Monday, December 30, 2013

Johannes Maccovius: Supralapsarian

The pages of the history of the church of Christ are filled with large figures who dominate their age and who cast a long shadow over subsequent history. But by no means does God make use only of towering men who are gifted beyond us and who have a work given them of God which is remembered throughout the ages. God uses other men, lesser figures, whose names might appear in a footnote or two of some learned and seldom-read volume, but who are not forgotten in heaven because their names appear in the book of life. I am not speaking here of that noble and exalted company of saints whose names no one knows but God alone, whose deeds went mostly unrecognized in the time they lived, and whose graves are forgotten. They are the "last" which Scripture assures us shall be the "first" in the kingdom of heaven. But I am speaking of others, who in their own time were recognized as men of leadership and outstanding ability, whom God used sometimes in rather strange ways, but who are, for the most part unknown today. It is worth our while to recall from oblivion some of these names.

Johannes Maccovius was one such man. Perhaps his importance lies especially in a "case" brought against him which was treated at the great Synod of Dort and which had ramifications which touch on our own lives.

His Life

Johannes Maccovius was born at Lobzenic in Poland in the year 1588. That means, if we would put him in the context of some well-known events of the Reformation, that he was born about 25 years or so after the writing of the Belgic Confession and the Heidelberg Catechism, and that at his birth the error of Arminiansism was already taking hold in the soil of the Netherlands.

The name Johannes Maccovius is his Latin name, which he took, as was the custom in those days, when he became professor in a university. The name given him of his parents was Jan Makowsky, a name which clearly indicated his Polish ancestry.

The Calvin Reformation had influenced Poland to some extent, and Maccovius was by no means the only influential early reformer to come from that land. Maccovius, after his early education, was sent to Germany, where he studied at the principal universities. After completing his studies, he returned to Poland where he visited various universities in his fatherland as tutor to young Polish nobles. Somewhere he had become acquainted with that system of doctrine known as Calvinism, and he had eagerly embraced it and remained faithful to it all his life.

But his activities were not limited to the tutoring of spoiled sons of foppish nobles. He began to engage various heretics in disputations. The Socinian heresy which denied the truth of the trinity, and the Jesuit heresies which sought to reintroduce Roman Catholic teachings were the objects of his hatred. Powerful and influential Socinians and Jesuits matched their debating skills with this defender of Calvinistic orthodoxy.

It was especially through such disputations that his fame spread to other lands, and Maccovius soon received an invitation from the University of Franeker in the Netherlands to teach theology in what was a rather prestigious university. In 1614 he became a doctor of theology and in 1615 he was appointed professor of theology. There he remained for the rest of his life, dying in Franeker on June 24, 1644.

The man who was his colleague and chief promoter was Sybrandus Lubbertus, who also became his enemy and accuser in the "Maccovius Case."

We are told that, though Maccovius was an extraordinarily homely man, he was a gifted teacher and well-liked by his students. In fact, he was so popular that his fame spread throughout Europe and his reputation attracted students to Franeker from all parts of the continent.

Yet the outstanding feature of his life was his controversy with Lubbertus; and in that controversy lie significant events which are important for us today.

The Controversy with Lubbertus

Although it is not so easy to sort out precisely the issues in the controversy, it is clear that Maccovius applied what became known as the scholastic method to teaching theology. In brief, the scholastic method of teaching was a method of applying the principles of logic to theology and teaching theology as a logical system of truth. In fact, it was the logical clarity of Maccovius' teaching which made him popular with other students.

The difficulty seemed to be, however, that he sometimes carried the system of logical analysis and development too far. He was accused, e.g., of giving the same authority to logical deductions from the biblical truths as he gave to Scripture itself. But here again, it is hard to tell whether he actually did this, and even whether, in doing this, he was far from orthodoxy.

At any rate, he was a bitter and implacable foe of Arminianism and he fought Arminianism hammer and tongs. The war which he waged against Arminianism made him a despised enemy of the Remonstrants, for in him was found no compromise. Enemies of the truth are often willing to show friendship to defenders of the faith as long as there is the slightest hope of compromise. Perhaps there was no single theologian, other than Gomarus, more deeply resented by these heretics than Maccovius.

In the course of his battles against Arminianism Maccovius was particularly determined to defend the truths of sovereign and double predestination. He made his defense over against Arminian efforts to teach that Christ willed the salvation of all men. But in the defense of the orthodox Calvinistic position, he went, in the opinion of his colleague Lubbertus, too far -- too far in teaching that God decreed the reprobate unto sin; too far in teaching that the reprobate sin out of necessity.

Actually, the views of Maccovius came to the attention of Lubbertus and others in the examination of a student who, in 1616, was defending various theses involved in the supralapsarian position. The examiners traced the views of this student, whose name has been buried in oblivion, to his teacher, Maccovius. Thus, that with which Maccovius was charged came really from one of his students.

It cannot be denied that Maccovius, brilliant scholar that he was, carried, by his scholastic method, the doctrines of sovereign and double predestination too far, and did not properly teach the relation between reprobation and sin. It is also true that Lubbertus, whether he over-reacted to Maccovius' teaching or whether he himself did not always have things straight, made statements which seemed to support a desire on God's part to save all men, the heart of the well-meant offer of the gospel.

Whatever may be the precise truth of the matter, the case was brought to the States of Friesland, which decided against Maccovius. Convinced he had said nothing wrong, Maccovius appealed to the Synod of Dort.

And so, while the Synod was doing battle with Arminian heresy, it had on the table as well the case of Maccovius. In the initial stages of the case, the matter was given to a political commission which attempted to settle the matter by trying to bring about agreement between Maccovius and his colleague Lubbertus. These efforts failed totally.

After the lack of success was reported back to Synod, Synod appointed another committee to study the matter, attempt to settle it, and come if necessary with recommendations to Synod. The committee consisted of Dutch and foreign delegates: Scultetus from Heidelberg in Germany, Stein from Kassel, Breytinger from Zurich in Switzerland, Gomarus, Thysius, and à Meyen all from the Netherlands.

