Rejection of the Errors by Which the Dutch Churches Have for Some Time Been Disturbed
The Canons of Dort not only set forth that which Reformed Christians are to believe about predestination and election--the affirmations stated in the first eighteen articles--but they also remind us of those errors that commonly arise in connection with these doctrines, and which are to be rejected. The Canons do this in the form of “rejection of errors.”
And so at this point, the Canons now address a series of doctrinal errors, which we as Reformed Christians are to reject.
It is also important to note that the rejection of errors as set forth by the Canons of Dort are much more complicated and technical than the affirmations about what we are to believe. Sad to say, one of the common objections to the Reformed view of election and predestination is that the Reformed position is supposedly rationalistic, straying far afield from the text of Scripture through the sinful use of speculative human reason. I think it will soon be very clear that the alternate views set forth by our Lutheran friends, or errors of the Arminians, are far more complex and rationalistic than anything put forth by the Reformed.
Having set forth the orthodox teaching concerning election and reprobation, the Synod rejects the errors of those . . .
I. Who teach that the will of God to save those who would believe and persevere in faith and in the obedience of faith is the whole and entire decision of election to salvation, and that nothing else concerning this decision has been revealed in God's Word.
For they deceive the simple and plainly contradict Holy Scripture in its testimony that God does not only wish to save those who would believe, but that he has also from eternity chosen certain particular people to whom, rather than to others, he would within time grant faith in Christ and perseverance. As Scripture says, I have revealed your name to those whom you gave me (John 17:6). Likewise, All who were appointed for eternal life believed (Acts 13:48), and He chose us before the foundation of the world so that we should be holy... (Eph. 1:4).
The first error to be rejected is one of the most common, and is quite typical of the garden variety Arminianism commonly taught by Evangelicals today. As we have seen in articles one-eighteen, the Bible teaches that election is based upon something good in God, namely his love for lost and fallen sinners. Scripture very clearly teaches us that God decrees to elect Jesus Christ to be the savior of the world, and to be the mediator of the covenant of grace. God's purpose in this is to save that multitude of sinners fallen in Adam, who are individually chosen to be saved according to God’s eternal purpose. The number of those chosen is so great that they cannot be counted (Revelation 7:9).
The error to be rejected here is that of trying to locate the ground (basis) for election in something that God sees in the creature, namely faith and repentance. Scripture, on the other hand, very clearly teaches that fallen creatures cannot come to faith in Jesus Christ apart from a prior work of God’s grace, enabling them to do so.
Those who contend that God elects to save some, based upon his foreknowledge of how people will respond to the gospel when it is preached to them, frequently use the illustration that the decree of election is like a book which God has already read, or a movie that God has already seen. In other words, God knows the final outcome in advance, and so when God choses the people he will save, he bases his decision upon the supposed free actions of his creatures. In other words, God knows in advance who will chose Christ when given the chance, and so he choses them.
This is fatally flawed for a number of reasons. First, as the Canons note, those who are elect believe only because they were chosen by God, not the other way around. People who are dead in sin cannot believe unless God makes them willing to believe, and so inclines their hearts through the preaching of the gospel. Dead people do not live until they are resurrected (in effectual calling and regeneration)!
Second, the book and movie analogy actually serves the Reformed cause, not the Arminian. The more fundamental question is, “who wrote the book in the first place?” "Who authored the screen play?" "Who wrote the script?" "Who made the cameras, the paper, the writer?" The reason why God foreknows the future is not because he knows how things will play out, and then responds to what his creatures will do. The reason God foreknows the action of his creatures is because God determines what the future holds. He writes the plot and creates the characters!
And so we must ask, is not easier to simply bow the knee and affirm what Scripture teaches--election does not depend upon the will of man, but upon the will of God. As we read in John 1:12-13–“But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God”–and Romans 9:16–“So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.”