Religion Defended (2)
February 12, 2023 / No. 3990M
Last time we saw from Isaiah 48:11 that God Himself says He will not give His glory to another. And we saw that if God is not sovereign over everything, including salvation, He would, in fact, be giving His glory to another, which thing He has expressly committed Himself not to do. Therefore we would expect that salvation in the Scriptures is all the work of God. And, indeed, even in the rest of Isaiah 48, which we examined last time, God, in fact, says so, that salvation is not a cooperative effort between Him and Israel but is solely a work of the Lord.
As application of that text and of all the teaching of Scripture regarding salvation, I introduce the work of the Synod of Dordt here, the time where that truth that salvation is all of God was maintained. Then, in the next number of weeks, we will go on to study what are commonly called the Five Points of Calvinism, the teaching of Scripture regarding salvation that was summarized by that Synod of Dordt. I submit for your evaluation that it was God’s own doctrine of salvation and, therefore, God’s own glory that was under attack at the time surrounding the Synod of Dordt.
The year was 1618 when the Synod of Dordt met, four hundred years ago as we celebrated it in 2019. The Reformation, remember, began in 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses to the door of Wittenberg Church in Germany. Recall that Calvin had died some forty-five years before the Synod of Dordt (1564). The Reformation, much through the work of Calvin, had spread through Europe, and by this time had found a strong home in the Netherlands.
Jacob Arminius grew up in the Netherlands and studied there under Dutch Reformed teaching. Later he moved to Geneva, Switzerland to study to become a pastor and eventually a professor under Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor in Geneva. Once there, Arminius came more thoroughly under the consistent teaching of the sovereignty of God in all things, including salvation. Arminius began to resist this and to speak out about it. Especially when he got back to the Netherlands and became a pastor and professor, he became very bold and vocal. He started to teach views contrary to the Reformation faith, views that said salvation was dependent in the end upon man. Even that God’s predestination was dependent upon man. He began to call for a revising of the Reformation confessions that had taught that salvation is all of the Lord. He asked for a revision of the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism, to teach instead that salvation depends in some ways upon what man does. He gained quite a following. However, he died suddenly in 1609. His followers, called Arminians, carried on his agenda. In the next year after his death (1610), they tried to carry out his specific agenda of getting the Reformation creeds revised to reflect Arminius’ views of how God saves His people.
The Arminians published a set of five articles, what they called Remonstrants, and they presented them to the state of Holland with the desire that the state would embrace them and then lead the charge to change the Belgic Confession and Heidelberg Catechism, the Reformation confessions, to reflect Arminian teaching. Those five articles said this, in summary. First, that man is not so sinful that his will is affected by sin. He is a sinful being, yes, but he is still spiritually alive in his will so that he can, of his own free will, accept the gospel without God having first worked in him. Second, they said no man is so influenced by the sovereign grace of God that he cannot himself resist and overcome God’s grace in his life. So that, even if God were trying to save someone, that man could stop God from getting His way. Third, they said that God’s election of those who were ultimately saved is determined by God’s looking ahead in time and knowing which people would of their own free will accept Him, and then picking those ones to be His people. This is called conditional election. Fourth, they said that Christ died for all men, paid for the sins of all men, but yet, having done so, He does not actually save any of them. His death does not earn the gift of faith for anyone. Faith is not a gift. It is up to man to make Christ’s work on the cross effective and meaningful by a faith he produces out of his own free will. Fifth, they said it is up to the individual believer to keep himself in a state of grace for the rest of his life. Later they added that a believer can indeed fall away and go to hell, since it is up to his own will ultimately to be saved and to stay saved. In other words, the Arminian teaching wanted the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism changed to teach that salvation in its most crucial points was up to man and not up to God.
By 1618, the Netherlands was in an uproar about these things. In fact, the country itself was on the brink of civil war about it. And all throughout Europe the divide was being felt, so that in that year, 1618, a national and even international synod was called for the whole church to come together to consider these five articles of the Remonstrants on the basis of Scripture, and to either change the Reformation confessions or not.
