Articles

As to Conditions ("Standard Bearer" Series) (11)

A series of Standard Bearer articles penned by Rev. Herman Hoeksema (1949-50) in connection with the doctrine of the covenant (salvation) and the growing controversy over conditions in the covenant in the PRCA.

As to Conditions (1)

This article first appeared in the October 15, 1949 issue of the Standard Bearer (Vol.26, No.2) and was penned by the editor, Rev. Herman Hoeksema.

As the reader knows there has been, for the last year or so, a controversy in our papers about the question of conditions in the covenant of God. The question was really whether the term “condition” could be used properly in Reformed theology, and especially whether it could be used to express Protestant Reformed thought.

The controversy was introduced by the Rev. A. Petter who defended the use of the term, and, evidently conceived of the possibility of its being used in a sound Reformed sense. He even thinks that we need the term in order to express a necessary element in the Reformed conception of the covenant, the element of the responsibility of man.

Some of our ministers, especially the Rev. G. M. Ophoff and the Rev. H. Veldman, opposed his views. They were evidently afraid that the Rev. Petter was turning in a wrong direction, and that, following that direction, we would ultimately land in the Heynsian conception of the covenant. And others of our ministers had somewhat the same notion as I gathered from remarks made in some of their sermons. Besides, the Revs. J. De Jong and B. Kok, according to the letter of Prof. B. Holwerda to the immigrants in Chatham, reported that recently an entirely different sound was heard in our churches, and that they meant by this a sound in favor of the liberated conception of the covenant is evident from the fact that this report was meant for liberated ears. And also some ministers in the Netherlands who read Concordia received the same impression from the writings of the Rev. A. Petter, and they even gathered from the fact that no discipline was applied to him the idea that there was ample room in the Protestant Reformed Churches for the liberated view of the covenant.

Now, it cannot be denied that the Rev. Petter himself is the cause of all these impressions. In his articles on the covenant he wrote in a way that favored the covenant view of the liberated and certainly “emitted an entirely different sound” from what has generally been accepted among us as Protestant Reformed people. Nor did he develop anything new on the subject, but what he wrote appeared definitely to turn into the direction of the Heynsian view of the covenant, although I am far from saying that he is Heynsian. Thus, for instance, I seem to remember that quite a while ago he wrote about the “covenant of works” without criticism. More recently he favored the idea of parties instead of parts in the covenant. And now he introduced the controversy about “conditions”.

Yet I am not ready to believe that the Rev. Petter is ready to embrace the covenant conception of the liberated and discard our conception. It is not quite clear to me what he wants. Although he is quite an able writer and undoubtedly has literary ability, his ability is often somewhat obscure so that one is often at a loss to know exactly what he wants and in which direction he is moving. Perhaps, he tries to borrow some conceptions from the liberated, which he thinks we need, and introduce them into our view. But however this may be, I do not believe as yet that the Rev. Petter means fundamentally to disagree with us. And his more recent Writing shows that he does not agree with the liberated view of the covenant.

Nevertheless, I do not agree with the brother on the question concerning conditions in the covenant, and I think, too, that this terminology is dangerous and is liable to convey a meaning that is foreign to the Reformed conception of the truth. Whatever meaning we may attach to certain terms, we must never forget that words have meaning in themselves, and that this fundamental meaning of the terms stands out in the minds of the people. And when it is said that God establishes His covenant with us, or that we are saved, “on condition of faith and obedience”, the impression this expression makes upon the minds of the people (and not without reason) is that the will of man is one of the determining factors in the matter of salvation. And thus, on the wings of a term, one instills nolens volens the Arminian heresy into the minds and hearts of the people. And for that reason I consider the term “condition” dangerous. Nor is the Rev. Petter justified in quoting me in support of the use of the term, as he did. If he will check up on his quotations, he will admit that I wrote quite the opposite from the way he quoted me.

Now, in order to have a fruitful discussion on the matter from a Reformed viewpoint, it seems but proper that we, first of all consult our confessions, the Three Forms of Unity, and the Reformed Confessions in general. Besides, we can also turn to our liturgical forms, such as the Form for the Administration of Baptism, etc., which must be used in our churches and which are often considered standards of secondary value and importance.

And then we discover, in the first place, that the term “condition” never even once occurs in any of our Reformed Standards.

Do not minimize the importance of this obvious fact by saying that this is a mere argumentum e silentio, an argument from silence, which has but little force. For this is not true. In the first place, consider that our fathers certainly were acquainted with the term conditio for already Calvin who had a profound influence upon Reformed thinking at the time and upon the formulation of the Reformed symbols, used the term . Yet the Reformed fathers in the composition and formulation of our confessions studiously avoided the term condition, or at least had no room for it anywhere in the expression of Reformed thought.

Besides, in as far as this is, indeed, an argumentum e silentio, we must not overlook the fact that our own Three Forms of Unity together with our liturgical forms are rather elaborate expositions of all the fundamental doctrines of the Reformed Faith, treating of God and man, of the fall and original sin, of the covenant and man's original state of integrity, of election and reprobation, of the incarnation and the atonement, of faith and justification, of regeneration and sanctification, of the church and the means of grace, etc., etc. Surely if the term condition had represented an important element in Reformed thinking it would be met with more than once in this elaborate exposition of our truth as we confess it. Yet it is never once used.

I think this makes this argumentum e silentio rather weighty and valid. It proves definitely, if not that our Reformed fathers consciously rejected the term and purposely avoided it, yet that they had no need of it, and that they found no room for it in the system of Reformed truth.

But there is much more.

The question is, of course, whether faith may be presented as a condition of salvation, and whether the establishment and continuation of God's covenant with us is in any sense of the word contingent upon our fulfilling the conditions of faith and obedience. This, unless we juggle words, is the plain and simple meaning of the question, and in this simple form it certainly will stand before the minds of the people.

But I dare say that, in this sense, the term condition not only has no room in the Reformed system of doctrine, but is, as far as our Confessions are concerned, thoroughly unreformed.

For our Confessions uniformly present faith not as a condition which we must fulfill, but as a God-given means or instrument empowering the soul to cling to Christ and to receive all His benefits, and that is a radically different conception from that of condition. And as far as obedience or walking in the way of the covenant is concerned, also this is never presented as a condition but rather as the fruit, in fact, as the inevitable fruit, of our being engrafted into Christ.

Let us consult our Confessions on these points.

In the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day VII, question and answer 20, we read: “Are all men, then, as they are perished in Adam, saved by Christ? No; only those who are engrafted into him, and receive all his benefits, by a true faith.”

Notice that faith here is the spiritual means or, as it is often called, the instrument, whereby we are engrafted, incorporated (ingeljfd, einverleibt) into Christ. This is an entirely passive notion. Man has nothing to do with it. Besides the Word of God plainly teaches us that this instrument is given us of God. Man does not have the power to believe in Christ of himself. This, too, is taught by the Heidelberg Catechism in the next question and answer, which reads as follows: “What is true faith? True faith is not only a certain knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His word, but also an assured confidence which the Holy Ghost works, by the gospel, in my heart; that not only to others, but to me also, remission of sin, everlasting righteousness and salvation, are freely given me by God, merely of grace, only for the sake of Christ's merit."

