is made to the external calling through the Gospel, whereby everyone who comes in contact with the Gospel is called. It is confessed here that all who come in contact with the Gospel are most earnestly called. Let it be understood that, according to the very wording of the Canons, this only means that the particular or conditional4 promise and general command to repent and believe are seriously meant for all. When it is proclaimed to a thousand people that “whosoever believes in the crucified Christ will be saved,” this very seriously applies to all. And when God’s call comes to all those thousand, this call also is very serious for every one of those thousand. Not one among them has the right before God to continue to live in unbelief and in impenitence. Up to this point there is obviously no general offer. You cannot and you may not carelessly read here, as [some] would like: “As many as are offered the grace in Christ are offered this grace by God seriously and well-meant.” That is something quite different. In regard to the calling, the confession means, according to its own interpretation, “the particular promise of the gospel is most seriously and truthfully preached, along with the command to repent and believe, to all who hear.”

2. That in that same sense it is said here that it is pleasing to God, that those who are thus called should come to Him, that is, by way of repentance and faith. Unbelief and impenitence are not pleasing to God. He is furiously angry with the impenitence and unbelief of the disobedient. Again here we find no offer, not as much as a semblance of it.

3. Finally, not a general offer, but a particular promise is added to the explanation when the article concludes, as we might expect, “He, moreover, seriously promises eternal life and rest to as many as shall come to him and believe in him.” Those who come to Him are the ones who repent and believe; they are the ones for whom Christ has merited faith; they are the ones who, out of eternal grace, have received that faith from God; they are therefore the elect. So again in this article you do not have a general offer of grace from God, but the same preaching of a particular promise, that is always in the mind of the authors of the Canons of Dordt.


---------------------------------------------------

(IV)

Rev. Steven R. Key


[Originally published in the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 37, number 2 (April 2004), pp. 45-64]



The second reference from the Canons that Synod laid hold of in support of a general favor or grace of God toward all men is that of the Third and Fourth Heads of Doctrine, Articles 8 and 9, where the Canons speak of the serious call of the gospel, and hold forth the truth that those who reject that serious call are themselves to blame. The fault is not to be found in the gospel "nor of Christ offered therein."

Note well, the Synod in adopting its First Point made a logical jump from the concept of the call to that of an offer, and took the position that God's making a serious call is an indication that God makes a genuine offer of salvation to all who hear the gospel and expresses His desire that they accept the offer.

Louis Berkhof, in his pamphlet defending the Synod's position, wrote: "This call of the Gospel, or this offer of salvation, is, according to Synod, general."6 He goes on to say, "In the second place, we desire to point to the fact, that the general offer of grace is well-meant."7 In this, Berkhof points particularly to Canons III/IV, 8. He proceeds to explainand notice the interchanging of the word offer with call"The call of the Gospel is earnestly meant. If we invite anyone, yet at the same time hope that he will not accept the invitation, then our request is not well-meant, but insincere. Sincere and well-meant it is only, if we mean what we say. God calls and invites sinners, and gives us the solemn certainty in His Word that He earnestly desires, that the called ones come to Him. His inviting is without hypocrisy, it is well-meant."8 In his Systematic Theology, Berkhof puts it this way: "When God calls the sinner to accept Christ by faith, He earnestly desires this."9

[…]

When we examine Article 8, we find the idea of a general, well-meant offer contrary to the teaching of the article and that especially as this article has its place in a creed that consistently holds the particular nature of salvation. Here also the promise of God is set forth as particular. Though proclaimed to all to whom God in His good pleasure brings under the hearing of the gospel, the promise itself is plainly limited "to as many as shall come to Him and believe on Him." Their identity, and how it is that they "come to Him and believe on Him," is established in Articles 10 and following. They are those whom God "has chosen as His own from eternity in Christ" and upon whom He confers faith and repentance, accomplishing His own good pleasure in them.

But when God accomplishes His good pleasure in the elect, or works in them true conversion, He not only causes the gospel to be externally preached to them, and powerfully illuminates their mind by His Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God; but by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit pervades the inmost recesses of the man; He opens the closed and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised, infuses new qualities into the will, which, though heretofore dead, He quickens; from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, He renders it good, obedient and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like a good tree it may bring forth the fruits of good actions (Article 11).

Thus God works His own perfect work through the preaching of the gospel, accomplishing His own good pleasure in the salvation of those whom He has chosen from eternity in Christ. And because it would be impossible to preach the gospel only to the elect, that preaching must go forth promiscuously. That is also according to God's sovereign purpose.

But that promiscuous proclamation of the gospel is not a well-meant offer or invitation to all, expressing God's desire to save all. That is clear in the light of the First Head of Doctrine, Articles 6 and 15, where the fathers at Dordt rejected the idea that God willed to save all and expressed such a desire by the gospel call. The fact that God has sovereignly decreed to leave in their common misery those whom He has not chosen, thus making righteous discrimination between men, ought to give clear indication that He does not will the salvation of the reprobate.

