Helvetic Consensus Formula (1675)

[Translated by Martin I. Klauber in Trinity Journal 11 (1990): 103-23. Used by permission of the translator.]

Canon 1: God, the Supreme Judge, not only took care to have his word, which is the “power of God unto salvation to every one that believes” (Rom 1:16), committed to writing by Moses, the Prophets and the Apostles, but has also watched and cherished it with paternal care from the time it was written up to the present, so that it could not be corrupted by craft of Satan or fraud of man. Therefore the Church justly ascribes to it his singular grace and goodness that she has, and will have to the end of the world (2 Pet 1:19), a “sure word of prophecy”
and “Holy Scriptures” (2 Tim 3:15), from which though heaven and earth pass away, “the smallest letter or the least stroke of a pen will not disappear by any means” (Matt 5:18).

Canon II: But, in particular, The Hebrew original of
the OT which we have received and to this day do retain as
handed down by the Hebrew Church, “who had been given the
oracles of God” (Rom 3:2), is, not only in its consonants, but
in its vowels either the vowel points themselves, or at least
the power of the points not only in its matter, but in its
words, inspired by God. It thus forms, together with the
Original of the NT the sole and complete rule of our faith and
practice; and to its standard, as to a Lydian stone, all extant
versions, eastern or western, ought to be applied, and wherever
they differ, be conformed.

Canon III: Therefore, we are not able to approve of
the opinion of those who believe that the text which the Hebrew
Original exhibits was determined by man’s will alone, and do not
hesitate at all to remodel a Hebrew reading which they consider
unsuitable, and amend it from the versions of the LXX and other
Greek versions, the Samaritan Pentateuch, by the Chaldaic
Targums, or even from other sources. They go even to the point
of following the corrections that their own rational powers
dictate from the various readings of the Hebrew Original itself
which, they maintain, has been corrupted in various ways; and
finally, they affirm that besides the Hebrew edition of the
present time, there are in the versions of the ancient
interpreters which differ from our Hebrew text, other Hebrew
Originals. Since these versions are also indicative of ancient
Hebrew Originals differing from each other, they thus bring the
foundation of our faith and its sacred authority into perilous
danger.

Canon IV: Before the creation of the world, God
decreed in Christ Jesus our Lord according to his eternal
purpose (Eph 3:11), in which, from the mere good pleasure of his
own will, without any prevision of the merit of works or of
faith, to the praise of his glorious grace, to elect some out of
the human race lying in the same mass of corruption and of
common blood, and, therefore, corrupted by sin. He elected a
certain and definite number to be led, in time, unto salvation
in Christ, their Guarantor and sole Mediator. And on account of
his merit, by the mighty power of the regenerating Holy Spirit,
he decreed these elect to be effectually called, regenerated and
gifted with faith and repentance. So, indeed, God, determining
to illustrate his glory, decreed to create man perfect, in the
first place, then permit him to fall, and finally pity some of
the fallen, and therefore elect those, but leave the rest in the
corrupt mass, and finally give them over to eternal destruction.

Canon V: Christ himself is also included in the
gracious decree of divine election, not as the meritorious
cause, or foundation prior to election itself, but as being
himself also elect (I Pet 2:4, 6). Indeed, he was foreknown
before the foundation of the world, and accordingly, as the
first requisite of the execution of the decree of election,
chosen Mediator, and our first born Brother, whose precious
merit God determined to use for the purpose of conferring,
without detriment to his own justice, salvation upon us. For the
Holy Scriptures not only declare that election was made
according to the mere good pleasure of the divine counsel and
will (Eph 1:5, 9; Matt 11:26), but was also made that the
appointment and giving of Christ, our Mediator, was to proceed
from the zealous love of God the Father toward the world of the
elect.

Canon VI: Wherefore, we can not agree with the opinion
of those who teach: l) 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 9:11). 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 47:10); for
God is in finitely 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.

Canon VII: As all his works were known unto God from
eternity, (Acts 15:18), so in time, according to his infinite
power, wisdom, and goodness, he made man, the glory and end of
his works, in his own image, and, therefore, upright, wise, and
just. Having created man in this manner, he put him under the
Covenant of Works, and in this Covenant freely promised him
communion with God, favor and life, if indeed he acted in
obedience to his will.