The point is, of course, that if faith is an instrument which God uses and works in the heart of man, it certainly cannot be, at the same time, a condition which man must fulfill in order to obtain salvation, or to enter into the covenant of God. How different the sense of question and answer 20 of the Catechism would become if we would read: “Are all men then, as they perished in Adam, saved by Christ? No; but only those that comply with the condition of faith, and receive all his benefits." I am well aware, of course, that those Reformed theologians that favor the term “conditions", usually add that God Himself fulfills all conditions. But this is plainly camouflaging the truth that there are no conditions which man can or must fulfill to obtain salvation.

The same truth is implied in Lord's Day XX, which reads: “What dost thou believe concerning the Holy Ghost? First, that he is the true and co-eternal God with the Father and the Son; secondly, that he is also given me, to make me by a true faith partaker of Christ and all his benefits, that he may comfort me and abide with me forever." Also here it is evident that faith is the instrument, not of man but of God, to make us partakers of Christ. And once more, the idea of condition is completely foreign to this Lord's Day.

It is true that in the Lord's Day that speaks of justification by faith, it is the activity of saving faith that is emphasized rather than faith as a power. If tells us that we are justified because God imputes to us the righteousness of Christ, “inasmuch as I embrace such benefit with a believing heart." And in question 61 we read that we are righteous by faith only because “I. cannot receive and apply the same to myself any other way than by faith only." But also this is far from saying that faith is a condition unto justification. It only means that the believer is able to receive the grace of justification by faith as a means which is given the sinner by God.

Again the same truth is emphasized in question and answer 65: “Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all his benefits by faith only, whence does this faith proceed? From the Holy Ghost, who works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel, and confirms it by the use of the sacraments." Also here, let me point out, there is no room for anything man can or must do. We are made partakers of Christ and all his benefits by a true faith and of that faith the Holy Ghost alone is the author. Where would there be any room for the notion that faith is a condition unto salvation? There is no room for it whatever.

(to be continued)

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As to Conditions (2)

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)

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As to Conditions (3)

This article first appeared in the November 15, 1949 issue of the Standard Bearer (Vol.26, No.4) and was penned by the editor, Rev. Herman Hoeksema.

The teaching of the Canons of Dordrecht, in regard to the subject we are now discussing, is very clear and emphatic.

On the one hand they present election as unconditional and absolute. The Remonstrants, as we all know, did not literally deny the Scriptural truth of election, but made it contingent upon the faith of man, and upon his perseverance to the end. But our fathers of Dordt rejected the Arminian doctrine, and maintained that election is unconditional and absolute. It is not contingent upon anything in man, or upon anything that he can do or must accomplish, but rests in the sole good pleasure of His will.

It is defined as follows:

“Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, he hath out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of his own will, chosen, from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault, from their primitive state of rectitude, into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom he from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect, and the foundation of salvation.” Canons of Dordt, I, A, 7.

Here we have, as you will notice, an infralapsarian definition of election. But it teaches very emphatically that election is unconditional, and that it rests only in “the sovereign good pleasure of his own will”.

And this alone would be sufficient to rule out all possibility of speaking of conditions in connection with salvation. For it must be evident to all, that if election, from which all our salvation flows, is absolute, salvation itself, whether in the objective or in the subjective sense of the word, can never be said to be conditional on anything man must do.

But this is not all.

The Canons do not leave it to us to draw the conclusion from their definition of the truth of election, that salvation is unconditional, and that faith may never be presented as a condition unto salvation, but they also state this truth clearly.

Already in the same article in which the definition of election occurs, quoted above, we read:

“This elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God hath decreed to give to Christ, to be saved by Him, and effectually to call and to draw them to his communion by his Word and Spirit, to bestow upon them true faith, justification and sanctification.”

It is plain from this article that faith, together with all the other blessings of salvation, is a gift of God which flows from the unconditional decree of God, and is, therefore, never itself to be presented as a condition.

But this truth is expressed still more clearly in other articles of the Canons.

Beautiful, in this respect, is the language of Art. 8 of I, A, which presents the counsel of God as the only source of all our salvation, for according to that counsel and purpose of his own will, “he hath chosen us from eternity, both to grace and glory, to salvation and the way of salvation, which he hath ordained that we should walk therein” (cursives are mine). How clearly and beautifully it is expressed here that the whole of salvation is determined by the counsel of God! Salvation and the way of salvation, regeneration, calling, faith, justification, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification,—it is all of God. And not only that, but He has also ordained that the elect should, and do walk in that way. How utterly impossible it is, then, to conceive of faith as a condition which man must fulfill in order to obtain salvation, or to enter into the covenant of God!

That this is, indeed, the meaning of the Canons is evident also from I, A, art. 9. There we read:

“This election was not founded upon foreseen faith, and the obedience of faith, holiness, or any other good quality or disposition in man, as a prerequisite, cause or condition on which it depended; but men are chosen to faith and to the obedience of faith, holiness, etc., therefore election is the fountain of every saving good; from which proceed faith, holiness, and the other gifts of salvation, and finally eternal life itself, as its fruits and effects.”

Notice, first of all, that here, for the first time, the term condition is used. But it is put in the mouth of the Remonstrants. We will call attention to this again, for in the Canons we will meet with the term conditions more often, but always in the same condemnatory sense. To the fathers of Dordt it represents, not a Reformed, but an Arminian notion. This should certainly teach us a lesson. Dr. Schilder wrote in one of his articles in De Reformatie that there are Reformed people that are “vuurbang” i.e. afraid as of fire, of the term “condition”. Well, I belong to them. And I dare say that I am in good company. The fathers of Dordt also were “vuurbang” of the term, witness the fact that they never use it for the positive exposition of the Reformed truth, although they were well acquainted with the term, but always mentioned it as an Arminian term expressing an Arminian idea. And why, pray, should we play with fire?

For the rest, it is very plain that there is no room for the concept faith as a condition in the article quoted above. For faith does not occur as a condition in the counsel of God, and if it does not occur in that relation in God’s eternal purpose, it cannot possibly occur in that relation in the historical realization of salvation, nor in the experience and consciousness of the people of God. We are not chosen, and therefore, we are not saved on condition of faith, or of the obedience of faith; but we are chosen to faith, and to the obedience of faith, and, therefore, we are saved through the instrument of faith, and in the way of obedience. That, and that only is Reformed language.

The same Arminian use of the term condition is referred to in the very next article of the Canons, I, A, 10. There we read:

“The good pleasure of God is the sole cause of this gracious election; which doth not consist herein, that out of all possible qualities and actions of men God has chosen some as a condition of salvation; but that he was pleased out of the common mass of sinners to adopt some certain persons as a peculiar people to himself.”