It was striking that Gomarus, himself an ardent supralapsarian, was also on the committee. The committee met with Maccovius himself, as well as with Lubbertus. What happened on the meetings was never revealed, but the committee succeeded in reconciling these two warring colleagues. The committee reported to Synod that the matter was amicably resolved by a decision in which Maccovius himself had participated; that the committee had exonerated Maccovius from all error of any kind; but that Maccovius was reprimanded for his manner of teaching, for some rash statements which he had made, and for his one-sided supralapsarianism.

And so the matter was laid to rest.


This was an interesting aspect of the work on the Synod of Dort. It has significance for us today.

All who know anything about the Canons of Dort know also that these Canons are infralapsarian. It has been said by those who support infralapsarianism that supralapsarianism was anti-confessional. That would mean that we of the PRC, predominantly supralapsarian in our thinking, are in fact anti-confessional.

But the Maccovius case proves that this is not so.

While it is surely true that the Canons are infralapsarian, the framers of the Canons deliberately and consciously refused to condemn supralapsarianism. The issues of supra vs. infra were vigorously debated on the floor of the Synod and each position had its staunch defenders. The Synod had the perfect opportunity in the Maccovius case, and could very well have used Maccovius' rash statements as an occasion to condemn supralapsarianism in the Dutch church, if they had so desired. By refusing to do this, and by exonerating Maccovius, the Synod insisted that there was room in the Reformed churches for the supralapsarian viewpoint. And this has continued to the present.

In the early years of our own churches, though now almost no one cares any longer about such questions, our fathers and grandfathers could argue long and furiously over the relative merits of the two viewpoints debated at Dort. But within our churches, there was always room for both viewpoints, and the defenders of the one never sought ecclesiastical penalties against the other.

Gomarus, himself a strong supralapsarian, did join the committee in warning Maccovius against using unbiblical methods and making rash statements. These same rash statements are condemned in the Canons themselves, which tell us in no uncertain terms that we may not make God the author of sin.

But, at the same time, Gomarus also, along with the rest of the committee, brought reconciliation between Maccovius and Lubbertus. And this could only have been done by showing Lubbertus that Maccovius, in his opposition to a universal love of God, was Reformed.

N.B. We add here a note for those who are interested in the issues of supralapsarianism vs. infralapsarianism. The question has to do with the order of God's decrees in His counsel. Both agree that the sole purpose of God's counsel is the glory of God's name. The "Infras" believe that God determined to glorify His name by the following order of decrees: man's creation, man's fall, predestination, salvation in Christ. The "Supras" believe that God determined to glorify His name through Jesus Christ and in Him the salvation of an elect church. To accomplish that end, God determined the creation and fall of man along with the decree of reprobation. That the Canons are written from the infralapsarian viewpoint appears from such statements as: "Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby . . . he hath . . . chosen from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault . . . a certain number of persons . . ." (I, 7). "[God] leaves the non-elect in his just judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy" (I, 6). "The Infras" have always feared the "supra" teaching because it could lead to making God the author of sin. The "Supras" have always feared the "infra" teaching because it seemed to make the fall a mistake over which God had no control, so that salvation in Christ is Plan B when Plan A failed. The Reformed churches have always insisted that both viewpoints are acceptable when both do not go to extremes.

Taken from: Portraits of Faithful Saints, Chapter 45, by Herman Hanko

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Gijsbert Voetius: Defender of Orthodoxy

The Lord has promised the church, purchased with His own blood, that the gates of hell shall never prevail against it. To accomplish this, Christ raises men in the church who are strong and passionate defenders of the faith. These men, qualified by Christ, placed at crucial times in the church, and equipped spiritually for the task, do battle with heresies that threaten the church's welfare. After all, one crucial means, used by Satan to destroy the church, is the introduction of heresy into the church's ministry and teaching.

These men are not always the most liked; indeed, they must often suffer abuse at the hands of their own fellow members in the church. They are not free from sin; God is pleased to use weakest means to fulfill His will. But they are men of courage and faithfulness, and through them Christ preserves the cause of His church in the world.

It is quite amazing that almost as soon as the delegates from the great Synod of Dordrecht said farewell to their fellow delegates and returned to their homes and churches, serious heresies arose in the churches of the Netherlands which threatened her orthodoxy. The echo of the ringing bells in Dordrecht which marked the end of the Synod had not yet died away and errors of almost every conceivable sort entered the universities and pastorates. Only through the courageous battles of some staunch men of God were these errors turned away, -- and then only for a time.

One of the most ardent defenders of the faith was a man by the name of Gijsbertus Voetius; or, if we would abandon his Latinized name, Gijsbert Voet -- the surname being the Dutch word for "foot." Gijs Foot. He was a man who stood head and shoulders above his contemporaries.

Early Life

 Gijsbert Voetius was born of a Dutch Reformed minister in the town of Heusden, the Netherlands. He was born on March 3, 1588 or 1589; biographers are not sure; apparently some mishap clouded the town records. The date of his birth tells us that he lived in some of Holland's most troublous, though prosperous, times.

 Holland had become a naval power and Holland's navy sailed the seven seas. Colonies were established by these navies in the West Indies, the East Indies, America, and South Africa. Exotic silks, spices, and woods flowed in an unending stream into the country. The growing trade of Europe passed through its ports. Merchantmen and craftsmen filled the cities. The nation's navy could stand before the mighty sea powers of England and France without flinching. It was enough to make any Dutchman proud.

 Politics, however were troubled. The Eighty Years War with Spain was still raging and the borders to the south were dangerous places to live. The nation was divided between Orangeists (who wanted the House of Orange of the throne of Holland) and Republicans (who wanted nothing resembling a monarchy). The divisions were deep and bitter.

 The Reformed faith had taken root in the nation and had, within a few decades, become the dominant religion of the Lowlands. That Reformed faith, born and nurtured in Geneva, had found particularly rich soil among the fiercely independent Dutch. But the Reformed faith was being threatened by a growing attachment of many ministers and leaders to the evil heresy of Arminianism. It had been spawned in the fertile, though shallow, brain of Arminius, minister in Amsterdam and later professor of theology in the University of Leyden.