Rather, the preaching of the gospel is the proclamation that serves God's sovereign purpose, even as set forth by the inspired apostle in II Corinthians 2:15-17:

For we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ, in them that are saved, and in them that perish: To the one we are the savour of death unto death; and to the other the savour of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things? For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.

It is noteworthy that the sovereign hardening element that takes place in preaching to the reprobate is not expressed in these articles cited by the Synod of 1924.10 But we may say that although it would be possible to strengthen the exposition of these articles by a biblical treatment of the truth set forth in II Corinthians 2:15-17, I Peter 2:8, and other like passages, the lack in these articles does not detract from the fact that any idea of a well-meant offer of the gospel as expressed in the First Point of 1924 is out of harmony with the teaching of the Canons.

-----------------------------
FOOTNOTES:

6. Louis Berkhof, De Drie Punten in Alle Deelen Gereformeerd (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1925), p. 13. Citation taken from a translation by Marvin Kamps, October 1997.

7. Ibid., p. 17.

8. Ibid., pp. 18-19.

9. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979), p. 462.

10. It is possible that the failure of the Canons to address this issue was a matter of compromise, due to the differing opinions expressed by various delegates to the Synod of Dordt. Cf. H. C. Hoeksema, Voice of Our Fathers, p. 487.


---------------------------------------------------

(V)

Prof. Homer C. Hoeksema

[Source: The Standard Bearer, vol. 50, issue 6 (Dec. 1973)]

Those who hold the offer-theory must hold that this article teaches something like the following: “As many as are invited by the preaching of the gospel are unfeignedly invited by God. For God hath most earnestly and truly declared in His Word that He is desirous, yea, longs and yearns that every one that hears the gospel invitation should comply with it and accept it. Moreover, He seriously promises to all who accept the invitation, and thus come to him and believe, rest and eternal life.”

But this is by no means what the article teaches. It does not speak of an invitation with so much as a word, nor of complying with an invitation. It speaks of the calling. And in the light of the article itself and also of the context, the Canons here mean the external call of the gospel. Now what does this external call of the gospel say? Or rather, what does God Himself say in that outward call of the gospel? He says that men must believe and repent. He says that they must come to Him. And the article states that God is serious about this. He calls unfeignedly. He means what He says! And the article states further that it is “pleasing” to God that those who are called should come. This simply means that it is right in God’s sight that men should heed the call to faith and repentance. Not to heed it is terribly disobedient, and it is displeasing to God; it incurs His fierce wrath and displeasure.

Notice, further, that there is no suggestion whatsoever that any man is by nature able or willing to heed that call of the gospel. None is! But that has nothing to do with the fact that it is nevertheless right to come to Christ, and terribly sinful and displeasing in God’s sight not to heed the demand of faith and repentance. Our Heidelberg Catechism maintains this same position with respect to the law of God when it asks: “Doth not God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him in his law that which he cannot perform?” Answer: “Not at all; for God made man capable of performing it; but man, by the instigation of the devil, and his own wilful disobedience, deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts.” We must always be on our guard against the insidious notion that somehow responsibility implies ability on the part of the natural man, whether with respect to the law or the gospel. That simply is not the case.

But my point is: there is no offer mentioned or suggested in this article of the Canons. Nor is there so much as a hint of a favourable disposition, an attitude of lovingkindness, or a desire for the salvation of all on the part of God.

Nor is this taught in the final statement of the article. That statement plainly teaches a particular promise: a promise of rest and eternal life to all those coming and believing. And they are, without any doubt, the elect, who come and believe through sovereign grace and through the effectual calling.

But of an offer there is not so much as a breath in this article, nor anywhere in our Canons.


---------------------------------------------------

(VI)

Joshua Engelsma

[Source: Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 45, no. 2, (April 2012), pp. 91-92]

A careful reading of this article will reveal that the Reformed fathers were not teaching the free offer of the gospel here. We are met here with the will of God’s decree. God decrees in the gospel that all men repent and believe. Thus, all men are unfeignedly called (serio vocantur). This is a serious command that comes to all men who hear the gospel. And God reveals in His Word what all men are to do: they are to come to God. The activity of coming to God in Jesus Christ is the command that comes to all in the preaching. And God declares that this act is pleasing to Him. What this article does not teach is that it is pleasing to God that all men come to Him. The activity of coming to Him is pleasing to Him because it is according to His will. But we have here no expression of God’s earnest desire to save all who hear. He is pleased only with those who do come to Him. To them—the elect—He gives eternal life and rest.