The meaning of this is plain. The Arminians denied the truth of personal election. Instead, they invented the theory that God had selected certain qualities as a condition of salvation. The chief of these qualities is, of course, faith. Hence, the Arminians drew the conclusion, that, in the counsel of God, and, therefore, also in reality, faith appears as a condition of salvation. But note, that our fathers rejected this notion, and emphasized the truth of unconditional and personal election. Again I say that the term condition or faith as a condition is an Arminian term. We should not even attempt to use it in a sound sense. For by making this attempt, we willfully classify ourselves with the Arminians. And why should we want to adopt their language? There is absolutely no need for it in Reformed terminology.

Again, the same denotation of the term condition, i.e. in the Arminian sense, is referred to in the “Rejection of Errors” under caput I of the Canons.

We read in I, B, 3: (The true doctrine concerning Election and Rejection having been explained, the Synod rejects the errors of those):

“Who teach: That the good pleasure and purpose of God, of which Scripture makes mention in the doctrine of election, does not consist in this, that God chose certain persons rather than others, but in this that he chose out of all possible conditions (among which are also the works of the law), or out of the whole order of things, the act of faith which from its very nature is undeserving, as well as its incomplete obedience, as a condition of salvation, and that he would graciously consider this in itself as a complete obedience and count it worthy of the reward of eternal life. For by this injurious error the pleasure of God and the merits of Christ are made of none effect, and men are drawn away by useless questions from the truth of gracious justification, and from the simplicity of Scripture, and this declaration of the Apostle is charged as untrue: ‘who saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal.' II Tim. 1:9."

After what I wrote above on I, A, 10, it is not necessary to comment elaborately on this article. I quote it here chiefly because it furnishes another proof for my contention that the term condition, and faith as a condition is not Reformed, but Arminian, and for that reason should be scrupulously avoided by us. When the Arminians teach that, in the counsel of God, faith and the incomplete obedience are chosen by God as a condition of salvation, they mean, of course, to deny sovereign election and reprobation, and to present salvation as a matter that is contingent upon the freewill of man. Such is the implication of the term in the thought-structure of the Arminians throughout. And our fathers, understanding very well that words not only have meaning in themselves, but deserve significance also from the usus loquendi, i.e. from the common use of a term, avoided it altogether.

We will do well if we follow their example.

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As to Conditions (4)

This article first appeared in the December 1, 1949 issue of the Standard Bearer (Vol.26, No.5) and was penned by the editor, Rev. Herman Hoeksema.

Thus far we have shown:

  1. That in our Confessions the term condition never occurs in a good sense. From this we may safely conclude that in the Reformed system of doctrine there is neither room for nor need of the term. For, first, our fathers were well acquainted with the term; and, secondly, in our Reformed symbols we have a rather complete and even elaborate system of doctrine, so that we might certainly expect that, if the term condition were at all important, if not indispensable, for the expression of Reformed truth, it would occur in these symbols. Yet it is never employed there in a sound sense.
  2. That in those Confessions faith never appears as a condition, but uniformly as a means or instrument which God works in the heart by the Holy Spirit. And to be sure, faith cannot be a condition which somehow man must fulfill and a God-given instrument, which He unconditionally works in man’s heart, at the same time.
  3. That the gift of faith, according to the same Confessions, flows from God’s unconditional election. We are not chosen on condition of, but unto faith. In God’s decree, therefore, faith does not occur as a condition. It follows that it cannot appear as such in time, either objectively in the promise of the gospel, or subjectively in the experience of the believers.
  4. That, in the Confessions, the term condition is always attributed to the Pelagians and Arminians. They, and they only, had room for and need of the term. And, to my mind, this is sufficient reason to be “vuurbang” for the term, and not even to attempt to employ the term in a sound Reformed sense, lest we “instill into the minds of the imprudent and inexperienced . . . the poison of the Pelagian errors.” Canons II, B, 6.

I think that the truth of the above conclusions is plain to all our readers.

The term faith as a condition is not confessionally Reformed; is, on the contrary Pelagian and Arminian.

But we are still discussing the Canons.

We meet with the term condition, as ascribed to the Pelagians, also in I, B. 4.

There we read: “The true doctrine of election and reprobation having been explained, the Synod rejects the errors of those:

“Who teach: That in the election unto faith this condition is beforehand demanded, viz., that man should use the light of nature aright, be pious, humble, meek, and fit for eternal life, as if on these things election were in any way dependent. For this savors of the teaching of Pelagius, and is opposed to the doctrine of the apostle, when he writes: ‘Among whom we also once lived in the lust of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest; but God being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in heavenly places, in Christ Jesus; that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus; for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory.’ Eph. 2:3-9.”

The Arminians taught an election on the basis of foreseen faith and perseverance. God had chosen those whom He knew would believe and persevere. Faith, therefore, is a condition in the counsel of God, unto salvation. Yet, they understood, too, that man does not have this faith of himself. Scripture teaches too plainly that it is a gift of God. Now, how did they meet or rather circumvent this difficulty by their theory of “common grace”, or of the proper use of the light of nature. By this theory, they could even, if need be speak of an election unto faith! O, the error is made to look so much like the truth! When the Reformed believer speaks of sovereign grace, the Arminian agrees with him wholeheartedly—it is all of God! When the Reformed believer confesses to believe in election, the Arminian has no objection. When the Reformed child of God confesses that we are saved through faith, and that faith is a gift of God, the Arminian agrees with him. And yet their views are opposed to each other as light and darkness. This becomes apparent as soon as you ultimately ask the question: but to whom does God give this saving faith? Then the Reformed believer confesses: God gives the saving faith to whom He will, unconditionally, according to His absolutely free and sovereign and unconditional election! There are absolutely no conditions in the matter of salvation, no condition of faith, neither any conditions unto faith! But the same question the Arminian answers as follows: God bestows the gift of faith upon those that are willing to receive it. There is, after all, a condition attached unto election unto faith, and that condition is that man must use the light of nature aright, that by that light he must walk humbly and in meekness before God, become pious, and render himself worthy and fit for eternal life!

Thus the question is always ultimately: is salvation determined by God or by man?

If you answer: by God, you say at the same time: there are no conditions which man must or can fulfill.

But if you speak of conditions in the matter of salvation, no matter how or where or when, you deny that salvation is of God, and you agree with the Mssrs. Pelagius and Arminius.

That is why our fathers were so “vuurbang” for the term conditions.

Some Reformed theologians use the term and camouflage it by adding that God Himself fulfills all conditions which He demands.

This, however, is plain nonsense.

For a condition is either something which man must fulfill in order to receive grace from God, or it is no condition, but simply a work of God.

Faith, or believing the promise of the gospel, is either a condition the fulfillment of which God demands of man before He saves him, and in order that God may establish His covenant with Him; or the gift of faith, together with the act of believing, is the sovereign work of God, and then it is no condition.

And only the latter is true.

