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Reformed Confessions: Four Magnificent Volumes
and a Recently Uncovered Jewel


Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries in English Translation, 4 Vols.
James T. Dennison, Jr. (ed.)
Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2008-2014
3348 pages, Hardback


I. Four Magnificent Volumes


These four magnificent volumes, compiled and introduced by James Dennison, Jr., contain 127 confessional documents in the 171 years from the Sixty-Seven Articles of Huldrych Zwingli (1523) to the Baptist Catechism (1693)—on average one every sixteen months! Surpassing all previous compilations of Reformed confessions, including those contained in the second and third parts of volume 3 of Philip Schaff's The Creeds of Christendom, this is now the definitive, and by far the most complete, compilation in English of Reformed creeds from the foundational period of the Reformed churches. This attractively produced set is a treasure chest of confessional resources, including one beautiful jewel which has been long buried and will be discussed in the second part of this review.

The definition of “confessions” used in these four volumes is broader than usual, encompassing not only creeds, catechisms and canons, but also some church orders, theses for disputations and even theological treatises. “Reformed” in the title of these books embraces Zwinglians and Calvinists; Waldensians, Bohemian Brethren and Huguenots; Anglicans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists and even (Calvinistic) Baptists. Some confessions were drafted in concert with Lutherans, and even the Remonstrance (1610) of the Arminians is included since this heretical document arose within the Dutch Reformed churches and was refuted by the Counter Remonstrance (1611) and the Canons of Dordt (1618-1619). For the purposes of this review, the words “Reformed” and “confessions” will be used as in the four volumes, as just explained.


Almost all of these 127 confessions were produced in the European Reformed world of the British Isles and continental Europe, excluding Scandinavia in the north (Lutheran), Russia in the east (Eastern Orthodox), most of the south-east (Islamic and Eastern Orthodox) and most of the south (Roman Catholic). Thus we are speaking of the creeds of the Reformed communities in Ireland, Scotland, England (and Wales), the Lowlands (roughly Belgium and the Netherlands), France, Switzerland, Germany, Bohemia, Poland and Lithuania, and Hungary and Romania (Transylvania), as well as the Waldensians in southern France and northern Italy. This area stretches from Antwerp to Aigle and Aix-en-Provence, from Bentheim to Basel and Berlin, from Dublin to Dordrecht and Debrecen, from Edinburgh to Emden and Enyedi, from Glastonbury to Graubünden and Gönc, from La Rochelle to Lausanne and Leipzig, from the (English) Midlands to Mühlhausen and Mérindol, from Nassau to Neuchâtel and Nagyvárad, from Poissy to Prague and Piotrków, from Somerset to Stafforts and Sandomierz, from Turin to Tábor and Thorn, and from Valenciennes to Vásárhelyi and Vilnius.

Because of persecution and flight, two French and Walloon documents were drafted in England (Vallerandus Poullain's Confession of the Glastonbury Congregation of 1551) and Germany (the Frankfort Confession of 1554); a Walloon creed was written in Germany (the Walloon Confession of Wesel of 1544/1545); three Dutch or German confessions in England (the London Confession of John à Lasco of 1551, the Large Emden Catechism of the Strangers' Church, London of 1551 and the Emden Examination of Faith of 1553); and four English creeds, with two in Switzerland (the Confession of the English Congregation at Geneva of 1556 and the Confession of Faith in the Geneva Bible of 1560) and two in the Lowlands (the Second Confession of the London-Amsterdam Church of 1596 and the Seven Articles of the Church of Leiden of 1617). The four volumes also include three Spanish confessions, written in Germany (Juan Diaz's Sum of the Christian Religion of 1546), Italy (Valdés' Catechism of 1549) and England (the Confession of the Spanish Congregation of London of 1560/1561), and two Italian creeds produced in Switzerland (the Confession of the Italian Church of Geneva of 1558 and Lattanzio Ragnoni's Formulario of 1559), as well as the Confession of Cyril Lukaris (1629), a creed produced in Constantinople (now Istanbul in Turkey), the origins of which are as fascinating as they are little known, sadly.

Only two of the 127 creeds were produced outside of Europe: one in South America and the other in North America. The first, the Guanabara Confession (1558), was penned by some French Huguenots who immigrated to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Whereas Cyril Lukaris was strangled by the orders of the Ottoman Sultan Murad IV and later dumped in the Bosphorus, most of the signatories to the Guanabara Confession were drowned by the French Roman Catholics. The second, the Cambridge Platform (1648), is the church polity of the English Congregationalists who left old England for freedom of religion in New England (USA).

Over half of the confessions in volume 1 (1523-1552) are Swiss Reformed. Volume 2 (1552-1566) is the most diverse geographically with almost all the European Reformed countries included (except Bohemia and Ireland), as well as Italian, Spanish and Brazilian creeds. The eastern part of the Reformed world (Hungary and Romania, Poland and Lithuania, Germany and Bohemia) provides eighteen of the twenty-three documents in volume 3 (1567-1599). England is the country with most creeds in volume 4 (1600-1693). If documents from English-speaking churches in Ireland, Scotland, New England and the Netherlands are added, English-language creeds constitute half of the confessions in the last volume.


Two cities stand out in connection with these confessional documents, with the first being Geneva. No less than thirteen creeds (over 10% of the whole!) were written in this little republic (as it was then), including two by English and two by Italian expatriates.

