Studies in the Canons of Dort


One of the most fascinating and rewarding studies in my life-time has been the study of the Canons of Dordt. Going over them and over them only adds to the delight. Believe it or not, their contents are most relevant to the theological issues of today. Teaching them is an adventure in discovering how much our people crave to know what our system of doctrine teaches and how much difficulty some have fully to accept the complete sovereignty of God in salvation.

It is my conviction that to perpetuate our Reformed heritage, the churches of reformed persuasion must put forth exciting effort to inculcate in young and old. in men and women, the teachings of the Belgic Confession. the Heidelberg Catechism or the Westminster Larger Catechism. and the Canons of Dordt. To neglect anyone of them is to impoverish die church of Jesus Christ. Anyone among us who few fear of criticism camouflages Reformed doctrine beyond recognition, is only promoting the infiltration of error. Unless we know what we believe and unless what we believe is entirely Tooted in the infallible Word of God, we shall easily fall prey to the apostasies of our day.

Let us, then, approach the study of the Canons of Dordt from meeting to meeting in the vivid realization that the future purity of the church depends on a well indoctrinated membership. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). Jesus said unto those which believed on him, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31, 32). Unless God’s people arc soundly indoctrinated, they will be destroyed by the-perhaps-well-meaning but nevertheless wayward leaders of the day; they will lose their way, not knowing which fork of the road to take; and they will land in a morass of theological confusion which will rob them of their spiritual security.

May all of us anew realize that man is totally depraved, that election is unconditional, that the atonement is limited, that grace is irresistible, and that the saints will persevere—and all this because God, the ontological Trinity, is sovereign, absolutely sovereign.



I consider this lesson extremely important in stimulating interest in a study of the Canons.

With the stress on ecumenicity today, many church leaders are prejudiced in favor of such concepts as tolerance and love. Prejudice in favor of truth hinders the kind of unity for which they are striving. Under the cloak of love they think its virtuous to tolerate error, error according to God’s standards. Thus the World Council of Churches wants all churches to rally around the concepts of love and tolerance, being willing to waive, as a ground for membership, belief in the ontological Trinity or in vicarious atonement of Jesus or in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, to mention three. An English “divine,” prominent in the W.C.C. has such a flexible concept of love that he even grants the possibility of seeing atheists in heaven. As the Rev. R. Rushdoony recently mentioned in a most enlightening lecture, these are those whose “morality of love” is the “total tolerance for all evil.” He himself, however, defined true love as meaning “strong devotion to something; so if you love truth, you hate evil.” (Wouldn’t the Blakes and the Pikes call a man who still accepts such a definition of love a rightist? If so, then I am a rightist too.)


How strong is your devotion to truth? Do you belong to the true church or to the false church? You might attend a church of Reformed persuasion and yet in heart and spirit belong to the false church.

Do you agree to the statement: ‘“Tolerate all creeds, tolerate all faiths?” Does this express real Christian, God-honoring love? As citizens of the U.S. we must permit freedom of religion, but as citizens of God’s kingdom we must know that all error, error in creeds, error in faiths is anti-God, is of the evil one. If so, then we should be so well grounded in the truth as to be able to discern what is pro-God and what is anti-God.

The ecumenical movement that tolerates all creeds is an enemy of the true church. We may promote ecumenicity only in so far as it represents a rallying around the truth which alone sets us free. Is your attitude a tolerance rooted in indifference to the truth or is yours a love for the truth that makes you an enemy of evil?


The three ecumenical creeds which we accept are the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. These creeds are beautiful statement of biblical truths. These we confess with all Christian believers everywhere. Read them as part of this lesson.


There are creeds which some earnest evangelicals fail to appreciate, but which to the Calvinist form an important part of a full-orbed concept of the truth. They are the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg and Westminster Catechisms, and the Canons of Dordt.

Of these creeds, the Canons constitute a direct defense of Reformed theology over against the attacks of the Arminians who remonstrated against certain teachings of the reformers. The Canons are an answer to Arminius. Let us highlight a comparison of the teachings thus:

Reformed Belief  Total Depravity Unconditional Election Limited Atonement Irresistible Grace Perseverance of the Saints

Arminian Belief Partial Depravity Conditional Election Unlimited Atonement Resistible Grace Possibility of Falling Away of Saints

The Canons of Dordt are a most logical and biblical defense of the above Reformed doctrines and a reputation of the above Arminian doctrines. Take a good look at the amazing insight the Holy Spirit gave to the writers of the Canons and at their logical unfolding of the material by observing the following outline of Part I.

Divine Election and Reprobation

Art. 1. All men are justly condemnable.

Art. 2. God provides a way of redemption.

Art. 3. God exposes man to the way of redemption.

Art. 4. There is a twofold reaction to the Gospel of redemption.

Art. 5. There is a twofold cause for the twofold reflection to the Gospel of redemption.

Art. 6. Election is a sovereign decree.

Art. 7. Election defined.

Art. 8. The decree of election is indivisible.

Art. 9. Election is not the fruit of foresight.

Art. 10. Election is the fruit of the sovereign good pleasure of God.

Art. 11 . Election is unchangeable.

Art. 12. There is a gradual assurance of election.

Art. 13. Assurance of election promotes diligence not negligence.

Art. 14. The teaching of election must be perpetuated.