We say that the sinner is responsible for the sin of unbelief; and rightly so, because he is a rational and moral being.

But did you ever hear that he is responsible for his faith, even though by faith he becomes a rational and moral being in highest and perfect freedom?

To be sure, no Reformed man would ever speak thus.

But in the article quoted above, the Pelagians and Arminians teach that man is responsible for his own faith, for it is entirely up to him, up to his free will, up to his fulfillment of certain conditions, viz., the proper use of natural light, whether or no God will bestow or not bestow faith on him.

Did you ever hear of the nonsense of a man’s being responsible for his own election?

Yet that nonsense is the plain implication of the theory of the arch heretics Pelagius and Arminius. For they teach that man is elected unto salvation on condition of faith, or on condition of the proper use of his natural light.

And ultimately any theory of conditions must lead to the same Arminian error.

I have room in this issue for just one more reference to the Canons. In Art. 5 of I, B, we read:

“The true doctrine concerning election and rejection having been explained, the Synod respects the errors of those who teach:

“That the incomplete and non-decisive election of particular persons to salvation occurred because of foreseen faith, conversion, holiness, godliness, which either began or continued for some time; but that the complete and decisive election occurred because of foreseen perseverance unto the end in faith, conversion, holiness and godliness; and that this is the gracious and evangelical worthiness, for the sake of which he who is chosen, is more worthy than he who is not chosen; and that therefore faith, the obedience of faith, holiness, godliness and perseverance are not fruits of the unchangeable election unto glory, but are conditions, which being required beforehand, were foreseen as being met by those who will be fully elected, and are causes without which the unchangeable election to glory does not occur.”

This article needs, perhaps, some elucidation for some of our readers, perhaps for most of them.

We will therefore wait with discussing it till our next issue.

But even now I want to point out that one who sets his feet on the path of conditions moves on a very slippery road.

For once he speaks of faith as a condition, there is no possibility of stopping, and he will soon discover that the entire way of salvation is strewn with conditions.

But about this next time.

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As to Conditions (5)

This article first appeared in the December 15, 1949 issue of the Standard Bearer (Vol.26, No.6) and was penned by the editor, Rev. Herman Hoeksema.

At the close of our last article we were discussing Canons, chapter I, Rejection of Errors, V.

The Arminians, as is plain from that article, presented the entire way of salvation as conditional, and, therefore, as depending on something man must do, on conditions which he must fulfill in order to be saved.

They were afraid that the doctrine of unconditional election and unconditional salvation would lead to a denial of the responsibility of man. And the latter they wanted to maintain at all cost, even at the expense of the truth of sovereign and unconditional election and reprobation.

Hence, they spoke of a conditional election, and, therefore, of a conditional salvation.

For, let it be plainly understood, these two belong together. Either salvation is conditional because election is conditional; or both are unconditional. For the application of salvation flows from the counsel of election. Hence, he that teaches that faith is a condition unto salvation, must necessarily teach that it is also a condition unto salvation.

And this the Arminians did, indeed, teach.

Already from Art. II, of ch. I, Rejection of Errors, we learn that they taught “that there are various kinds of election of God unto eternal life: the one general and indefinite, the other particular and definite; and that the latter in turn is either incomplete, revocable, non-decisive and conditional, or complete, irrevocable, decisive and absolute."

And in the article we are now discussing, I, B, V, we read further about this incomplete or complete, non-decisive and complete election of particular persons. And this is further explained by saying that in God’s election of particular persons unto eternal life not only faith, but also the obedience of faith, holiness, godliness and perseverance are conditions and causes of the unchangeable election unto glory.

You understand what this means, reader?

Briefly, it means that for the Arminian the whole way of salvation is strewn with conditions!

And conditions means that, ultimately, everything depends on man’s free will.

We have all learned in catechism that the Arminians teach an election on the basis of foreseen faith. God chose those of whom He foresaw that they would believe in Christ. In other words the election of God unto salvation is conditioned by man’s faith.

But, true though this is, it is by no means all of the Arminian doctrine. They cannot possibly stop there.

When a man is chosen on condition of faith, his election is not yet sure, it is not yet complete and decisive. May he not lose his faith and become an unbeliever?

Hence, there is a further condition, which man must fulfill in order to have a place in God’s election unto eternal life and be saved. That further condition is the obedience of faith, which includes, of course, holiness and a godly walk.

But even this is not sufficient.

A man may be chosen on condition of his foreseen faith, and his foreseen obedience of faith, holiness and godliness, and still his election unto eternal life may be incomplete and non-decisive. May he not fall away, apostatize from the faith? And if he does, is not his election changed into reprobation? Hence, a final condition must be attached to God’s election of man unto eternal life. And that final condition is perseverance. Only the man whom God foresaw as persevering unto the end is elect. And only when man fulfills all the conditions can he be saved.

Do you not see, reader, that this road of conditions is a very slippery path, and that there is abundant reason to be “vuurbang” for this Pelagian and Arminian term?

Once you say that you are saved on condition of faith, you must continue and maintain that you are saved on condition of obedience, on condition of holiness, on condition of godliness, on condition of perseverance.

And always a condition is something, some requirement man must fulfill.

That means that the entire way of salvation, from beginning to end is, ultimately, dependent on the will of man.

Let us, therefore, reject this Pelegian heresy, together with the term that is used to express it.

But, you say, how then about the responsibility of man? Do we not need the term condition to denote that man is a responsible creature? Do we not make man “a stock and block” by laying all emphasis on the truth of election and sovereign grace?

My answer is decidedly: No!


I must say more about this in the future. I am not yet through with my discussion of conditions.

But let me suggest that instead of the Pelagian term “condition” we use the term “in the way of”.

We are saved in the way of faith, in the way of sanctification, in the way of perseverance unto the end.

This term is capable of maintaining both: the absolute sovereignty of God in the work of salvation and the responsibility of man.

But, as I say, about this I must write more in the future.

I must now continue my discussion of the question whether, in our Reformed Standards, faith is ever presenter as a condition unto salvation.

For this purpose I want to quote just one article from the second chapter of the Canons, viz., II, A. 8.

In the preceding articles under this head the Canons spoke of the atoning death of Christ and its infinite value, of the promiscuous preaching of the gospel unto all unto whom God sends it in His good pleasure, of the responsibility of those who reject the gospel, and of the truth that those that are saved are indebted for this benefit solely to the grace of God. And then it continues in Art. 8:

“For this was the sovereign counsel, and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of his Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly unto salvation: that is, it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given him by the Father; that he should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, he purchased for them by his death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory to his own presence forever.”

Notice that in this beautiful article, the entire truth of salvation, from election to eternal glory, is completely covered. And I quote it here in order to show, not only that it does not speak of conditions, but that there is absolutely no room for the notion in the entire article.

You cannot even make room in this quite comprehensive statement of the truth of salvation for the idea that faith is a condition of our entering the covenant of God, or of our obtaining salvation.

