The Heidelberg Catechism was composed in Heidelberg at the request
of Elector Frederick III, who ruled the Palatinate, an influential
German province, from 1559 to 1576. An old tradition credits Zacharius
Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus with being co-authors of the new
catechism. Both were certainly involved in its composition, although
one of them may have had primary responsibility. All we know for
sure is reported by the Elector in his preface of January 19,
1563. It was, he writes, "with the advice and cooperation
of our entire theological faculty in this place, and of all superintendents
and distinguished servants of the church" that he secured
the preparation of the Heidelberg Catechism. The catechism was
approved by a synod in Heidelberg in January 1563. A second and
third German edition, each with small additions, as well as a
Latin translation were published the same year in Heidelberg.
Soon the catechism was divided into fifty-two sections so that
one Lord's Day could be explained in preaching each Sunday of
The Synod of Dort in 1618-1619 approved the Heidelberg Catechism,
and it soon became the most ecumenical of the Reformed catechisms
and confessions. The catechism has been translated into many European,
Asian, and African languages and is the most widely used and most
warmly praised catechism of the Reformation period.
The 1968 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church appointed a committee
to prepare "a modern and accurate translation ... which will
serve as the official text of the Heidelberg Catechism and as
a guide for catechism preaching." A translation was adopted
by the Synod of 1975, and some editorial revisions were approved
by the Synod of 1988.
The English translation follows the first German edition of the
catechism except in two instances explained in footnotes to questions
57 and 80. The result of those inclusions is that the translation
therefore actually follows the German text of the third edition
as it was included in the Palatinate Church Order of November
15, 1563. This is the "received text" used throughout
The oldest of the doctrinal standards of the Christian Reformed Church is the Confession of Faith, popularly known as the Belgic Confession, following the seventeenth-century Latin designation "Confessio Belgica." "Belgica" referred to the whole of the Netherlands, both north and south, which today is divided into the Netherlands and Belgium. The confession's chief author was Guido de Brs, a preacher of the Reformed churches of the Netherlands, who died a martyr to the faith in the year 1567. During the sixteenth century the churches in this country were exposed to the most terrible persecution by the Roman Catholic government. To protest against this cruel oppression, and to prove to the persecutors that the adherents of the Reformed faith were not rebels, as was laid to their charge, but law-abiding citizens who professed the true Christian doctrine according to the Holy Scriptures, de Brs prepared this confession in the year 1561. In the following year a copy was sent to King Philip II, together with an address in which the petitioners declared that they were ready to obey the government in all lawful things, but that they would "offer their backs to stripes, their tongues to knives, their mouths to gags, and their whole bodies to the fire," rather than deny the truth expressed in this confession.
Although the immediate purpose of securing freedom from persecution was not attained, and de Brs himself fell as one of the many thousands who sealed their faith with their lives, his work has endured and will continue to endure. In its composition the author availed himself to some extent of a confession of the Reformed churches in France, written chiefly by John Calvin, published two years earlier. The work of de Brs, however, is not a mere revision of Calvin's work, but an independent composition. In 1566 the text of this confession was revised at a synod held at Antwerp. In the Netherlands it was at once gladly received by the churches, and it was adopted by national synods held during the last three decades of the sixteenth century. The text, not the contents, was revised again at the Synod of Dort in 1618-19 and adopted as one of the doctrinal standards to which all officebearers in the Reformed churches were required to subscribe. The confession stands as one of the best symbolical statements of Reformed doctrine. The translation presented here is based on the French text of 1619 and was adopted by the Synod of 1985 of the Christian Reformed Church.
We all believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that there is a single and simple spiritual being, whom we call God-- eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, unchangeable, infinite, almighty; completely wise, just, and good, and the overflowing source of all good.
We know him by two means:
First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20. All these things are enough to convict men and to leave them without excuse.
Second, he makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for his glory and for the salvation of his own.
We confess that this Word of God was not sent nor delivered by the will of men, but that holy men of God spoke, being moved by the Holy Spirit, as Peter says.
Afterwards our God-- because of the special care he has for us and our salvation-- commanded his servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit this revealed Word to writing. He himself wrote with his own finger the two tables of the law. Therefore we call such writings holy and divine Scriptures. 2 Pet. 1:21
We include in the Holy Scripture the two volumes of the Old and New Testaments. They are canonical books with which there can be no quarrel at all. In the church of God the list is as follows: In the Old Testament, the five books of Moses-- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; the books of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth; the two books of Samuel, and two of Kings; the two books of Chronicles, called Paralipomenon; the first book of Ezra; Nehemiah, Esther, Job; the Psalms of David; the three books of Solomon-- Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song; the four major prophets-- Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel; and then the other twelve minor prophets-- Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
In the New Testament, the four gospels-- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles; the fourteen letters of Paul-- to the Romans; the two letters to the Corinthians; to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians; the two letters to the Thessalonians; the two letters to Timothy; to Titus, Philemon, and to the Hebrews; the seven letters of the other apostles-- one of James; two of Peter; three of John; one of Jude; and the Revelation of the apostle John.
We receive all these books and these only as holy and canonical, for the regulating, founding, and establishing of our faith. And we believe without a doubt all things contained in them-- not so much because the church receives and approves them as such but above all because the Holy Spirit testifies in our hearts that they are from God, and also because they prove themselves to be from God. For even the blind themselves are able to see that the things predicted in them do happen.
We distinguish between these holy books and the apocryphal ones, which are the third and fourth books of Esdras; the books of Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Jesus Sirach, Baruch; what was added to the Story of Esther; the Song of the Three Children in the Furnace; the Story of Susannah; the Story of Bell and the Dragon; the Prayer of Manasseh; and the two books of Maccabees.
The church may certainly read these books and learn from them as far as they agree with the canonical books. But they do not have such power and virtue that one could confirm from their testimony any point of faith or of the Christian religion. Much less can they detract from the authority of the other holy books.
We believe that this Holy Scripture contains the will of God completely and that everything one must believe to be saved is sufficiently taught in it. For since the entire manner of service which God requires of us is described in it at great length, no one-- even an apostle or an angel from heaven, as Paul says-- ought to teach other than what the Holy Scriptures have already taught us. For since it is forbidden to add to or subtract from the Word of God, this plainly demonstrates that the teaching is perfect and complete in all respects.
Therefore we must not consider human writings-- no matter how holy their authors may have been-- equal to the divine writings; nor may we put custom, nor the majority, nor age, nor the passage of time or persons, nor councils, decrees, or official decisions above the truth of God, for truth is above everything else. For all human beings are liars by nature and more vain than vanity itself. Therefore we reject with all our hearts everything that does not agree with this infallible rule, as we are taught to do by the apostles when they say, "Test the spirits to see if they are of God," and also, "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house." Gal. 1:8 Deut. 12:32; Rev. 22:18-19 1 John 4:1 2 John 10
In keeping with this truth and Word of God we believe in one God, who is one single essence, in whom there are three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct according to their incommunicable properties-- namely, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is the cause, origin, and source of all things, visible as well as invisible. The Son is the Word, the Wisdom, and the image of the Father. The Holy Spirit is the eternal power and might, proceeding from the Father and the Son.
Nevertheless, this distinction does not divide God into three, since Scripture teaches us that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each has his own subsistence distinguished by characteristics-- yet in such a way that these three persons are only one God. It is evident then that the Father is not the Son and that the Son is not the Father, and that likewise the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son. Nevertheless, these persons, thus distinct, are neither divided nor fused or mixed together. For the Father did not take on flesh, nor did the Spirit, but only the Son. The Father was never without his Son, nor without his Holy Spirit, since all these are equal from eternity, in one and the same essence. There is neither a first nor a last, for all three are one in truth and power, in goodness and mercy.
All these things we know from the testimonies of Holy Scripture as well as from the effects of the persons, especially from those we feel within ourselves. The testimonies of the Holy Scriptures, which teach us to believe in this Holy Trinity, are written in many places of the Old Testament, which need not be enumerated but only chosen with discretion. In the book of Genesis God says, "Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness." So "God created man in his own image"-- indeed, "male and female he created them." "Behold, man has become like one of us." It appears from this that there is a plurality of persons within the Deity, when he says, "Let us make man in our image"-- and afterwards he indicates the unity when he says, "God created." It is true that he does not say here how many persons there are-- but what is somewhat obscure to us in the Old Testament is very clear in the New. For when our Lord was baptized in the Jordan, the voice of the Father was heard saying, "This is my dear Son"; the Son was seen in the water; and the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove. So, in the baptism of all believers this form was prescribed by Christ: "Baptize all people in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." In the Gospel according to Luke the angel Gabriel says to Mary, the mother of our Lord: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and therefore that holy one to be born of you shall be called the Son of God." And in another place it says: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you." "There are three who bear witness in heaven-- the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit-- and these three are one." In all these passages we are fully taught that there are three persons in the one and only divine essence. And although this doctrine surpasses human understanding, we nevertheless believe it now, through the Word, waiting to know and enjoy it fully in heaven. Furthermore, we must note the particular works and activities of these three persons in relation to us. The Father is called our Creator, by reason of his power. The Son is our Savior and Redeemer, by his blood. The Holy Spirit is our Sanctifier, by his living in our hearts. This doctrine of the holy Trinity has always been maintained in the true church, from the time of the apostles until the present, against Jews, Muslims, and certain false Christians and heretics, such as Marcion, Mani, Praxeas, Sabellius, Paul of Samosata, Arius, and others like them, who were rightly condemned by the holy fathers. And so, in this matter we willingly accept the three ecumenical creeds-- the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian-- as well as what the ancient fathers decided in agreement with them. Gen. 1:26-27 Gen. 3:22 Matt. 3:17 Matt. 28:19 Luke 1:35 2 Cor. 13:14 1 John 5:7 (KJV)
We believe that Jesus Christ, according to his divine nature, is the only Son of God-- eternally begotten, not made nor created, for then he would be a creature. He is one in essence with the Father; coeternal; the exact image of the person of the Father and the "reflection of his glory," being in all things like him. He is the Son of God not only from the time he assumed our nature but from all eternity, as the following testimonies teach us when they are taken together. Moses says that God "created the world"; and John says that "all things were created by the Word," which he calls God. The apostle says that "God made the world by his Son." He also says that "God created all things by Jesus Christ." And so it must follow that he who is called God, the Word, the Son, and Jesus Christ already existed when all things were created by him. Therefore the prophet Micah says that his origin is "from ancient times, from eternity." And the apostle says that he has "neither beginning of days nor end of life." So then, he is the true eternal God, the Almighty, whom we invoke, worship, and serve. Col. 1:15; Heb. 1:3 Gen. 1:1 John 1:3 Heb. 1:2 Col. 1:16 Mic. 5:2 Heb. 7:3
We believe and confess also that the Holy Spirit proceeds eternally from the Father and the Son-- neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but only proceeding from the two of them. In regard to order, he is the third person of the Trinity-- of one and the same essence, and majesty, and glory, with the Father and the Son. He is true and eternal God, as the Holy Scriptures teach us.
We believe that the Father created heaven and earth and all other creatures from nothing, when it seemed good to him, by his Word-- that is to say, by his Son. He has given all creatures their being, form, and appearance, and their various functions for serving their Creator. Even now he also sustains and governs them all, according to his eternal providence, and by his infinite power, that they may serve man, in order that man may serve God. He has also created the angels good, that they might be his messengers and serve his elect. Some of them have fallen from the excellence in which God created them into eternal perdition; and the others have persisted and remained in their orginal state, by the grace of God. The devils and evil spirits are so corrupt that they are enemies of God and of everything good. They lie in wait for the church and every member of it like thieves, with all their power, to destroy and spoil everything by their deceptions. So then, by their own wickedness they are condemned to everlasting damnation, daily awaiting their torments. For that reason we detest the error of the Sadducees, who deny that there are spirits and angels, and also the error of the Manicheans, who say that the devils originated by themselves, being evil by nature, without having been corrupted.
