The Preface to the Canons of Dort
The synod of Dort approved the canons on April 23, 1619, and two days later adopted a preface to the canons as a brief historical and theological introduction to the work of the synod and the canons. This preface has seldom been reprinted and is not regarded as an official part of the canons. Nevertheless, it is a useful introduction to them and is included here in a new translation.
In the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
Among the many comforts which our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gave to His church militant in its troubled sojourn, one in particular is rightly celebrated. That one He left behind as He departed to His Father in the heavenly sanctuary, saying, “I am with you every day until the end of the age.” The truth of this very delightful promise shines in the church of every time. She was attacked from the beginning not only in the open violence of enemies and the impiety of heretics, but also in the hidden cunning of seducers. Indeed, if ever the Lord had deprived her of the protection of the saving promise of His presence, long ago either the power of tyrants would have oppressed her or the fraud of deceivers would have seduced her to destruction. But the Good Shepherd has most constantly loved His flock for which He gave His life. He has always held back with His right hand at the right time the rage of persecutors, often openly and wonderfully. He has finished off and routed the crooked ways and fraudulent counsels of the seducers. Each time He showed His presence with His church. Clear proof of this truth stands in the histories of the pious emperors, kings, and princes, whom the Son of God so many times has raised up for the protection of His church. Inflamed with a holy zeal for His house, they restrained by their works the fury of the tyrants. “They also took care of the church with the remedies of holy synods when contending with false teachers and those who in various ways counterfeit religion. In these synods, faithful servants of Christ joined together in prayer, counsel, and labor. They stood strong and immovable for the church and truth of God, opposed undaunted the ministers of Satan transformed into angels of light, suppressed the seeds of errors and discord, preserved the church in the harmony of pure religion, and transmitted sound worship to posterity undiminished.
With the same favor, our faithful Savior in this time has shown His gracious presence to the Dutch church, which was for many years very afflicted. This church was set free from the tyranny of the Roman Antichrist and the horrible papal idolatry by the powerful hand of God. It was preserved wondrously many times in the dangers of the long war. It has flourished in the harmony of true doctrine and discipline to the praise of God, the admirable growth of Republic, and the joy of the whole Reformed world.
Then Jacob Arminius and his followers, named Remonstrants, attacked this church with various errors, some old and some new, first privately and then openly. Scandalous dissensions and obstinately disordered schisms led to such division that this most flourishing church would have been consumed in the horrible fire of these dissensions and schisms unless the compassion of our Savior had intervened at the right time. Blessed forever be the Lord, who after He had hidden His face for a moment from us (who had provoked His wrath and indignation in many ways), has shown the whole world that He does not forget His covenant and does not scorn the sighing of His people. When it appeared that there was hardly any human hope of remedy, He inspired the minds of the Most Illustrious and Mighty States General of the Dutch federation, together with the counsel and direction of the Most Illustrious and Mighty Prince of Orange, to use those legitimate means which the Apostles themselves practiced. Those means, followed as examples by those who came after the Apostles, came down to us, sanctioned by long use in the Christian church and practiced before this with great fruit also in the Dutch church. These civil governors decided to face the raging evils before them, declaring by their authority that a synod be convened in Dordrecht from all their provinces. They also requested and procured for this Synod many most important theologians by the favor of the Most Serene and Powerful King of Great Britain, James, and of various Most Illustrious Princes, Counts, and Republics.
By the common judgment of so many theologians of the Reformed church, the teachings of Arminius and his followers would be judged accurately and by the Word of God alone, true doctrine established and false doctrine rejected, and—by the divine blessing—harmony, peace, and tranquility be restored to the Dutch churches. This is that blessing of God in which the Dutch churches exult. They humbly acknowledge the compassions of their faithful Savior and gratefully preach them.
Before the meeting of this venerable Synod, the authority of the highest magistrates called for and held gatherings of prayer and fasting in all the Dutch churches to avert the wrath of God and to implore His gracious help. The Synod then gathered in the name of the Lord at Dordrecht, inflamed by love of the divine majesty and of the well-being of the church. After calling on the name of God, it bound itself by a holy oath to have for its judgment only the standard of Holy Scripture, and in its proceedings to understand and to act in judgment with good and honest conscience, and to do this diligently. It bound itself with great patience to persuade the leading advocates of that teaching cited before them to present their conviction about the Five Heads of Doctrine and to expound fully the reasons for that conviction. But when they repudiated the judgment of the synod and refused to respond to its questions, neither the warnings of the Synod nor the commands of the delegates of the Most Generous and Powerful States General could make progress with them. The Synod was forced to pursue another way by the order of their Lords and from the custom received from ancient synods. So the Synod examined their teachings on the five points from their writings, confessions, and declarations, some previously issued, others prepared for this Synod.
Through the singular grace of God, with the greatest diligence, faith, and conscience, this Synod achieved the absolute consensus of all and each member, to the glory of God. So, for the integrity of the truth of salvation, the tranquility of consciences, and the peace and well-being of the Dutch church, the Synod decided to promulgate the following judgment. By this judgment it both expounded the true conviction, which agreed to the Word of God about the previously mentioned Five Heads of Doctrine, and rejected the false conviction which differed from the Word of God.
This excerpt is adapted from Saving the Reformation by W. Robert Godfrey.