Just let us check up on this by following the various clauses and phrases of the article.

The article states, first of all, that it was sovereignly determined in the counsel of God, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of the Son of God should extend to all the elect and to them only. This is surely unconditional. It is an absolutely sovereign determination of God with respect to the exact scope of the power of the cross: it is limited to the elect, and it will surely save them all.

There is no room here, therefore, for the idea that faith is a condition of salvation.

Secondly, the article continues by stating: “for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly unto salvation.” Here, too, it is impossible to speak of faith as a condition, in any sense of the word. God bestows the justifying faith. It belongs, therefore, to salvation itself. How then can a gift of salvation be a condition unto that gift? This is, evidently, absurd. Moreover, by this gift of justifying faith, bestowed upon us unconditionally by God, He leads us infallibly unto salvation.

It is, therefore, all determined by God, faith and salvation, and there can be no conditions. There simply is no room for anything that man must fulfill before he can attain to salvation.

There is more in this article.

But the discussion of the rest must wait until the next issue, D. V.

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As to Conditions (6)

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.

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As to Conditions (7)

This article first appeared in the February 15, 1950 issue of the Standard Bearer (Vol.26, No.10) and was penned by the editor, Rev. Herman Hoeksema.

It may be expedient, at this stage of our discussion, briefly to recapitulate what we have developed thus far in regard to the question of conditions.

We based our arguments entirely on our Reformed Confessions which constitute the basis of our common faith as Protestant Reformed Churches, and which are binding for all of us.

First of all, I appealed to the argumentum esilentio, the argument from silence, which means in this case that in none of our confessions the term is used in a sound sense. This proves, at least, that in a Reformed system of doctrine there is no need for the term condition, for our confessions are a rather elaborate expression of all the basic principles of the Reformed truth, yet, in a positive sense, the term is never employed in them.

Secondly, I showed that, in our confessions, faith is always presented as a means or instrument of salvation, and that, too, as an instrument, not of man, but of God. Never is faith explained as a condition. And to be sure, instrument and condition are two entirely different conceptions.

Further I based my argument against the use of the term condition on the fundamentally Reformed truth of election, and showed that, according to our confessions, the gift of faith flows from God's unconditional decree of election. It follows that, if faith does not appear as a condition unto salvation in God's eternal decree, it cannot appear as such in time.

Finally, we showed that in our confessions the term condition does, indeed, occur, but always as a term that is employed by the Arminians and Pelagians. In their presentation of the truth (which is the lie) there was not only ample room for, but also need of the term condition.

In my last article on this subject (cf. The Standard Bearer of Dec. 15, 1949) I was discussing the Canons, II, A, 8, an article of our confessions which completely covers the entire truth of our salvation from election to eternal glory. Yet, this article not only fails to speak of conditions but leaves no room for the notion at all.

It speaks of the sovereign decree of election as the unconditional source of our salvation. It emphasizes that the gift of faith is bestowed by God only upon the elect, so that faith is presented as belonging to salvation itself. Moreover, by this God-given means of faith, the elect are infallibly led unto salvation. And how can a gift possibly be, at the same time, a condition unto that gift?

But there is still more in this article of the Canons.

First, the article continues to emphasize God's unconditional election in the words: “it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation and language, all those and those only, who were from eternity chosen unto salvation, and given him by the Father." Note the expression “effectually redeem”. When Christ effectually redeems the elect that redemption cannot possibly be conditioned upon anything in the elect themselves.

But there is still more.

Note especially the following: “that he should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, he purchased for them by his death". Notice especially: 1. that faith is presented here as belonging to the gifts of salvation by the Holy Spirit; 2. that Christ confers this gift upon the elect alone; 3. that He purchased this gift of faith for them by His death. Now, how could one possibly introduce the element of condition here. Shall we say that the gift of faith is conditioned by faith? This is absurd. It is, therefore, unconditional. Shall we say that Christ works faith in the heart of the sinner on condition that he believe? Again, this is equally absurd. Besides, it would imply the thoroughly Armin- ion conception that Christ stands knocking at the door of the heart of the sinner, the key of which is on the inside. Shall we say that the death of Christ, by which He purchased the gift of faith for the elect, is conditioned by faith on the part of the sinner? But that would mean that He did not effectually redeem the elect at all. It would really imply a denial of sovereign election.

The rest of the article speaks in equally unconditional terms. We read there: “should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot or blemish to the enjoyment of glory in his own presence forever." All this belongs to God's part of the covenant. We have no part in it whatsoever. He redeems us. He bestows upon the elect the gift of faith. He delivers us from the dominion of sin, and sanctifies us. He preserves us, and leads us on to eternal glory. And this entire work of God is absolutely unconditional. If it were not, no sinner could possibly be saved.

Only on the basis of the truth that the entire work of God concerning our salvation is sovereign and, therefore, unconditional, can the Canons close this chapter with the following beautiful confession: “This purpose proceeding from everlasting love towards the elect, has, from the beginning of the world to this day, been powerfully accomplished, and will henceforward still continue to be accomplished, notwithstanding all the ineffectual opposition of the gates of hell, so that the elect in due time may be gathered together into one, and that there never may be wanting a church composed of believers, the foundation of which is laid in the blood of Christ, which may steadfastly love, and faithfully serve him as their Savior, who as a bridegroom for his bride, laid down his life for them upon the cross, and which may celebrate his praises here and through all eternity."

Of course, the Arminians deny this unconditional work of God concerning our salvation. But the Canons insist upon it, and deny the errors of those “Who teach: That Christ by his satisfaction merited neither salvation itself for anyone, nor faith, whereby this satisfaction of Christ is effectually appropriated; but that he merited for the Father only the authority or the perfect will to deal again with man, and to prescribe new conditions as he might desire, obedience to which, however, depended on the free will of man, so that it therefore might have come to pass that either none or all should fulfill these conditions. For these adjudge too contemptuously of the death of Christ, do in no wise acknowledge the most important fruit or benefit thereby gained, and bring again out of hell the Pelagian error."

This is strong language.

But it is the truth, nevertheless.

And into this Pelagian error, which has its origin in hell, we must needs fall, as soon as we teach that faith is a condition unto salvation. For then we must necessarily deny that “faith, whereby this satisfaction of Christ is effectually appropriated", is merited by the satisfaction of Christ and is wrought in our hearts efficaciously by the Holy Spirit. In other words, one must choose between the error that salvation is, wholly or in part, which means the same thing, dependent upon the free will of man, or he must deny that there is a conditional element in salvation, and confess that salvation is of the Lord alone.

You say, perhaps, that you believe that salvation is of the Lord alone, but that one can, nevertheless, speak of faith as a condition in such a way that the free will of man has nothing to do with it? I answer: 1. that our confessions never speak that language, but, on the contrary, uniformly repudiate the term conditions and all its implications. I am, therefore, in good company when I deny that faith may ever be presented as a condition, while those that like to lay stress on the conditional element are certainly not confessionally Reformed; and, 2. that I challenge anyone to make plain that the proposition “faith is a condition” can be used in a truly Reformed sense. If he takes up this challenge, I promise that I will make plain to all that can read that either he camouflages the term condition or somehow he tries to make salvation dependent on the free will of man.