Present at this synod were theologians and ministers from all over the Netherlands and from every place where Protestantism had taken root. Twenty-five theologians from outside the Netherlands came. It was truly an international gathering. All in all, there were over a hundred theologians who came together to deal with this matter in the light of the Word of God. And they swore an oath that they would handle the matter solely on the basis of God’s Word. They believed that when the Synod was over, the effect would be that this matter would be settled for Christianity once and for all.
I quote what happened from one historian:
Failing to reconcile the teaching of the Arminians with the Word of God, which Word of God the delegates had definitely declared could alone be accepted by them as the rule of faith, they unanimously, unanimously, rejected them.
In opposition to the five articles of the Remonstrants (the Arminians), the delegates labored together to set forth five chapters or canons that explained clearly the Bible’s teaching about salvation. Their response we call the Canons of Dordt or, more popularly, the Five Points of Calvinism—five central points that summarized the Scriptures’ teaching on salvation, how, in saving us, God does not give His glory to another.
The first point of their response declared that, instead of man being sinful but not totally sinful, man is dead in sin, as Ephesians puts it, also in his will, and cannot come to Christ apart from God’s doing the sovereign, saving work in him first.
The second point declared that God’s saving grace is not resistible. It is irresistible, because He is God, and He gets what He desires. His grace is sovereign. If God wants to save someone, He saves him by a powerful grace, working upon him to change him and to draw him to Himself.
The third point declared that God’s election of some to glory is not dependent upon God’s foreseeing what man would do in the future. In fact, it is not dependent upon anything in man at all but only upon God’s own sovereign good pleasure.
The fourth point of their answer declared that Christ’s death was only for those whom God had chosen from eternity, and that His death did not merely make salvation possible, it accomplished salvation for those for whom He died.
And the fifth point in their answer was that they declared that God saves His own sovereignly, and therefore He also preserves them sovereignly to the end by His powerful Spirit.
This doctrine, written in the Canons of Dordt, was a defense of the sovereignty of God in salvation and the defense of the glory of God alone in salvation. It was religion defended.
Now, I am sure that if you would have been able to ask the Arminians about their doctrine, “But do you not want to give glory to God in salvation?” they would have responded, “Of course.” Probably, even if you would have asked them, “Do you want to give glory to God alone in salvation,” they would have said, “Of course.” But the teaching itself does the opposite, does it not, and in honesty has to say, “But it is not giving all glory to God. Some glory to Him, but not all. Some glory must go to man here. Man must have control. In fact, man must have the final say and God must share His glory with another.”
That is why the Reformation sola was what it was: “Soli Deo Gloria.” Not just Deo Gloria, but Soli: Glory to God alone. And they pressed that issue. The Roman Catholic doctrine of salvation at the time of the Reformation said that God gets glory, but not all of it, not alone. Man has to do something and man must get some of the glory. At the end of the day it must be based upon him. And all the Reformers, reading Scripture, rejected this. Calvin and Luther were one in this teaching that salvation is God’s work alone. When another preacher started teaching that at least man contributes this much, at least he has to not resist God’s grace when God’s grace comes to him in order for it to be effective, Luther scolded him and said, “If that’s true, then all salvation is lost. It must be with God alone.”
Going back even farther, to the fifth century, it was Augustine who defended the Bible’s teaching of salvation against Pelagianism and Semi-Pelagianism. Pelagius taught that man was not affected by the Fall at all and could save himself. Shortly after that, a Semi-Pelagianism rose up that taught almost the same thing as Arminius—that man is sinful but not completely sinful. His will is spiritually alive. Their motto was, “It is mine to be free to be willing to believe. It is the part of God’s grace only to assist me.” Augustine took up the Scriptures and defended God’s sovereignty in salvation and the glory that would not be given to another. Before that, before Augustine, the apostle Paul really dealt with this with the Judaizers in the book of Galatians. The Lord Jesus did the same with the works righteousness of the Pharisees in the Gospels. Now, finally, the Synod of Dordt said, Salvation is of Him and through Him and to Him alone.
There really are only two doctrines of salvation out there at the end of the day. One where it depends ultimately upon me, and the other where it depends ultimately and only upon God; one where God shares His glory with another, and one where He does not.