Canon VIII: Moreover that promise connected to the
Covenant of Works was not a continuation only of earthly life
and happiness but the possession especially of eternal and
celestial life, a life namely, of both body and soul in heaven,
if indeed man ran the’ course of perfect obedience, with
unspeakable joy in communion with God. For not only did the Tree
of Life prefigure this very thing unto Adam, but the power of
the law, which, being fulfilled by Christ, who went under it in
our place, awards to us nothing other than celestial life in
Christ who kept the same righteousness of the law. The power of
the law also threatens man with both temporal and eternal death.

Canon IX: Wherefore we can not agree with the opinion
of those who deny that a reward of heavenly bliss was offered to
Adam on condition of obedience to God. We also do not admit that
the promise of the Covenant of Works was any thing more than a
promise of perpetual life abounding in every kind of good that
can be suited to the body and soul of man in a state of perfect
nature, and the enjoyment thereof in an earthly Paradise. For
this also is contrary to the sound sense of the Divine Word, and
weakens the power of the law considered in itself.

Canon X: God entered into the Covenant of Works not
only with Adam for himself, but also, in him as the head and
root with thc whole human race. Man would, by virtue of the
blessing of the nature derived from Adam, inherit also the same
perfection, provided he continued in it. So Adam by his
sorrowful fall sinned and lost the benefits promised in the
Covenant not only for himself, but also for the whole human race
that would be born by the flesh. We hold, therefore, that the
sin of Adam is imputed by the mysterious and just judgment of
God to all his posterity. For the Apostle testifies that “in
Adam all sinned, by one man’s disobedience many were made
sinners” (Rom 5:12,19) and “in Adam all die” (I Cor 15:21Ä22).
But there appears no way in which hereditary corruption could
fall, as a spiritual death, upon the whole human race by the
just judgment of God, unless some sin of that race preceded,
incurring the penalty of that death. For God, the most supreme
Judge of all the earth, punishes none but the guilty.

Canon XI: For a double reason, therefore, man, because
of sin, is by nature, and hence from his birth, before
committing any actual sin, exposed to God’s wrath and curse;
first, on account of the transgression and disobedience which he
committed in the loins of Adam; and, secondly, on account of the
consequent hereditary corruption implanted to his very
conception, whereby his whole nature is depraved and spiritually
dead; so that original sin may rightly be regarded as twofold,
imputed sin and inherent hereditary sin.

Canon XII: Accordingly we can not, without harm to the
Divine truth, agree with those who deny that Adam represented
his posterity by God’s intention, and that his sin is imputed,
therefore, immediately to his posterity; and under this mediate
and consequent imputation not only destroy the imputation of the
first sin, but also expose the doctrine of hereditary corruption
to grave danger.

Canon XIII: As Christ was elected from eternity the
Head, the Leader and Lord of all who, in time, are saved by his
grace, so also, in time, he was made Guarantor of the New
Covenant only for those who, by the eternal election, were given
to him as his own people, his seed and inheritance. For
according to the determinate counsel of the Father and his own
intention, he encountered dreadful death instead of the elect
alone, and restored only these into the bosom of the Father’s
grace, and these only he reconciled to God, the offended Father,
and delivered from the curse of the law. For our Jesus saves his
people from their sins (Matt 1:21), who gave his life a ransom
for many sheep (Matt 20:24, 28; John 10:15), his own, who hear
his voice (John 10:27-28), and he intercedes for these only, as
a divinely appointed Priest, arid not for the world (John 17:9).
Accordingly in expiatory sacrifice, they are regarded as having
died with him and as being justified from sin (2 Cor 5:12): and
thus, with the counsel of the Father who gave to Christ none but
the elect to be redeemed, and also with the working of the Holy
Spirit, who sanctifies and seals unto a living hope of eternal
life none but the elect. The will of Christ who died so agrees
and amicably conspires in perfect harmony, that the sphere of
the Father’s election, the Son’s redemption. And the Spirit’s
sanctification are one and the same.