 Voetius' father was a sturdy defender of the Reformed faith, and his son imbibed this doctrine from youth.

 He was a brilliant lad who soon outshone his fellow students in his studies. Leyden was his home school and there he studied under Gomarus and Arminius, though Gomarus did more than any other to shape his mind. He was industrious and possessed what we would call today a photographic memory. So rapidly did he advance in his studies that, while still in the University, he was appointed lecturer in Logic. In his classes he defended the strictest Calvinism and already in these years showed his disdain for any viewpoint which challenged the teachings of the Reformer from Geneva.

 Because of his many gifts, he was, upon graduation, called soon to the ministry of the Word of God in Vlijmen. The year was 1611, seven years before the great Synod of Dort. After serving many years in the pastorate, he became professor in the University of Utrecht where he spent the rest of his life, a professor for no less than 42 years.

 His Effective Pastoral Ministry

 Before Voetius became professor he served two congregations. He spent about six years in Vlijmen where he was first called, and about 17 years in Heusden, the town of his birth.

 During the years of his ministry, Voetius preached eight times a week -- and we think we are busy when we preach twice a week. While it was the custom in those days for an elder to read the Scriptures and for a precentor to lead the singing, Voetius often did this himself for the congregation.

 He was faithful in his pastoral labors, and the congregations he served came to love him deeply.

 But his ministry was not limited to the work of the congregation: he was intensely interested in evangelism and missions. While in Vlijmen, a village in which were still many Roman Catholics, he was instrumental in bringing a large number of Roman Catholics to the Reformed faith. And, while minister in Heusden, he was influential in persuading the large trading companies to send missionaries with the Dutch ships to distant parts of the world so that mission work could be done in these far-off islands and lands.

 And, if all this were not enough, Voetius gave himself over to the study of Arabic, the better to understand the Semitic languages, one of which was the Hebrew of the Old Testament Scriptures.

His Influential Professorship

 In 1634 Voetius accepted the call to become professor in the new Academy of Utrecht. When, in 1636 the Academy became a University, Voetius preached the inaugural sermon on Luke 2:46: "And it came to pass, that after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions."

 During the years of his labors in Utrecht, Voetius taught theology, logic, physics, metaphysics, and Semitic languages: Hebrew, Arabic, and Syraic, surely a heavy load. But in addition to this massive load of teaching, he also became the pastor of the church in Utrecht, and the street on which he lived bears his name to this day.

 He was a prolific writer in many different fields, although those who have read his writings complain that they were almost impossibly boring and difficult to read.

 To accomplish all this work, Voetius rose at 4:00 a.m. to begin his studies for the day and prepare for his many lectures.

 He has often been accused of being "scholastic" in his theology; in fact, one author calls him, "The greatest of the scholastics." This was meant, of course, as criticism. Many today complain that the theologians of the Dutch Reformed tradition, beginning with Theodore Beza and continuing through Herman Hoeksema, have altered fundamentally the theology of Calvin with their "scholasticism." Before we become too critical of these supposed "scholastic" theologians however, we do well to listen to more balanced students of Dutch Reformed theology who have pointed out that not the theology of the early Dutch theologians was scholastic, but the method in which they developed their theology was the method used by the Medieval scholastic theologians. That is, these Dutch theologians were intent on developing Reformed thought by careful analysis, detailed definition, thorough development of each theological concept, careful repudiation of every heresy, and logical organization which was intended to show the relationships between all the truths of Scripture. It was not, by any means, all bad. But that is another story.

 His Battle Against Arminianism

 Voetius hated Arminianism. He saw it for what it was: a wholesale attack on the very heart of the Reformed faith and, fundamentally, a return to Roman Catholicism and its doctrine of salvation by works.

 He began his battle against Arminianism already before Dort as the Arminians increasingly began to influence the theology of the Dutch Churches. In fact, more than likely, Voetius took a call to become pastor in Heusden because this city had become a hotbed of Arminian thinking.

 Yet, as Arminianism gained ground prior to Dort, Voetius was not averse to travelling to other cities (such as Gouda and Bois-le-Duc on the Belgian border) to do battle with these enemies of the Reformed faith.

 So trustworthy was he considered to be that he was voted delegate to the Synod of Dordrecht (1618-'19). At the Synod he made major contributions to the defeat of the Arminians and the writing of our precious Canons. When Bogerman, the president of the Synod, angrily dismissed the Arminians from the Assembly and forbad them to return, Voetius supported his actions.

 Although Dort was a might victory for the Reformed faith, Arminian poison continued to affect the churches, and Voetius spent all his life doing what he could to root out this pernicious evil.

Yet, his interest in the Reformed faith was not merely in its intellectual coherence and internal harmony. Voetius was a godly and pious man. One of the first books, if not the first, was entitled "Proof of the Power of Godliness." His thesis in this book was that, while Arminianism is destructive of Christian morality, the orthodox faith gives attestation to itself in a godly and upright life. The book was not the writings of a man who did not live what he believed. He was firmly convinced, and showed it in his own life, that the Reformed faith, when embraced wholeheartedly, led to Christian piety.

Other Battles

But Voetius did not do battle with Arminianism only. Other heresies appeared soon after Dort and Voetius took up the weapons of his spiritual warfare against them.

We mention three.

Strange as it may seem to us, soon after the Synod of Dort, the philosophy of the French philosopher, René Descartes, was beginning to have an impact in Holland, even in the University of Utrecht. Descartes firmly believed that the Christian faith could be supported by reason alone and really had no need of faith to bolster its tenets. This was rationalism, pure and simple. Against it Voetius waged bitter war, and in fact secured the dismissal of his own colleague in Utrecht, Regius. So biting was his attack that Descartes himself, in lonely isolation in France, but adored by all Europe, considered it necessary to respond to Voetius. Sadly, Voetius, while winning the battle in his own lifetime, lost it in the long run of Dutch theology.