We believe that this good God, after he created all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without his orderly arrangement. Yet God is not the author of, nor can he be charged with, the sin that occurs. For his power and goodness are so great and incomprehensible that he arranges and does his work very well and justly even when the devils and wicked men act unjustly. We do not wish to inquire with undue curiosity into what he does that surpasses human understanding and is beyond our ability to comprehend. But in all humility and reverence we adore the just judgments of God, which are hidden from us, being content to be Christ's disciples, so as to learn only what he shows us in his Word, without going beyond those limits. This doctrine gives us unspeakable comfort since it teaches us that nothing can happen to us by chance but only by the arrangement of our gracious heavenly Father. He watches over us with fatherly care, keeping all creatures under his control, so that not one of the hairs on our heads (for they are all numbered) nor even a little bird can fall to the ground without the will of our Father. In this thought we rest, knowing that he holds in check the devils and all our enemies, who cannot hurt us without his permission and will. For that reason we reject the damnable error of the Epicureans, who say that God involves himself in nothing and leaves everything to chance. Matt. 10:29-30
We believe that God created man from the dust of the earth and made and formed him in his image and likeness-- good, just, and holy; able by his own will to conform in all things to the will of God. But when he was in honor he did not understand it and did not recognize his excellence. But he subjected himself willingly to sin and consequently to death and the curse, lending his ear to the word of the devil. For he transgressed the commandment of life, which he had received, and by his sin he separated himself from God, who was his true life, having corrupted his entire nature. So he made himself guilty and subject to physical and spiritual death, having become wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all his ways. He lost all his excellent gifts which he had received from God, and he retained none of them except for small traces which are enough to make him inexcusable. Moreover, all the light in us is turned to darkness, as the Scripture teaches us: "The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not receive it." Here John calls men "darkness." Therefore we reject everything taught to the contrary concerning man's free will, since man is nothing but the slave of sin and cannot do a thing unless it is "given him from heaven." For who can boast of being able to do anything good by himself, since Christ says, "No one can come to me unless my Father who sent me draws him"? Who can glory in his own will when he understands that "the mind of the flesh is enmity against God"? Who can speak of his own knowledge in view of the fact that "the natural man does not understand the things of the Spirit of God"? In short, who can produce a single thought, since he knows that we are "not able to think a thing" about ourselves, by ourselves, but that "our ability is from God"? And therefore, what the apostle says ought rightly to stand fixed and firm: "God works within us both to will and to do according to his good pleasure." For there is no understanding nor will conforming to God's understanding and will apart from Christ's involvement, as he teaches us when he says, "Without me you can do nothing." Ps. 49:20 John 1:5 John 3:27 John 6:44 Rom. 8:7 1 Cor. 2:14 2 Cor. 3:5 Phil. 2:13 John 15:5
We believe that by the disobedience of Adam original sin has been spread through the whole human race. It is a corruption of all nature-- an inherited depravity which even infects small infants in their mother's womb, and the root which produces in man every sort of sin. It is therefore so vile and enormous in God's sight that it is enough to condemn the human race, and it is not abolished or wholly uprooted even by baptism, seeing that sin constantly boils forth as though from a contaminated spring. Nevertheless, it is not imputed to God's children for their condemnation but is forgiven by his grace and mercy-- not to put them to sleep but so that the awareness of this corruption might often make believers groan as they long to be set free from the "body of this death." Therefore we reject the error of the Pelagians who say that this sin is nothing else than a matter of imitation. Rom. 7:24
We believe that-- all Adam's descendants having thus fallen into perdition and ruin by the sin of the first man-- God showed himself to be as he is: merciful and just. He is merciful in withdrawing and saving from this perdition those whom he, in his eternal and unchangeable counsel, has elected and chosen in Jesus Christ our Lord by his pure goodness, without any consideration of their works. He is just in leaving the others in their ruin and fall into which they plunged themselves.
We believe that our good God, by his marvelous wisdom and goodness, seeing that man had plunged himself in this manner into both physical and spiritual death and made himself completely miserable, set out to find him, though man, trembling all over, was fleeing from him. And he comforted him, promising to give him his Son, "born of a woman," to crush the head of the serpent, and to make him blessed. Gal. 4:4 Gen. 3:15
So then we confess that God fulfilled the promise which he had made to the early fathers by the mouth of his holy prophets when he sent his only and eternal Son into the world at the time set by him. The Son took the "form of a servant" and was made in the "likeness of man," truly assuming a real human nature, with all its weaknesses, except for sin; being conceived in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, without male participation. And he not only assumed human nature as far as the body is concerned but also a real human soul, in order that he might be a real human being. For since the soul had been lost as well as the body he had to assume them both to save them both together. Therefore we confess, against the heresy of the Anabaptists who deny that Christ assumed human flesh from his mother, that he "shared the very flesh and blood of children"; that he is "fruit of the loins of David" according to the flesh; "born of the seed of David" according to the flesh; "fruit of the womb of the virgin Mary"; "born of a woman"; "the seed of David"; "a shoot from the root of Jesse"; "the offspring of Judah," having descended from the Jews according to the flesh; "from the seed of Abraham"-- for he "assumed Abraham's seed" and was "made like his brothers except for sin." In this way he is truly our Immanuel-- that is: "God with us." Phil. 2:7 Heb. 2:14 Acts 2:30 Rom. 1:3 Luke 1:42 Gal. 4:4 2 Tim. 2:8 Rom. 15:12 Heb. 7:14 Heb. 2:17; 4:15 Matt. 1:23
We believe that by being thus conceived the person of the Son has been inseparably united and joined together with human nature, in such a way that there are not two Sons of God, nor two persons, but two natures united in a single person, with each nature retaining its own distinct properties. Thus his divine nature has always remained uncreated, without beginning of days or end of life, filling heaven and earth. His human nature has not lost its properties but continues to have those of a creature-- it has a beginning of days; it is of a finite nature and retains all that belongs to a real body. And even though he, by his resurrection, gave it immortality, that nonetheless did not change the reality of his human nature; for our salvation and resurrection depend also on the reality of his body. But these two natures are so united together in one person that they are not even separated by his death. So then, what he committed to his Father when he died was a real human spirit which left his body. But meanwhile his divine nature remained united with his human nature even when he was lying in the grave; and his deity never ceased to be in him, just as it was in him when he was a little child, though for a while it did not show itself as such. These are the reasons why we confess him to be true God and true man-- true God in order to conquer death by his power, and true man that he might die for us in the weakness of his flesh. Heb. 7:3
We believe that God-- who is perfectly merciful and also very just-- sent his Son to assume the nature in which the disobedience had been committed, in order to bear in it the punishment of sin by his most bitter passion and death. So God made known his justice toward his Son, who was charged with our sin, and he poured out his goodness and mercy on us, who are guilty and worthy of damnation, giving to us his Son to die, by a most perfect love, and raising him to life for our justification, in order that by him we might have immortality and eternal life.
We believe that Jesus Christ is a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek-- made such by an oath-- and that he presented himself in our name before his Father, to appease his wrath with full satisfaction by offering himself on the tree of the cross and pouring out his precious blood for the cleansing of our sins, as the prophets had predicted. For it is written that "the chastisement of our peace" was placed on the Son of God and that "we are healed by his wounds." He was "led to death as a lamb"; he was "numbered among sinners" and condemned as a criminal by Pontius Pilate, though Pilate had declared that he was innocent. So he paid back what he had not stolen, and he suffered-- the "just for the unjust," in both his body and his soul-- in such a way that when he senses the horrible punishment required by our sins his sweat became like "big drops of blood falling on the ground." He cried, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" And he endured all this for the forgiveness of our sins. Therefore we rightly say with Paul that we "know nothing but Jesus and him crucified"; we consider all things as "dung for the excellence of the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." We find all comforts in his wounds and have no need to seek or invent any other means to reconcile ourselves with God than this one and only sacrifice, once made, which renders believers perfect forever. This is also why the angel of God called him Jesus-- that is, "Savior"-- because he would save his people from their sins. Isa. 53:4-12 Ps. 69:4 1 Pet. 3:18 Luke 22:44 Matt. 27:46 1 Cor. 2:2 Phil. 3:8 Matt. 1:21
We believe that for us to acquire the true knowledge of this great mystery the Holy Spirit kindles in our hearts a true faith that embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits, and makes him its own, and no longer looks for anything apart from him. For it must necessarily follow that either all that is required for our salvation is not in Christ or, if all is in him, then he who has Christ by faith has his salvation entirely. Therefore, to say that Christ is not enough but that something else is needed as well is a most enormous blasphemy against God-- for it then would follow that Jesus Christ is only half a Savior. And therefore we justly say with Paul that we are justified "by faith alone" or by faith "apart from works." However, we do not mean, properly speaking, that it is faith itself that justifies us-- for faith is only the instrument by which we embrace Christ, our righteousness. But Jesus Christ is our righteousness in making available to us all his merits and all the holy works he has done for us and in our place. And faith is the instrument that keeps us in communion with him and with all his benefits. When those benefits are made ours they are more than enough to absolve us of our sins. Rom. 3:28
We believe that our blessedness lies in the forgiveness of our sins because of Jesus Christ, and that in it our righteousness before God is contained, as David and Paul teach us when they declare that man blessed to whom God grants righteousness apart from works. And the same apostle says that we are justified "freely" or "by grace" through redemption in Jesus Christ. And therefore we cling to this foundation, which is firm forever, giving all glory to God, humbling ourselves, and recognizing ourselves as we are; not claiming a thing for ourselves or our merits and leaning and resting on the sole obedience of Christ crucified, which is ours when we believe in him. That is enough to cover all our sins and to make us confident, freeing the conscience from the fear, dread, and terror of God's approach, without doing what our first father, Adam, did, who trembled as he tried to cover himself with fig leaves. In fact, if we had to appear before God relying-- no matter how little-- on ourselves or some other creature, then, alas, we would be swallowed up. Therefore everyone must say with David: "Lord, do not enter into judgment with your servants, for before you no living person shall be justified." Ps. 32:1; Rom. 4:6 Rom. 3:24 Ps. 143:2
We believe that this true faith, produced in man by the hearing of God's Word and by the work of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a "new man," causing him to live the "new life" and freeing him from the slavery of sin. Therefore, far from making people cold toward living in a pious and holy way, this justifying faith, quite to the contrary, so works within them that apart from it they will never do a thing out of love for God but only out of love for themselves and fear of being condemned. So then, it is impossible for this holy faith to be unfruitful in a human being, seeing that we do not speak of an empty faith but of what Scripture calls "faith working through love," which leads a man to do by himself the works that God has commanded in his Word. These works, proceeding from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable to God, since they are all sanctified by his grace. Yet they do not count toward our justification-- for by faith in Christ we are justified, even before we do good works. Otherwise they could not be good, any more than the fruit of a tree could be good if the tree is not good in the first place. So then, we do good works, but nor for merit-- for what would we merit? Rather, we are indebted to God for the good works we do, and not he to us, since it is he who "works in us both to will and do according to his good pleasure"60-- thus keeping in mind what is written: "When you have done all that is commanded you, then you shall say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have done what it was our duty to do.' " Yet we do not wish to deny that God rewards good works-- but it is by his grace that he crowns his gifts. Moreover, although we do good works we do not base our salvation on them; for we cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment. And even if we could point to one, memory of a single sin is enough for God to reject that work. So we would always be in doubt, tossed back and forth without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be tormented constantly if they did not rest on the merit of the suffering and death of our Savior. 2 Cor. 5:17 Rom. 6:4 Gal. 5:6 Phil. 2:13 Luke 17:10
We believe that the ceremonies and symbols of the law have ended with the coming of Christ, and that all foreshadowings have come to an end, so that the use of them ought to be abolished among Christians. Yet the truth and substance of these things remain for us in Jesus Christ, in whom they have been fulfilled. Nevertheless, we continue to use the witnesses drawn from the law and prophets to confirm us in the gospel and to regulate our lives with full integrity for the glory of God, according to his will.