Canon XIV: This very thing further appears in this
also, that Christ provided the means of salvation for those in
whose place he died, especially the regenerating Spirit and the
heavenly gift o faith, as well as salvation itself, and actually
confers these upon, them. For the Scriptures testify that
Christ, the Lord, came to say, the lost sheep of the house of
Israel (Matt 15:24), and sends the, same Holy Spirit, the source
of regeneration, as his own (John 16:7 8): that among the better
promises of the New Covenant of which he was made Mediator and
Guarantor this one is pre-eminent, the he will inscribe his law,
the law of faith, in the hearts of his people (Heb 8:10); that
whatsoever the Father has given to Chris will come to him, by
faith, surely; and finally, that we are chose’ in Christ to be
his children, holy and blameless (Eph. 1:4-5); but our being
God’s holy children proceeds only from faith and the Spirit of
regeneration.

Canon XV: But by the obedience of his death Christ, in
place o the elect, so satisfied God the Father, that in the
estimate of his vicarious righteousness and of that obedience,
all of that which he rendered to the law, as its just servant,
during his entire life whether by doing or by suffering, ought
to be called obedience. For Christ’s life, according to the
Apostle’s testimony (Phil 1:8), was nothing but submission,
humiliation and a continuous emptying of self, descending step
by step to the lowest extreme even to the point of death on the
Cross; and the Spirit of God plainly declares that Christ in our
stead satisfied the law and divine justice by His most, holy
life, and makes that ransom with which God has redeemed us to
consist not in His sufferings only, but in his whole life
conformed to the law. The Spirit, however, ascribes our
redemption to the death, or the blood, of Christ, in no other
sense than that it was consummated by sufferings; and from that
last definitive and no blest act derives a name indeed, but not
in such a way as to separate the life preceding from his death.

Canon XVI: Since all these things are entirely so, we
can hardly approve the opposite doctrine of those who affirm
that of his own intention and counsel and that of the Father who
sent him, Christ died for each and every one upon the condition,
that they believe. [We also cannot affirm the teaching! that he
obtained for all a salvation, which, nevertheless, is not
applied to all, and by his death merited a salvation and faith
for no one individually but only removed the obstacle of divine
justice, and acquired for the Father the liberty of entering
into a new covenant of grace with all men. Finally, they so
separate the active and passive righteousness of Christ, as to
assert that he claims his active righteousness as his own, but
gives and imputes only his passive righteousness to the elect.
All these opinions, and all that are like these, are contrary to
the plain Scriptures and the glory of Christ, who is Author and
Finisher of our faith and salvation; they make his cross of none
effect, and under the appearance of exalting his merit, they, in
reality diminish it.

Canon XVII: The call to salvation was suited to its
due time (l Tim 2:6). Since by God’s will it was at one time
more restricted, at another, more widespread and general, but
never completely universal. For, indeed, in the OT God announced
his word to Jacob, his statutes and his judgments to Israel he
did not do so with any other nation (Ps 147:19-20). In the NT,
peace being made in the blood of Christ and the inner walls of
partition broken down, God so extended the limits of the
preaching of the Gospel and the external call, that there is no
longer any difference between the Jew and the Greek; for the
same Lord is over all and is gracious to every one who calls
upon him (Rom 10:12). But not even thus is the call universal.
For Christ testifies that many are called (Matt 20:14), but not
all; and when Paul and Timothy tried to go into Bithynia to
preach the Gospel, the Spirit prevented them (Acts 16:7). And
there have been and there are today, as experience testifies,
innumerable myriads of men to whom Christ is not known even by
rumor.

Canon XVIII: Meanwhile God has not left himself
without witness (Acts 14:7) to those whom he refused to call by
his Word unto salvation. For he provided to them the witness of
the heavens and the stars (Deut 4:19), and that which may be
known of God, even from the works of nature and Providence, he
has shown to them (Rom 1:19), for the purpose of showing his
long suffering. Yet it is not true that the works of nature and
divine Providence are self-sufficient means which fulfilled the
function of the external call, whereby he would reveal unto them
the mystery of the good pleasure or the mercy of God in Christ.
For the Apostle immediately adds: “For since the creation of the
world God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine
nature, have been clearly seen” (Rom 1:20). So they might learn
the mystery of salvation through Christ and be without excuse,
because they did not correctly use the knowledge that was left
to them, but when they knew God, they did not glorify him as
God, neither were they thankful. Wherefore also Christ glorifies
God, his Father, because he had hidden these things from the
wise and the prudent, and revealed them unto babes (Matt 1:25).
And as the Apostle teaches: “God has made known unto us the
mystery of His will according to His good pleasure which He has
purposed in Christ” (Eph 1:9).