John Calvin, the great Genevan Reformer, also had a major hand in drafting the French Confession (1559), which provided the basis for the Waldensian Confession (1560) and it was also used as a sort of template by Guido de Brès, a friend of the Genevan Reformer, for the Belgic Confession (1561). Zacharius Ursinus and Casper Olevianus, the two main authors of the Heidelberg Catechism (1563), were students of the great Frenchman, as was Franciscus Junius, who may have written the Antwerp Confession (1566). John Knox, who laboured with Calvin in Geneva and famously called that city the most perfect school of Christ on earth since the days of the apostles, was the leading figure among the six Johns who produced the Scottish Confession (1560).

Another of Calvin's Genevan associates wrote Theodore Beza's Confession at Poissy (1561) and Beza chaired the Seventh National Synod of the Reformed Churches of France which adopted the Confession of La Rochelle (1571), a development of the French Confession (1559). Theodore Beza's Confession (1560) was the basis of the Confession of Torcal (1562) and Torda (1563) in Hungary.

The Venerable Company of Pastors in Geneva suggested that Antoine Léger (1594-1661) go to Constantinople as chaplain to the Dutch embassy. There the Genevan influenced the Patriarch who produced the Confession of Cyril Lukaris (1629). Before his death in 1661, Léger wrote the preface to the Waldensian Confession (1662). Among Calvin's later successors at Geneva, Francis Turretin was one of the three main figures behind the Formula Consensus Helvetica (1675).

Almighty God used Geneva's confessional documents especially in the development of the truth of absolute predestination (e.g., the Consensus Genevensis of 1552 and the Geneva Theses of 1649)—on which more later—and the Lord's Supper (e.g., the Consensus Tigurinus of 1549). Many of the anti-Trinitarian heretics who, by their presence and/or writings vexed especially the eastern Reformed churches of Poland and Lithuania, and Hungary and Romania, had earlier troubled Geneva. One thinks here of the Spaniard Michael Servetus and the Italian George Blandrata, one of the heretics against whom the Confession of the Italian Church of Geneva (1558) was written.

As well as through its confessions, some of which were very widely used, such as Calvin's Catechism (1545), Geneva greatly influenced all parts of the Reformed world, particularly in the west, in many ways, some more obvious and others less direct and quantifiable. Here one should mention not only Geneva's noted theologians and their much circulated writings, but also its famous academy and its numerous students, its busy publishing houses, its many refugees who stayed there briefly or permanently and its missionaries.


One city, however, surpasses even Geneva in the number of creeds in Dennison's compilation. Twenty-two of its 127 confessions are from London, which means that more than one out of every six documents listed were produced in the British capital.

Volumes 1-3 contain five Anglican documents (Lambeth is in London) and four confessions or catechisms by Dutch or German (three) and Spanish (one) refugees (London is a port). But it is the last volume, which covers the seventeenth century, that marks London’s rise to confessional prominence. Now the main groups that were no longer content with the half-reform of the Church of England produced a flurry of authoritative documents, and London was the centre for the Presbyterians (Westminster Abbey with six confessions), the Congregationalists (the Savoy Palace) with their two and the Baptists with five. Whereas Geneva's confessional fecundity declined through the volumes, London became the centre of creedal productivity through the deep and serious intra-Protestant debates in seventeenth-century Britain which focussed on the capital.

Here again creedal borrowing is evident. British Presbyterianism's Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) utilized Anglicanism's Irish Articles (1615), which had incorporated the English Lambeth Articles (1595), only for the Westminster Confession to be modified by Congregationalism's Savoy Declaration (1658), especially as regards church polity. The latter was then adapted by the London Baptist Confession (1677) according to its anti-paedobaptist distinctives. Likewise, the Westminster Shorter Catechism (1647) is the basis of the Baptist Catechism (1693), with alterations especially regarding the first sacrament, obviously enough.


But these four volumes are more than a tale of two cities (Geneva and London). As one would expect of confessional documents from many different Reformed communities over seventeen decades from half a continent and beyond, there are differences in style and tone (e.g., the literary style of William Farel's Summary of 1529 is abrupt and irregular), and not all of them agree on all things. Especially in the British Isles, there are differences regarding church polity and baptism. In the continental Reformed world, the strongest creeds are from Geneva and the weakest from Poland.

Here are confessional documents drawn up by anywhere from one or two to dozens to hundreds. Some were penned by theologians or ministers or martyrs or even artisans—the Guanabara Confession (1558) provides an example of the last two categories—while others were produced by an elector (the Confession of Frederick III of 1577) or a patriarch (the Confession of Cyril Lukaris of 1629). Some confessions were written by individuals or consistories or colloquys or convocations or assemblies or (regional or national) synods.

The confessions in Dennison's four volumes vary greatly in length. Some are very short, like the Ten Theses of Bern (1528) and the Lausanne Articles (1536), which are both just over a page. Even less than a page are the nine superb statements of the Lambeth Articles (1595) on double predestination and the Seven Articles of the Church of Leiden (1617) by English Congregationalists in the Netherlands before their departure on the Mayflower for America in 1620. However, the Documents of the Debrecen Synod (1567) come in at a hefty 145 pages.