We believe that we have no access to God except through the one and only Mediator and Intercessor: Jesus Christ the Righteous. He therefore was made man, uniting together the divine and human natures, so that we human beings might have access to the divine Majesty. Otherwise we would have no access. But this Mediator, whom the Father has appointed between himself and us, ought not terrify us by his greatness, so that we have to look for another one, according to our fancy. For neither in heaven nor among the creatures on earth is there anyone who loves us more than Jesus Christ does. Although he was "in the form of God," he nevertheless "emptied himself," taking the form of "a man" and "a servant" for us; and he made himself "completely like his brothers." Suppose we had to find another intercessor. Who would love us more than he who gave his life for us, even though "we were his enemies"? And suppose we had to find one who has prestige and power. Who has as much of these as he who is seated "at the right hand of the Father," and who has all power "in heaven and on earth"? And who will be heard more readily than God's own dearly beloved Son? So then, sheer unbelief has led to the practice of dishonoring the saints, instead of honoring them. That was something the saints never did nor asked for, but which in keeping with their duty, as appears from their writings, they consistently refused. We should not plead here that we are unworthy-- for it is not a question of offering our prayers on the basis of our own dignity but only on the basis of the excellence and dignity of Jesus Christ, whose righteousness is ours by faith. Since the apostle for good reason wants us to get rid of this foolish fear-- or rather, this unbelief-- he says to us that Jesus Christ was "made like his brothers in all things," that he might be a high priest who is merciful and faithful to purify the sins of the people. For since he suffered, being tempted, he is also able to help those who are tempted. And further, to encourage us more to approach him he says, "Since we have a high priest, Jesus the Son of God, who has entered into heaven, we maintain our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to have compassion for our weaknesses, but one who was tempted in all things, just as we are, except for sin. Let us go then with confidence to the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy and find grace, in order to be helped." The same apostle says that we "have liberty to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus. Let us go, then, in the assurance of faith...." Likewise, "Christ's priesthood is forever. By this he is able to save completely those who draw near to God through him who always lives to intercede for them." What more do we need? For Christ himself declares: "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to my Father but by me." Why should we seek another intercessor? Since it has pleased God to give us his Son as our Intercessor, let us not leave him for another-- or rather seek, without ever finding. For when God gave him to us he knew well that we were sinners. Therefore, in following the command of Christ we call on the heavenly Father through Christ, our only Mediator, as we are taught by the Lord's Prayer, being assured that we shall obtain all we ask of the Father in his name. 1 John 2:1 Phil. 2:6-8 Heb. 2:17 Rom. 5:10 Rom. 8:34; Heb. 1:3 Matt. 28:18 Heb. 2:17 Heb. 2:18 Heb. 4:14-16 Heb. 10:19, 22 Heb. 7:24-25 John 14:6
We believe and confess one single catholic or universal church-- a holy congregation and gathering of true Christian believers, awaiting their entire salvation in Jesus Christ being washed by his blood, and sanctified and sealed by the Holy Spirit. This church has existed from the beginning of the world and will last until the end, as appears from the fact that Christ is eternal King who cannot be without subjects. And this holy church is preserved by God against the rage of the whole world, even though for a time it may appear very small in the eyes of men-- as though it were snuffed out. For example, during the very dangerous time of Ahab the Lord preserved for himself seven thousand men who did not bend their knees to Baal. And so this holy church is not confined, bound, or limited to a certain place or certain persons. But it is spread and dispersed throughout the entire world, though still joined and united in heart and will, in one and the same Spirit, by the power of faith. 1 Kings 19:18
We believe that since this holy assembly and congregation is the gathering of those who are saved and there is no salvation apart from it, no one ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself, regardless of his status or condition. But all people are obliged to join and unite with it, keeping the unity of the church by submitting to its instruction and discipline, by bending their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ, and by serving to build up one another, according to the gifts God has given them as members of each other in the same body. And to preserve this unity more effectively, it is the duty of all believers, according to God's Word, to separate themselves from those who do not belong to the church, in order to join this assembly wherever God has established it, even if civil authorities and royal decrees forbid and death and physical punishment result. And so, all who withdraw from the church or do not join it act contrary to God's ordinance.
We believe that we ought to discern diligently and very carefully, by the Word of God, what is the true church-- for all sects in the world today claim for themselves the name of "the church." We are not speaking here of the company of hypocrites who are mixed among the good in the church and who nonetheless are not part of it, even though they are physically there. But we are speaking of distinguishing the body and fellowship of the true church from all sects that call themselves "the church." The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church-- and no one ought to be separated from it. As for those who can belong to the church, we can recognize them by the distinguishing marks of Christians: namely by faith, and by their fleeing from sin and pursuing righteousness, once they have received the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. They love the true God and their neighbors, without turning to the right or left, and they crucify the flesh and its works. Though great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their lives, appealing constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of the Lord Jesus, in whom they have forgiveness of their sins, through faith in him. As for the false church, it assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God; it does not want to subject itself to the yoke of Christ; it does not administer the sacraments as Christ commanded in his Word; it rather adds to them or subtracts from them as it pleases; it bases itself on men, more than on Jesus Christ; it persecutes those who live holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuke it for its faults, greed, and idolatry. These two churches are easy to recognize and thus to distinguish from each other.
We believe that this true church ought to be governed according to the spiritual order that our Lord has taught us in his Word. There should be ministers or pastors to preach the Word of God and adminster the sacraments. There should also be elders and deacons, along with the pastors, to make up the council of the church. By this means true religion is preserved; true doctrine is able to take its course; and evil men are corrected spiritually and held in check, so that also the poor and all the afflicted may be helped and comforted according to their need. By this means everything will be done well and in good order in the church, when such persons are elected who are faithful and are chosen according to the rule that Paul gave to Timothy. 1 Tim. 3
We believe that ministers of the Word of God, elders, and deacons ought to be chosen to their offices by a legitimate election of the church, with prayer in the name of the Lord, and in good order, as the Word of God teaches. So everyone must be careful not to push himself forward improperly, but he must wait for God's call, so that he may be assured of his calling and be certain that he is chosen by the Lord. As for the ministers of the Word, they all have the same power and authority, no matter where they may be, since they are all servants of Jesus Christ, the only universal bishop, and the only head of the church. Moreover, to keep God's holy order from being violated or despised, we say that everyone ought, as much as possible, to hold the ministers of the Word and elders of the church in special esteem, because of the work they do, and be at peace with them, without grumbling, quarreling, or fighting.
We also believe that although it is useful and good for those who govern the churches to establish and set up a certain order among themselves for maintaining the body of the church, they ought always to guard against deviating from what Christ, our only Master, has ordained for us. Therefore we reject all human innovations and all laws imposed on us, in our worship of God, which bind and force our consciences in any way. So we accept only what is proper to maintain harmony and unity and to keep all in obedience to God. To that end excommunication, with all it involves, according to the Word of God, is required.
We believe that our good God, mindful of our crudeness and weakness, has ordained sacraments for us to seal his promises in us, to pledge his good will and grace toward us, and also to nourish and sustain our faith. He has added these to the Word of the gospel to represent better to our external senses both what he enables us to understand by his Word and what he does inwardly in our hearts, confirming in us the salvation he imparts to us. For they are visible signs and seals of something internal and invisible, by means of which God works in us through the power of the Holy Spirit. So they are not empty and hollow signs to fool and deceive us, for their truth is Jesus Christ, without whom they would be nothing. Moreover, we are satisfied with the number of sacraments that Christ our Master has ordained for us. There are only two: the sacrament of baptism and the Holy Supper of Jesus Christ.
We believe and confess that Jesus Christ, in whom the law is fulfilled, has by his shed blood put an end to every other shedding of blood, which anyone might do or wish to do in order to atone or satisfy for sins. Having abolished circumcision, which was done with blood, he established in its place the sacrament of baptism. By it we are received into God's church and set apart from all other people and alien religions, that we may be dedicated entirely to him, bearing his mark and sign. It also witnesses to us that he will be our God forever, since he is our gracious Father. Therefore he has commanded that all those who belong to him be baptized with pure water in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In this way he signifies to us that just as water washes away the dirt of the body when it is poured on us and also is seen on the body of the baptized when it is sprinkled on him, so too the blood of Christ does the same thing internally, in the soul, by the Holy Spirit. It washes and cleanses it from its sins and transforms us from being the children of wrath into the children of God. This does not happen by the physical water but by the sprinkling of the precious blood of the Son of God, who is our Red Sea, through which we must pass to escape the tyranny of Pharoah, who is the devil, and to enter the spiritual land of Canaan. So ministers, as far as their work is concerned, give us the sacrament and what is visible, but our Lord gives what the sacrament signifies-- namely the invisible gifts and graces; washing, purifying, and cleansing our souls of all filth and unrighteousness; renewing our hearts and filling them with all comfort; giving us true assurance of his fatherly goodness; clothing us with the "new man" and stripping off the "old," with all its works. For this reason we believe that anyone who aspires to reach eternal life ought to be baptized only once without ever repeating it-- for we cannot be born twice. Yet this baptism is profitable not only when the water is on us and when we receive it but throughout our entire lives. For that reason we detest the error of the Anabaptists who are not content with a single baptism once received and also condemn the baptism of the children of believers. We believe our children ought to be baptized and sealed with the sign of the covenant, as little children were circumcised in Israel on the basis of the same promises made to our children. And truly, Christ has shed his blood no less for washing the little children of believers than he did for adults. Therefore they ought to receive the sign and sacrament of what Christ has done for them, just as the Lord commanded in the law that by offering a lamb for them the sacrament of the suffering and death of Christ would be granted them shortly after their birth. This was the sacrament of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, baptism does for our children what circumcision did for the Jewish people. That is why Paul calls baptism the "circumcision of Christ." Matt. 28:19 Col. 2:11
We believe and confess that our Savior Jesus Christ has ordained and instituted the sacrament of the Holy Supper to nourish and sustain those who are already born again and ingrafted into his family: his church. Now those who are born again have two lives in them. The one is physical and temporal-- they have it from the moment of their first birth, and it is common to all. The other is spiritual and heavenly, and is given them in their second birth; it comes through the Word of the gospel in the communion of the body of Christ; and this life is common to God's elect only. Thus, to support the physical and earthly life God has prescribed for us an appropriate earthly and material bread, which is as common to all as life itself also is. But to maintain the spiritual and heavenly life that belongs to believers he has sent a living bread that came down from heaven: namely Jesus Christ, who nourishes and maintains the spiritual life of believers when eaten-- that is, when appropriated and received spiritually by faith. To represent to us this spiritual and heavenly bread Christ has instituted an earthly and visible bread as the sacrament of his body and wine as the sacrament of his blood. He did this to testify to us that just as truly as we take and hold the sacraments in our hands and eat and drink it in our mouths, by which our life is then sustained, so truly we receive into our souls, for our spiritual life, the true body and true blood of Christ, our only Savior. We receive these by faith, which is the hand and mouth of our souls. Now it is certain that Jesus Christ did not prescribe his sacraments for us in vain, since he works in us all he represents by these holy signs, although the manner in which he does it goes beyond our understanding and is uncomprehensible to us, just as the operation of God's Spirit is hidden and incomprehensible. Yet we do not go wrong when we say that what is eaten is Christ's own natural body and what is drunk is his own blood-- but the manner in which we eat it is not by the mouth but by the Spirit, through faith. In that way Jesus Christ remains always seated at the right hand of God the Father in heaven-- but he never refrains on that account to communicate himself to us through faith. This banquet is a spiritual table at which Christ communicates himself to us with all his benefits. At that table he makes us enjoy himself as much as the merits of his suffering and death, as he nourishes, strengthens, and comforts our poor, desolate souls by the eating of his flesh, and relieves and renews them by the drinking of his blood. Moreover, though the sacraments and thing signified are joined together, not all receive both of them. The wicked person certainly takes the sacrament, to his condemnation, but does not receive the truth of the sacrament, just as Judas and Simon the Sorcerer both indeed received the sacrament, but not Christ, who was signified by it. He is communicated only to believers. Finally, with humility and reverence we receive the holy sacrament in the gathering of God's people, as we engage together, with thanksgiving, in a holy remembrance of the death of Christ our Savior, and as we thus confess our faith and Christian religion. Therefore no one should come to this table without examining himself carefully, lest "by eating this bread and drinking this cup he eat and drink to his own judgment." In short, by the use of this holy sacrament we are moved to a fervent love of God and our neighbors. Therefore we reject as desecrations of the sacraments all the muddled ideas and damnable inventions that men have added and mixed in with them. And we say that we should be content with the procedure that Christ and the apostles have taught us and speak of these things as they have spoken of them. 1 Cor. 11:27
We believe that because of the depravity of the human race our good God has ordained kings, princes, and civil officers. He wants the world to be governed by laws and policies so that human lawlessness may be restrained and that everything may be conducted in good order among human beings. For that purpose he has placed the sword in the hands of the government, to punish evil people and protect the good. And being called in this manner to contribute to the advancement of a society that is pleasing to God, the civil rulers have the task, subject to God's law, of removing every obstacle to the preaching of the gospel and to every aspect of divine worship. They should do this while completely refraining from every tendency toward exercising absolute authority, and while functioning in the sphere entrusted to them, with the means belonging to them. They should do it in order that the Word of God may have free course; the kingdom of Jesus Christ may make progress; and every anti-Christian power may be resisted.* __________ *The Synod of 1958, in line with 1910 and 1938, substituted the above statement for the following (which it judged unbiblical): And the government's task is not limited to caring for and watching over the public domain but extends also to upholding the sacred ministry, with a view to removing and destroying all idolatry and false worship of the Antichrist; to promoting the kingdom of Jesus Christ; and to furthering the preaching of the gospel everywhere; to the end that God may be honored and served by everyone, as he requires in his Word. ----------- Moreover everyone, regardless of status, condition, or rank, must be subject to the government, and pay taxes, and hold its representatives in honor and respect, and obey them in all things that are not in conflict with God's Word, praying for them that the Lord may be willing to lead them in all their ways and that we may live a peaceful and quiet life in all piety and decency.* __________ *The Synod of 1985 directed that the following paragraph be taken from the body of the text and be placed in a footnote: And on this matter we denounce the Anabaptists, other anarchists, and in general all those who want to reject the authorities and civil officers and to subvert justice by introducing common ownership of goods and corrupting the moral order that God has established among human beings..