---------------------------------------------------

(VII)

Dr. Raymond A. Blacketer

[Source: “The Three Points in Most Parts Reformed: A Reexamination of the So-Called Well-Meant Offer of Salvation,” Calvin Theological Journal, vol. 35, no. 1 (April, 2000)]

The second passage from Dort is III/IV:8, where the Canons declare that those who are called through the gospel are called seriously (serio vocantur). “For seriously and most genuinely God makes known in his Word what is pleasing to him: that those who are called should come to him. Seriously he also promises rest for their souls and eternal life to all who come to him and believe.”17 The synod, and Berkhof, read the phrase serio vocanturas an obvious indication that God genuinely offers salvation to all who hear the gospel, including the reprobate--those whom he has decreed to leave in their state of rebellion and to withhold from them “saving faith and the grace of conversion.”18 Again, the synod and Berkhof assume that call and offer are synonymous.

[...]

Canons III/IV:8 consists of three parts. First, this article affirms that those who are called by the preaching of the gospel are in fact called seriously. This affirmation is followed by a twofold explanation of how this can be the case. This twofold explanation corresponds to a distinction in our understanding of the will of God, a distinction that, as we shall see, is quite common in the Reformed tradition. This is the distinction between God’s decretive will or will of the decree (voluntas decreti) and his preceptive will or will of the precept (voluntas praecepti). This distinction is also referred to, with slight variations in emphasis, as that between the will of good pleasure and the will of complacency (eudokia and euarestia), the will of good pleasure and the will of the sign (voluntas beneplaciti and signi), and the secret and revealed will of God (voluntas arcana and revelata).21

The decretive will and its variants refer to God’s eternal counsel: what he has decreed will actually occur, either by causing it himself or allowing his creatures to do so. The preceptive will and its variants refer to the rules and duties that God prescribes and reveals to humanity. The will of the decree always comes to pass, while the preceptive will is frequently disobeyed. Thus God commanded Pharaoh to release his people; this was his duty, and reflects the divine voluntas praecepti. But God’s decretive will was to allow Pharaoh to follow his own evil inclinations and resist God’s command. In this sense, God both wills and does not will that Pharaoh should let his people go. In the Reformed tradition, however, it is the decretive will that is the “ultimate, effective will of God.”22

The general call of the gospel is serious because it corresponds to this twofold distinction. First of all, God seriously makes known his revealed will for all creatures, his voluntas praecepti: “seriously and most genuinely God makes known in his Word what is pleasing to him: that those who are called should come to him.” The call is serious in that it truly reveals what the duty of sinful humanity is, namely, repentance and faith in God. This first part of the explanation of the serio vocantur does not imply any will or intention to save on God’s part; it only reveals the obligation of sinners. Secondly, the Canons go into the voluntas decreti: “Seriously he also promises rest for their souls and eternal life to all who come to him and believe.” The call is a promise of salvation for all who do repent and believe, namely, the elect.


---------------------------------------------------

(VIII)

Rev. Herman Hoeksema

[Source: The Rock Whence We Are Hewn (RFPA, 2015), pp. 365–66]

[Does Canons III/IV:8] teach directly or imply that the preaching of the gospel is God’s grace to all who hear the preaching[?]

There are three elements in article 8. First, the calling of the gospel is unfeigned and serious on the part of God for all who come under its ministration. Everyone who hears the gospel can be assured that God seriously and unfeignedly means what he causes to be proclaimed in the gospel. What does God proclaim in the gospel? Does he affirm that he is gracious or will be gracious to all who hear? Does he command his ministers to preach that it is God’s intention to save all the hearers? On the contrary, no preacher of the gospel may claim any authority to bring such a message. He who presents the gospel in that light does not bring the call of the word but his own philosophy; he corrupts the gospel and makes God a liar. The calling of the gospel is, “Turn ye, and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Ho, every one that is thirsty, come to the waters!” This calling is unfeigned on the part of god. He who hears this gospel has no reason to doubt that he is seriously called.

Second, it is acceptable to God that this calling is heeded and obeyed. To reject the gospel and to disobey the calling is not acceptable to God. He is terribly displeased with everyone who refuses to turn to him and live, with all who despise and reject the gospel.

Third, God promises to all who come and believe in him rest for their souls and life eternal. This promise is not to all without distinction, but to those who will come and believe. No one needs to entertain any doubt as to the sincerity of this promise. He who comes unto God will in no wise be cast out. All who come unto him receive grace and eternal life, for God certainly realizes his promises.

Does all this signify that the serious and glorious gospel—which contains the promise of eternal life to all who believe and rest of soul to everyone who comes to God through Jesus Christ—is God’s grace to all who comes to God through Jesus Christ—is God’s grace to all who hear the preaching of that gospel and not only to the elect? In other words, can article 8 be interpreted to mean that the proclamation of the gospel is grace also for those who reject it, for the reprobate ungodly? There is not the faintest suggestion of such a doctrine.