Canon XIX: Likewise the external call itself, which is
made by the preaching of the Gospel, is on the part of God also,
who earnestly and sincerely calls. For in his Word he most
earnestly and truly reveals, not, indeed, his secret will
respecting the salvation or destruction of each individual, but
our responsibility, and what will happen to us if we do or
neglect this duty. Clearly it is the will of God who calls, that
they who are called come to him and not neglect so great a
salvation, and so he earnestly promises eternal life to those
who come to him by faith; for, as the Apostle declares, “It is a
trustworthy saying: For if we have died with Him, we shall also
live with Him; if we disown Him, He will also disown us; if we
are faithless, He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown
Himself (2 Tim 2:12Ä13). Neither is this call without result for
those who disobey; for God always accomplishes his will, even
the demonstration of duty, and following this, either the
salvation of the elect who fulfill their responsibility, or the
inexcusableness of the rest who neglect the duty set before
them. Certainly the spiritual man in no way determined the
eternal purpose of God to produce faith along with the
externally offered, or written Word of God. Moreover, because
God approved every truth which flows from his counsel, it is
correctly said to be his will, that everyone who sees the Son
and believes in him may have everlasting life (John 6:40).
Although these “all” are the elect alone, and God formed no plan
of universal salvation without any selection of persons, and
Christ therefore died not for everyone but only for the elect
who were given to him; yet he intends this in any case to be
universally true, which follows from his special and definite
purpose. But that, by God’s will, the elect alone believe in the
external call which is universally offered, while the reprobate
are hardened. This proceeds solely from the discriminating grace
of God; election by the same grace to those who believe, but
their own native wickedness to the reprobate who remain in sin,
who after their hardened and impenitent heart build up for
themselves wrath for the Day of Judgment, and revelation of the
righteous judgment of God

Canon XX: Accordingly we have no doubt that they are
wrong who hold that the call to salvation is disclosed not by
the preaching of the Gospel solely, but even by the works of
nature and Providence without any further proclamation. They add
that the call to salvation is so indefinite and universal that
there is no mortal who is not, at least objectively, as they
say, sufficiently called either mediately, meaning that God will
provide the light of grace to those who use the light of nature
correctly, or immediately, to Christ and salvation. They finally
deny that the external call can be said to be serious and true,
or the candor and sincerity of God bc defended, without
asserting the absolute universality of grace. For such doctrines
are contrary to the Holy Scriptures and the experience of all
ages, and manifestly confuse nature with grace and confuse the
things which we can know about God with his hidden wisdom. They
further confuse the light of reason with the light of divine
Revelation.

Canon XXI: Those who are called to salvation through
thc preaching of the Gospel are not able to believe or obey the
call, unless they are raised up out of spiritual death by that
very power that God used to command the light to shine out of
darkness, and God shines into their hearts with the glory of God
in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4:6). For the natural man
does not receive the things of the Spirit of God for they are
foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they
spiritually discerned (Cor 2:14). And Scripture demonstrates
this utter inability by so many direct testimonies and under so
many mosaics that scarcely in any other point is it surer. This
inability may, indeed, be called moral even in so far as it
pertains to a moral subject or object: but it ought to be at the
same time called natural because man by nature, and so by the
law of his formation in the womb, and hence from his birth, is
the child of disobedience (Eph 2:2); and has that inability that
is so innate that it cannot be shaken off except by the
omnipotent heart-turning grace of the Holy Spirit.

Canon XXII: We hold therefore that they speak
inaccurately and dangerously, who call this inability to believe
moral inability, and do not say that it is natural, adding that
man in whatever condition he may be placed is able to believe if
he desires, and that faith in some way or other, indeed, is
self-originated. The Apostle, however, clearly calls [salvation]
the gift of God (Eph 2:8).

