Digging Into Dort: Point 1, Part 1 (Election)


In many ways, the main issue that the Canons of Dort addresses is the subject of election, or as people often label it, predestination. This issue was the first point in the writings of the Remonstrants (those followers of Jacob Arminius), so it becomes the first main point of the Canons of Dort. The importance of this issue is seen in the words that open this first point, which can really be something of a summary title for the entire writing: “The Judgment Concerning Divine Predestination Which the Synod Declares to Be in Agreement with the Word of God and Accepted Till Now in the Reformed Churches, Set Forth in Several Articles.”  In case you are wondering, there are 18 articles in this first point (which is then followed by the rejection of errors).

While the document itself starts with this issue of election and includes discussion of it in “Point 1”, we notice that this first point does not immediately address the issue of election but rather other issues. Articles 1-5 discuss “God’s Right to Condemn All People,” “The Manifestation of God’s Love,” “The Preaching of the Gospel,” “A Two-Fold Response to the Gospel,” and “The Sources of Unbelief and Faith” before moving to “God’s Eternal Decree” and “Election” in Article 6-7. This is no accident, as one can only understand the teaching of election when one understands these ideas.

Articles 1-4

Article 1 of this point highlights that “Since all people have sinned in Adam and have come under the sentence of the curse and eternal death, God would have done no one an injustice if it had been his will to leave the entire human race in sin and under the curse,” citing Roman 3:19 and 23, and 6:23. This is important to remember – the issue is not why some people are not saved, but rather why any single person is saved since every single person is a sinner, having fallen short of the glory of God and having earned the wages of death through their sin. God would be just to leave all people in sin and punishment, but Article 2 then highlights that, out of love, God sent His Son into the world so that those who believe should have eternal life (citing John 3:16), with Article 3 noting that God sends messengers into the world so that people might hear and believe this message (citing Romans 10:14-15) and Article 4 stating that those who respond in faith are “delivered through him from God’s wrath and from destruction, and receive the gift of eternal life” while “God’s wrath remains on those who do not believe this gospel” (recalling John 3:16-17).

Questions Addressed by the Doctrine of Election

These articles set up the practical issues that the doctrine of election seeks to explain. If all are sinners, and thus by nature people who reject God, how can anyone come to have faith in God and turn to Him? Also, why do some people turn to God and some people do not? Is it because some people are better than others or have some sort of merit?

Articles 5-6

Article 5 addresses why some respond to the gospel and some do not, noting that sin and unbelief emerge from the rebellious heart that is by default in each human because of our sinful nature, while the reason for faith is through God’s free gift and grace: “The cause or blame for this unbelief, as well as for all other sins, is not at all in God, but in humanity. Faith in Jesus Christ, however, and salvation through him is a free gift of God. As Scripture says, ‘It is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is a gift of God’ (Eph. 2:8). Likewise: ‘It has been freely given to you to believe in Christ’ (Phil. 1:29).” (Note that this article grounds the teaching in Scripture.) Article 6 further addresses the issues of how anyone can respond to the gospel and why some respond to the gospel and others do not, noting that this comes from “God’s eternal decree. For ‘all his works are known to God from eternity’ (Acts 15:18; Eph. 1:11). In accordance with this decree, God graciously softens the hearts, however hard, of the elect and inclines them to believe, but by a just judgment, God leaves in their wickedness and hardness of heart those who have not been chosen. And in this especially is disclosed to us God’s act—unfathomable, and as merciful as it is just—of distinguishing between people equally lost. This is the well-known decree of election and reprobation revealed in God’s Word.”

An Important Distinction

A subtle but important nuance that emerges in these articles also appears in the final section of the Canons that addresses misrepresentations about the teaching described in the Canons. That section notes that opponents falsely represent the view by maintaining that “in the same manner in which election is the source and cause of faith and good works, reprobation is the cause of unbelief and ungodliness.” The Canons reject that, stating that those who come to faith do so through the grace of God working in their lives, but those who do not come to faith do so not because God has rejected them, but rather because of their own unbelief and ungodliness. God has not caused this unbelief but  has left them in their unbelief and rebellion. This subtle distinction is missed by some and, in the process, causes some to object to this doctrine and miss out on its comfort. As Article 6 of Point 1 notes, “The wicked, impure, and unstable distort this decree to their own ruin, but it provides holy and godly souls with comfort beyond words.”

Election Defined (Article 7)

These earlier articles then lead to this explanation of election in Article 7 that is grounded in Scripture:

“Election is God’s unchangeable purpose by which he did the following: Before the foundation of the world, by sheer grace, according to the free good pleasure of his will, God chose in Christ to salvation a definite number of particular people out of the entire human race, which had fallen by its own fault from its original innocence into sin and ruin. Those chosen were neither better nor more deserving than the others, but lay with them in the common misery. God did this in Christ, whom he also appointed from eternity to be the mediator, the head of all those chosen, and the foundation of their salvation. And so God decreed to give to Christ those chosen for salvation, and to call and draw them effectively into Christ’s fellowship through the Word and Spirit. In other words, God decreed to grant them true faith in Christ, to justify them, to sanctify them, and finally, after powerfully preserving them in the fellowship of the Son, to glorify them. God did all this in order to demonstrate his mercy, to the praise of the riches of God’s glorious grace. As Scripture says, ‘God chose us in Christ, before the foundation of the world, so that we should be holy and blameless before him with love; he predestined us whom he adopted as his children through Jesus Christ, in himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, by which he freely made us pleasing to himself in his beloved’ (Eph. 1:4-6). And elsewhere, ‘Those whom he predestined, he also called; and those whom he called, he also justified; and those whom he justified, he also glorified” (Rom. 8:30).’”

More to Discuss…….

The question still emerges, “Why does God choose to save these people who have plunged themselves into sin? Is there some special quality in them that makes them more deserving than others?” While Article 7 quoted above does address that, the following articles address it in more detail. A fuller discussion of it, as well other implications of this doctrine, will be covered in the next post(s).

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