When the French Calvinists were persecuted in France, many of them fled to the Lowlands were they could find political asylum. Among them were mystics who found a congenial home in some parts of Holland. Their spokesman, at the time of Voetius, was Jean de Labadie, who was not only deeply imbued with mysticism, but who also preached and practiced separation from the instituted church -- as mystics usually do. It was the valiant efforts of Voetius who held these miserable mystics at bay.

But his greatest battle was with Cocceius, a colleague in the ministry. In a way, this controversy was sad because Cocceius himself was an important figure in the development of Reformed thought. Cocceius was disturbed by the "scholasticism" of his colleagues and developed what later became known as Biblical Theology. In the course of his work Cocceius made such a sharp distinction between the Old and New Testaments that he denied the validity of the New Testament Sabbath. Although Voetius attacked him for this, the controversy involved other points as well, including various political questions. Voetius promoted strongly the need for Holland to be ruled by the royal House of Orange, while Cocceius wanted a more Republican form of government.

The controversy became very bitter and the church was divided into a Voetian Party and a Cocceian Party. In fact, the controversy was never settled and continued beyond the death of the two opponents, and only gradually died out.

After producing three sons, two of whom became professors and one a minister, and after seeing even a grandson become a professor, Voetius died on November 1, 1676.

Voetius has often been charged with "using the end to hallow the means:" "Voetius was vehement, and not careful as respects the choice of his weapons." He has even been charged with dishonesty by some biographers, a reference to his debate with Descartes when he denied authorship of a book which was published under another man's name. But that he was a vehement defender of orthodoxy cannot be denied and even one author, not a friend, pays this tribute to Voetius: "With all the faults of his character, Voetius was an earnest and sincere Christian, and a most devoted servant of the Church. Few men have in any age exercised greater influence over the Church of their time and country."

It is a man who himself loves the church and the cause of God's truth who can see beyond a man's character and stand with him in the defense of the faith.

Taken from: Portraits of Faithful Saints, Chapter 44, by Herman Hanko

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Titus 2:1 Award given to Contra Mundum

Titus 2:1 says, “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.”

Jake Griesel, the author of the blog Theologia est doctrina Deo vivendi per Christum (Latin for: Theology is the doctrine of living unto God through Christ – a phrase taken from the works of the Reformed theologian Petrus van Mastricht [1630-1706]) has passed on the Titus 2:1 Award to my blog, Contra Mundum. I wish to thank Jake for the honor. In my estimation, his blog exceeds mine by far, in both scope and quality. I wholeheartedly recommend Jake’s blog. He has an amazing knack for unearthing obscure and otherwise unsung heroes of the Christian faith.  In order to celebrate, he has asked me to answer the following questions:

1. If you could have dinner with any historical Christian figure, who would it be and why?

There are numerous possible candidates, but I would probably go with Herman Witsius (2/12/1636-10/22/1708). Witsius was a Dutch pastor and theologian. He became professor of divinity successively at the University of Franeker in 1675 and then at the University of Utrecht in 1680. In 1698 he went to the University of Leiden. He ended his earthly course here.

Witsius was a leader and distinguished representative of the continuation of the Reformation in Holland, known as the Nadere Reformatie, a period of church history in the Netherlands, following the Reformation, from roughly 1600 until 1750. Witsius’ most significant contributions were in the fields of systematic theology and pastoral practice. His masterpiece, “The Economy of the Covenants Between God and Man,” is a systematic theology presented in true a Covenant theology format.

The reason I would chose Witsius is that his “Economy” had a profound effect on my thinking, perhaps more profound than anyone else, including the Church Fathers, Calvin and the Puritans, in whose works I have lived for at least two decades. Witsius' work, by highlighting the covenantal nature of all God's dealings with His people, helped me clearly see the relationship between all of Sacred History, the relevance of the Old Testament to New Testament exegesis and practice, and the unity of God's people across the centuries. Thanks to his monumental work, I no longer see any portion of Scripture, or any event in biblical history as disjointed or unrelated to the whole – or to any other portion or event.

2. What one burning question would you ask?

Knowing what Witsius wrote in regards to covenantal infant baptism, I would love to hear his assessment of the contemporary Federal Vision heresy. Witsius seemed to foresee and react to things which have come to be at the center of this movement.

3. Where and what would you eat?

Since I have never knowingly eaten Dutch cuisine, I'd let Witsius decide; and since smoked fish was a common food item in Dutch cuisine at the time, I'm sure I'd be very happy with his choices.

4. What was the last Bible verse you read?

Psalm 63:11 - But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped.

 I now, hand off the baton to my esteemed friend and fellow blogger, Donald Philip Veitch. Mr. Veitch’s blog, Reformed and Post-Anglican  has been to me a source of great comfort, encouragement, wisdom, information and sound doctrine. Mr. Veitch is an Anglican who loves the Westminster Standards (and oddity to be sure); he is also a retired Marine and his blog reflects these two facets of his character: strong Book of Common Prayer piety, deep Anglican scholarship, the utmost respect for the work of the Westminster Assembly, ability to spot and flout theological error in a heartbeat – all tied together by the rigorous discipline and fighting spirit of a Marine. With that, I pass the Titus 2:1 award on to the admirable Mr. Veitch at Reformed and Post-Anglican.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Franciscus Gomarus: Stubborn Champion of God's Glory

It is a surprising fact of history that oftentimes, in doctrinal controversy, the heretic is a nice man, while the defender of the faith is, from many points of view, a miserable character. Athanasius vs. Arius: Arius the suave, diplomatic, likeable denier of Christ's divinity; Athanasius the stubborn and implacable defender of the Nicene Creed. Cyril vs. Nestorius: Cyril the haughty and cruel defender of the unity of Christ's natures in the one divine person; Nestorius the popular, gifted heretic who insisted that Christ had two persons. Augustine the crabby defender of the sovereignty of grace; Pelagius the urbane and witty defender of freedom of the will. Gottschalk the stern and unfriendly follower of Augustine who rotted in prison for his recalcitrance; Hincmar the learned and powerful archbishop of Rheims. And so the list could go on: Luther vs. Erasmus the humanist; Calvin vs. Bolsec the heretic; Knox vs. Mary Queen of the Scots. And those who know their history can find others, perhaps within their own particular denominational history.

