This article first appeared in the November 1, 1949 issue of the Standard Bearer (Vol.26, No.3) and was penned by the editor, Rev. Herman Hoeksema.
According to the Heidelberg Catechism, as we have seen, faith is never presented as a condition unto salvation, or as a condition which we must fulfill in order to enter into or remain in the covenant of God. Always it is presented as a means or instrument which is wrought in us by God and given us of Him, by which we are ingrafted into Christ, become one body with Him, and thus receive all His benefits.
Instrument and condition certainly do not belong to the same category of conceptions.
If faith is a condition it certainly is something man must do in order to and before he can obtain salvation. Unless we attach that meaning to the word it has no sense at all. And as I wrote before, in the minds of the people the term condition undoubtedly stands for some notion that makes salvation dependent on something man must do.
If, however, faith is a God-given instrument it is completely outside of the category of condition, for the simple reason that, in that case, it belongs to salvation itself. It is part of the work of God whereby He brings sinners to Christ and makes them partakers of all His benefits of righteousness, life, and glory. And part of salvation cannot, at the same time, be a condition unto salvation.
The same conception of faith as an instrument is found in the Confessio Belgica or Nether land Confession, Art. XXII. There we read:
“We believe that, .to attain the true knowledge of this great mystery, the Holy Ghost kindleth in our hearts an upright faith, which embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits, appropriates him, and seeks nothing more besides him. For it must needs follow, either that all things, which are requisite to our salvation, are not in Jesus Christ, or if all things are in him, that then those, who possess Jesus Christ through faith, have complete salvation in him. Therefore, for any to assert, that Christ is not sufficient, but that something more is required besides him, would be too gross a blasphemy; for hence it would follow, that Christ was but half a Savior. Therefore, we justly say with Paul, that we are justified by faith alone, or by faith without works. However, to speak more clearly, we do not mean that faith itself justifies us, for it is only an instrument with which we embrace Christ our Righteousness. But Jesus Christ, imputing to us all his merits, and so many holy works which he has done for us, and in our stead, is our Righteousness. And faith is an instrument that keeps us in communion with him in all his benefits, which, when become ours, are more than sufficient to acquit us of our sins.”
This article speaks of faith in Jesus Christ.
And it speaks of it in such a way that all possibility of presenting faith as a condition is ruled out.
Faith in its essence is a spiritual bond that unites us with Christ. The article emphasizes this in more than one way. For, first, it stresses the fact that all our salvation is in Christ, and that, therefore, we can derive it only from Him. Christ is our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and complete redemption. He is our all. Hence, secondly, it is only in union with Him that we can be saved, and receive all the blessings of grace. This union, it is emphasized thirdly, is established by faith. The article mentions this when it says that “faith is an instrument that keeps us in communion with him in all his benefits”. And again, faith “is only an instrument with which we embrace Christ our Righteousness.” And once more, “to attain the knowledge of this great mystery, the Holy Ghost kindleth in our hearts an upright faith, which embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits, appropriates him, and seeks nothing more besides him.”
From all this it is evident that faith is the spiritual bond that unites us with Christ in whom is all our salvation, the spiritual instrument with which it is possible for the regenerated sinner to cling to Christ, to embrace and appropriate Him, and thus to receive all His benefits.
Moreover, the article emphasizes that this faith is not of man. It is a God-ordained and God-given instrument, for “the Holy Ghost kindleth in our hearts an upright faith.” The power or faculty of faith is wrought in the moment of regeneration, and active faith, which the article has in mind especially, is wrought by the Spirit in our hearts through the preaching of the Word of God.
Hence, it is plain from the whole article that faith is not the ground or reason, neither the meritorious cause of our salvation, nor a condition which man must fulfill to obtain the same.
The idea of condition is quite foreign to this article of our confession.
The same truth is clearly expressed in Art. XXIV of the same Confession, which speaks of “Man’s Sanctification and Good Works.”
