This article first appeared in the February 1, 1950 issue of the Standard Bearer (Vol.26, No.9) and was penned by the editor, Rev. Herman Hoeksema.
It was not my purpose originally at this stage of my discussion on the question of conditions to reply to the writing of the Rev. Petter in Concordia. The purpose of my writing is not to carry on a controversy, but rather to give a positive, and more or less systematic, exposition of the whole subject from a Reformed point of view. And it certainly is not conducive to the realization of this purpose to pay too much attention to what others write and especially to the writing of the Rev. A. Petter. The brother will therefore have to have a little patience, and if necessary I will reply to him at the end of my series.
Nevertheless, I can no longer refrain from pointing to a grave error in the Rev. Petter’s method of attacking me in Concordia and especially to his misrepresentation of what I taught in the past on the question of conditions. The brother leaves the impression with his readers that I, too, have changed my mind, and that therefore our churches cannot safely follow so untrustworthy a leadership as I offer them. I therefore want to state here emphatically that I always opposed the standpoint of the Rev. Petter that faith is a condition and that the covenant is conditional.
The Rev. Petter writes: “I have shown that even those who are now trying to deny that element (of conditions, H.H.) have formerly defended and approved it. See Standard Bearer, Vol. II, p. 47; Standard Bearer, January 15, 1946, p. 175, also Abundant Mercy, p. 183; Standard Bearer, March 1, 1948, p. 247-8. We certainly cannot decide the position of our churches by the changing view of individuals.”
How untrue this is ought to be very evident from the following:
In my dogmatic notes on Soteriology, which I taught twenty years ago, and which also the Rev. Petter has in his possession, I wrote on the subject of justification the following:
“To be rejected are the following modes of representation:
“a) As if faith is the ground of our justification. There is in faith even considered as a work no merit before God. The ground is only the obedience of Christ.
“b) As if faith were a condition on which God justifies us. There are no conditions on our part in the covenant of God. All the benefits of grace are bestowed upon us absolutely unconditionally. Never may the sentence, 'Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved/ be presented as condition and promise. Faith itself is an act of God and a benefit of grace bestowed upon us.
“c) As if faith were the means on our part whereby we can accept Christ, the hand whereby we can take hold of Him, or the taking hold of Him itself by means of that hand. This presentation is principally Remonstrant.
“The correct presentation is the following:
“a) Faith is the instrument of God in as far as it is the bond that unites us with Christ. All our righteousness is in Christ Jesus. As long as we are not grafted into Him by a true faith we are of and out of ourselves children of wrath. Through faith, however, God unites us with Christ and declares us free from sin. For that reason the Word of God uses the preposition dia with the genitive of pistis to express this. And only in this way can we understand that God imputes the faith of Abraham for righteousness.
“b) Faith is also instrument on the part of God in as far as He brings us through faith to the consciousness of our justification, and speaks to us of peace in foro conscientae.
“c) And on our part faith becomes means in as far as we through the act of faith accept and appropriate unto ourselves the righteousness of God in Christ. For that reason the Word of God uses in this connection also the preposition ek with the genitive of Christ. Rom. 5:1: ‘We therefore being justified out of faith have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’.”
Thus I taught the Rev. Petter years ago. It is, of course, his privilege to depart from this sound teaching and to present a different view if, namely, he can defend it before our Protestant Reformed Churches, But it is not honest to leave the impression with his readers that I have changed and that therefore there is something wrong with my leadership in our churches.
If the Rev. Petter will take the trouble to read my elaborate criticism on the Heynsian conception of the gospel in the ninth volume of the Standard Bearer, he will certainly find that the whole tenor of this criticism is opposed to the idea of conditions. Throughout these articles I emphasize the truth that the promise of God is absolutely certain and unconditional, and is meant only for the heirs of the promise, that is, the elect. Just read the following: “A promise rests only in him that promises, the promise of the gospel for its certain realization only in the eternal and only true God; the gospel of the promise is therefore eternally sure. For a promise is a verbal or written declaration whereby the one that promises is pledged to do or to bestow something upon someone else. The gospel of the promise, therefore, is the glad tidings that God has pledged Himself to bestow eternal life and all things on the heirs of the promise.” And again: “How could it be different? Where could there be next or outside of God a party to whom He could promise something? He is the absolute, subject and object in Himself, the completely self-sufficient One, the only Blessed, the Eternal, the wholly unique. Apart from Him, above Him, next to Him, without Him there is nothing. He is His own party. To whom then would God be able to promise something or to offer anything? Where could there be a party outside of God to which God could promise anything? No, if there is a promise of God, then the entire contents of that promise is out of Him. Then also the heirs of the promise are out of God alone. Then God has sovereignly foreknown the heirs of the promise, foreknown them in such a way that they come into existence exactly through that divine, sovereign knowledge, that eternal divine conception. And therefore you cannot conceive of a gospel without the divine, sovereign predestination of the heirs of the promise. And the gospel is the glad tidings of God concerning the promise to those heirs of the promise.