So it was also with Gomarus. Even his friends found him obnoxious at times and barely tolerable. His opponent, Jacobus Arminius, popular with students and ministers, gracious, kind, tolerant, filled with concern for friend and foe alike, presents quite a contrast. But Arminius was the heretic, and Gomarus stood for the truth.

Why does God work this way in the history of the church? Why is the nice guy so often the enemy of the faith, while the old curmudgeon is the champion of the truth of God? I do not think that we can find a complete answer to this question. But part of it is that the truth is not popular and defenders of the truth can sometimes become crabby because of the fierce and unrelenting attacks of opponents. Sometimes the deceit and double-tongued language of heretics who hide their heresy with honey-coated words can only be exposed by sharp and impolitic language. Sometimes the defense of the faith requires a stubborn man who will not budge no matter what the consequences; and he is presented by his enemies as being unreasonable and wickedly stubborn, so that the truth for which he fights may be maligned along with him. But always God uses weakest means to fulfill his will.

There is an important truth here -- a truth to which few pay attention. So many are persuaded of their position by the character of the men involved: the nice guy has got to be right; the nasty fellow cannot possibly be correct. Yet the truth must be decided on other grounds than that of personalities: it must be decided by the Scriptures alone, regardless of any personal likes and dislikes. Without excusing what is sometimes wicked conduct on the part of orthodox men, it is important that the church remember that the truth is determined by God's Word alone. Gomarus, for all his shortcomings, was a champion of the Reformed faith. And one must, for the truth's sake, overlook personal faults.

Early Life And Education

 The family into which Gomarus was born lived in Bruges, a city in the province of Flanders, which was then a part of the Lowlands but is now a part of Belgium. Gomarus was the oldest in the family, born on January 30, 1563. He had two younger brothers and possibly a younger sister. Sometime before 1570, although probably after Gomarus' birth, his family embraced the Reformed faith.

 Gomarus began his studies in Bruges and at an early age learned Latin and Greek. But in 1577, because of the severity of the Spanish persecution in the Lowlands, the family sought refuge in Germany in the Palatinate. Because of the nearness of the family to the city of Strassburg, Gomarus was able to study there under Johann Sturm, a second-generation reformer, in the city where Calvin had lived in the years of his exile from Geneva.

 When Frederick, the Calvinist elector of the Palatinate died, his brother Louis (Ludwig) came to the electorate. He was a Lutheran and hated Calvinism passionately. He drove out of the University of Heidelberg all the Calvinist professors, including Ursinus and Olevianus, the authors of the Heidelberg Catechism. Some of these professors settled in Neustadt, and to Neustadt Gomarus went to study under Ursinus and Zanchius. His studies included Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and philosophy.

 From 1582 to 1584 Gomarus broadened his education by a trip to England where he studied first in Oxford, then in Cambridge. In 1885 Louis died, and his brother, prince Casimir, became elector. He restored to the university in 1584 the professors from Heidelberg who were still living. Gomarus returned there for two years.

Ministry And Professorship

 Gomarus had received a wide and excellent education and had become an expert in languages, including Hebrew. But his education was first of all to be put to use in the pastoral ministry to which he also aspired. He became pastor of a Dutch congregation in Germany in Frankfort-on-the-Main. The church had been established by Marten Micronius and John à Lasco in 1555, two second-generation reformers, the latter of which had played a significant role in the formation of the liturgy of the Dutch Reformed Churches.

 Work here did not last very long. The church was dissolved because of Lutheran persecution. The Lutherans were always angry that Calvinism had taken hold in Germany, which they considered their own private preserve.

 While in Frankfort-on-the-Main, Gomarus married Emerentia, a daughter of Gilles and sister of Abraham Muysenhol. They did not have long together: she died in childbirth with their first child in 1591 very shortly after they were married. Two years later Gomarus married again: a woman named Maria, a daughter of local nobility. He lived with her for many years.

 Although the congregation in Frankfort-on-the-Main was dissolved and Gomarus left without a job, within a few months he was asked to become professor of theology in the University of Leyden. His reputation for wide learning and his devotion to orthodoxy were already well known.

 While it is not known exactly what was Gomarus' wage while in Leyden, the town records indicate that he was probably rather well off. He owned a house adjacent to the University, and the taxes in the city were leveled on the basis of the number of chimneys on the house: Gomarus was charged for 11 chimneys.

 The early years in the University were probably some of the happiest in Gomarus' life. He enjoyed his work, had opportunity to advance his studies, and found a congenial home where his colleagues were all one with him in the faith. His students respected him, also for his vast learning, and his work was beneficial for the churches.

 All this changed in 1603. In that year, over the strong protests of Gomarus, Jacobus Harmsen, known as Jacob Arminius, was appointed professor of theology in the University to work with Gomarus in that faculty of learning. This proved to be the beginning of the trouble which finally resulted in a country-wide split in the Dutch Churches and was only resolved by the great Synod of Dort.

 Controversy With Arminius

 It may surprise us somewhat that Gomarus fought hard against the appointment of Arminius as professor in theology. But this surprise will evaporate when we realize that Arminius was under strong suspicion for his views before he was considered for a professorship. After he completed his studies, Arminius became minister in the church of Amsterdam It was not long after the beginning of his ministry that he began a series of sermons on the book of Romans. In connection with his treatment of Romans 7:14-25, Arminius took the position that Paul was describing in this passage his spiritual state prior to his conversion. One can readily recognize that this implies that Paul, before being converted, was able to will the good: "The good that I would...." And such a view was a denial of the total depravity of man, and paved the way for the doctrine of the freedom of the human will in the work of salvation.