Some creeds were especially to be presented to emperors or kings or electors or princes or dukes or counts or parliaments or city councils, while one was drafted as a witness to his Roman Catholic father: Theodore Beza's Confession (1560). Others were written particularly for children (e.g., Valdés' Catechism of 1549 and the Emden Catechism of 1554) or adult church members (e.g., the Antwerp Confession of 1566) or those seeking admission to the Lord's Supper (e.g., the Brief Confession of the Westminster Assembly of 1645) or students (e.g., the Geneva Students Confession of 1559) or pastors (e.g., the Confession of the East Friesland Preachers of 1528 and the Geneva Theses of 1649) or church visitation (e.g., the Bentheim Confession of 1613/1617) or even inclusion in a Bible translation (e.g., the Confession of Faith in the Geneva Bible of 1560), while others were drafted to list first principles which must be held by churches in order for them to be tolerated in a Christian commonwealth (e.g., the Principles of Faith of 1652 and a New Confession of Faith of 1654).

Some confessions especially polemicized against the heresies of various groups: Roman Catholics (e.g., the King's Confession of 1581), Anabaptists (e.g., the Walloon Confession of Wesel of 1544/1545), anti-Trinitarians (e.g., the Synod of Torda of 1566 and the Confession of the Synod of Cassov of 1568), Arminians (e.g., the Counter Remonstrance of 1611, the Bentheim Confession of 1613/1617 and the Canons of Dordt of 1618-1619) or Amyraldians (e.g., the Geneva Theses of 1649 and the Formula Consensus Helvetica of 1675). Reformed confessions which contradict Lutheran views tend to be less polemical (e.g., the Nassau Confession of 1578, the Bremen Consensus of 1595 and the Stafforts Book of 1599).

Particular concerns are evident in some of the creeds of different Reformed bodies befitting their diverse histories and their opponents and/or oppressors. To oversimplify, one could say that for the Dutch it was sovereign grace, for the Germans it was the Lord's Supper, for the Hungarians it was the Holy Trinity, for the Polish it was (forced) ecumenism and for the British it was church polity, whereas the Waldensians were repeatedly forced to explain why they ought not be persecuted by the Romanists.

There was and is a big difference in the usage of these documents. The Confession of Frederick III (1577) was a personal profession only published after the Elector's death. The Confession of the Glastonbury Congregation (1551) first served that French-speaking refugee congregation when its adult members numbered just twenty. Some creeds have served millions and are still maintained in faithful Reformed churches today, such as the documents in the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards, the Second Helvetic Confession (1566), etc.—roughly, the main Reformed creeds found in the middle of volume 3 of Schaff's The Creeds of Christendom. Other creeds were superseded by later revisions. Thus the Forty-Two Articles of the Church of England (1552/1553) became the Thirty-Nine Articles (1562/1563) and the Bohemian Confession of 1573 is much longer and more Reformed than the Bohemian Confession of 1535.


The four volumes of Reformed Confessions of the 16th and 17th Centuries teach many lessons very necessary for our day. First, Reformed churches are not some new thing lately sprung up. We are rooted in a centuries-long tradition of faith, worship and life drawn from the sacred Scriptures. Second, the Reformed faith and Reformed churches are not merely parochial. We are international and truly catholic. Third, true Reformed churches are not creedless or anti-creedal (like Liberalism or Fundamentalism) or content merely with short or ecumenical creeds (like Evangelicalism). We hold to lengthy, developed and detailed creeds, the full-blooded confessions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Fourth, faithful creedal Reformed churches are not dry or dying or dead. Loving, knowing, preaching, witnessing to and suffering for the biblical truth of our creeds reveals that we live unto the Triune God by the grace of the incarnate Son who died and rose again for us.

On the contrary, it is shallow, trendy Evangelicalism, with its faddish, modern worship, its fascination with spurious charismata, its openness to Roman Catholic doctrine and its lack of the knowledge of God, which is the new kid on the block ecclesiastically. Without historical and creedal roots, it is blown about with every wind of doctrine. It would be unrecognizable to the strong Reformed churches of the past, except that it bears uncanny resemblances to elements of the Anabaptist movement which they strenuously opposed! May the Lord be pleased to bring many individuals, families and churches from superficial Christianity back to the old paths of the biblical and Reformed confessions!

What else should we say about this largest-ever collection in English of the Reformed confessions from all the Reformed family in all the Reformed world in its foundational two centuries? It would serve well as the core text in seminary courses on the Reformed creeds and it is a vital resource for Reformed ministers and any who want to learn more about our creedal heritage. From this compilation of Reformed confessions, one can trace the growth of the Reformed creeds, which is of great value in understanding the development of Reformed theology. Along with the very helpful, brief introductions to each of the confessions, this provides a fascinating perspective on Reformed church history. This set would also serve to better acquaint western Reformed believers with the eastern Reformed churches of Hungary and Romania, Poland and Lithuania, and Bohemia, which produced twenty-five of the 127 confessions, about 20% of the total.


II. A Recently Uncovered Jewel

Geneva Theses

As well as the many Reformed confessions appearing in English for the first time in these four volumes, there is one highly significant document only available in English before now in a 1971 Th.D. thesis for a Canadian university. This “recently uncovered jewel,” as this article's title puts it, is the Geneva Theses (1649). It is contained in volume 4 of Dennison's work (pp. 413-422), which includes his introduction (pp. 413-415), his transcription of the Latin primary document (pp. 415-418) and his revised English translation (pp. 418-422).

The Geneva Theses were written to oppose the theology of the Academy of Saumur in western France, promoted especially by the heretic Moise Amyraut (1596-1664), its most famous student and professor (hence Amyraldianism). At the heart of Amyraut's doctrine of hypothetical universal grace, in both hypothetical universal election and hypothetical universal atonement, is the notion that God desires to save everybody head for head, including the reprobate—today called the free offer or the well-meant offer.