And again, speaking of our reconciliation with God I wrote: “Reconciliation is not a possibility, but an established fact. To be sure, we enter into the state of reconciliation through faith. But never may reconciliation be presented as a possibility, neither with respect to the power and perfection of that reconciliation, nor with respect to the participants of the same. For Christ has died for the elect, God reconciled the elect through the blood of Christ with Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. Reconciliation therefore is not conditional. It depends not on our faith; it is not brought to nought by our unbelief; it is in all its significance a historic fact, the fulfillment of the sure promise of God, and must be proclaimed as such.”
And again, speaking of the subjective application of the benefits of salvation unto the elect I write: “All this belongs to the content of the promise of God to His people and must be proclaimed as the work of God, as the sure work of God within us through His grace in the preaching of the gospel. Also here you would detract from the work of God if you would present this as an uncertain or conditional offer.” And I emphatically reject the presentation of Heyns that faith is a demand with which man must comply in order to receive in his possession the salvation to which God gave him an objective right.
These articles against Heyns were written more than fifteen years ago, and I still subscribe to them and to what I teach on the subject of the promise and conditions.
Again, I wish to refer to the pamphlet on the subject, “The Gospel,” published and distributed by the Sunday School of the First Protestant Ref. Church. This, too, was written by me more than a dozen years ago, and was reprinted in 1946, From this pamphlet I quote the following; “Now, it is important, that we clearly understand the nature of a promise. It is by no means the same as an offer. Also in the latter the person that makes the offer declares his willingness to do something for or to bestow something upon the person to whom the offer is made, but for its realization the offer is contingent upon the willingness of the second party, upon his consent to the offer. But a promise is different. It is a declaration, written or verbal, which binds the person that makes it to do or forbear to do the very thing promised. It is an engagement regardless of any corresponding duty or obligation on the part of the person to whom the thing is promised. A promise, therefore, implies the declaration of a certain good together with the positive assurance that this good shall be bestowed upon or performed in behalf of the person to whom the promise is made. This certainty of the promise is, as regards the promise in Scripture, emphasized by the fact, that it is God Who makes the promise. God conceived of the promise; He it is that realizes the thing promised; He declares the promise. Which implies, in the first place, that the promise cannot be contingent upon the will of the creature. And, secondly, this signifies that the promise is as faithful and true as God is unchangeable. He will surely realize the promise. When He binds Himself to do or to bestow anything, He is bound by Himself and all His divine attributes to realize the promise unto them to whom it is made, for He cannot deny Himself.”
And again, from the same pamphlet I quote:
“And, as we remarked before, this stands to reason. A promise cannot be offered. An offer is a conditional proposition. It depends and is contingent on its consent by man. But a promise is binding him that promised. And this is especially and emphatically true of the promise of the gospel. In the first place, because it is God that promised and He cannot lie. He is faithful and true and will surely realize His every word. Secondly, because the things promised cannot possibly be realized or partly realized by men. If the gospel were the preaching of a conditional offer, there is nothing in the condition man can possibly fulfill. He cannot of himself believe the promise; he cannot even will of himself to believe in Christ. He cannot repent and turn unless God first realizes the promise unto him. In other words, the promise of God is either unconditional, or it is impossible of realization. And in the third place, the promise is given, not to all, but to a certain party, to the seed of Abraham, to those that are of Christ, to them that are in sovereign grace elected unto salvation from before the foundation of the world."
It is nothing short of astonishing that the Rev. Petter even refers to my article in the Standard Bearer on the subject of faith and justification to make his readers believe that I changed on the subject of conditions. He appeals to the mere statement that justification in the subjective sense is contingent upon faith, as if that could possibly mean the same as the statement that faith is a condition unto justification or unto salvation. But let me quote the connection in which that statement occurs, in order to prove that the Rev. Petter wantonly misrepresents my words. You may find the quotation in the Standard Bearer, Vol. XXIV, p. 439.
“Nor is the relation between faith and justification to be conceived and presented as that of a benefit on God's part and a condition on our part. This, too, is often alleged. God saves and justifies us on condition that we believe. Superficially considered, it might seem as if there were truth in this assertion. Is it not true that we must believe in order to be saved? If we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, we shall be justified; if not, we shall be damned. It appears, then, that justification is conditioned by faith.
“Yet this cannot be the relation. First of all, it should be remembered that objective justification is before faith. Objectively, we are justified regardless of our faith. In eternal election all those given Christ by the Father are righteous before God forever. And this righteousness cannot be contingent upon faith, even though it is true that we cannot appropriate this gift of righteousness except by a true and living faith. Besides, long before we believed, the justification of all the elect is accomplished forever in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And, secondly, although it is true that justification in the subjective sense is contingent upon faith, we must never forget that faith is not of ourselves, it is a gift of God. It is therefore not a condition which we must fulfill in order to be justified: God Himself fulfills all the conditions of salvation."