That faith can in no wise be presented as a condition which in some way must be fulfilled by man, and is, therefore, in some way dependent on the will of man, is also evident from those articles of the Canons that speak of regeneration and faith. Note the following:

“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 that marvelous manner, are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe.—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.”

This beautiful article has an important bearing upon our discussion of conditions.

There are several questions implied in the subject of conditions that receive a rather clear answer in this article.

If faith is a condition is not regeneration also to be presented as a condition? But why not, if both are the work of God, and if, moreover, faith is rooted in and a fruit of regeneration?

Is there any part of the work of salvation left for man after God has accomplished His part?

Is it in the power of man to remain unconverted after God has regenerated him?

What is the proper conception of the relation between God's “part" and man’s “part", between the work of God and the activity of the regenerated sinner, between faith and believing?

All these questions are related to our subject, and receive a Reformed answer in this article.

Look for the answers in the next issue, D.V.

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As to Conditions (8)

This article first appeared in the March 15, 1950 issue of the Standard Bearer (Vol.26, No.12) and was penned by the editor, Rev. Herman Hoeksema.

In our last article under this heading we referred to Canons III, IV, 12, which speaks of regeneration. And at the close of that article we had several questions which we now shall discuss.

The first question in whether, if faith is a condition, regeneration must not also be considered as conditional, as something which man must fulfill in order that God may give him the grace of regeneration. That would seem to be almost an impossible conception, but it is also a conception which seems to be implied in what the Rev. Petter writes in Concordia of Feb. 2, '50. For there he writes that the Spirit of regeneration, the Spirit of salvation, comes after repentance and is related to the latter as a condition. And that certainly is the preaching and teaching of many Arminian preachers. If the sinner will fulfill the condition of opening his heart and of accepting the Lord Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God will enter in and regenerate him and make him a new man. Also the grace of regeneration, according to them, is dependent upon an act of man and upon a condition which he must fulfill. But this is certainly not the Reformed truth. And it is quite contrary to the article which we quoted from the Canons. For there we read: “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." How absolutely unconditional is the grace of regeneration presented here in this article. It is sometimes alleged by those that do not understand the Reformed truth that Reformed theologian, and especially Protestant Reformed theologians, deny or do not sufficiently emphasize the responsibility of man. And it seems that one of the motives that actuates the Rev. Petter to speak of conditions is rooted in that same misunderstanding of the relation between God's sovereign grace and the responsibility of man. But let me ask the question: Is man responsible for his own regeneration? That is, indeed, an important question. For, mark you well, if he is not responsible for his own regeneration, but if this is absolutely and unconditionally a work of God, he cannot be responsible for his faith, which is rooted in regeneration, nor for any other blessings of grace. But what does the article say? It tells us that regeneration is a new creation. That means, therefore, that it is a work of God absolutely and unconditionally, in which man has no part whatsoever. Just as it would be the height of absurdity to teach that the creation of man, the manner of his creation and the nature with which he was created, was conditioned upon anything in man himself, so it is also the height of folly that regeneration, which is a new creation, is at all contingent upon or conditioned by anything that man may do or will or desire. Just as Adam was not responsible for his own creation, so the elect are certainly not responsible for their own regeneration. Besides, the article tells us that regeneration is a resurrection from the dead, a making alive. And that presents the work of regeneration again as absolutely unconditional. The dead certainly cannot fulfill any conditions. Nor can God possibly require of the dead that they fulfill any conditions. Nor can the dead ever be held responsible for their own regeneration. Nor can the regenerated be held responsible for the fact that they ever were regenerated. And to this the article adds, to make it absolutely sure that regeneration is a work of God alone and that it is performed upon us and in us unconditionally: “which God works in us without our aid.” We, therefore, have absolutely nothing to do with our own regeneration, which is the beginning, and at the same time the principle, of all our salvation as it is wrought within our hearts and as it is applied by the Holy Spirit to the elect.

The next question which we ask in connection with Article 12 of III and IV of the Canons is whether there is any part of the work of salvation left for man after God has accomplished His part. This is answered negatively by the article in the following words: “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.” Now regeneration is in principle the whole of salvation as it is applied unto us. All the benefits of salvation are already implied in the one principal benefit of regeneration. I therefore put the question in this way, and ask whether there is any part of salvation left for man to do after God has accomplished His part of the work of salvation. Mark you, I do not deny that after that part of the salvation which God works within us there is a part which we do fulfill as the inevitable result and the fruit of God’s part. But the question is simply whether there is any part of the work of salvation as God works it within us left to man, so that the work of God’s salvation is really not complete, or so that at any stage of that work of God in us His work is conditioned by and contingent upon anything that we must still do. And also this is most emphatically denied by Art. 12 of Canons III, IV. When God has wrought regeneration in the heart of man, which is the principle of subjective salvation, that work of God is entirely complete in itself. It is not in the power of man to be regenerated or not to be regenerated. The work of God is sure and absolutely unconditional as far as the application of salvation to the sinner is concerned.

Still more. The question is also whether it is in the power of man after God has regenerated him either to be converted or to remain unconverted, whether it is in his power after God has given him the principle of the new life either to believe in Christ or not to believe. Also on this question we find the answer in the article of the Canons. The article states that regeneration is not affected by such a mode of operation “that after God has performed his part, it still remains in the power of man. . . .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 that marvelous manner, are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe.” From this it is very evident that neither regeneration, nor conversion, nor repentance, nor belief in Christ is in any sense conditional upon the work of man, upon his will, or desire. When God works His grace in a man, it is not in his power and it is not in his choice either to be converted or to remain unconverted. But he must be converted. When God works His grace in the heart of any man, if is not in his power either to repent or not to repent, which is an element of conversion. But he must and does actually repent. When God works His grace in the heart of any sinner, it is not up to him to decide whether he will believe or not believe in Christ. But he must believe in Christ and actually does believe. For the work of regeneration, and therefore, all the work which is implied in the application of salvation to the sinner is not inferior in efficacy to creation or to resurrection from the dead. And all in whose heart God works that marvelous grace are “certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe”. Such is the marvelous work of grace which God performs sovereignly and unconditionally upon the sinner.

The question must still be asked: what is the proper conception of the relation between God’s part and man’s part, between the work of God and the activity of the regenerated sinner, between faith and believing?

But this we must leave till next time.

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As to Conditions (9)

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.

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As to Conditions (10)

This article first appeared in the May 15, 1950 issue of the Standard Bearer (Vol.26, No.16) and was penned by the editor, Rev. Herman Hoeksema.

