This article first appeared in the April 15, 1950 issue of the Standard Bearer (Vol.26, No.14) and was penned by the editor, Rev. Herman Hoeksema.
We must still call attention to the very last part of Canons III, IV, 12.
There we read: “Whereupon the will thus renewed, is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence, becomes itself active. Wherefore also, man is himself rightly said to believe and repent, by virtue of that grace received."
Now the meaning of this is plain.
The article had first emphasized that the grace of regeneration is absolutely sovereign and unconditional. Let us quote that part of the article once again: “(And this is the regeneration so highly celebrated in Scripture, and denominated a new creation: a resurrection from the dead, a making alive, which God works in us without our aid. But this is in no wise effected merely by the external preaching of the gospel, by moral suasion, or such a mode of operation, that after God has performed his part, it still remains in the power of man to be regenerated or not, to be converted, or to continue unconverted; but it is evidently a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to creation, or the resurrection from the dead, as the Scripture inspired by the author of this work declares; so that all in whose heart God works in this marvelous manner, are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe.”
Now, what is the idea of a condition (voorwaarde, beding)? Whatever else it may mean, it certainly denotes something that must be fulfilled prior to something else. If I say, “I will take my car to Chatham on condition that the weather is favorable," the condition of favorable weather must be fulfilled before I take my car to Chatham. The latter is contingent upon the former. If I say to someone, “I will lend you a thousand dollars on condition that you pay me back within three months," then in the mind of him that promises the thousand dollars the three months' term must be fulfilled prior to the lending. It is a conditional promise, for a condition is something demanded or required as a prerequisite to the granting or performance of something else. It is something that must exist if something else is to take place; and that something else is contingent on the condition. Even if you understand condition in the sense of “each of the concurring antecedent circumstances viewed as contributing causes of the phenomenon” (New English Dictionary, James H. Murray), the condition is still antecedent to that which is contingent upon it. Thus, for instance, I may say, “The air I breathe is the condition of my life; it is not its cause." Even then, the air is prior to my breathing and therefore to my life. The same thing is true of the Dutch voorwaarde or beding. Also a voorwaarde is antecedent, is prior to that which is contingent upon it.
Now let us apply this idea of condition to the work of salvation all along the entire line to ascertain whether in the Reformed conception of salvation there is really any room for the concept condition. The question is simply: Is along the entire line of salvation and its application to man the latter first, or is God always and unconditionally first as the Author of our salvation?
As we have shown, as far as the confessions are concerned, in Canons III, IV, 12, in the work of regeneration God is absolutely first. God regenerates, and man lives. God’s work of regeneration is therefore as absolutely unconditional as the work of creation or of the resurrection from the dead. No more than Adam could fulfill any conditions prior to his being created from the dust of the ground and God’s breathing into his nostrils the breath of life, no more than the dead can fulfill any conditions prior to their being raised from the dead, no more can the unregenerated sinner fulfill any conditions, conditions which he must comply with before and in order to receive the calling unto life. Also in the calling God is absolutely first. But the latter is prior to the former. God is first in the calling, and man obeys the calling as the fruit of the work of God in him.
Nor are there any conditions which man must fulfill prior to the gift of faith or to the activity of faith. This is very plainly expressed in the last part of Art. 12 of Canons III, IV: “Whereupon the will thus renewed, is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence, becomes itself active. Wherefore also, man is himself rightly said to believe and repent, by virtue of that grace received.’’ God, therefore, by His grace not only gives the gift of faith as it is implanted in the moment of regeneration, but He also gives actual belief. And therefore, as the article states, “man is himself rightly said to believe,’’ as the fruit of God’s influence upon him. But there are no antecedent conditions which man must fulfill in order to receive that faith or the gift of active belief. God causes him to become an active believer, and that, too, unconditionally. And by faith he performs the act of repentance. And even that act of repentance is a gift of God to him and is certainly not a condition which he must fulfill in order to receive salvation.