It will be evident to the reader that the statement that justification in the subjective sense is contingent upon faith is equivalent to the statement in the same connection “that we cannot appropriate this gift of righteousness except by a true and living fai h." For the rest, how the Rev. Petter can possibly draw the conclusion from the above two paragraphs that 1 changed my mind about the question of conditions is a complete mystery to me. I emphatically deny him the right so to misinterpret me.
Again, the Rev. Petter also refers to an article in the Standard Bearer, Vol. XXII, pp. 175, ff. But also this article offers no ground whatsoever for the Rev. Petter's contention that I changed my mind on the question of conditions. In that article I am criticizing the standpoint of the Liberated Churches that the promise is conditional. And even in that criticism I make it very plain to anyone that can read that I must have nothing of conditions, even in the so-called Reformed sense of the word, For instance, I write:
“It is, of course, the Reformed view that all ‘conditions’ of the covenant, all 'conditions’ unto salvation, are fulfilled by God Himself.” Let the Rev. Petter note, please, that I put the word condition in quotation marks, which means that I am not responsible for the term, even if used in the Reformed sense. The same is true in the following statement: “If the brethren of the Liberated Churches understand the ‘conditional promise’ in this Reformed sense, etc.” By putting this phrase conditional promise in quotation marks I naturally mean to express that I personally must have nothing of the term. And the Rev. Petter certainly can understand this.
Besides, if the Rev. Petter had but carefully read the entire article, he certainly could not so have misrepresented me as to write in Concordia: “I have shown that even those who are now trying to deny that element have formerly defended and approved it.” And again: “We certainly cannot decide the position of our churches by the changing views of individuals.” That I certainly did not change my views at all on the question of conditions may be gathered from the very article to which the Rev. Petter refers: for in that article I write as follows:
“The truth of this statement is already evident from what we quoted of that form above. That expository part of the form establishes the whole of God’s covenant and all its benefits as absolutely sure unto ‘the children of the promise’. God’s part of the covenant is that He realizes it completely, objectively and subjectively, both as to its objective establishment and as to its subjective application. God assures the ‘children of the promise’, that He establishes His covenant with them, that He adopts them, that He forgives their sins and justifies them, that He delivers them and sanctifies them, that He preserves and glorifies them. This is absolutely unconditional. No condition whatever is mentioned in this part. Fact is, that if there were a condition attached to this, the covenant could never be realized, and that entire expository part of the Baptism Form would be made vain. But God’s work is never conditional. And the language of the Baptism Form is as positive and unconditional as it possibly could be. The mere fact that the future tense is used in connection with the work of the Holy Ghost (He will dwell in us) does no more make this work contingent and conditional than when the same tense is used with respect to the work of the Father (He will provide us with every good thing); it merely denotes that God the Holy Spirit will surely fulfill this promise in the future, i.e., all our life long, as well as in the present.
“To be sure, the Baptism Form makes mention of our ‘part’ in the covenant, that ‘we by God through baptism are admonished of, and obliged unto new obedience, namely, that we cleave to this one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; that we trust in him and love him with all our hearts, and with all our souls, and with all our mind, and with all our strength; that we forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a new and holy life.’ But this part is not presented as a condition for the part of God, which we must fulfill before, and in order that God will fulfill His part, but as the new obligation of love which follows upon and from God’s part. And only when and after God has fulfilled His ‘part’ of the covenant, can we begin to fulfill ours”.
And again, to quote no more: “We conclude, therefore, that the view that all the children of believing parents are equally in the covenant in virtue of a conditional promise is in conflict with the plain language of our Baptism Form.”
Again, on page 199 of Vol. XXII of the Standard Bearer, I write in answer to an exposition which the Rev. Bremmer offers of the well-known passage in Romans 9: “This question the apostle puts in a very specific form, at least by implication: Is the Word of God fallen out, become of none effect? Did God fail to realize His promise to the seed of Abraham?
“It is this question which he answers in the first part of Romans 9.
“And how does he answer it?
“Does he say: No, the promise of God is faithful, and the Word of God has not fallen out, but the promise was conditional, contingent upon the faith of those to whom it was promised; and since many did not believe the promise they did not receive the blessings promised to them, bequeathed upon them, as the Rev. Bremmer would have it?
“Not at all. There is not a word in this passage that suggests such an interpretation.”
From all the above, and I could refer to many more passages out of my writings, it should be abundantly evident that the Rev. Petter grossly misrepresents me, and certainly does not write the truth about me and about my views on the question of conditions when he leaves the impression with his readers that I, too, have changed and that I do not always speak and write the same language. It is not I that have changed, but the Rev. Petter is departing from what has always been accepted among us as Protestant Reformed truth. I want him to know that I will always oppose the views that he is attempting to inculcate into our people both in my writings and in the spoken word, whether it be in lecture or in sermon. And I want him to understand too that in so writing and speaking I do nothing but that which I have always done, maintain and defend our Protestant Reformed truth. It is not I that oppose the Rev. Petter, but it is the Rev. Petter that opposes and contradicts that which I have always taught as being the truth of Holy Writ and of our Reformed confessions.
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.