Before I proceeds with my discussion of condition, I want to call the attention of our readers to something I wrote almost twenty years ago, and in which I apparently teach conditions myself. I refer the reader to Volume VI, page 90, ff., of the Standard Bearer, This passage occurs in a series of articles which have been published in pamphlet form under the title, Calvin, Berkhof, and H. J. Kuiper.

I call attention to this passage for the following reasons.

  1. In that particular article I certainly speak of conditions and conditional. And I am surprised that the Rev. Petter did not call attention to this passage long ago. In fact, I have been waiting for him to do so, in order that then I might answer him and explain myself. Seeing, however, that he evidently overlooked it, I will for the sake of the truth call the attention of the readers to this passage myself.*
  2. In the light of the present controversy that is disturbing our churches about conditions, I certainly would not use this same terminology today, as I did in the passage referred to above. The reader must remember that twenty years ago there was not a cloud of conditional theology in the Protestant Reformed sky. Hence, I wrote, following Calvin, rather freely, without having in mind the present controversy. And perhaps I wrote rather carelessly. I never believed in conditions. In my preaching and writing I never taught conditions. And, I can show very plainly from the very same articles in which the above-mentioned passage occurs that I condemn the idea of a conditional promise. Nevertheless in the passage referred to my pen must have slipped, so that I used the term condition and conditional. And therefore, I ask the reader to consider my use of the term an error.
  3. In using the term I followed the exegesis which Calvin offers of Ezekiel 18:23, and that, too, over against Berkhof in his pamphlet on the Three Points. Berkhof explained the passages in Ezekiel as follows: ‘These passages teach us as clearly as words are able, that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (notice that he does not say: the elect wicked, but: the wicked, entirely in general, H.H.) ; and the tender calling to which we listen in them, witnesses of His great love for sinners and of His desire to save the ungodly." Now it is in opposition to this teaching of Prof. Berkhof that I quoted Calvin as follows:

“All this Pighius loudly denies, adducing that passage of the apostle (I Tim. 2:4): ‘Who will have all men to be saved;’ and referring to Ezekiel 18:23, he argues thus, ‘That God willeth not the death of a sinner may be taken upon His own oath, where He says by that prophet: As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked that dieth, but rather that he should return from his ways and live.' Now we reply, that as the language of the prophet here is an exhortation to repentance, it is not at all marvelous in him to declare that God willeth all men to be saved. For the mutual relation between threats and promises shows that such forms of speaking are conditional. In this same manner God declared to the Ninevites, and to the kings of Gerar and Egypt, that He would do that which in reality He did not intend to do, for their repentance averted the punishment which He had threatened to inflict upon them. Whence it is evident that the punishment was announced on condition of their remaining obstinate and impenitent. And yet, the denunciation of the punishment was positive, as if it had been an irrevocable decree. But after God had terrified them with the apprehension of His wrath, and had fully humbled them as not being utterly desperate, He encouraged them with the hope of pardon, that they might feel that there was yet left open a space for remedy. Just so it is with the conditional promises of God, which invite all men to salvation. They do not positively prove that which God has decreed in His counsel, but declare only that which God is ready to do to all those who are brought to faith and repentance."

And again: “Wherefore, God is as much said to have pleasure in, and to will, this eternal life, as to have pleasure in the repentance; and He has pleasure in the repentance, because He invites all men to it by His Word. Now all this is in perfect harmony with His secret and eternal counsel, by which He decreed to convert none but His own elect. None but God's elect, therefore, ever turn from their wickedness. And yet, the adorable God is not, on these accounts, to be considered variable or capable of change, because as a lawgiver He enlightens all men with the external doctrine of conditional life. In this primary sense He calls or invites all men to eternal life. But in the latter case, He brings to eternal life those whom He willed according to His eternal purpose, regenerating by His Spirit, as an eternal Father His own children only." Now it is in this connection that I wrote:

“This language is plain to all that will understand.

“In unmistakable language the reformer denies, that there is, in the passage from Ezekiel a general offer of salvation to elect and reprobate promiscuously, a manifest desire to save them all, a revelation of a certain general or common grace.

“He affirms here, what we have always taught, as we have written often in the past, that, in as far as the message is general and comes to all, it is conditional.

“The offer is eternal life.

“The condition, limiting this offer is: turn from your wicked ways.

“This condition makes the contents of the general message particular. Just as we have emphasized in the past, a contention our opponents have tried to laugh to scorn, there is a general proclamation of a conditional and particular gospel. He promises to all that believe peace and eternal life.

“Thus is the plain exposition of Calvin on this passage. He teaches all that hear conditional doctrine: if ye turn, ye shall live.

“And because it is conditional, it is also particular. And God in reality promises eternal life only to the elect. For it is quite certain, according to Calvin, that men do not turn from their wicked ways on their own accord, nor by any instinct of nature. It is equally certain that none turn from their wickedness but the elect. And, therefore, the contents of this externally general message is particular and applies only to the elect of God."

The controversy, therefore, at the time when I wrote this article was quite different from the present controversy on conditions in our churches. Over against Berkhof I quoted Calvin in defense of the proposition that in the preaching of the gospel we have the general proclamation of a particular promise. And although I am sorry that at the time I followed Calvin in his terminology, the truth of what I wrote at the time still stands for the simple reason that I used the term conditional in the sense of particular.

How far the idea of a conditional promise and of faith as a condition was from my mind when I wrote the above passage is evident from what I wrote in the same series of articles. On pp. 115, 116 of the same Standard Bearer I refer to another quotation from Calvin as follows:

“It is quite certain that men do not turn from their evil ways to the Lord of their own accord, nor by any instinct of nature. Equally certain it is that the gift of conversion is not common to all men; because this is that one of the two covenants which God promises that He will not make with any but His own children and His own elect people, concerning whom He has recorded this promise that ‘He will write his law in their hearts' (Jer. 31:33). Now a man must be utterly beside himself to assert that this promise is made to all men generally and indiscriminately. God says expressly by Paul who refers to the prophet Jeremiah, ‘For this is the covenant that I will make with them. Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers: but I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts.' (Heb. 8:9, 10). Surely, to apply this promise to those who were worthy of this new covenant or to such as had prepared themselves by their own merits or endeavors to receive it, must be worse than the grossest ignorance and folly; and the more so as the Lord is speaking by the prophet to those who had before stony hearts. All this is plainly stated and fully explained by the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 36:26).”

On this quotation from Calvin I make the following comments in the same article.

“Now this passage is extremely interesting for our present purpose, for more than one reason.

“In the first place, because it raises the question: what do Berkhof and Kuiper mean, when they claim that in the promise of the gospel, as presented in the external calling, God earnestly reveals His willingness to save all men?

“What is the contents of their gospel, which they say is for all?

“Kuiper proclaimed loudly: the gospel I preach is a gospel for sinners, for all sinners!