---------------------------------------------------

(IX)

Rev. Martyn McGeown


These articles were written in response to the Remonstrants or the Arminians, who submitted their “Opinions” to the Synod. The issue here is God’s seriousness—if the gospel only comes to some, and if God grants faith to only some who hear the gospel, is God really serious in the call of the gospel through the preaching? The Arminians contended that, if God did not intend to give salvation to all, and if Christ did not purchase salvation for all, and if sinners do not have the ability to choose salvation, then God must be hypocritical, insincere and unserious in the preaching, by promising something He does not have and which He does not intend to give.

The “Opinions of the Remonstrants” are very enlightening about what the Arminians understood by the offer of the gospel:

Whomever God calls to salvation, He calls seriously, that is, with a sincere and completely unhypocritical intention and will to save; nor do we assent to the opinions of those who hold that God calls certain ones externally whom He does not will to call internally, that is, as truly converted, even before the grace of calling has been rejected. 

There is not in God a secret will which so contradicts the will of the same revealed in the Word that according to it (that is, the secret will) He does not will the conversion and salvation of the greatest part of those whom He seriously calls and invites by the Word of the Gospel and by His revealed will; and we do not here, as some say, acknowledge in God a holy simulation, or a double person.6

Notice that it is the Remonstrants (Arminians)—and not the Calvinists at Dordt—who teach that God has a “sincere and completely unhypocritical intention and will to save” all who hear the gospel. Arminians believe that God desires the salvation of all men without exception. Johnson would have us believe that only hyper-Calvinists deny God’s desire to save all men.

That background greatly clarifies the meaning of the Canons. The key is the Latin word serio. Three times the word serio is used in Canons III/IV:8, translated by various adverbs in our official English version: “unfeignedly [serio] called,” “earnestly [serio] shown” and “seriously [serio] promises.”

What serio does not mean is what the Arminians taught—“whomever God calls to salvation, He calls seriously, that is, with a sincere and completely unhypocritical intention and will to save.” Modern compromised Calvinists, however, such as Johnson himself, do define the gospel call (or offer) that way, as God’s desire to save all or, in Johnson’s words, “the sincere proposal of divine mercy to sinners in general.” Are we to imagine God as a young, lovesick man, earnestly proposing marriage to a beautiful young lady, a proposal rejected by the majority of sinners who hear it as a “sincere proposal of divine mercy”? A disappointed suitor indeed! How could Christ propose to any sinners who are not part of His divinely ordained bride? And how does that differ from the typical Arminian message of Jesus knocking on the sinner’s heart?

About serio (unfeignedly, earnestly and seriously) we can make several observations. First, God is pleased with faith and repentance (“that those who are called should come to Him,” Canons III/IV:8). The good pleasure here is not God’s eternal decree, that which He is pleased to ordain. God is not pleased to ordain that all should repent and believe, for He has not decreed to give all men faith (Eph. 1:11; 2:8; Phil. 1:29). Rather, God’s good pleasure is that which is pleasing in His sight, or that in which He delights, or it is that which He approves in His creatures, and therefore that which He commands in His creatures (such as obedience to the law, faith and repentance). Second, God is serious, in earnest, about this. God is not indifferent to sin and unbelief. God does not say that He does not care whether people believe or not. Will God send preachers but remain indifferent as to whether sinners believe in Jesus? Will God remain unconcerned if sinners despise His Son in unbelief? Of course not! God is so serious about this that He threatens eternal damnation upon those who refuse to believe and to repent!

But the word serio certainly does not mean that God earnestly desires the salvation of all hearers. It cannot mean that, because God did not elect all to salvation (in fact, He reprobated many of those who in time hear the gospel); Christ did not die for all men (in fact, God has nothing to offer the reprobate who hear the gospel); and the Holy Spirit does not work graciously in the hearts of all hearers to regenerate them and work faith in them (in fact, the Spirit hardens many who hear the gospel).7 Since the Triune God does nothing for the salvation of the reprobate—He neither elects, nor redeems, nor regenerates them—how could He, then, in the preaching of the gospel desire (even seriously, ardently and passionately desire) the salvation of the same reprobate?


---------------------------------------------------

(X)

Prof. Robert D. Decker

[Source: The Standard Bearer, vol. 72, no. 2 (Oct. 15, 1995), pp. 35]

This article teaches that the calling of the gospel is unfeigned. This calling is to repent and believe. God is serious when He sends this calling to any man. No man has the right before God to remain in his sin and persevere in unbelief. God reveals in the gospel what is pleasing to him, viz., that the ones called should come to Him. God seriously promises eternal life and rest, not to all who hear the gospel, but to as many as believe and come to Him. The promise of the gospel, therefore, is strictly particular. Certainly the article does not teach that the preaching of the gospel is grace to all the hearers.


-------------------------------------------------

(XI)

More to come! (DV)













No comments:

Post a Comment