 These views were challenged by Plancius, one of Arminius' fellow ministers in Amsterdam. A controversy arose in the church there which intensified when Arminius got around to preaching on Romans 9. It was in the middle of the controversy that the appointment came which Gomarus, aware of the controversy, opposed. But Arminius had powerful friends in the highest reaches of government and his appointment went through.

 In the end, Gomarus agreed to the appointment. A conference was held, prior to the final approval of Arminius, sponsored by the States General of the Dutch government, between Gomarus and Arminius. The interpretation of Romans 7 was discussed, but Arminius so managed to hide his true beliefs that Gomarus was satisfied and approved the appointment. Gomarus later spoke of regretting that approval.

 The controversy broke out again on February 7, 1604 when Arminius propounded various theses on the doctrine of predestination. The sum of these theses can be found in the following quote from them.

"Divine predestination is the decree of God in Christ by which he has decreed with himself from eternity to justify, adopt, and gift with eternal life, to the praise of his glorious grace, the faithful whom he has decreed to gift with faith. On the other hand, reprobation is the decree of the anger or severe will of God, by which he has determined from eternity, for the purpose of showing his anger and power, to condemn to eternal death, as placed out of union with Christ, the unbelieving who, by their own fault and the just judgment of God, are not to believe."

It is my guess that the majority of our readers might be hard-pressed to find any fault with this statement of Arminius. The difficulty in finding its error is probably due in part to the fact that Arminius was capable of cloaking his error in a deceptive way to make it appear Reformed; but the difficulty in detecting what is wrong may also, sadly enough, be explained by the lack of theological sensitivity in today's church.

 At any rate, the problem lies in the fact that Arminius is teaching in this paragraph a conditional predestination: "[God] has decreed ... to justify ... the faithful...." That is, God has decreed to justify those who have faith -- which makes faith a condition to election. And: "Reprobation is the decree ... of God ... to condemn ... the unbelieving...." That is, also reprobation is a conditional decree, the condition of which is unbelief.

 Gomarus attacked these statements, and the result was bitter and prolonged controversy. Arminius continued to present himself as a faithful defender of the Reformed faith, while attempting to cast Gomarus in the bad light of an enemy of true Calvinism. It is not hard to understand that Gomarus received a bad reputation for his opposition to Arminius. After all, the point seemed insignificant, as even the leaders in government were later to say. Why fight about it? And Arminius was such a nice man! He protested his innocence time and again and assured everyone that he was soundly Reformed and deeply committed to the confessions. How could Gomarus, that man who never smiled, be such a stubborn man?

 The controversy raged for four years and finally engulfed the churches. In 1608 Gomarus and Arminius conducted a public debate before the Supreme Court of the Hague in an effort on the part of the government to resolve the problems. At the conclusion of the debate, Barneveldt, a friend of Arminius and head of the government, in a short address to the two combatants, declared that he thanked God that their contentions did not affect the fundamental articles of the Christian religion. To this Gomarus replied in characteristic fashion, "I would not appear before the throne of God with Arminius' errors." The Court judged the matters in dispute to be matters of little significance.

 In further efforts to resolve the disagreements, a conference was arranged, at which Gomarus and Arminius were to submit papers outlining their respective positions on the doctrine of predestination. Each was given 250 guilders to cover the expense of preparing the papers. The conference was never held because Arminius died of what was probably tuberculosis in 1609.

 It is not our purpose in this article to trace the history of the controversy any further than Gomarus' involvement in it. As anyone with even a passing knowledge of the controversy knows, the issues were the great issues of salvation by sovereign grace alone vs. salvation based on the works of man. Ten years after the death of Arminius the controversy was settled at the Synod of Dordrecht, where Gomarus' position was vindicated.

 In 1611 Gomarus resigned from his position in the University of Leyden. The reason for his resignation is not known, but it may be that the controversy and the support of Arminius by the government wore beyond endurance the strength of the old warrior. At any rate, upon his resignation, he became pastor of a Reformed congregation in Middleburg where he also lectured in theology and Hebrew in the local University.

 In 1614 he went to Saumur in France, where he became professor of theology. It is a bit disconcerting to know that the school in Saumur, not long after Dort, became a hotbed of Amyrauldianism, a heresy not unlike Arminianism.

 In 1618-1619 Gomarus was at the Synod of Dort along with other professor advisors. He took an active role in the Synod's proceedings and was instrumental in the victory of the truth of Scripture on that great Synod meeting.

 An interesting sidelight to Gomarus' role at the Synod was his work on a committee to investigate the teachings of Maccovius. Maccovius also held strongly to the doctrine of sovereign predestination, but was charged with carrying the doctrine to such an extreme that he made God the author of sin. The Synod handed the case to government representatives who were unable to resolve the conflict. A committee was appointed to deal with the matter, on which committee Gomarus served. Later in the proceedings of the Synod, the committee reported that the matter had been amicably resolved and Maccovius was cautioned not to make radical and Biblically unwarranted statements.

 After the Synod, Gomarus went to the University of Groningen where he became professor of divinity and Hebrew. In 1633 he took part in the revision of the translation of the Bible, which work was done in Leyden. During these meetings he argued strenuously against including the Apocryphal books in the Bible, but was overruled. This translation, authorized by the Synod of Dort, was for many years to the Dutch what the KJV was (and is) to the English. Gomarus stayed in Leyden till his death on January 11, 1641.


 There can be no question about it that Gomarus was a difficult man, hard to get along with, prone to extreme statements, sometimes violent in his opposition to Arminius and Arminianism. He never "beat around the bush." He never left any doubt in anyone's mind as to what he believed. He never worried about "stepping on people's toes" or offending them if they were not heart and mind committed to the truth.

Sometimes descriptions of him are biased, and bitterness against his staunch defense of the faith pours out in diatribes against his personality. Thus one author can write: "[He] displayed a most violent, virulent, and intolerant spirit, and endeavored by various publications to excite the indignation of the States of Holland against his rival."