Now the question is: can it be said that faith and repentance are themselves conditions? But we ask: conditions unto what? Certainly not unto salvation in any sense of the word. For by faith the sinner is implanted into Christ, into His death and resurrection, and therefore he has salvation. By faith he possesses Christ and all his benefits. He cannot be said to be justified oil condition of faith. For, in the first place, all the elect are justified eternally in the everlasting counsel of God. And besides, they are justified more than 1900 years ago by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In that death God forever reconciled the world unto Himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them. And for that reconciliation there certainly were no conditions whatsoever. Unless, therefore, you want to accept the Arminian view that Christ died for all men, head for head and soul for soul, but that it depends upon man whether or not he will be benefited by that death, we must maintain that all the elect were justified by the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ once and forever and unconditionally. But also subjectively they are not justified on condition of faith, but, according to the Scriptures, out of faith. Faith is simply the God-given means whereby a sinner is ingrafted into Christ and is justified before God. Nor can it be said that the believer is sanctified on condition of faith. For also his sanctification is objectively realized in Christ and is subjectively given unto him in the moment of regeneration, and called into conscious activity through the efficacious calling of the Holy Spirit, so that now by faith he is also sanctified. Nor can it even be said that faith is a condition unto perseverance, although it is, of course, true that by faith the Christian perseveres. But even before he perseveres by faith, God preserves him and keeps him unto the end, that he may obtain the inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that fadeth not away. In other words, never is any work or act of man prior to the work of God; but always the work of God is first. And by virtue of the work of God in him can the sinner become active.
Does this mean, then, that man in the work of salvation is “a stock and a block’’? By no means. He is and remains a responsible, rational, moral creature. And in the work of salvation God never violates his rational, moral nature. Rather must we say that through the work of grace man becomes responsible in the highest sense of the word. Not, indeed, responsible for what God does, but freely responsible for the new obedience unto which he is called. Just because God works within him to will and to do of His good pleasure, he heeds the admonition to work out his own salvation with fear and trembling. Phil. 2:12, 13. Just because he has the glorious promises of God that He will dwell in them and walk in them and will be their God and they shall be His people, they cleanse themselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. 2 Cor. 7:1. God regenerates them, and they live. God calls them, and they come. God gives them faith, and they believe. God justifies them, and they are righteous. God sanctifies them, and they walk in a new and holy life. God preserves them, and they persevere even unto the end. And all this work of God is without condition. That is the relation between the work of God and our work, as it is expressed in Art. 12 of Canons III, IV, the end of which we quote once more: “Whereupon the will thus renewed, is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence, becomes itself active. Wherefore also, man is himself rightly said to believe and repent, by virtue of that grace received.” By faith, through faith, and in the way of faith we are saved, but never on condition of faith.
The same truth as to the relation between God's part and our part in the covenant of God is expressed in the 64th question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism: “But doth not this doctrine make men careless and profane? By no means: for it is impossible that those, who are implanted into Christ by a true faith, should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.” It is true that the Catechism in this connection speaks only of the grace of justification. But what is true of the work of justification applies to the entire application of salvation to the sinner. The question may be asked and is principally asked by the Heidelberg Catechism whether the fact that God accomplishes all our salvation unconditionally does not render men careless and profane, so that they say, “Let us sin, that grace may abound." But to this question the Heidelberg Catechism answers that this attitude on the part of the Christian is unthinkable and impossible, because believers are implanted into Christ by a true faith. A careless and profane Christian is an impossibility. He is saved by grace. And that means that Christ dwells in him, and he is implanted into Christ. And therefore, as rational and moral creatures that are delivered from the bondage and dominion of sin, they must bring forth fruits of thankfulness.
And this is also the teaching of our Baptism Form concerning God's part and our part (not parties) in God's eternal covenant. For according to that Baptism Form “when we are baptized in the name of the Father, God the Father witnesseth and sealeth unto us, that he doth make an eternal covenant of grace with us, and adopts us for his children and heirs, and therefore will provide us with every good thing, and avert all evil or turn it to our profit. And when we are baptized in the name of the Son, the Son sealeth unto us, that he doth wash us in his blood from all our sins, incorporating us into the fellowship of his death and resurrection, so that we are freed from all our sins, and accounted righteous before Cod. In like manner, when we are baptized in the name of the Holy Ghost, the Holy Ghost assures us, by this holy sacrament, that he will dwell in us, and sanctify us to be members of Christ, applying unto us, that which we have in Christ namely, the washing away of our sins, and the daily renewing of our lives, till we shall finally be presented without spot or wrinkle among the assembly of the elect in life eternal."
That is God's part of the covenant. And that part He performs sovereignly and absolutely unconditionally.
And on the basis of God's part, and as the fruit of the establishment of His covenant with us in Jesus Christ our Lord, and the application of salvation to us by the Spirit of Christ, our part follows, namely: that we “are by God through baptism 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, with all our souls, 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."
Such is our part. And that part we assume not as a condition unto salvation, but with joy and gratitude of heart because of the salvation of which God has made us partakers in Jesus Christ our Lord.
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.