Finally we believe, according to God's Word, that when the time appointed by the Lord is come (which is unknown to all creatures) and the number of the elect is complete, our Lord Jesus Christ will come from heaven, bodily and visibly, as he ascended, with great glory and majesty, to declare himself the judge of the living and the dead. He will burn this old world, in fire and flame, in order to cleanse it. Then all human creatures will appear in person before the great judge-- men, women, and children, who have lived from the beginning until the end of the world. They will be summoned there by the voice of the archangel and by the sound of the divine trumpet. For all those who died before that time will be raised from the earth, their spirits being joined and united with their own bodies in which they lived. And as for those who are still alive, they will not die like the others but will be changed "in the twinkling of an eye" from "corruptible to incorruptible." Then "the books" (that is, the consciences) will be opened, and the dead will be judged according to the things they did in the world, whether good or evil. Indeed, all people will give account of all the idle words they have spoken, which the world regards as only playing games. And then the secrets and hypocrisies of men will be publicly uncovered in the sight of all. Therefore, with good reason the thought of this judgment is horrible and dreadful to wicked and evil people. But it is very pleasant and a great comfort to the righteous and elect, since their total redemption will then be accomplished. They will then receive the fruits of their labor and of the trouble they have suffered; their innocence will be openly recognized by all; and they will see the terrible vengeance that God will bring on the evil ones who tyrannized, oppressed, and tormented them in this world. The evil ones will be convicted by the witness of their own consciences, and shall be made immortal-- but only to be tormented in the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. In contrast, the faithful and elect will be crowned with glory and honor. The Son of God will "confess their names" before God his Father and the holy and elect angels; all tears will be "wiped from their eyes"; and their cause-- at present condemned as heretical and evil by many judges and civil officers-- will be acknowledged as the "cause of the Son of God." And as a gracious reward the Lord will make them possess a glory such as the heart of man could never imagine. So we look forward to that great day with longing in order to enjoy fully the promises of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord. 1 Thess. 4:16 1 Cor. 15:51-53 Rev. 20:12 Matt. 12:36 Matt. 25:14 Matt. 10:32 Rev. 7:17
The Decision of the Synod of Dort on the Five Main Points of Doctrine
in Dispute in the Netherlands is popularly known as the Canons
of Dort. It consists of statements of doctrine adopted by the
great Synod of Dort which met in the city of Dordrecht in 1618-19.
Although this was a national synod of the Reformed churches of
the Netherlands, it had an international character, since it was
composed not only of Dutch delegates but also of twenty-six delegates
from eight foreign countries. The Synod of Dort was held in order
to settle a serious controversy in the Dutch churches initiated
by the rise of Arminianism. Jacob Arminius, a theological professor
at Leiden University, questioned the teaching of Calvin and his
followers on a number of important points. After Arminius's death,
his own followers presented their views on five of these points
in the Remonstrance of 1610. In this document or in later more
explicit writings, the Arminians taught election based on foreseen
faith, universal atonement, partial depravity, resistible grace,
and the possibility of a lapse from grace. In the Canons the Synod
of Dort rejected these views and set forth the Reformed doctrine
on these points, namely, unconditional election, limited atonement,
total depravity, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of saints.
The Canons have a special character because of their original
purpose as a judicial decision on the doctrinal points in dispute
during the Arminian controversy. The original preface called them
a "judgment, in which both the true view, agreeing with God's
Word, concerning the aforesaid five points of doctrine is explained,
and the false view, disagreeing with God's Word, is rejected."
The Canons also have a limited character in that they do not cover
the whole range of doctrine, but focus on the five points of doctrine
in dispute. Each of the main points consists of a positive and
a negative part, the former being an exposition of the Reformed
doctrine on the subject, the latter a repudiation of the corresponding
errors. Each of the errors being rejected is shaded in gray. Although
in form there are only four points, we speak properly of five
points, because the Canons were structured to correspond to the
five articles of the 1610 Remonstrance. Main Points 3 and 4 were
combined into one, always designated as Main Point III/IV. This
translation of the Canons, based on the only extant Latin manuscript
among those signed at the Synod of Dort, was adopted by the 1986
Synod of the Christian Reformed Church. The biblical quotations
are translations from the original Latin and so do not always
correspond to current versions. Though not in the original text,
subheadings have been added to the positive articles and to the
conclusion in order to facilitate study of the Canons. The Canons
of Dort Formally Titled The Decision of the Synod of Dort on the
Five Main Points of Doctrine in Dispute in the Netherlands The
First Main Point of Doctrine Divine Election and Reprobation The
Judgment Concerning Divine Predestination Which the Synod Declares
to Be in Agreement with the Word of God and Accepted Till Now
in the Reformed Churches, Set Forth in Several Articles
Article 1: God's Right to Condemn All People Since all people
have sinned in Adam and have come under the sentence of the curse
and eternal death, God would have done no one an injustice if
it had been his will to leave the entire human race in sin and
under the curse, and to condemn them on account of their sin.
As the apostle says: The whole world is liable to the condemnation
of God (Rom. 3:19), All have sinned and are deprived of the glory
of God (Rom. 3:23), and The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).*
__________ *All quotations from Scripture are translations of
the original Latin manuscript. ----------
Article 2: The Manifestation of God's Love But this is how God
showed his love: he sent his only begotten Son into the world,
so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal
Article 3: The Preaching of the Gospel In order that people may
be brought to faith, God mercifully sends proclaimers of this
very joyful message to the people he wishes and at the time he
wishes. By this ministry people are called to repentance and faith
in Christ crucified. For how shall they believe in him of whom
they have not heard? And how shall they hear without someone preaching?
And how shall they preach unless they have been sent? (Rom. 10:14-15).
Article 4: A Twofold Response to the Gospel God's anger remains
on those who do not believe this gospel. But those who do accept
it and embrace Jesus the Savior with a true and living faith are
delivered through him from God's anger and from destruction, and
receive the gift of eternal life.
Article 5: The Sources of Unbelief and of Faith The cause or blame
for this unbelief, as well as for all other sins, is not at all
in God, but in man. Faith in Jesus Christ, however, and salvation
through him is a free gift of God. As Scripture says, It is by
grace you have been saved, through faith, and this not from yourselves;
it is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8). Likewise: It has been freely given
to you to believe in Christ (Phil. 1:29).
Article 6: God's Eternal Decision The fact that some receive from
God the gift of faith within time, and that others do not, stems
from his eternal decision. For all his works are known to God
from eternity (Acts 15:18; Eph. 1:11). In accordance with this
decision he graciously softens the hearts, however hard, of his
chosen ones and inclines them to believe, but by his just judgment
he leaves in their wickedness and hardness of heart those who
have not been chosen. And in this especially is disclosed to us
his act--unfathomable, and as merciful as it is just--of distinguishing
between people equally lost. This is the well-known decision of
election and reprobation revealed in God's Word. This decision
the wicked, impure, and unstable distort to their own ruin, but
it provides holy and godly souls with comfort beyond words.
Article 7: Election Election [or choosing] is God's unchangeable
purpose by which he did the following: Before the foundation of
the world, by sheer grace, according to the free good pleasure
of his will, he chose in Christ to salvation a definite number
of particular people out of the entire human race, which had fallen
by its own fault from its original innocence into sin and ruin.
Those chosen were neither better nor more deserving than the others,
but lay with them in the common misery. He did this in Christ,
whom he also appointed from eternity to be the mediator, the head
of all those chosen, and the foundation of their salvation. And
so he decided to give the chosen ones to Christ to be saved, and
to call and draw them effectively into Christ's fellowship through
his Word and Spirit. In other words, he decided to grant them
true faith in Christ, to justify them, to sanctify them, and finally,
after powerfully preserving them in the fellowship of his Son,
to glorify them.
God did all this in order to demonstrate his mercy, to the praise
of the riches of his glorious grace. As Scripture says, God chose
us in Christ, before the foundation of the world, so that we should
be holy and blameless before him with love; he predestined us
whom he adopted as his children through Jesus Christ, in himself,
according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his
glorious grace, by which he freely made us pleasing to himself
in his beloved (Eph. 1:4-6). And elsewhere, Those whom he predestined,
he also called; and those whom he called, he also justified; and
those whom he justified, he also glorified (Rom. 8:30).
Article 8: A Single Decision of Election This election is not
of many kinds; it is one and the same election for all who were
to be saved in the Old and the New Testament. For Scripture declares
that there is a single good pleasure, purpose, and plan of God's
will, by which he chose us from eternity both to grace and to
glory, both to salvation and to the way of salvation, which he
prepared in advance for us to walk in.
Article 9: Election Not Based on Foreseen Faith This same election
took place, not on the basis of foreseen faith, of the obedience
of faith, of holiness, or of any other good quality and disposition,
as though it were based on a prerequisite cause or condition in
the person to be chosen, but rather for the purpose of faith,
of the obedience of faith, of holiness, and so on. Accordingly,
election is the source of each of the benefits of salvation. Faith,
holiness, and the other saving gifts, and at last eternal life
itself, flow forth from election as its fruits and effects. As
the apostle says, He chose us (not because we were, but) so that
we should be holy and blameless before him in love (Eph. 1:4).