To this article we must call attention in a later connection when we treat of the relation between regeneration, faith, sanctification, and good works as our “part” in the covenant of God. But here we must call special attention to the beginning of this article which reads as follows: “We believe that this true faith being wrought in man by the hearing of the Word of God, and the operation of the Holy Ghost, doth regenerate and make him a new man”, etc.
It is evident that regeneration is here understood in the wider sense, for the whole article speaks of sanctification and good works.
But what demands our special attention in this connection is the fact that faith, and that, too, conscious faith, which is wrought through the hearing of the Word of God, is here presented as part of our salvation, given to us by the Holy Ghost. And again I maintain that part of our salvation cannot, at the same time, be condition which we must fulfill, or with which we must comply, to obtain salvation.
The same note is sounded throughout in the Canons of Dordrecht. We will quote a few passages from them just to show that, in our Confessions, faith is never presented as a condition with which we must comply in order to obtain salvation, but always as a God-given means or instrument that unites us with Christ.
This is plain already from some of the very first articles of the Canons. In I, A, 4-6 we read:
“Art. 4. The wrath of God abideth upon those that believe not this gospel. But such as receive it and embrace Jesus the Savior by a true and living faith, are by him delivered from the wrath of God, and from destruction, and have the gift of eternal life conferred upon them.
“Art. 5. The cause or guilt of this unbelief as well as of all other sins, is in no wise in God, but in man himself; whereas faith in Jesus Christ, and salvation through him is the free gift of God, as it is written: 'By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God’. Eph. 2:8. ‘And unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him,’ etc. Phil. 1:29.
“Art. 6. That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it, proceeds from God’s eternal decree, ‘For known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world,’ Acts 15:18. ‘Who worketh all things after the counsel of His will,’ Eph. 1:11. According to which decree, he graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe; while he leaves the non-elect in his just judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy,” etc.
Now I ask, how can there possibly be room in the above language for the notion that faith is a condition? The grace of faith is a free gift from God. Can, at the same time, faith be a condition with which we must comply to receive that free gift of God? We feel that this is absurd. Faith, moreover flows from God’s decree, and is bestowed only on the elect, while the rest are hardened, or according to the infralapsarian terminology of the Canons, are left “in his just judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy.” Is faith a condition with which we must comply in order to become elect? That would be Arminian indeed! Besides, the Canons teach us that faith flows from God’s decree, and is, therefore, an unconditional gift. Again, the Canons teach us that, when God bestows that free gift of faith upon the elect sinner, He “graciously softens the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe.” Now, if man is by nature obdurate and wicked, he certainly can comply with no conditions unto salvation whatever. And if God must soften his heart, and incline him to believe, faith certainly can be no condition unto salvation, for that would imply that he had faith before God softens his heart, which again would mean that he comply with the condition of faith before he was inclined to believe, which is an utter absurdity.
I write thus in order to point out emphatically that, in Reformed terminology the term “faith as a condition" simply has no room.
With that term you must needs sail under the flag of Arminianism.
(to be continued)
Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965) was born in Groningen, the Netherlands on March 13, 1886 and passed away in Grand Rapids, MI on September 2, 1965. He attended the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church and was ordained into the minitry in September of 1915.
"H.H." is considered one of the founding "fathers" of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. He and his consistory (Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI) were suspended and deposed from their offices in 1924-1925 because of their opposition to the "Three Points of Common Grace" adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in the Synod of Kalamazoo, MI in 1924. He, together with Rev. George M. Ophoff, Rev. H. Danhof and their consistories continued in office in the "Protesting Christian Reformed Church" which shortly thereafter were named the "Protestant Reformed Churches in America."
Herman Hoeksema served as pastor in the 14th Street Christian Reformed Church in Holland, MI (1915-1920), Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1920-1924), and First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1924-1964), He taught in the Seminary of the Protestant Reformed Churches from its founding and retired in 1964.
For an enlarged biography, see: Herman Hoeksema: Theologian and Reformer
Notes: You may also find many sermons of "H.H." at the RFPA website. And you may find copies in print of an entire set of "H.H.'s" catechism sermons here.