The Geneva Theses were written by Théodore Tronchin (1582-1657) and Antoine Léger. We have already spoken of Léger's role in Waldensian and Constantinopolitan confessions. Tronchin studied theology at Geneva, Basel, Heidelberg, Franeker and Leiden. Along with Giovanni Diodati, whom he later succeeded as a theological professor, Tronchin was a Genevan delegate to the great Synod of Dordt which condemned Arminianism. Thirty years later, he wrote the Geneva Theses in the same tradition of sovereign grace as the Canons of Dordt (1618-1619), over against the more subtle enemy of Amyraldianism, with the later confession being more explicitly, antithetically and emphatically against the free offer, a more subtle enemy than even Amyraldianism. This is noteworthy given that Tronchin was widely reckoned to be a more irenic theologian.

The five heads of the Geneva Theses are entitled “I. Concerning Original Sin” (against mediate imputation especially taught by Saumur's Josué de la Place), “II. Concerning Predestination,” “III. Concerning Redemption,” “IV. Concerning the Disposition of Man to Grace” and “V. Concerning Promises Made to Believers and Their Prerogatives.” Like the more famous five heads of the Canons of Dordt (1618-1619), from which we have the Five Points of Calvinism, which the heads of the Geneva Theses sought to safe-guard, this much shorter creed consists of both positive statements (which range from two to four articles) and rejections of errors (from one to four articles).

Anti-Free-Offer Articles

It is highly significant that in theses II, III and IV (the ones dealing with predestination, redemption and the disposition of man to grace), seven of the seventeen articles, consisting of one of the ten positive statements and an amazingly high six of the seven rejections of errors, clearly oppose all the main tenets of well-meant offer theology! These are the anti-free-offer articles:

II:R. Rejection of the error of those:
1. Who teach that in God there is granted, under the condition of faith and repentance, some good will of saving those who perish.
2. Who, using economy for an excuse, ascribe to God the inclination or volition or disposition or affection or less ardent love or power or intention or desire or will or counsel or decree or covenant or necessary or universal conditional loving kindness, by which He wills each and every man to be saved if they believe in Christ.
3. Who assign to God a design previous to election in which He determined to be merciful to the whole human race without limit.
4. Who attribute to God a twofold loving-kindness, one clear or first and universal by which He willed each and every person to be saved: the other more clear, second, and particular towards the elect (pp. 419-420).
III:R. Rejection of the error of those:
1. Who teach that Christ died for each and every one sufficiently, not merely by reason of worth, but also by reason of intention; or for all conditionally, if they were to believe; or who assert that Scripture teaches that Christ died for all men universally; and most especially the places of Scripture (Ezek. 18:21 etc. and 33:11; John 3:16; I Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9) ought to be extended to each and every man and by these the universality of love and grace ought to be proved (p. 421).1
IV. 1. Since the requisite conditions for salvation are impossible to the reprobate, God does not intend the salvation of them conditionally if they believe and repent unless it is supposed that there is an empty, deceptive, and useless intention and will of God (p. 421).
IV:R. Rejection of the error of those:
2. Who teach that by His revealed disposition, God wills the salvation of each and every one (p. 421).

God's Will

In opposition to the well-meant offer which posits a will of the Almighty to save everybody, as the last article cited above states, the Geneva Theses reject “the error of those: Who teach that by His revealed disposition, God wills the salvation of each and every one” (IV:R:2). Of the four rejections of error in “II. Concerning Predestination,” three spurn the free-offer view of God's will. This creed from Calvin's Geneva rejects the views of those who

(1) “teach that in God there is … some good will of saving those who perish” (II:R:1);
(2) “ascribe to God the inclination or volition or disposition or affection or less ardent love or power or intention or desire or will or counsel or decree or covenant or necessary or universal conditional loving kindness, by which He wills each and every man to be saved if they believe in Christ” (II:R:2); and
(3) “attribute to God a … universal [desire] by which He willed each and every person to be saved” (II:R:4).

Let us analyze the various components of the errors that the Geneva Theses sharply oppose. First, the issue is the will of God, both as a verb: He “wills” or “willed” (II:R:2, 4; IV:R:2) and as a noun: His “will” (II:R:1, 2; IV:1). Jehovah's will is spoken of as His “disposition” (II:R:2), even His “revealed disposition” (IV:R:2). Besides Jehovah's “will” and “disposition,” article II:R:2's list includes God's “inclination” or “volition” or “desire,” as well as eight other terms!

Second, this will of God is “universal” (II:R:2), concerning “each and every one” (IV:R:2), “each and every person” (II:R:4), “each and every man” (II:R:2) and “the whole human race without limit” (II:R:3), including “those who perish” (II:R:1) who are “the reprobate” (IV:1).

Third, this view of the will of God concerning each and every reprobate human being is that He desires their “salvation” (IV:1; IV:R:2) or “saving” (II:R:1) or being “saved” (II:R:2, 4).

Fourth, in rejecting the views of those who “ascribe” (II:R:2) or “attribute” (II:R:4) to God, or “teach” (II:R:1; IV:R:2) that He has, a will to save the reprobate, the seventeenth-century Geneva Theses are clearly rejecting what in our day is meant by, and called, the free offer. How often in our day do we not hear professed Calvinists “teach that by His revealed disposition, God wills the salvation of each and every one” (IV:R:2). But this Reformed creed calls this an “error” and pronounces its “rejection” of it!