Article 10: Election Based on God's Good Pleasure But the cause
of this undeserved election is exclusively the good pleasure of
God. This does not involve his choosing certain human qualities
or actions from among all those possible as a condition of salvation,
but rather involves his adopting certain particular persons from
among the common mass of sinners as his own possession. As Scripture
says, When the children were not yet born, and had done nothing
either good or bad..., she (Rebecca) was told, "The older
will serve the younger." As it is written, "Jacob I
loved, but Esau I hated" (Rom. 9:11-13). Also, All who were
appointed for eternal life believed (Acts 13:48).
Article 11: Election Unchangeable Just as God himself is most
wise, unchangeable, all-knowing, and almighty, so the election
made by him can neither be suspended nor altered, revoked, or
annulled; neither can his chosen ones be cast off, nor their number
Article 12: The Assurance of Election Assurance of this their
eternal and unchangeable election to salvation is given to the
chosen in due time, though by various stages and in differing
measure. Such assurance comes not by inquisitive searching into
the hidden and deep things of God, but by noticing within themselves,
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 their sins, a hunger
and thirst for righteousness, and so on.
Article 13: The Fruit of This Assurance In their awareness and
assurance of this election God's children daily find greater cause
to humble themselves before God, to adore the fathomless depth
of his mercies, to cleanse themselves, and to give fervent love
in return to him who first so greatly loved them. This is far
from saying that this teaching concerning election, and reflection
upon it, make God's children lax in observing his commandments
or carnally self-assured. By God's just judgment this does usually
happen to those who casually take for granted the grace of election
or engage in idle and brazen talk about it but are unwilling to
walk in the ways of the chosen.
Article 14: Teaching Election Properly Just as, by God's wise
plan, this teaching concerning divine election has been proclaimed
through the prophets, Christ himself, and the apostles, in Old
and New Testament times, and has subsequently been committed to
writing in the Holy Scriptures, so also today in God's church,
for which it was specifically intended, this teaching must be
set forth--with a spirit of discretion, in a godly and holy manner,
at the appropriate time and place, without inquisitive searching
into the ways of the Most High. This must be done for the glory
of God's most holy name, and for the lively comfort of his people.
Article 15: Reprobation Moreover, Holy Scripture most especially
highlights this eternal and undeserved grace of our election and
brings it out more clearly for us, in that it further bears witness
that not all people have been chosen but that some have not been
chosen or have been passed by in God's eternal election-- those,
that is, concerning whom God, on the basis of his entirely free,
most just, irreproachable, and unchangeable good pleasure, made
the following decision: to leave them in the common misery into
which, by their own fault, they have plunged themselves; not to
grant them saving faith and the grace of conversion; but finally
to condemn and eternally punish them (having been left in their
own ways and under his just judgment), not only for their unbelief
but also for all their other sins, in order to display his justice.
And this is the decision of reprobation, which does not at all
make God the author of sin (a blasphemous thought!) but rather
its fearful, irreproachable, just judge and avenger.
Article 16: Responses to the Teaching of Reprobation Those who
do not yet actively experience within themselves a living faith
in Christ or an assured confidence of heart, peace of conscience,
a zeal for childlike obedience, and a glorying in God through
Christ, but who nevertheless use the means by which God has promised
to work these things in us--such people ought not to be alarmed
at the mention of reprobation, nor to count themselves among the
reprobate; rather they ought to continue diligently in the use
of the means, to desire fervently a time of more abundant grace,
and to wait for it in reverence and humility. On the other hand,
those who seriously desire to turn to God, to be pleasing to him
alone, and to be delivered from the body of death, but are not
yet able to make such progress along the way of godliness and
faith as they would like--such people ought much less to stand
in fear of the teaching concerning reprobation, since our merciful
God has promised that he will not snuff out a smoldering wick
and that he will not break a bruised reed. However, those who
have forgotten God and their Savior Jesus Christ and have abandoned
themselves wholly to the cares of the world and the pleasures
of the flesh--such people have every reason to stand in fear of
this teaching, as long as they do not seriously turn to God.
Article 17: The Salvation of the Infants of Believers Since we
must make judgments about God's will from his Word, which testifies
that the children of believers are holy, not by nature but by
virtue of the gracious covenant in which they together with their
parents are included, godly parents ought not to doubt the election
and salvation of their children whom God calls out of this life
Article 18: The Proper Attitude Toward Election and Reprobation
To those who complain about this grace of an undeserved election
and about the severity of a just reprobation, we reply with the
words of the apostle, Who are you, O man, to talk back to God?
(Rom. 9:20), and with the words of our Savior, Have I no right
to do what I want with my own? (Matt. 20:15). We, however, with
reverent adoration of these secret things, cry out with the apostle:
Oh, the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and the knowledge
of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways beyond
tracing out! For who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has
been his counselor? Or who has first given to God, that God should
repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be the glory forever! Amen (Rom. 11:33-36).
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).
II Who teach that God's election to eternal life is of many kinds:
one general and indefinite, the other particular and definite;
and the latter in turn either incomplete, revocable, nonperemptory
(or conditional), or else complete, irrevocable, and peremptory
(or absolute). Likewise, who teach that there is one election
to faith and another to salvation, so that there can be an election
to justifying faith apart from a peremptory election to salvation.
For this is an invention of the human brain, devised apart from
the Scriptures, which distorts the teaching concerning election
and breaks up this golden chain of salvation: Those whom he predestined,
he also called; and those whom he called, he also justified; and
those whom he justified, he also glorified (Rom. 8:30).
III Who teach that God's good pleasure and purpose, which Scripture
mentions in its teaching of election, does not involve God's choosing
certain particular people rather than others, but involves God's
choosing, out of all possible conditions (including the works
of the law) or out of the whole order of things, the intrinsically
unworthy act of faith, as well as the imperfect obedience of faith,
to be a condition of salvation; and it involves his graciously
wishing to count this as perfect obedience and to look upon it
as worthy of the reward of eternal life. For by this pernicious
error the good pleasure of God and the merit of Christ are robbed
of their effectiveness and people are drawn away, by unprofitable
inquiries, from the truth of undeserved justification and from
the simplicity of the Scriptures. It also gives the lie to these
words of the apostle: God called us with a holy calling, not in
virtue of works, but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace
which was given to us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of
time (2 Tim. 1:9).
IV Who teach that in election to faith a prerequisite condition
is that man should rightly use the light of nature, be upright,
unassuming, humble, and disposed to eternal life, as though election
depended to some extent on these factors. For this smacks of Pelagius,
and it clearly calls into question the words of the apostle: We
lived at one time in the passions of our flesh, following the
will of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children
of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out
of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead
in transgressions, made us alive with Christ, by whose grace you
have been saved. And God raised us up with him and seated us with
him in heaven in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages
we might show the surpassing riches of his grace, according to
his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you
have been saved, through faith (and this not from yourselves;
it is the gift of God) not by works, so that no one can boast
V Who teach that the incomplete and nonperemptory election of
particular persons to salvation occurred on the basis of a foreseen
faith, repentance, holiness, and godliness, which has just begun
or continued for some time; but that complete and peremptory election
occurred on the basis of a foreseen perseverance to the end in
faith, repentance, holiness, and godliness. And that this is the
gracious and evangelical worthiness, on account of which the one
who is chosen is more worthy than the one who is not chosen. And
therefore that faith, the obedience of faith, holiness, godliness,
and perseverance are not fruits or effects of an unchangeable
election to glory, but indispensable conditions and causes, which
are prerequisite in those who are to be chosen in the complete
election, and which are foreseen as achieved in them. This runs
counter to the entire Scripture, which throughout impresses upon
our ears and hearts these sayings among others: Election is not
by works, but by him who calls (Rom. 9:11-12); All who were appointed
for eternal life believed (Acts 13:48); He chose us in himself
so that we should be holy (Eph. 1:4); You did not choose me, but
I chose you (John 15:16); If by grace, not by works (Rom. 11:6);
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and
sent his Son (1 John 4:10).
VI Who teach that not every election to salvation is unchangeable,
but that some of the chosen can perish and do in fact perish eternally,
with no decision of God to prevent it. By this gross error they
make God changeable, destroy the comfort of the godly concerning
the steadfastness of their election, and contradict the Holy Scriptures,
which teach that the elect cannot be led astray (Matt. 24:24),
that Christ does not lose those given to him by the Father (John
6:39), and that those whom God predestined, called, and justified,
he also glorifies (Rom. 8:30).
VII Who teach that in this life there is no fruit, no awareness,
and no assurance of one's unchangeable election to glory, except
as conditional upon something changeable and contingent. For not
only is it absurd to speak of an uncertain assurance, but these
things also militate against the experience of the saints, who
with the apostle rejoice from an awareness of their election and
sing the praises of this gift of God; who, as Christ urged, rejoice
with his disciples that their names have been written in heaven
(Luke 10:20); and finally who hold up against the flaming arrows
of the devil's temptations the awareness of their election, with
the question Who will bring any charge against those whom God
has chosen? (Rom. 8:33).
VIII Who teach that it was not on the basis of his just will alone
that God decided to leave anyone in the fall of Adam and in the
common state of sin and condemnation or to pass anyone by in the
imparting of grace necessary for faith and conversion. For these
words stand fast: He has mercy on whom he wishes, and he hardens
whom he wishes (Rom. 9:18). And also: To you it has been given
to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has
not been given (Matt. 13:11). Likewise: I give glory to you, Father,
Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from
the wise and understanding, and have revealed them to little children;
yes, Father, because that was your pleasure (Matt. 11:25-26).
IX Who teach that the cause for God's sending the gospel to one
people rather than to another is not merely and solely God's good
pleasure, but rather that one people is better and worthier than
the other to whom the gospel is not communicated. For Moses contradicts
this when he addresses the people of Israel as follows: Behold,
to Jehovah your God belong the heavens and the highest heavens,
the earth and whatever is in it. But Jehovah was inclined in his
affection to love your ancestors alone, and chose out their descendants
after them, you above all peoples, as at this day (Deut. 10:14-15).
And also Christ: Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! for
if those mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon,
they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes (Matt.
Article 1: The Punishment Which God's Justice Requires God is
not only supremely merciful, but also supremely just. His justice
requires (as he has revealed himself in the Word) that the sins
we have committed against his infinite majesty be punished with
both temporal and eternal punishments, of soul as well as body.
We cannot escape these punishments unless satisfaction is given
to God's justice.
Article 2: The Satisfaction Made by Christ Since, however, we
ourselves cannot give this satisfaction or deliver ourselves from
God's anger, God in his boundless mercy has given us as a guarantee
his only begotten Son, who was made to be sin and a curse for
us, in our place, on the cross, in order that he might give satisfaction
Article 3: The Infinite Value of Christ's Death This death of
God's Son is the only and entirely complete sacrifice and satisfaction
for sins; it is of infinite value and worth, more than sufficient
to atone for the sins of the whole world.
Article 4: Reasons for This Infinite Value This death is of such
great value and worth for the reason that the person who suffered
it is--as was necessary to be our Savior--not only a true and
perfectly holy man, but also the only begotten Son of God, of
the same eternal and infinite essence with the Father and the
Holy Spirit. Another reason is that this death was accompanied
by the experience of God's anger and curse, which we by our sins
had fully deserved.
Article 5: The Mandate to Proclaim the Gospel to All Moreover,
it is the promise of the gospel that whoever believes in Christ
crucified shall not perish but have eternal life. This promise,
together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be announced
and declared without differentiation or discrimination to all
nations and people, to whom God in his good pleasure sends the
Article 6: Unbelief Man's Responsibility However, that many who
have been called through the gospel do not repent or believe in
Christ but perish in unbelief is not because the sacrifice of
Christ offered on the cross is deficient or insufficient, but
because they themselves are at fault.
