Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Dordt Assurance: The 400th Anniversary of the Synod of Dordt

Article 12 of the First Head of Doctrine addresses the basis of the believer’s assurance of being elected to salvation. We receive that assurance, the article says, “not by inquisitive searching into the hidden and deep things of God.” Rather, we can gain our assurance by discovering within ourselves, “with spiritual joy and holy delight, the unmistakable fruits of election pointed out in God’s Word–such as a true faith in Christ, a childlike fear of God, a godly sorrow for [our} sins, a hunger and thirst for righteousness, and so on.”

 

Some of my Reformed friends were talking recently about celebrating the anniversary of the Reformation, and I reminded them that we also have another celebration coming up: the 400th anniversary in 2018 of the gathering at the Low Countries that produced the Canons of Dordt. My observation was met with immediate silence, broken finally when one of my friends observed that he could not get very excited by that event. When I asked why, he observed that the Canons comprise “a pretty cold and stern document.”

I don’t agree. Indeed, while the first Question and Answer of the Heidelberg Catechism is my favorite single passage in the Reformed confessions, the deliverances from Dordrecht are, as a whole, my favorite confession.

A passage in the Canons that I especially like is actually quite a “warm” one. Article 12 of the First Head of Doctrine addresses the basis of the believer’s assurance of being elected to salvation. We receive that assurance, the article says, “not by inquisitive searching into the hidden and deep things of God.” Rather, we can gain our assurance by discovering within ourselves, “with spiritual joy and holy delight, the unmistakable fruits of election pointed out in God’s Word–such as a true faith in Christ, a childlike fear of God, a godly sorrow for [our} sins, a hunger and thirst for righteousness, and so on.”

This wonderful passage also reminds us, of course, of one of the dangers that we often encounter in Calvinism. Some Reformed believers do engage in an “inquisitive searching into the hidden and deep things of God.” This focus on the mysteries on God’s ways with us leads them to worry about the very qualities that the Canons list as signs of our elect status. They have a kind of faith in Christ, but it is a true faith—the Devil can counterfeit faith. Similarly, is their sorrow for sin truly godly?  And is their desire for righteousness a genuine “hungering and thirsting”?

Needless to say, any good Calvinist can understand the point of these worries. But we cannot allow them to rob us of our assurance.  This point has been made by excellent scholarly studies of the topic—Joel Beeke’s work on the subject is a case in point. On a more practical pastoral level, however, we can get some good help from Charles Spurgeon. He was not afraid to expound the doctrine of election in sermons where he called sinners to come to Christ.

In the conclusion of one of his finest sermons on the doctrine he acknowledges that some of his hearers may want to receive the gift of salvation, but may be wondering if they are numbered among the elect. Spurgeon poses this question to them: Does their concern about this stem from a focus on the justice of a God who has the sovereign right to choose those whom he will? “If so,” Spurgeon says, “then the doctrine of election has had the right effect on your spirit, and you are not far from the kingdom of heaven.” Those who have that kind of concern can “depart in peace; God has forgiven your sins.” The listeners “would not feel that, if the Spirit of God were not working in you.”

And then Spurgeon concludes with this encouraging word: “Let your hope rest on the Cross of Christ. Think not on election, but on Christ Jesus. Rest on Jesus—Jesus first, midst, and without end.”

This is Dordrecht Calvinism at its best. And one important way to commemorate the publishing of the Canons is to preach election in the manner of Spurgeon—by calling people to trust the working of the Spirit who is calling them to put their trust in Jesus alone.

Dr. Richard Mouw is President Emeritus and Professor of Faith and Public Life at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif.

The post Dordt Assurance: The 400th Anniversary of the Synod of Dordt appeared first on The Aquila Report.



No comments:

Post a Comment