Since, by definition, the salvation of the reprobate is “impossible,” the Geneva Theses repudiate the well-meant offer for it, like Amyraldianism, postulates “an empty, deceptive, and useless intention and will of God” (IV:1)!

First, the free offer is “empty” as opposed to the full, rich and eternal will, desire, volition and revealed disposition of the blessed Triune God which manifests the wisdom, power and glory of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in the salvation of all the elect (Eph. 1:3-14), “a certain number of men who make up His [i.e., Christ's] mystical body” (III:2, p. 420). How “empty” the foolish speculations of Saumur and the well-meant offer appear when set in the light of our Saviour's thanksgiving to His Father for the revelation of God's will in election and reprobation in the divinely ordained results of gospel preaching:

I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight. All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal him (Matt. 11:25-27).

Second, the well-meant offer is “deceptive” since it is not honest or sincere to claim as gospel that the God of truth desires to save each and every reprobate person when He has not taken any of the necessary steps to deliver them from sin and destruction, and bring them to the bliss of covenant fellowship with the living God (Westminster Confession 3:3-7). Jehovah has not elected or redeemed any of them, and He never regenerates, calls, justifies, adopts, sanctifies, preserves or glorifies any of the reprobate. Instead, He hates and hardens them as “vessels of wrath fitted for destruction” (Rom. 9:10-24).

Third, the free offer is utterly “useless,” as the Geneva Theses point out, for it has not saved, it does not save and it will not save, a single reprobate in all the history of the world. Why? Because, by definition, it cannot save any one. Over against the impotent god of the well-meant offer, we confess, “But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased” (Ps. 115:3), for, unlike the god of Saumur and much of modern evangelicalism, the true God proclaims, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isa. 46:10)!

Any deity with an “empty, deceptive and useless” will is an “empty, deceptive and useless” god. Instead of the “empty, deceptive and useless” divine will and god of the free offer, this Genevan creed speaks repeatedly about God's eternal decree, counsel, good pleasure, predestination and election. Concerning Jehovah's predestination, it confesses, “Those whom God elected in Christ out of His good pleasure alone, and those only, He decreed to give to the Son, and to give them faith in order that they would be brought all the way to eternal life” (II:3; p. 419; italics mine). Concerning Christ's purpose to redeem only those whom the Father has given Him, we read, “For these, Christ Himself, perfectly conscious of His vocation, willed and resolved to die and to add to the infinite value of His death, the most efficacious and singular purpose of His will” (III:3; p. 420; italics mine). No wonder the Geneva Theses have no place or toleration for the free-offer travesty regarding God's will!

God's Love

Both Amyraldianism and free-offer theology teach false views of both God's will and God's love. In rejecting the doctrine of Moise Amyraut on God's love, the Geneva Theses also repudiate the views of Louis Berkhof, John McArthur, Phil Johnson, John Piper, etc.

First, these men attribute to the Almighty a universal “love” (II:R:2; III:R:1), “lovingkindness” (II:R:2, 4), “affection” (II:R:2), mercy (II:R:3) and “grace” (III:R:1) for “the whole human race without limit” (II:R:3). They “teach that in God there is granted … some good will of saving those who perish” (II:R:1). This “good will” is a favourable or gracious attitude or disposition to the reprobate.

Second, along with the extent of God's love, there is the issue of the “number” of the divine love. Saumur, like the Christian Reformed Church's Synod of Kalamazoo of 1924 and all free-offer advocates, taught a “twofold” grace or mercy of God. This “twofold loving-kindness” consists of “one clear or first and universal by which He willed each and every person to be saved: the other more clear, second, and particular towards the elect” (II:R:4).

Third, what about the degree or power of this secondary and universal divine affection? Again Amyraldianism and the well-meant offer agree: it is a “less ardent love” (II:R:2), a love without the necessary power to save. Hence this alleged divine love of the free-offer falls under the condemnation of this Genevan creed as “empty, deceptive, and useless” (IV:1). The correspondences are uncanny!

The attentive reader will notice from the letter “R” in all the round brackets in the three paragraphs above that these Amyraldian and well-meant offer views of a secondary, lesser divine love, grace, lovingkindness, mercy or affection toward the reprobate are classified, not as confessional or Reformed or biblical, but as errors which are rejected by the Geneva Theses!

This beautiful creed only knows of one love of God for some people: “His eternal love toward the elect” (II:2; p. 419). The singular “matchless love and mercy of God” is extolled in these comforting words about our gracious salvation in Jesus Christ, for it is sure and certain from beginning to end:

The matchless love and mercy of God is the sole cause both of the sending of the Son and of the satisfaction appointed beforehand through Him, even the conferring of faith and application of merit through it: which benefits should not be objects of separation or be torn asunder from themselves (II:4; p. 419).