“The question cannot be repressed: what gospel does he preach? Does he mean by the gospel merely the proclamation that Christ has died for sinners and arose again, and that now they are invited earnestly by God to come to Him, to believe and repent? Does he, in the preaching of the gospel, merely present to his hearers the work which Christ did objectively accomplish for us? Even if he should speak thus, he is presenting to his hearers only a half truth, which is more dangerous often than a plain lie. For it is not the entire truth, it is not the truth fully and correctly stated, if Kuiper should say, that Christ died for sinners. He certainly will at all times have to say, that He died and arose only for the elect sinner and for none other.

“Even so it is quite unintelligible, how Kuiper can say, that the gospel he preaches is for all sinners. For mark, that he did not say that he was preaching the gospel to all sinners that heard him, but that the very gospel he preached is a gospel for all sinners.

“And, surely, in this Berkhof agrees with him.

“But let us turn our attention to the question brought before us by the quotation from Calvin.

“Does not the gospel contain much more than the preaching of what the Lord did for us?

“And does it not also imply the preaching of the riches of His grace, whereby He applies this salvation to all His elect? Does this grace of the Lord Jesus Christ not belong to the promise of the gospel? I am now thinking of the grace of regeneration, whereby we become partakers of the life of the risen Lord in principle; of the grace of effectual calling, whereby we are translated from darkness into light; of the grace of faith, whereby we know that we are justified before God and have peace with Him through our Lord Jesus Christ; of the grace of conversion and sanctification, the mortification of the old man and the quickening of the new man; of the grace of perseverance, so that no one can pluck us out of Christ's hand. I say, do not all these blessings of grace belong to the promise of the gospel? Surely, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ does not come with a mere message that He will save us (of what avail would it be for us, poor, dead, miserable sinners?) but with the very positive glad tiding, that He did save us and does save us even unto the end.”

And that I did not even in those articles teach the idea that faith is a condition and that the promise of God is conditional is plain from the following quotation:

“Neither is Calvin's language too strong. The folly of maintaining that God promises a new heart to everybody, is easily discovered. For why, pray, if God offers the blessing of a new heart to all, if the promises of grace are actually for all men indiscriminately, why does He not fulfill His promise? Surely, a new heart is entirely the work of God. Man can do nothing towards receiving it. He cannot make himself worthy of it. He cannot get himself into a state of receptivity for it. He cannot even make himself will to receive it. He is incapable to induce himself even to pray for it. This is true of all men by nature, of all indiscriminately. A new heart is God's work, His gift only, absolutely. Man cannot work for it if God does not bestow the blessing on him; neither can any man resist the operation of God whereby He renews the heart, if it pleases the Almighty to give him a new heart of flesh instead of the stony heart. Now, please, if the promise of the gospel concerning this new heart (not is preached to all that hear, this is self-evident) is given by God to all men without distinction, why does He not fulfill His promise?

Because some do not will to receive it? That is Arminianism. And even then a man must be utterly beside himself to speak thus, for no one is willing to receive a new heart before he possesses it.

“More mysteries, perhaps? I fear me, that Kuiper will answer thus. But we can say with Calvin: Nay, but more nonsense! A man must be utterly beside himself to assert that this promise of the gospel concerning a new heart is made by God to all men generally and indiscriminately!

“But again: if God promises this blessing, which He alone can bestow and bestows unconditionally, to all men, and does not fulfill the promise, where is God's truth? Is the promise of God brought to naught? Has His Word become of none effect? God forbid! Nay, but the promise was never made to all by Him, but only to the elect. And Kuiper has no right and no calling to present it differently.”

In conclusion, therefore, I want to state briefly that although in the light of our present controversy concerning faith as a condition and concerning a conditional promise I am sorry that I was tempted to follow Calvin in the use of the term condition and conditional, yet essentially I maintain in these articles nothing else than the simple truth that the preaching of the gospel is a proclamation of a particular promise, and that that promise is only for the elect.

H. H.

* But see the P. S. at the end of this article.


* P.S. to the Rev. A. Petter:

Dear brother:

  1. I sincerely thank you for calling my attention and the attention of all our readers to the error in terminology (for it was no more than that) which I made almost twenty years ago. For an error it surely was. I should never have used the term condition, nor was there any need for it in the connection in which I wrote at the time. Therefore, for the sake of the truth which is more dear to me than any personal interest, and for the sake of the churches which I love, I humbly apologize for letting that thoroughly unreformed term slip out of my pen. This humble apology, together with my retraction and utter repudiation of the term, will make it impossible for you, of course, ever to refer to the matter again.
  2. But, brother, I cannot thank neither praise you for the superficial way in which you quote me, without any regard to the context. You almost make the impression upon me that you gloat over my error, and that your purpose was to launch an attack upon me rather than get at the truth of the matter concerning conditions. If you had not written so superficially, and had made but a little study of the matter, you would have informed your readers as follows:

       “a. The Rev. Hoeksema wrote this passage almost twenty years ago when the question of conditions was not an issue among us. The question, at that time, was whether the preaching of the gospel is grace for all that hear. This must be borne in mind when you consider his error in terminology.

       “b. He inadvertently quoted and followed Calvin who used the term rather freely.

       “c. The Rev. Hoeksema did not use the term, twenty years ago, with reference to the present controversy (faith as a condition, conditional promise, etc.), but clearly in the sense of particular. He merely meant to emphasize that the preaching of the gospel is the proclamation of a particular promise. This is so true that you can eliminate the term condition without changing the contents of the articles at all.

       “d. That the Rev. Hoeksema, even twenty years ago, must have nothing of conditions is evident from the fact that, in the same articles, he emphasizes that God fulfills His promise unconditionally.”

3. You see, brother, if you had written in this strain you would have served the cause of the truth, instead of leaving the impression that you are rather elated to find a flaw in what I wrote twenty years ago. You may also consider, brother, that I had to write much more than you ever will write in your whole life, that often, in my very busy life, I had to write hurriedly, and that, considering all this, it certainly is no wonder that occasionally you can find a flaw in what I wrote. In other words, you might have assumed a more charitable attitude, even in regard to the error I made.3. Nevertheless, brother, I once more sincerely thank you for calling the attention of our readers to this error in terminology, something which I already did myself, in the above editorial which was written before the last Concordia reached me. An error, even in terminology, is always dangerous, and should be rectified. I once more apologize for having used this term, which is Arminian and is clearly condemned in all our confessions. And if now, brother, you will make the same humble apology for having taught, not only the term, but the actual error of conditions, we can probably show a united front once more, and no longer create division in our churches. Otherwise I will continue to oppose you, not for any personal reasons, but for the sake of the truth and for the well being of our Protestant Reformed Churches. Through your writing Concordia has placed itself in antithetical position to the Standard Bearer. You have attacked our covenant conception all along the line. You spoke of “the covenant of works”, of “parties” in the covenant, and of “faith as a condition”. You, therefore, not I, have started this controversy. That is, of course, your privilege. But I love our Protestant Reformed truth, and will try to expound and defend it as long as it pleases the Lord to leave me in this tabernacle. It is now up to you. My slate is clean.

H. H.

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