Art. 15. There is a decree of reprobation.

Art. 16. Warning against undue alarm about the decree of reprobation.

Art. 17. Covenant confidence in election of children.

Art. 18. There is no room for murmuring.


There are two main groups within the church of Jesus Christ, the Calvinistic and the Arminian. Although the latter deny the Canons of Dordt, and fail to see some of the other precious teachings of God’s Word, many of them do believe in the infallibility of God’s Word, in the Virgin Birth, in the Vicarious atonement of Jesus Christ, in the miracles of Scripture, and in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and are, therefore, within the fold of the true church of Jesus Christ.

Those who deny the infallibility of God’s Word, the Virgin Birth, the vicarious atonement of Jesus Christ, the miracles, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus, must be classified as belonging to the false church. Liberalism considers these teachings nonessential or outmoded. Dr. G. Machen rightly distinguishes, therefore, between Christianity and Liberalism. The former is true; the latter apostate.


The Canons of Dordt are an answer to five teachings of Arminius whose views have greatly impoverished the church of Jesus Christ in robbing God of much of the glory he so rightly deserves. May this study greatly sharpen your love for reformed theology.


1. Be sure that every member reads the Nicene and the Athanasian Creeds before the society meets, or rend them together in the meeting and briefly explain their rootage in the Scriptures.

2. Be sure to make clear to your society that the Belgic Confession covers the six loci of doctrine. Besides, if they are unacquainted with either the Heidelberg or the Westminster Catechism, familiarize them somewhat with the one unfamiliar.

3. Encourage your members to buy from the Chr. Ref. Publishing House the small hooklet containing the doctrinal standards of the Chr. Ref. Church. It is much easier to handle than the Psalter Hymnal.


1. What is the difference between the Calvinistic and the Arminian brand of Christianity?

2. What impression do you get of the writers of the Canons from a careful look at the outline of Part I?

3. Why must we honor Arminian evangelicals as part of the body of Christ?

4. Show that Liberalism represents the false church.

5. Why are some of our creeds called ecumenical and some reformed?

6. Why should we be concerned in stressing and believing the full-orbed truth?

7. Which trends are reflected and taught in new Sunday School material recommended by the United Church of Canada, the World Council of Churches, and in the Reformed Church in America?



All men have sinned in Adam (I Cor. 15:22). This is so because God created the human race an organism with a representative head. In Adam as our representative we all sinned and therefore we all die. We all lie under the curse (Gal. 3:10), because the original sin of Adam, passed on to everyone of us, as well as our actual sins condemn us.

Adam was a real man, the first human being God made (Gen. 1:27 and Gen. 3:21). He is not a mythical figure. He was made in God’s image, a real historical figure, so real that what he did affected every subsequent historical human being and every subsequent historical action of man. What Adam did in his perfect state he did in history. The choice he made in reaction to the probationary command, he made in history. The sin he committed he committed in history. “No, the source of sin does not lie…in so-called supra-history, as the dialectie theology teaches, as if Genesis 2 pointed to a pre-temporal fall. The source of sin is with man, after the creation and in history. There was a history without sin.” (The Rev. J. D. Feenstra, The Dordtse Leerregelen, p. 24. A free translation.) Adam lived a perfect life in history before he sinned; therefore there was a history without sin.

When God confronted representative Adam with a moral choice that would affect all mankind, Satan, the old serpent, knowing about it, came into the picture (Rev. 12:9a, Gen. 3:1). Bavinck in his Dogmatiek highlights the dilemma that faced Adam by analyzing the nature of the choice Adam had to face. He explained how Adam had to choose:

God or man Divine authority or human insight Unconditional obedience or independent investigation Faith or doubt

Because Adam took a stand against God, making his decision on the basis of human insight, insisting on investigating the forbidden fruit independently of God, and exercising doubt instead of faith, Adam fell and all of us with him.

Adam’s choice was a deliberate choice against God. Since we all died in Adam, God, having made man perfect, could have justly left us all to perish eternally (Rom. 3:19). God promised wages for sin, even death. All men are indeed justly condemnable and deserving of physical, spiritual, and eternal death. What is death? “Death is not a cessation of existence, but a severance of the natural relations of life. Life and death are not opposed to each other as existence and non-existence, but are opposites only as different modes of existence” (L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, p . 668).


1. Before studying an article, have the whole group read it in unison. Thus everyone participates.

2. Teach the article with real enthusiasm. Make the Canons live. Don’t treat them as dead doctrine. They throb with eternal truth. The material must become a part of you to teach it well.

3. Not every question may be suitable for your group.


1. How is it that Adam’s sin is our sin?

2. If Adam were a mythical figure, as some teach, how could we have died in him?

3. What would happen to 1 Corinthians 15:22, if Adam were a mythical figure?

4. What could Dr. Littlefair mean when he said, “Jesus is the son of God,” and then added, “identify him with the myth of the fall of man.”

5. Convince one another that it would not be unjust if all men would be lost. What is really a great surprise?

6. Why did God save any human beings at all?

7. Show that the probationary command was not severe, not prohibitive, not tricky, not extravagant, but fully just and suited to the kind of being God made man.

8. Prove from the Scriptures that Adam was a real historical figure.

9. What is wrong with the concept that death is a ceasing to exial? Show from the Bible that no man ceases to exial upon death.