Key Texts

Not only does the free offer involve two intrinsically-related false doctrines concerning God (regarding His will and His love for the salvation of the reprobate), but it also invariably appeals (wrongly) to certain texts of Scripture as if they support these errors. This 1649 confession states,

Rejection of the error of those: Who teach that ... most especially the places of Scripture (Ezek. 18:21 etc. and 33:11; John 3:16; I Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9) ought to be extended to each and every man and by these the universality of love and grace ought to be proved (III:R:1).2

How often free-offer advocates in our day claim that the “world” in John 3:16 includes those who are never saved! Thus they end up with a resistible love of God for the reprobate, contrary to Head IV of the Canons of Dordt, as well as some form of a universal atonement. These professed Calvinists do not seem to be bothered that the latter follows necessarily from the former; yea, some even state this explicitly, as if the Canons of Dordt did not teach the scriptural truth of the Lord's cross as particular and effectual, and for the elect alone (II:8-9)!3

Little has changed in the over 350 years since the Geneva Theses. Besides John 3:16, the texts scraped up in defence of the well-meant offer in our day are still the Ezekielian passages, I Timothy 2:4 and II Peter 3:9.4 The only surprise is that Matthew 23:37 is not mentioned.5 Indeed, the four texts mentioned in Geneva Theses III:R:1 are those appealed to by the enemies of God's sovereign grace in the early church, in the Middle Ages, at the Reformation, in the post-Reformation church and in our own times.

It is rare that a Reformed creed mentions the erroneous exegesis of specific passages of the Word of God. It is highly revealing that the Geneva Theses do exactly this and that the Bible verses it mentions are the very verses appealed to by advocates of the free offer today in support of a universal divine “love and grace” that is “extended to each and every man” and desires to save everybody! These are also “most especially the places of Scripture” (III:R:1) cited by the Pelagians, Semi-Pelagians, Roman Catholics, Anabaptists and Arminians, as well as the Amyraldians and well-meant offer men.6

Extra-Confessional Binding?

It is significant that (1) this anti-free offer confession is infralapsarian (II:1, p. 419), so that its opposition to the well-meant offer cannot be dismissed merely as supralapsarian “extremism;” (2) it was approved by all the Venerable Company of Pastors of Calvin's Geneva and “signed on their behalf by the moderator, Joannes Jacobus Sartorius (1619-1690)” (p. 414), so that it can hardly be misrepresented and then derided as hyper-Calvinism; (3) it is an official church confession and not merely a sermon or a commentary on Scripture or a theological writing, so that it does not merely present the personal sentiments of a minister or a professor; (4) its title contains the word “theses,” indicating that these theological propositions are to be steadfastly maintained against all opposition and gainsayers; and (5) Genevan professors and ministers, and those trained at the Genevan Academy to be appointed elsewhere, for example, in France and in the Lowlands, had to subscribe to it (p. 414).

One wonders if Klaas Schilder would have accused Geneva's Venerable Company of Pastors of “extra-confessional binding.”7 Would Schilder have asked them, “Are not the Canons of Dordt enough for the church in Geneva?” Unlike the “Declaration of Principles of the Protestant Reformed Churches” (1951), which, amongst other truths, teaches God's unconditional covenant and effectual desire to save all the elect, excluding an ineffectual divine desire to save the reprobate, and consists almost entirely of quotations from the Three Forms of Unity, the Geneva Theses do not even use excerpts from Geneva's earlier confessional documents, e.g., the Geneva Confession (1536/37), Calvin's Catechism (1545) or the Consensus Genevensis (1552)!8

"Is Amyraldianism with its well-meant offer theology a 'big deal'? Is it really that bad? Why must you continually oppose it?" Some made these criticisms of the Genevan church in the seventeenth century, as they do against those today who antithetically maintain God's absolute sovereignty. Well, the Venerable Company of Pastors even wrote a new and binding confession against it: the Geneva Theses! A quarter of a century later, Geneva and the Swiss Reformed churches produced and adopted another creed against Saumur and the free offer: the Formula Consensus Helvetica (1675), which shall be considered later.

Calvin's Consensus Genevensis

Théodore Tronchin, Antoine Léger and the Geneva Theses stand solidly in the line of John Calvin (1509-1564), the great Reformer of Geneva. The following lengthy quote from Calvin's Consensus Genevensis (1552) shows that he maintained the scriptural truth of the absolute sovereignty of God along with the Geneva Theses and Augustine, over against the Pelagians and the Roman Catholics with their free offer and false exegesis of I Timothy 2:4.

Now let Pighius boast, if he can, that God willeth all men to be saved! The above arguments, founded on the Scriptures, prove that even the external preaching of the doctrine of salvation, which is very far inferior to the illumination of the Spirit, was not made of God common to all men. This passage of the apostle (1 Tim. ii. 4) was long ago brought forward by the Pelagians, and handled against us with all their might. What Augustine advanced in reply to them in many parts of his works, I think it unnecessary to bring forward on the present occasion. I will only adduce one passage, which clearly and briefly proves how unconcernedly he despised their objection now in question. “When our Lord complains (says he) that though He wished to gather the children of Jerusalem as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, but she would not [Matt. 23:37], are we to consider that the will of God was overpowered by a number of weak men, so that He who was Almighty God could not do what He wished or willed to do? If so, what is to become of that omnipotence by which He did 'whatsoever pleased Him in heaven and in earth' [Ps. 135:6]? Moreover, who will be found so profanely mad as to say that God cannot convert the evil wills of men, which He pleases, when He pleases, and as He pleases, to good? Now, when He does this, He does it in mercy; and when He doeth it not, in judgment He doeth it not” ... The true meaning of Paul, however, in the passage now under consideration [I Tim. 2:4] is perfectly clear and intelligible to every one who is not determined on contention. The apostle is exhorting that all solemn “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men: for kings and for all that are in authority.” And because there were, in that age, so many and such wrathful and bitter enemies of the Church, Paul, to prevent despair from hindering the prayers of the faithful, hastens to meet their distresses by earnestly entreating them to be instant in prayer “for all men,” and especially “for all those in authority.” “For (saith the apostle) God will have all men to be saved.” Who does not see that the apostle is here speaking of orders of men rather than of individuals? Indeed, that distinction which commentators here make is not without great reason and point; that nations of individuals, not individuals of nations, are here intended by Paul (vol. 1, pp. 758-759; italics those in the book).