What is your belief? Let us not leave this theoretical here. How do you look at your own salvation? Of course you believe, but why do you believe? To whom do you give all glory? In whose hands was and is now your salvation? Your own, at the end of the day, or God’s? And when you join this movement of history, confessing with brothers and sisters throughout the world that all glory belongs to God alone in salvation, you will find that always a part of the battle of the ages is for God’s sovereignty in salvation, for Soli Deo Gloria. And the thing is, it has to be defended from my own self and you from your own self.
Man wants glory for himself. I want glory for myself. Man wants to be sovereign. I want to be sovereign. Man wants to be God, he wants to be in control. I want to be God and be in control. I am tempted, on the one hand, to say, “Yes, I want His glory.” But then, on the other hand, to say, but it is really up to me. Could you, could I, honestly say with the prophet Elijah, “I have been very jealous for the Lord God of hosts, very jealous for Him and for His glory and all of His work in the saving of His people”? My doctrine of salvation must line up with the doctrine of salvation that God Himself declared in Isaiah 48 that we examined last time. It must have this fruit, that is, the fruit of the truth of salvation in all of Scripture. It must lead me and others to say with Israel in Isaiah 48:20: “The Lord hath redeemed his servant Jacob.” It must lead me to say with the prophet Jonah: “Salvation is of the Lord.” And to say with the apostle Paul in Romans 11: Of Him, that is, in its source, in eternity past, of Him, through Him, that is, through His execution in time, through Him are all things, my salvation, so that it might also be to Him, to His glory and not to mine. That must be our theology. It gives glory to God alone.
That is the doctrine of salvation we will explain from the Scriptures in the coming weeks. That is the religion we will continue to defend.
I end now with a question for you and for me. Are you, am I, OK with the ultimate reason for our salvation being the glory of God? Are you OK with that? Are you joyful about that, and am I? Remember, He ties the ultimate joy and satisfaction and peace and fulness of His people to His own glory. Is it your highest joy to see His majesty in all things and in His saving work and to give Him all the glory and none to yourself? Is there any greater joy to you than to know that you are an avenue or vehicle through which God is unveiling a majestic self? And is it the case that, seeing it, delighting in it, and praising it is the height of heaven? Then your heart will be right to receive the teaching of God’s Word about how God saves. Then there is a growing, spiritual maturity in you and in me because, if we can honestly say that, we are like Christ. What was the prayer that beat in the heart of our Lord Jesus in John 12:27 and 28 when His soul was troubled at the thought of God’s will for Him in the cross? He cried out: “Father, glorify Thy name.” The only way of consolation for Him was, “Father, may I know that through this Thy glory is being manifest. Then I will be at peace. Then I can go forward.” And what comfort did the Father give to Him in that hour? “I have both glorified it in You and I will glorify it again in my Son.”
Would you be like Christ, child of God? Then may this be your highest desire: God, glorify Thyself in me. Would you be wrapped up in all that matters about this world and all that God is doing in the glorifying of His own name? Then, let go even of your own joy and seek Him in His majesty. And that joy will come to you again through the back door. Would you be even comforted in your disappointments and struggles and troubles? Then comfort yourself the way Jesus did. God is getting glory. He is manifesting Himself in me. And I see it and I praise Him for it. And it is good and right and true. Would you live your life as a child of God is called to live, to live for the praise of the glory of His grace? Praise His glory and sovereignty in creation. Praise His glory revealed in His sovereign work in history. Praise His glory and His sovereign work revealed in His Son Christ. Praise His glory in His sovereign work of saving His people all the way Himself, not dependent upon man’s will or works but on Him.
May this series of messages in the next number of weeks grow us in that. Let it not be merely an intellectual endeavor or a historical curiosity but, in the hands of the Spirit, let it lead to this end in our heart and lives: Soli Deo Gloria, in my heart, Father, and in my life, for Thou alone art worthy.
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, work in us more and more to seek Thy glory. We are selfish by nature and seek ourselves. But Thou art glorious, and when we see Thee in all Thy works and in salvation too, as we will in these weeks, our hearts are lifted up in praise to Thee, and we find our greatest joy. Hear our prayer, Father, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.