Article 7: Faith God's gift But all who genuinely believe and
are delivered and saved by Christ's death from their sins and
from destruction receive this favor solely from God's grace--which
he owes to no one--given to them in Christ from eternity.
Article 8: The Saving Effectiveness of Christ's Death For it was
the entirely free plan and very gracious will and intention of
God the Father that the enlivening and saving effectiveness of
his Son's costly death should work itself out in all his chosen
ones, in order that he might grant justifying faith to them only
and thereby lead them without fail to salvation. In other words,
it was God's will that Christ through the blood of the cross (by
which he confirmed the new covenant) should effectively redeem
from every people, tribe, nation, and language all those and only
those who were chosen from eternity to salvation and given to
him by the Father; that he should grant them faith (which, like
the Holy Spirit's other saving gifts, he acquired for them by
his death); that he should cleanse them by his blood from all
their sins, both original and actual, whether committed before
or after their coming to faith; that he should faithfully preserve
them to the very end; and that he should finally present them
to himself, a glorious people, without spot or wrinkle.
Article 9: The Fulfillment of God's Plan This plan, arising out
of God's eternal love for his chosen ones, from the beginning
of the world to the present time has been powerfully carried out
and will also be carried out in the future, the gates of hell
seeking vainly to prevail against it. As a result the chosen are
gathered into one, all in their own time, and there is always
a church of believers founded on Christ's blood, a church which
steadfastly loves, persistently worships, and--here and in all
eternity--praises him as her Savior who laid down his life for
her on the cross, as a bridegroom for his bride.
Having set forth the orthodox teaching, the Synod rejects the
errors of those
I Who teach that God the Father appointed his Son to death on
the cross without a fixed and definite plan to save anyone by
name, so that the necessity, usefulness, and worth of what Christ's
death obtained could have stood intact and altogether perfect,
complete and whole, even if the redemption that was obtained had
never in actual fact been applied to any individual. For this
assertion is an insult to the wisdom of God the Father and to
the merit of Jesus Christ, and it is contrary to Scripture. For
the Savior speaks as follows: I lay down my life for the sheep,
and I know them (John 10:15, 27). And Isaiah the prophet says
concerning the Savior: When he shall make himself an offering
for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days,
and the will of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand (Isa. 53:10).
Finally, this undermines the article of the creed in which we
confess what we believe concerning the Church.
II Who teach that the purpose of Christ's death was not to establish
in actual fact a new covenant of grace by his blood, but only
to acquire for the Father the mere right to enter once more into
a covenant with men, whether of grace or of works. For this conflicts
with Scripture, which teaches that Christ has become the guarantee
and mediator of a better--that is, a new-covenant (Heb. 7:22;
9:15), and that a will is in force only when someone has died
III Who teach that Christ, by the satisfaction which he gave,
did not certainly merit for anyone salvation itself and the faith
by which this satisfaction of Christ is effectively applied to
salvation, but only acquired for the Father the authority or plenary
will to relate in a new way with men and to impose such new conditions
as he chose, and that the satisfying of these conditions depends
on the free choice of man; consequently, that it was possible
that either all or none would fulfill them. For they have too
low an opinion of the death of Christ, do not at all acknowledge
the foremost fruit or benefit which it brings forth, and summon
back from hell the Pelagian error.
IV Who teach that what is involved in the new covenant of grace
which God the Father made with men through the intervening of
Christ's death is not that we are justified before God and saved
through faith, insofar as it accepts Christ's merit, but rather
that God, having withdrawn his demand for perfect obedience to
the law, counts faith itself, and the imperfect obedience of faith,
as perfect obedience to the law, and graciously looks upon this
as worthy of the reward of eternal life. For they contradict Scripture:
They are justified freely by his grace through the redemption
that came by Jesus Christ, whom God presented as a sacrifice of
atonement, through faith in his blood (Rom. 3:24-25). And along
with the ungodly Socinus, they introduce a new and foreign justification
of man before God, against the consensus of the whole church.
V Who teach that all people have been received into the state
of reconciliation and into the grace of the covenant, so that
no one on account of original sin is liable to condemnation, or
is to be condemned, but that all are free from the guilt of this
sin. For this opinion conflicts with Scripture which asserts that
we are by nature children of wrath.
VI Who make use of the distinction between obtaining and applying
in order to instill in the unwary and inexperienced the opinion
that God, as far as he is concerned, wished to bestow equally
upon all people the benefits which are gained by Christ's death;
but that the distinction by which some rather than others come
to share in the forgiveness of sins and eternal life depends on
their own free choice (which applies itself to the grace offered
indiscriminately) but does not depend on the unique gift of mercy
which effectively works in them, so that they, rather than others,
apply that grace to themselves. For, while pretending to set forth
this distinction in an acceptable sense, they attempt to give
the people the deadly poison of Pelagianism. VII Who teach that
Christ neither could die, nor had to die, nor did die for those
whom God so dearly loved and chose to eternal life, since such
people do not need the death of Christ. For they contradict the
apostle, who says: Christ loved me and gave himself up for me
(Gal. 2:20), and likewise: Who will bring any charge against those
whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?
It is Christ who died, that is, for them (Rom. 8:33-34). They
also contradict the Savior, who asserts: I lay down my life for
the sheep (John 10:15), and My command is this: Love one another
as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that one
lay down his life for his friends (John 15:12-13).
Article 1: The Effect of the Fall on Human Nature Man was originally
created in the image of God and was furnished in his mind with
a true and salutary knowledge of his Creator and things spiritual,
in his will and heart with righteousness, and in all his emotions
with purity; indeed, the whole man was holy. However, rebelling
against God at the devil's instigation and by his own free will,
he deprived himself of these outstanding gifts. Rather, in their
place he brought upon himself blindness, terrible darkness, futility,
and distortion of judgment in his mind; perversity, defiance,
and hardness in his heart and will; and finally impurity in all
Article 2: The Spread of Corruption Man brought forth children
of the same nature as himself after the fall. That is to say,
being corrupt he brought forth corrupt children. The corruption
spread, by God's just judgment, from Adam to all his descendants--
except for Christ alone--not by way of imitation (as in former
times the Pelagians would have it) but by way of the propagation
of his perverted nature.
Article 3: Total Inability Therefore, all people are conceived
in sin and are born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good,
inclined to evil, dead in their sins, and slaves to sin; without
the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they are neither willing
nor able to return to God, to reform their distorted nature, or
even to dispose themselves to such reform.
Article 4: The Inadequacy of the Light of Nature There is, to
be sure, a certain light of nature remaining in man after the
fall, by virtue of which he retains some notions about God, natural
things, and the difference between what is moral and immoral,
and demonstrates a certain eagerness for virtue and for good outward
behavior. But this light of nature is far from enabling man to
come to a saving knowledge of God and conversion to him--so far,
in fact, that man does not use it rightly even in matters of nature
and society. Instead, in various ways he completely distorts this
light, whatever its precise character, and suppresses it in unrighteousness.
In doing so he renders himself without excuse before God.
Article 5: The Inadequacy of the Law In this respect, what is
true of the light of nature is true also of the Ten Commandments
given by God through Moses specifically to the Jews. For man cannot
obtain saving grace through the Decalogue, because, although it
does expose the magnitude of his sin and increasingly convict
him of his guilt, yet it does not offer a remedy or enable him
to escape from his misery, and, indeed, weakened as it is by the
flesh, leaves the offender under the curse.
Article 6: The Saving Power of the Gospel What, therefore, neither
the light of nature nor the law can do, God accomplishes by the
power of the Holy Spirit, through the Word or the ministry of
reconciliation. This is the gospel about the Messiah, through
which it has pleased God to save believers, in both the Old and
the New Testament.
Article 7: God's Freedom in Revealing the Gospel In the Old Testament,
God revealed this secret of his will to a small number; in the
New Testament (now without any distinction between peoples) he
discloses it to a large number. The reason for this difference
must not be ascribed to the greater worth of one nation over another,
or to a better use of the light of nature, but to the free good
pleasure and undeserved love of God. Therefore, those who receive
so much grace, beyond and in spite of all they deserve, ought
to acknowledge it with humble and thankful hearts; on the other
hand, with the apostle they ought to adore (but certainly not
inquisitively search into) the severity and justice of God's judgments
on the others, who do not receive this grace.
Article 8: The Serious Call of the Gospel Nevertheless, all who
are called through the gospel are called seriously. For seriously
and most genuinely God makes known in his Word what is pleasing
to him: that those who are called should come to him. Seriously
he also promises rest for their souls and eternal life to all
who come to him and believe.
Article 9: Human Responsibility for Rejecting the Gospel The fact
that many who are called through the ministry of the gospel do
not come and are not brought to conversion must not be blamed
on the gospel, nor on Christ, who is offered through the gospel,
nor on God, who calls them through the gospel and even bestows
various gifts on them, but on the people themselves who are called.
Some in self-assurance do not even entertain the Word of life;
others do entertain it but do not take it to heart, and for that
reason, after the fleeting joy of a temporary faith, they relapse;
others choke the seed of the Word with the thorns of life's cares
and with the pleasures of the world and bring forth no fruits.
This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13).
Article 10: Conversion as the Work of God The fact that others
who are called through the ministry of the gospel do come and
are brought to conversion must not be credited to man, as though
one distinguishes himself by free choice from others who are furnished
with equal or sufficient grace for faith and conversion (as the
proud heresy of Pelagius maintains). No, it must be credited to
God: just as from eternity he chose his own in Christ, so within
time he effectively calls them, grants them faith and repentance,
and, having rescued them from the dominion of darkness, brings
them into the kingdom of his Son, in order that they may declare
the wonderful deeds of him who called them out of darkness into
this marvelous light, and may boast not in themselves, but in
the Lord, as apostolic words frequently testify in Scripture.
Article 11: The Holy Spirit's Work in Conversion Moreover, when
God carries out this good pleasure in his chosen ones, or works
true conversion in them, he not only sees to it that the gospel
is proclaimed to them outwardly, and enlightens their minds powerfully
by the Holy Spirit so that they may rightly understand and discern
the things of the Spirit of God, but, by the effective operation
of the same regenerating Spirit, he also penetrates into the inmost
being of man, opens the closed heart, softens the hard heart,
and circumcises the heart that is uncircumcised. He infuses new
qualities into the will, making the dead will alive, the evil
one good, the unwilling one willing, and the stubborn one compliant;
he activates and strengthens the will so that, like a good tree,
it may be enabled to produce the fruits of good deeds.
Article 12: Regeneration a Supernatural Work And this is the regeneration,
the new creation, the raising from the dead, and the making alive
so clearly proclaimed in the Scriptures, which God works in us
without our help. But this certainly does not happen only by outward
teaching, by moral persuasion, or by such a way of working that,
after God has done his work, it remains in man's power whether
or not to be reborn or converted. Rather, it is an entirely supernatural
work, one that is at the same time most powerful and most pleasing,
a marvelous, hidden, and inexpressible work, which is not lesser
than or inferior in power to that of creation or of raising the
dead, as Scripture (inspired by the author of this work) teaches.
As a result, all those in whose hearts God works in this marvelous
way are certainly, unfailingly, and effectively reborn and do
actually believe. And then the will, now renewed, is not only
activated and motivated by God but in being activated by God is
also itself active. For this reason, man himself, by that grace
which he has received, is also rightly said to believe and to
Article 13: The Incomprehensible Way of Regeneration In this life
believers cannot fully understand the way this work occurs; meanwhile,
they rest content with knowing and experiencing that by this grace
of God they do believe with the heart and love their Savior.
Article 14: The Way God Gives Faith In this way, therefore, faith
is a gift of God, not in the sense that it is offered by God for
man to choose, but that it is in actual fact bestowed on man,
breathed and infused into him. Nor is it a gift in the sense that
God bestows only the potential to believe, but then awaits assent--the
act of believing--from man's choice; rather, it is a gift in the
sense that he who works both willing and acting and, indeed, works
all things in all people produces in man both the will to believe
and the belief itself.
