Daily Humility and Thanksgiving
The believer’s assurance of his election instills abiding and ever-increasing humility and promotes thankfulness: “The sense and certainty of this election afford to the children of God additional matter for daily humiliation before Him, for adoring the depth of His mercies, for cleansing themselves, and rendering grateful returns of ardent love to Him, who first manifested so great love towards them” (article I.13). The canons allege that if election were conditioned even in part on something the believer accomplished in his own strength, humility would be lost and pride would gain the upper hand. But since salvation is entirely of God’s sovereign, electing grace, and not based on anything God foresaw in man, humility and thanksgiving are the only appropriate responses (article III–IV.15).
The canons present sin as life’s greatest problem. Natural, sinful man is born with “blindness of mind” and is “impure in his affections” (article III–IV.1). As natural as it was for man to be holy pre-fall, so it is natural for him to be unholy post-fall. As a blind, impure sinner by nature, he cannot believe and be saved.
Happily, the canons also present God’s sovereign remedy for man’s utter ruin in sin: the Holy Spirit’s renewing a person’s will in regeneration, which results in returning to God in faith and repentance. From the moment of regeneration to the end of his days, the believer pursues holiness in every area of his life, despite his ongoing battles against sin. The canons recognize, especially in head V, that this battle is severe, and there are no shortcuts from sin to glory and no promises of freedom from tribulations in this life.
Happily, the canons also affirm that the Christian is not alone in his arduous pursuit of comprehensive holiness. The Holy Spirit enables him to persevere in faith and holiness, for He uses “the Word, sacraments, and discipline” to restore God’s erring children and build them up in grace by making them more holy (articles III–IV.17; V. 14). All of this is supported by constancy “in prayer and other exercises of godliness” (rejection of error V.6). Over time, their increasing assurance and ongoing perseverance in faith encourage this comprehensive pursuit of holiness (articles I.13; V.12), which in turn makes them active in evangelizing and witnessing for Christ’s cause.
Church history affirms the truth of the canons’ evangelistic impulse for the cause of Christ. As W. Robert Godfrey concludes:
The theology of the Canons did not bludgeon the Reformed community into inaction but rather armed the Reformed church with the whole counsel of God. Strengthened with a confidence in God taught in the Canons, Reformed Christians became the most dynamic and effective witnesses to Christ in Europe.
The Canons of Dort show consistently, painstakingly, and persuasively that the doctrines of the Reformed faith promote rather than hinder authentic Christian piety. This is summarized well in article V.15:
This certainty of perseverance, however, is so far from exciting in believers a spirit of pride or of rendering them carnally secure, that on the contrary, it is the real source of humility, filial reverence, true piety, patience in every tribulation, fervent prayers, constancy in suffering and in confessing the truth, and of solid rejoicing in God; [and serves] as an incentive to the serious and constant practice of gratitude and good works.