But some of this was true. Even Junius, later related to Gomarus through marriage, said: "That man pleases himself most wonderfully by his own remarks. He derives all his stock of knowledge from others; he brings forward nothing of his own: or, if at any time he varies from his usual practice, he is exceedingly infelicitous in those occasion changes."

There is a story somewhere, whether true or apocryphal it is hard to say, that at the Synod of Dort, one elder was appointed to sit alongside Gomarus to tug him back into his seat when he leaped to his feet and rather too forcibly made a point.

 In any case, Gomarus was a staunch defender of the faith. Perhaps it took a man such as he to stand against the growing tide of Arminianism. God's providence prepares men who are "stubborn" about the right things. And if this seems to condone their sins, the fact is that, though it does not, God can, as the proverb has it, draw a straight line with a crooked stick. And sometimes only very strong language will do to put to flight the clever designs of heretics.

At the Synod of Dort Gomarus defended not only orthodoxy but supralapsarian orthodoxy. And, although his views in this respect did not prevail on the Synod, for the Canons are infralapsarian, his supralapsarianism was not condemned by the Synod and his defense of the faith was of inestimable service as the Synod struggled with the errors of Arminianism.

Gomarus cared only about one thing: the glory of God. Gomarus would allow only one book to determine his theology: the sacred Scriptures. In a sort of album in which he kept various letters, tokens of friendship, and something of a diary, he had written in Hebrew: "Thy (God's) Word is Light."

He was of the stripe of Calvin, Gottschalk, Augustine, and Athanasius. He was the forerunner of others to follow, of whom one has got to be Herman Hoeksema. We need not always approve of the way in which they did things (although we can take a long and hard look at ourselves in this respect), but we ought to thank God for them, for they were men of courage and conviction who fought for truth and right against all odds. To concentrate on their weaknesses and foibles, so as to condemn their defense of the faith is to be unfaithful to the truth. To look beyond personalities and weigh all in the light of Scripture is to be faithful. To fight is the courage of faith. May God grant men like these to the church today -- even if they sometimes have difficult personalities. The church needs more than nice men.

Taken From: Portraits of Faithful Saints, Chapter 42, by Herman Hanko

Thursday, December 19, 2013

John Knox: The Reformer of Scotland

God not only calls men to particular tasks in His kingdom; He also equips the men He calls with the personality, gifts, and strength to do the work.

So it was with John Knox, the Reformer of Scotland.

Born and raised in a harsh land, he emerged from his years of preparation a harsh and unbending defender of the faith. With roots deeply sunk into the soil of his motherland, he was fed with the sturdiness of Scotland's gloomy heaths. Heir of the dour, unbending individualism which so characterized Scotland's populace, he was tempered to stand alone against queens and princes, unmoved by their threats or tears. He was, in God's wisdom, the only one who could bring the Reformation to Scotland.

Youth and Education

It is quite amazing, and a perpetual testimony of the power of grace, that the Reformation came at all to Scotland. Scotland was known throughout Europe as the most backward, the most superstitious, the most Roman Catholic of all countries. And the church which had held sway here for centuries, unchallenged and unmolested, was a church in which corruption had reached depths found in the few other places. One would think that reformation here would be impossible.

John Knox was born sometime during the year 1505 in the small village of Gifford in East Lotham. His parents were sufficiently wealthy, apparently, to provide him with a good education. He received his early training in Haddington and was then sent to the University of Glasgow. In the university he earned his M.A. degree and was sufficiently proficient in his studies to gain an assistant professorship.

Somewhere near 1530 Knox went to St. Andrews, on the East Coast by the sea, just a bit north of the Firth of Forth, to teach. It may have been here that his studies included some of the old church fathers, particularly Jerome and Augustine, and that the first doubts concerning Roman Catholicism rose in his soul. At any rate, he remained a firm Roman Catholic for the present and was ordained into clerical orders.

Early Reformation and Exile

It was not until 1542 that Knox became a Protestant, under what influences or by what means is not known. So clearly did he begin to proclaim Protestant views that he was degraded from orders as a heretic, and he was compelled to go to the south part of Scotland to find hiding from those who hated him.

 While in the southern part of his country, Knox tutored the sons of two nobles and occasionally preached. It was during this period that he met and became a close friend of George Wishart, a bold minister and teacher of Reformation doctrine. Wishart was soon apprehended by the Roman authorities and was taken away to be tried and condemned to burning at the stake. Here really began Knox's commitment to the Reformation. Clinging to Wishart as he was led away, and hoping to die with him, Knox was told by his friend: "Nay, return to your bairns, and God bless you; one is sufficient for a sacrifice."

 Wishart was burned to death by Cardinal Beaton of St. Andrews in March of 1546. Nobles, sympathetic to Protestantism, stormed the castle, killed Beaton, and invited other Protestants, including Knox to take up residence in the castle.

 Knox lived in the castle for awhile, preaching and teaching, but in July of 1547 the castle was captured by a part of the French navy, Knox and others were made prisoners of the French, and, after being sentenced in France, Knox was condemned to the galleys as a slave chained to an oar.

 Who knows what agony he endured during the nineteen months of his slavery? Who knows how often he questioned the ways of God when, e.g., he could glimpse through the small oar opening the spires of St. Andrews cathedral as his galley rode the waves off the coast of Scotland? He emerged from this ordeal with infirmities which were to remain with him all his life (his own "thorn in the flesh"), but with a faith tempered in the fire of suffering and a stronger than ever determination to engage in the Lord's work.

 Knox was released only because Edward VI, Protestant king of England, directly intervened on his behalf with the king of France. The date was February, 1549, and Knox was 44 years old. It was probably because of Edward's intervention and in gratitude to him that Knox did not return to Scotland, but took up residence in England. Here he spent about five years, married Marjory Bowes, often preached every day of the week, worked with the reformers in England, and was offered a bishopric. This offer he declined, partly, it seems, because he already had some misgivings about the hierarchical form of church government practiced in the Church of England, but also partly because he foresaw "evil days to come."