Article 15: Responses to God's Grace God does not owe this grace
to anyone. For what could God owe to one who has nothing to give
that can be paid back? Indeed, what could God owe to one who has
nothing of his own to give but sin and falsehood? Therefore the
person who receives this grace owes and gives eternal thanks to
God alone; the person who does not receive it either does not
care at all about these spiritual things and is satisfied with
himself in his condition, or else in self-assurance foolishly
boasts about having something which he lacks. Furthermore, following
the example of the apostles, we are to think and to speak in the
most favorable way about those who outwardly profess their faith
and better their lives, for the inner chambers of the heart are
unknown to us. But for others who have not yet been called, we
are to pray to the God who calls things that do not exist as though
they did. In no way, however, are we to pride ourselves as better
than they, as though we had distinguished ourselves from them.
Article 16: Regeneration's Effect However, just as by the fall
man did not cease to be man, endowed with intellect and will,
and just as sin, which has spread through the whole human race,
did not abolish the nature of the human race but distorted and
spiritually killed it, so also this divine grace of regeneration
does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones; nor
does it abolish the will and its properties or coerce a reluctant
will by force, but spiritually revives, heals, reforms, and--in
a manner at once pleasing and powerful--bends it back. As a result,
a ready and sincere obedience of the Spirit now begins to prevail
where before the rebellion and resistance of the flesh were completely
dominant. It is in this that the true and spiritual restoration
and freedom of our will consists. Thus, if the marvelous Maker
of every good thing were not dealing with us, man would have no
hope of getting up from his fall by his free choice, by which
he plunged himself into ruin when still standing upright.
Article 17: God's Use of Means in Regeneration Just as the almighty
work of God by which he brings forth and sustains our natural
life does not rule out but requires the use of means, by which
God, according to his infinite wisdom and goodness, has wished
to exercise his power, so also the aforementioned supernatural
work of God by which he regenerates us in no way rules out or
cancels the use of the gospel, which God in his great wisdom has
appointed to be the seed of regeneration and the food of the soul.
For this reason, the apostles and the teachers who followed them
taught the people in a godly manner about this grace of God, to
give him the glory and to humble all pride, and yet did not neglect
meanwhile to keep the people, by means of the holy admonitions
of the gospel, under the administration of the Word, the sacraments,
and discipline. So even today it is out of the question that the
teachers or those taught in the church should presume to test
God by separating what he in his good pleasure has wished to be
closely joined together. For grace is bestowed through admonitions,
and the more readily we perform our duty, the more lustrous the
benefit of God working in us usually is and the better his work
advances. To him alone, both for the means and for their saving
fruit and effectiveness, all glory is owed forever. Amen.
Having set forth the orthodox teaching, the Synod rejects the
errors of those
I Who teach that, properly speaking, it cannot be said that original
sin in itself is enough to condemn the whole human race or to
warrant temporal and eternal punishments. For they contradict
the apostle when he says: Sin entered the world through one man,
and death through sin, and in this way death passed on to all
men because all sinned (Rom. 5:12); also: The guilt followed one
sin and brought condemnation (Rom. 5:16); likewise: The wages
of sin is death (Rom. 6:23).
II Who teach that the spiritual gifts or the good dispositions
and virtues such as goodness, holiness, and righteousness could
not have resided in man's will when he was first created, and
therefore could not have been separated from the will at the fall.
For this conflicts with the apostle's description of the image
of God in Ephesians 4:24, where he portrays the image in terms
of righteousness and holiness, which definitely reside in the
III Who teach that in spiritual death the spiritual gifts have
not been separated from man's will, since the will in itself has
never been corrupted but only hindered by the darkness of the
mind and the unruliness of the emotions, and since the will is
able to exercise its innate free capacity once these hindrances
are removed, which is to say, it is able of itself to will or
choose whatever good is set before it--or else not to will or
choose it. This is a novel idea and an error and has the effect
of elevating the power of free choice, contrary to the words of
Jeremiah the prophet: The heart itself is deceitful above all
things and wicked (Jer. 17:9); and of the words of the apostle:
All of us also lived among them (the sons of disobedience) at
one time in the passions of our flesh, following the will of our
flesh and thoughts (Eph. 2:3).
IV Who teach that unregenerate man is not strictly or totally
dead in his sins or deprived of all capacity for spiritual good
but is able to hunger and thirst for righteousness or life and
to offer the sacrifice of a broken and contrite spirit which is
pleasing to God. For these views are opposed to the plain testimonies
of Scripture: You were dead in your transgressions and sins (Eph.
2:1, 5); The imagination of the thoughts of man's heart is only
evil all the time (Gen. 6:5; 8:21). Besides, to hunger and thirst
for deliverance from misery and for life, and to offer God the
sacrifice of a broken spirit is characteristic only of the regenerate
and of those called blessed (Ps. 51:17; Matt. 5:6).
V Who teach that corrupt and natural man can make such good use
of common grace(by which they mean the light of nature)or of the
gifts remaining after the fall that he is able thereby gradually
to obtain a greater grace-- evangelical or saving grace--as well
as salvation itself; and that in this way God, for his part, shows
himself ready to reveal Christ to all people, since he provides
to all, to a sufficient extent and in an effective manner, the
means necessary for the revealing of Christ, for faith, and for
repentance. For Scripture, not to mention the experience of all
ages, testifies that this is false: He makes known his words to
Jacob, his statutes and his laws to Israel; he has done this for
no other nation, and they do not know his laws (Ps. 147:19-20);
In the past God let all nations go their own way (Acts 14:16);
They (Paul and his companions) were kept by the Holy Spirit from
speaking God's word in Asia; and When they had come to Mysia,
they tried to go to Bithynia, but the Spirit would not allow them
to (Acts 16:6-7).
VI Who teach that in the true conversion of man new qualities,
dispositions, or gifts cannot be infused or poured into his will
by God, and indeed that the faith [or believing] by which we first
come to conversion and from which we receive the name "believers"
is not a quality or gift infused by God, but only an act of man,
and that it cannot be called a gift except in respect to the power
of attaining faith. For these views contradict the Holy Scriptures,
which testify that God does infuse or pour into our hearts the
new qualities of faith, obedience, and the experiencing of his
love: I will put my law in their minds, and write it on their
hearts (Jer. 31:33); I will pour water on the thirsty land, and
streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring
(Isa. 44:3); The love of God has been poured out in our hearts
by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us (Rom. 5:5). They
also conflict with the continuous practice of the Church, which
prays with the prophet: Convert me, Lord, and I shall be converted
VII Who teach that the grace by which we are converted to God
is nothing but a gentle persuasion, or(as others explain it) that
the way of God's acting in man's conversion that is most noble
and suited to human nature is that which happens by persuasion,
and that nothing prevents this grace of moral suasion even by
itself from making natural men spiritual; indeed, that God does
not produce the assent of the will except in this manner of moral
suasion, and that the effectiveness of God's work by which it
surpasses the work of Satan consists in the fact that God promises
eternal benefits while Satan promises temporal ones. For this
teaching is entirely Pelagian and contrary to the whole of Scripture,
which recognizes besides this persuasion also another, far more
effective and divine way in which the Holy Spirit acts in man's
conversion. As Ezekiel 36:26 puts it: I will give you a new heart
and put a new spirit in you; and I will remove your heart of stone
and give you a heart of flesh....
VIII Who teach that God in regenerating man does not bring to
bear that power of his omnipotence whereby he may powerfully and
unfailingly bend man's will to faith and conversion, but that
even when God has accomplished all the works of grace which he
uses for man's conversion, man nevertheless can, and in actual
fact often does, so resist God and the Spirit in their intent
and will to regenerate him, that man completely thwarts his own
rebirth; and, indeed, that it remains in his own power whether
or not to be reborn. For this does away with all effective functioning
of God's grace in our conversion and subjects the activity of
Almighty God to the will of man; it is contrary to the apostles,
who teach that we believe by virtue of the effective working of
God's mighty strength (Eph. 1:19), and that God fulfills the undeserved
good will of his kindness and the work of faith in us with power
(2 Thess. 1:11), and likewise that his divine power has given
us everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3).
IX Who teach that grace and free choice are concurrent partial
causes which cooperate to initiate conversion, and that grace
does not precede--in the order of causality--the effective influence
of the will;that is to say,that God does not effectively help
man's will to come to conversion before man's will itself motivates
and determines itself. For the early church already condemned
this doctrine long ago in the Pelagians, on the basis of the words
of the apostle: It does not depend on man's willing or running
but on God's mercy (Rom. 9:16); also: Who makes you different
from anyone else? and What do you have that you did not receive?
(1 Cor. 4:7); likewise: It is God who works in you to will and
act according to his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13)
Article 1: The Regenerate Not Entirely Free from Sin Those people
whom God according to his purpose calls into fellowship with his
Son Jesus Christ our Lord and regenerates by the Holy Spirit,
he also sets free from the reign and slavery of sin, though in
this life not entirely from the flesh and from the body of sin.
Article 2: The Believer's Reaction to Sins of Weakness Hence daily
sins of weakness arise, and blemishes cling to even the best works
of God's people, giving them continual cause to humble themselves
before God, to flee for refuge to Christ crucified, to put the
flesh to death more and more by the Spirit of supplication and
by holy exercises of godliness, and to strain toward the goal
of perfection, until they are freed from this body of death and
reign with the Lamb of God in heaven.
Article 3: God's Preservation of the Converted Because of these
remnants of sin dwelling in them and also because of the temptations
of the world and Satan, those who have been converted could not
remain standing in this grace if left to their own resources.
But God is faithful, mercifully strengthening them in the grace
once conferred on them and powerfully preserving them in it to
Article 4: The Danger of True Believers' Falling into Serious
Sins Although that power of God strengthening and preserving true
believers in grace is more than a match for the flesh, yet those
converted are not always so activated and motivated by God that
in certain specific actions they cannot by their own fault depart
from the leading of grace, be led astray by the desires of the
flesh, and give in to them. For this reason they must constantly
watch and pray that they may not be led into temptations. When
they fail to do this, not onlycan they be carried away by the
flesh, the world, and Satan into sins, even serious and outrageous
ones, but also by God's just permission they sometimesare so carried
away--witness the sad cases, described in Scripture, of David,
Peter, and other saints falling into sins.
Article 5: The Effects of Such Serious Sins By such monstrous
sins, however, they greatly offend God, deserve the sentence of
death, grieve the Holy Spirit, suspend the exercise of faith,
severely wound the conscience, and sometimes lose the awareness
of grace for a time--until, after they have returned to the way
by genuine repentance, God's fatherly face again shines upon them.
Article 6: God's Saving Intervention For God, who is rich in mercy,
according to his unchangeable purpose of election does not take
his Holy Spirit from his own completely, even when they fall grievously.
Neither does he let them fall down so far that they forfeit the
grace of adoption and the state of justification, or commit the
sin which leads to death (the sin against the Holy Spirit), and
plunge themselves, entirely forsaken by him, into eternal ruin.
Article 7: Renewal to Repentance For, in the first place, God
preserves in those saints when they fall his imperishable seed
from which they have been born again, lest it perish or be dislodged.
Secondly, by his Word and Spirit he certainly and effectively
renews them to repentance so that they have a heartfelt and godly
sorrow for the sins they have committed; seek and obtain, through
faith and with a contrite heart, forgiveness in the blood of the
Mediator; experience again the grace of a reconciled God; through
faith adore his mercies; and from then on more eagerly work out
their own salvation with fear and trembling.