Theodore Beza's Confession

The Geneva Theses are in a stream of anti-free-offer Genevan confessional literature that includes not only Calvin's Consensus Genevensis (1552) but also Theodore Beza's Confession (1560), written eight years later.

Interestingly, Théodore Tronchin was named after his maternal grandfather, Théodore Beza (1519-1605), and his mother, Théodora, who was the adopted daughter of the great Beza! Like the Geneva Theses almost ninety years later (III:R:1), Beza expressed creedally that those to whom God is “longsuffering” and whom He is “not willing that any should perish” are the elect and not the reprobate (II Peter 3:9). Thus we read in Theodore Beza's Confession (1560):

Finally, we believe according to the Word of God that in the time ordained of God (Acts 3:21; 1 Peter 4:7), which time the very angels do not know (Matt. 24:36; 25:13; 1 Thess. 5:1-2), Jesus Christ seeing the number of his elect fulfilled and accomplished (Rev. 6:11; 2 Peter 3:9) will come from heaven bodily with His divine majesty (Acts 1:11; Matt. 24:30), this old world being consumed by fire (2 Peter 3:10) (vol. 2, p. 333; italics mine).

This is also the anti-free-offer interpretation of II Peter 3:9 in the Confession of Tarcal (1562) and Torda (1563), a Hungarian Reformed creed drafted by Péter Melius Juhász (1532-1572) who appears to have used Theodore Beza's Confession (1560) with some modifications:

We believe, from the Word of God, that the day is to come at a certain time which even the angels do not know, when, after the number of the elect is fulfilled and the world has been purged by fire, Jesus Christ will come from heaven in His visible and true human form (but clothed in divine majesty), that all men that have existed from the beginning of the world may appear before Him (Acts 3:21; 1 Peter 4:7; Matt. 24:13, 36; 1 Thess. 5:2; Rev. 6:11; 2 Peter 3:9, 12; Acts 1:11; Matt. 24:30) (vol. 2, p. 751; italics mine).

Turretin and the Formula Consensus Helvetica

Tronchin was succeeded in his chair of theology at the Genevan Academy by no less than Francis Turretin (1623-1687), who signed and strenuously defended the Geneva Theses. Along with John Henry Heidegger of Zurich and Lucas Gernler of Basel, Francis Turretin of Geneva was one of the three worthies who produced and promoted the Formula Consensus Helvetica (1675), which, as its extended title states, was “designed to condemn and exclude that modified form of Calvinism” that “emanated from the theological school at Saumur” (vol. 4, p. 518) so that it would not “infect our churches” (vol. 4, p. 419). According to the “Preface,” this “especially” included “the doctrine that concerns the extent of divine grace,” for it held to a form of “universal grace” (vol. 4, p. 519; cf. p. 518), like the free offer.

Here we quote just one key article:

Canon VI: Wherefore, we can not agree with the opinion of those who teach: 1) that God, moved by philanthropy, or a kind of special love for the fallen of the human race, did, in a kind of conditioned willing, first moving of pity, as they call it, or inefficacious desire, determine the salvation of all, conditionally, i.e., if they would believe, 2) that he appointed Christ Mediator for all and each of the fallen; and 3) that, at length, certain ones whom he regarded, not simply as sinners in the first Adam, but as redeemed in the second Adam, he elected, that is, he determined graciously to bestow on these, in time, the saving gift of faith; and in this sole act election properly so called is complete. For these and all other similar teachings are in no way insignificant deviations from the proper teaching concerning divine election; because the Scriptures do not extend unto all and each God's purpose of showing mercy to man, but restrict it to the elect alone, the reprobate being excluded even by name, as Esau, whom God hated with an eternal hatred (Rom. 9:13). The same Holy Scriptures testify that the counsel and will of God do not change, but stand immovable, and God in the heavens does whatsoever he will (Ps. 115:3; Isa. 46:10); for God is infinitely removed from all that human imperfection which characterizes inefficacious affections and desires, rashness, repentance, and change of purpose. The appointment, also, of Christ, as Mediator, equally with the salvation of those who were given to him for a possession and an inheritance that can not be taken away, proceeds from one and the same election, and does not form the basis of election (vol. 4, pp. 521-522).9

Amyraldianism is seen to include what is now called the well-meant offer in that both hold to a certain divine “philanthropy” or “love” or “pity” for all men absolutely that wills their salvation with an “inefficacious desire.” Heidegger, Gernler and Turretin contend that “these and all other similar teachings are in no way insignificant deviations from the proper teaching concerning divine election” for “the Scriptures do not extend unto all and each God's purpose of showing mercy to man, but restrict it to the elect alone, the reprobate being excluded even by name, as Esau, whom God hated with an eternal hatred (Rom. 9:13).” The Formula Consensus Helvetica faithfully declares that “God is infinitely removed from all that human imperfection which characterizes inefficacious affections and desires” for “God in the heavens does whatsoever he will (Ps. 115:3).”10 In citing this biblical text, this Reformed creed echoes many worthies who quoted Psalm 115:3 (and Psalm 135:6, which is similar), such as Augustine of Hippo (354-430), Fulgentius of Ruspe (468-533) and Gottschalk of Orbais (c.808–c.867), in their opposition to an “inefficacious desire” in God to save the reprobate taught by the Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians.11