Canon XXIII: There are two ways in which God, the just
Judge, has promised justification: either by one’s own works or
deeds in the law, or by the obedience or righteousness of
another, even of Christ our Guarantor. [This justification! is
imputed by grace to those who believe in the Gospel. The former
is the method of justifying man because of perfection; but the
latter, of justifying man who is a corrupt sinner. In accordance
with these two ways of justification the Scripture establishes
these two covenants: the Covenant of Works, entered into with
Adam and with each one of his descendants in him, but made void
by sin; and the Covenant of Grace, made with only the elect in
Christ, the second Adam, eternal. [This covenant] cannot be
broken while [the Covenant of Works] can be abrogated.

Canon XXIV: But this later Covenant of Grace according
to the diversity of times has also different dispensations. For
when the Apostle speaks of the dispensation of the fullness of
times, that is, the administration of the last time (Eph 1:10),
he very clearly indicates that there had been another
dispensation and administration until the times which the Father
appointed. Yet in the dispensation of the Covenant of Grace the
elect have not been saved in any other way than by the Angel of
his presence (Isa 63:9), the Lamb slain from the foundation of
the world (Rev 13:8), Christ Jesus, through the knowledge of
that just Servant and faith in him and in the Father and his
Spirit. For Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever
(Heb 13:8). And by His grace we believe that we are saved in the
same manner as the Fathers also were saved, and in both
Testaments these statutes remain unchanged: “Blessed are all
they that put their trust in Him,” (the Son) (Ps 2:12); “He that
believes in Him is not condemned, but he that does not believe
is condemned already” (John 3:18). “You believe in God,” even
the Father, “believe also in me” (John 14:1). But if, moreover,
the holy Fathers believed in Christ as their God, it follows
that they also believed in the Holy Spirit, without whom no one
can call Jesus Lord. Truly there are so many clearer exhibitions
of this faith of the Fathers and of the necessity of such faith
in either Covenant, that they can not escape any one unless one
wills it. But though this saving knowledge of Christ and the
Holy Trinity was necessarily derived, according to the
dispensation of that time, both from thc promise and from
shadows and figures and mysteries, with greater difficulty than
in the NT. Yet it was a true knowledge, and, in proportion to
the measure of divine Revelation, it was sufficient to procure
salvation and peace of conscience for the elect, by the help of
God’s grace.

Canon XXV: We disapprove therefore of the doctrine of
those who fabricate for us three Covenants, the Natural, the
Legal, and the Gospel, different in their entire nature and
essence, and in explaining these and assigning their
differences, so intricately entangle themselves that they
greatly obscure and even impair the nucleus of solid truth and
piety. Nor do they hesitate at all, with regard to the
necessity, under the OT dispensation, of knowledge of Christ and
faith in him and his satisfaction and in the whole sacred
Trinity, to speculate much too loosely and dangerously.

Canon XXVI: Finally, both to us, to whom in the
Church, which is God’s house, has been entrusted the
dispensation for the present, and unto all our Nazarenes, and to
those who under the will and direction of God will at any time
succeed us in our responsibility, in order to prevent the
fearful enkindling of dissensions with which the Church of God
in different places is disturbed in terrible ways, we earnestly
wish the following to be done. That in this corruption of the
world, with the Apostle of the Gentiles as our faithful monitor,
we all keep faithfully that which is committed to our trust,
avoiding profane and vain babblings (I Tim 6:20); and
religiously guard the purity and simplicity of that knowledge
which is according to piety, constantly clinging to that
beautiful pair, Charity and Faith, unstained. Moreover, in order
that no one may be induced to propose either publicly or
privately some doubtful or new dogma of faith previously unheard
of in our churches, and contrary to God’s Word, to our Helvetic
Confession, to our Symbolical Books, and to the Canons of the
Synod of Dort, and not proved and sanctioned in a public
assembly of brothers according to the Word of God, let it also
be required: that we not only hand down sincerely in accordance
with the divine Word, the special necessity of the
sanctification of the Lord’s Day, and also impressively teach
and fervently urge its observation. In conclusion, that in our
churches and schools, as often as occasion demands, we
unanimously and faithfully hold, teach, and assert that the
truth of the Canons recorded here, is deduced from the
indubitable Word of God.

The very God of peace and truth sanctify us wholly, and
preserve our whole spirit and soul and body blameless unto the
coming of our Lord Jesus Christ! To whom, with the Father and
the Holy Spirit be eternal honor, praise and glory. Amen!