Article 8: The Certainty of This Preservation So it is not by
their own merits or strength but by God's undeserved mercy that
they neither forfeit faith and grace totally nor remain in their
downfalls to the end and are lost. With respect to themselves
this not only easily could happen, but also undoubtedly would
happen; but with respect to God it cannot possibly happen, since
his plan cannot be changed, his promise cannot fail, the calling
according to his purpose cannot be revoked, the merit of Christ
as well as his interceding and preserving cannot be nullified,
and the sealing of the Holy Spirit can neither be invalidated
nor wiped out.
Article 9: The Assurance of This Preservation Concerning this
preservation of those chosen to salvation and concerning the perseverance
of true believers in faith, believers themselves can and do become
assured in accordance with the measure of their faith, by which
they firmly believe that they are and always will remain true
and living members of the church, and that they have the forgiveness
of sins and eternal life.
Article 10: The Ground of This Assurance Accordingly, this assurance
does not derive from some private revelation beyond or outside
the Word, but from faith in the promises of God which he has very
plentifully revealed in his Word for our comfort, from the testimony
of the Holy Spirit testifying with our spirit that we are God's
children and heirs (Rom. 8:16-17), and finally from a serious
and holy pursuit of a clear conscience and of good works. And
if God's chosen ones in this world did not have this well-founded
comfort that the victory will be theirs and this reliable guarantee
of eternal glory, they would be of all people most miserable.
Article 11: Doubts Concerning This Assurance Meanwhile, Scripture
testifies that believers have to contend in this life with various
doubts of the flesh and that under severe temptation they do not
always experience this full assurance of faith and certainty of
perseverance. But God, the Father of all comfort, does not let
them be tempted beyond what they can bear, but with the temptation
he also provides a way out (1 Cor. 10:13), and by the Holy Spirit
revives in them the assurance of their perseverance.
Article 12: This Assurance as an Incentive to Godliness This assurance
of perseverance, however, so far from making true believers proud
and carnally self-assured, is rather the true root of humility,
of childlike respect, of genuine godliness, of endurance in every
conflict, of fervent prayers, of steadfastness in crossbearing
and in confessing the truth, and of well-founded joy in God. Reflecting
on this benefit provides an incentive to a serious and continual
practice of thanksgiving and good works, as is evident from the
testimonies of Scripture and the examples of the saints.
Article 13: Assurance No Inducement to Carelessness Neither does
the renewed confidence of perseverance produce immorality or lack
of concern for godliness in those put back on their feet after
a fall, but it produces a much greater concern to observe carefully
the ways of the Lord which he prepared in advance. They observe
these ways in order that by walking in them they may maintain
the assurance of their perseverance, lest, by their abuse of his
fatherly goodness, the face of the gracious God (for the godly,
looking upon his face is sweeter than life, but its withdrawal
is more bitter than death) turn away from them again, with the
result that they fall into greater anguish of spirit.
Article 14: God's Use of Means in Perseverance And, just as it
has pleased God to begin this work of grace in us by the proclamation
of the gospel, so he preserves, continues, and completes his work
by the hearing and reading of the gospel, by meditation on it,
by its exhortations, threats, and promises, and also by the use
of the sacraments.
Article 15: Contrasting Reactions to the Teaching of Perseverance
This teaching about the perseverance of true believers and saints,
and about their assurance of it--a teaching which God has very
richly revealed in his Word for the glory of his name and for
the comfort of the godly and which he impresses on the hearts
of believers--is something which the flesh does not understand,
Satan hates, the world ridicules, the ignorant and the hypocrites
abuse, and the spirits of error attack. The bride of Christ, on
the other hand, has always loved this teaching very tenderly and
defended it steadfastly as a priceless treasure; and God, against
whom no plan can avail and no strength can prevail, will ensure
that she will continue to do this. To this God alone, Father,
Son, and Holy Spirit, be honor and glory forever. Amen.
Having set forth the orthodox teaching, the Synod rejects the
errors of those
I Who teach that the perseverance of true believers is not an
effect of election or a gift of God produced by Christ's death,
but a condition of the new covenant which man, beforewhat they
callhis "peremptory" election and justification, must
fulfill by his free will. For Holy Scripture testifies that perseverance
follows from election and is granted to the chosen by virtue of
Christ's death, resurrection, and intercession: The chosen obtained
it; the others were hardened (Rom. 11:7); likewise, He who did
not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all--how will he
not, along with him, grant us all things? Who will bring any charge
against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who
is he that condemns? It is Christ Jesus who died--more than that,
who was raised--who also sits at the right hand of God, and is
also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of
Christ? (Rom. 8:32-35).
II Who teach that God does provide the believer with sufficient
strength to persevere and is ready to preserve this strength in
him if he performs his duty, but that even with all those things
in place which are necessary to persevere in faith and which God
is pleased to use to preserve faith, it still always depends on
the choice of man's will whether or not he perseveres. For this
view is obviously Pelagian; and though it intends to make men
free it makes them sacrilegious. It is against the enduring consensus
of evangelical teaching which takes from man all cause for boasting
and ascribes the praise for this benefit only to God's grace.
It is also against the testimony of the apostle: It is God who
keeps us strong to the end, so that we will be blameless on the
day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:8).
III Who teach that those who truly believe and have been born
again not only can forfeit justifying faith as well as grace and
salvation totally and to the end, but also in actual fact do often
forfeit them and are lost forever. For this opinion nullifies
the very grace of justification and regeneration as well as the
continual preservation by Christ, contrary to the plain words
of the apostle Paul: If Christ died for us while we were still
sinners, we will therefore much more be saved from God's wrath
through him, since we have now been justified by his blood (Rom.
5:8-9); and contrary to the apostle John: No one who is born of
God is intent on sin, because God's seed remains in him, nor can
he sin, because he has been born of God (1 John 3:9); also contrary
to the words of Jesus Christ: I give eternal life to my sheep,
and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my
hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all;
no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand (John 10: 28-29).
IV Who teach that those who truly believe and have been born again
can commit the sin that leads to death (the sin against the Holy
Spirit). For the same apostle John, after making mention of those
who commit the sin that leads to death and forbidding prayer for
them (1 John 5: 16-17), immediately adds: We know that anyone
born of God does not commit sin (that is, that kind of sin), but
the one who was born of God keeps himself safe, and the evil one
does not touch him (v. 18).
V Who teach that apart from a special revelation no one can have
the assurance of future perseverance in this life. For by this
teaching the well-founded consolation of true believers in this
life is taken away and the doubting of the Romanists is reintroduced
into the church. Holy Scripture, however, in many places derives
the assurance not from a special and extraordinary revelation
but from the marks peculiar to God's children and from God's completely
reliable promises. So especially the apostle Paul: Nothing in
all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ
Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:39); and John: They who obey his commands
remain in him and he in them. And this is how we know that he
remains in us: by the Spirit he gave us (1 John 3:24).
VI Who teach that the teaching of the assurance of perseverance
and of salvation is by its very nature and character an opiate
of the flesh and is harmful to godliness, good morals, prayer,
and other holy exercises, but that, on the contrary, to have doubt
about this is praiseworthy. For these people show that they do
not know the effective operation of God's grace and the work of
the indwelling Holy Spirit, and they contradict the apostle John,
who asserts the opposite in plain words: Dear friends, now we
are children of God, but what we will be has not yet been made
known. But we know that when he is made known, we shall be like
him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope
in him purifies himself, just as he is pure (1 John 3:2-3). Moreover,
they are refuted by the examples of the saints in both the Old
and the New Testament, who though assured of their perseverance
and salvation yet were constant in prayer and other exercises
VII Who teach that the faith of those who believe only temporarily
does not differ from justifying and saving faith except in duration
alone. For Christ himself in Matthew 13:20ff. and Luke 8:13ff.
clearly defines these further differences between temporary and
true believers: he says that the former receive the seed on rocky
ground, and the latter receive it in good ground, or a good heart;
the former have no root, and the latter are firmly rooted; the
former have no fruit, and the latter produce fruit in varying
measure, with steadfastness, or perseverance.
VIII Who teach that it is not absurd that a person, after losing
his former regeneration, should once again, indeed quite often,
be reborn. For by this teaching they deny the imperishable nature
of God's seed by which we are born again, contrary to the testimony
of the apostle Peter: Born again, not of perishable seed, but
of imperishable (1 Pet. 1:23).
IX Who teach that Christ nowhere prayed for an unfailing perseverance
of believers in faith. For they contradict Christ himself when
he says: I have prayed for you, Peter, that your faith may not
fail (Luke 22:32); and John the gospel writer when he testifies
in John 17 that it was not only for the apostles, but also for
all those who were to believe by their message that Christ prayed:
Holy Father, preserve them in your name (v. 11); and My prayer
is not that you take them out of the world, but that you preserve
them from the evil one (v. 15).
And so this is the clear, simple, and straightforward explanation of the orthodox teaching on the five articles in dispute in the Netherlands, as well as the rejection of the errors by which the Dutch churches have for some time been disturbed. This explanation and rejection the Synod declares to be derived from God's Word and in agreement with the confessions of the Reformed churches. Hence it clearly appears that those of whom one could hardly expect it have shown no truth, equity, and charity at all in wishing to make the public believe: --that the teaching of the Reformed churches on predestination and on the points associated with it by its very nature and tendency draws the minds of people away from all godliness and religion, is an opiate of the flesh and the devil, and is a stronghold of Satan where he lies in wait for all people, wounds most of them, and fatally pierces many of them with the arrows of both despair and self-assurance; --that this teaching makes God the author of sin, unjust, a tyrant, and a hypocrite; and is nothing but a refurbished Stoicism, Manicheism, Libertinism, and Mohammedanism; --that this teaching makes people carnally self-assured, since it persuades them that nothing endangers the salvation of the chosen, no matter how they live, so that they may commit the most outrageous crimes with self-assurance; and that on the other hand nothing is of use to the reprobate for salvation even if they have truly performed all the works of the saints; --that this teaching means that God predestined and created, by the bare and unqualified choice of his will, without the least regard or consideration of any sin, the greatest part of the world to eternal condemnation; that in the same manner in which election is the source and cause of faith and good works, reprobation is the cause of unbelief and ungodliness; that many infant children of believers are snatched in their innocence from their mothers' breasts and cruelly cast into hell so that neither the blood of Christ nor their baptism nor the prayers of the church at their baptism can be of any use to them; and very many other slanderous accusations of this kind which the Reformed churches not only disavow but even denounce with their whole heart. Therefore this Synod of Dort in the name of the Lord pleads with all who devoutly call on the name of our Savior Jesus Christ to form their judgment about the faith of the Reformed churches, not on the basis of false accusations gathered from here or there, or even on the basis of the personal statements of a number of ancient and modern authorities--statements which are also often either quoted out of context or misquoted and twisted to convey a different meaning--but on the basis of the churches' own official confessions and of the present explanation of the orthodox teaching which has been endorsed by the unanimous consent of the members of the whole Synod, one and all. Moreover, the Synod earnestly warns the false accusers themselves to consider how heavy a judgment of God awaits those who give false testimony against so many churches and their confessions, trouble the consciences of the weak, and seek to prejudice the minds of many against the fellowship of true believers. Finally, this Synod urges all fellow ministers in the gospel of Christ to deal with this teaching in a godly and reverent manner, in the academic institutions as well as in the churches; to do so, both in their speaking and writing, with a view to the glory of God's name, holiness of life, and the comfort of anxious souls; to think and also speak with Scripture according to the analogy of faith; and, finally, to refrain from all those ways of speaking which go beyond the bounds set for us by the genuine sense of the Holy Scriptures and which could give impertinent sophists a just occasion to scoff at the teaching of the Reformed churches or even to bring false accusations against it. May God's Son Jesus Christ, who sits at the right hand of God and gives gifts to men, sanctify us in the truth, lead to the truth those who err, silence the mouths of those who lay false accusations against sound teaching, and equip faithful ministers of his Word with a spirit of wisdom and discretion, that all they say may be to the glory of God and the building up of their hearers. Amen.