 These days came soon enough with the untimely death of Edward and the accession of Mary Tudor, "Bloody Mary," as she was called, a loyal daughter of Rome and one determined to restore Roman Catholicism to England -- even at the price of the blood of the Protestants.

 Knox fled to Europe. The year was 1554. He had wanted to stay in England because, as he said with some understatement, "Never could I die in a more honest quarrel." But, prevailed upon by friends to flee, he began a new work on the continent, in Frankfurt-on-the-Main, in a church of English exiles. Things did not work out well here, for a dispute rose over liturgy, particularly responsive readings, and Knox, with some disgust, resigned his work and took up residence in Geneva.

 Calvin was at the height of his powers and influence, and the two spent much time together discussing theology and, more particularly, church polity. Knox pastored an English congregation and spent the happiest time of this life on the shores of Lake Leman, beneath the shadow of the Alps, and, to use Knox's own words: "in the most perfect school of Christ that ever was since the days of the apostles."

 His stay in Geneva was interrupted by a rather hasty trip back to Scotland. It is not entirely clear why Knox went; nor is it clear why he returned to Geneva. During his stay, however, he preached, taught, and visited day and night. His influence was great, especially on some of the nobles. The result was that events began to favor the Reformation, and the first National League & Covenant was sworn to in 1556.

 Some have charged him with cowardice for not staying in his native land; it is most likely true that if he had stayed he would have been killed. Immediately after his flight, he was condemned in absentia and burned in effigy. Nevertheless, future events proved Knox was not a coward.

 Two things resulted from his stay in Geneva: he was thoroughly equipped to establish a complete reformation in Scotland, not only in doctrine, but also in church polity and liturgy. He also authored a pamphlet entitled (in characteristic language): "First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regime of Women." The pamphlet was written primarily against Bloody Mary (although no names were mentioned), but it got him into endless trouble with Elizabeth, queen of England, and with Mary, queen of Scotland.

 In 1559 Knox returned to Scotland for good, and with his return the work of reformation advanced rapidly. It was evident that the common people hungered for the pure preaching of the gospel, a hunger created by a mighty work of the Spirit of Christ. Romanism was abandoned, superstition was condemned, the chains of Rome were broken, and the nation moved steadily in the direction of becoming a Protestant country. Knox's preaching led the way.

 A few of the outstanding events and characteristics of the progressing reformation are the following:

 The Protestants began to be called "The Congregation" and the leaders, "The lords of the Congregation." A presbyterian system of church government, which Knox had learned in Geneva and which was markedly different from England, was instituted.

 As Protestantism advanced, especially in some areas in south and east Scotland, particularly in Perth, riots broke out during which images, Romish liturgical trappings, monasteries, and altars were smashed and burned by runaway multitudes of those who had come to see Rome's idolatry.

 When war threatened because of a possible invasion from France and by the decision of England to send troops into Scotland, a compromise was reached which avoided war and called for the meeting of a free Parliament to settle religious questions. This Parliament, which met in August, 1960, established the Reformed religion by adopting a confession (The Scottish Confession of Faith which served as the confession of the church until it was superceded by the Westminster Confessions), a Book of Discipline (Church Order), and a Book of Common Order (a guide for ministers in their work and calling).

 In that same year, in December, the first General Assembly of the Scottish Church met in Edinburgh in St. Magdalene's chapel.

 In all of these activities, Knox assumed a leading role.

 Perhaps no more interesting part in all his reformatory work can be found than in his interviews with Queen Mary. Mary wanted nothing so much as to return Scotland to the papal fold. Knox stood in her way. In at least two interviews with him she tried by every means to dissuade him from his course. She argued, pleaded, cajoled, threatened, attempted to move him with her feminine wiles (of which she had plenty, for she was a beautiful woman), and even wept in an effort to move John's heart to pity. Through it all Knox stood firm and unmovable, to the point where some of his contemporaries and subsequent historians have criticized him for failure to show proper respect to his queen and for a hardheartedness which bordered on cruelty.

 But this was Knox, a man of iron will and implacable purpose; a man who did not know that the word "tact" existed in the English language, or, if he did know, did not know what it meant. He spoke forthrightly and clearly, and worried not an iota whom he offended if it was for the cause of the truth of God.

 He triumphed over incredible odds. He was shot at, ambushed, and verbally abused beyond what many others had to endure. Of an archbishop's greed, he wryly said, "As he sought the world, it fled him not." His purpose he himself defined: "To me it is enough to say that black is not white, and man's tyranny and foolishness is not God's perfect ordinance."

 As was true of the reformers throughout Europe, Knox was first of all a preacher. Every Lord's day he preached two times, and during the week three times in St. Giles Cathedral. He had a distinction which few if any had. He was a priest in the Romish Church, a clergyman in the Anglican Church, and a minister of the gospel in the first Presbyterian Church of Scotland.

 In 1563 he retired to relative privacy because his forcefulness and uncompromising attitude offended many. But his influence continued to be felt. When Mary was forced to abdicate the throne in 1567, reforms continued. It was decided, for example, that the ruler of Scotland must henceforth be protestant, and many provisions were made for the support of the clergy. Also under Knox's influence, schools were established. He wanted schools in every parish, a college in every important town, and three universities to serve the nation.

 In 1570 Knox was felled by a stroke, from which he partially recovered. He retired to St. Andrews, where his reformatory work had begun, and there preached even though he had to be carried to the pulpit. But he himself spoke of the fact that he was "weary of the world" and "thirsting to depart." On November 24, 1570, at the age of 65, the Lord took him home.

 Though he was small and weak, beset since his days in the galleys with many infirmities, he was of a vigorous mind and implacable will. His piety and zeal knew no bounds. He stamped his character on the church which he was instrumental in establishing. In Geneva, Switzerland stands a Reformation Monument on which appear figures of the great reformers. By Knox's figure are written the appropriate words: Un homme avec Dieu est toujours dans la majorite ("One man with God is always a majority"). Such men the church needs today.

Taken from: Portraits of Faithful Saints, Chapter 33, by Herman Hanko

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