A perennially fresh stream of Genevan confessional literature that advocates God's effectual saving desire and rejects a divine will to save the reprobate runs from Calvin's Consensus Genevensis (1552) to Theodore Beza's Confession (1560) to Théodore Tronchin and Antoine Léger's Geneva Theses (1649) and Francis Turretin and the Formula Consensus Helvetica (1675). When Geneva turned from the truth of the absolute sovereignty of the God who is “the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns,” the “broken cisterns” of Amyraldianism, free-offer theology, etc., “that can hold no water,” it departed from its creeds and apostatized (Jer. 2:13).12

Of all the Reformed confessional literature, including the four creeds mentioned above, as well as, for example, the Canons of Dordt (1618-1619) and the “Declaration of Principles” (1951), the Geneva Theses stand out as being the shortest, while yet tackling all the main aspects of the free offer (its views of God's will and love, and its alleged scriptural proof) and doing so antithetically in its rejection of errors sections, presenting the well-meant offer as contrary to God's absolute predestination (II, pp. 419-420), Christ's particular redemption (III, pp. 420-421) and the Spirit's effectual call (IV, p. 421). Hopefully, in God's sovereign purpose, this “recently uncovered jewel” will attract widespread attention and come to be admired and prized for the beautiful, little gem that it is.

James Dennison, we salute you! We commend you for your vision and perseverance in this grand project. For this, along with your work as editor of Francis Turretin's monumental three-volume Institutes of Elenctic Theology, the Reformed church owes you a large debt. Thank you!


1 Instead of Ezekiel 31:11 in the English translation (p. 421), I have changed the reference to Ezekiel 33:11, which is the verse clearly intended, as indicated by the Latin original (p. 417).
2 Francis Turretin (1623-1687) asks, “Can there be attributed to God any conditional will, or universal purpose of pitying the whole human race fallen in sin, of destinating Christ as Mediator to each and all, and of calling them all to a saving participation of his benefits?” and responds with a firm negative: “We deny” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison [Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1992], vol. 1, p. 395; italics mine). Then follow ten pages of solid arguments from Scripture and the Canons of Dordt (III/IV:8) rejecting the free-offer views of the Lutherans, the Arminians and the Amyraldians (pp. 395-404). Turretin's next nine pages contain a thorough refutation from God's Word, Augustine, Calvin and Beza of a flawed interpretation of four biblical passages alleged in support of a failed desire of God to save the reprobate (pp. 405-413). Interestingly, these are the very four listed in Geneva Theses III:R:1: John 3:16, Ezekiel 33:11, I Timothy 2:4 and II Peter 3:9! Turretin was a Genevan who signed and supported the Theses.
3 For faithful, on-line, Reformed exegesis of John 3:16, see Homer C. Hoeksema, “God So Loved the World (John 3:16),” which also includes the sound interpretations of Francis Turretin, Abraham Kuyper and A. W. Pink.
4 The CPRC websites contains many orthodox quotes on Ezekiel 18:23, 32 and 33:11, I Timothy 2:4 and II Peter 3:9.
5 Cf. "Quotes on Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34" for many anti-free offer interpretations by orthodox theologians.
6 For a Reformed work against an Anabaptist advocate of the free offer, including the well-meant offer interpretation of the standard biblical texts, see this superb book by John Knox (c. 1514-1572): On Predestination, in Answer to the Cavillations by an Anabaptist (1560), in The Works of John Knox, ed. David Laing (USA: Banner, 2014), vol. 5, pp. 7-468.
7 “Extra-Scriptural Binding - A New Danger,” Schilder's charge against Herman Hoeksema and the Protestant Reformed Churches, is contained in Jelle Faber and Klaas Schilder, American Secession Theologians on Covenant and Baptism & Extra-Scriptural Binding - A New Danger (Neerlandia, Alberta & Pella, IA: Inheritance Publications, 1996), pp. 55-167.
8 The “Declaration of Principles of the Protestant Reformed Churches” is found in The Confessions and the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches (USA: Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 2005), pp. 410-431.
9 I have corrected two of the three Scripture texts cited, changing Romans 9:11 to Romans 9:13, and Isaiah 47:10 to Isaiah 46:10.
10 Other articles in the Formula Consensus Helvetica that oppose the free offer are Canons XIX and XX (vol. 4, pp. 526-527).
11 See, e.g., Augustine, The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love, ed. Henry Paolucci, trans. J. F. Shaw (Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1961), xciv-ciii; Francis X. Gumerlock, Fulgentius of Ruspe on the Saving Will of God: The Development of a Sixth-Century African Bishop’s Interpretation of I Timothy 2:4 During the Semi-Pelagian Controversy (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 2009); Victor Genke and Francis X. Gumerlock (eds. & trans.), Gottschalk and a Medieval Predestination Controversy: Texts Translated From the Latin (Milwaukee, WI: Marquette University Press, 2010).
12 Cf. James T. Dennison, Jr., “The Life and Career of Francis Turretin,” in Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1997), vol. 3, pp. 639-658; James T. Dennison, Jr., “The Twilight of Scholasticism: Francis Turretin at the Dawn of the Enlightenment,” in Carl R. Trueman and R. S. Clark (eds.), Protestant Scholasticism: Essays in Reassessment (Great Britain: Paternoster, 1999), pp. 244-255.