Missions of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America

Chapter V: The Relationship between Common Grace and Janssen's Views

We turn now to the specific question of the relation between common grace and Janssen's views. An examination of this question will soon uncover the fact that Janssen, in his writings, actually connected common grace with several different aspects of the controversy. In fact, one cannot help but gain the impression that the connection between common grace and some aspects of the controversy is so contrived that Janssen left the impression he was obsessed with his views. Some of these relationships are of little interest to us in this present paper; we mention them here only in passing.

In one of his pamphlets, Janssen makes the assertion that the relation between common grace and the Reformed faith is so close that one who departs on the question of common grace involves himself in a departure from the whole Reformed faith.l By making this radical statement, Janssen was going beyond anyone who had written on this subject in the past and was raising the doctrine to a position of importance with which hardly anyone would agree.

In another pamphlet, Janssen connects the whole question of common grace with the church political errors which, in his judgment, were committed by his opponents, by the Curatorium and by Synod. He argues that even natural principles of justice were violated; and his argument is that these natural principles of justice, found even outside the church among unregenerated men, were violated because of a denial of or a failure to recognize the importance of common grace. That is, these principles of justice which were violated were to be found among the unregenerate because of common grace. To run roughshod over them, therefore, is to deny common grace.2

This issue of the relation between common grace and church political errors is given extensive treatment and is broadened to include, in Janssen's opinion, many ethical breaches of conduct.3 Among these errors is Hoeksema's attack on Janssen's views shortly after the Synod of 1920. Janssen protested that Hoeksema, in his writings, rejected the authority of the Synod after it had decided in favor of Janssen, and, by this, had shown Anabaptistic tendencies which involved the Anabaptistic conception of grace. This conception of grace is connected with a denial of common grace, because it teaches only one kind of grace rather than two.4

Finally, Janssen attempted in a rather strained manner to connect common grace with the Bultema controversy.5 He argued that Bultema was deposed for Anabaptistic excesses, but that in Janssen's case Hoeksema and Danhof, equally guilty of Anabaptism, were allowed to remain in the church. The basic error of Anabaptism in both instances, according to Janssen, was "de loochening van her leerstuk der Gemeene Gratie" ("the denial of the 6 doctrine of common grace").6

These efforts of Janssen to bring the issue of common grace into every facet of the controversy strained the credulity of people, never seemed important enough by those who opposed Janssen to warrant an answer, were not even arguments taken up by Janssen's defenders, and were perhaps factors in making people wonder whether common grace was indeed the issue that Janssen claimed it was. A bad argument in defense of a truth can do more damage than a good argument against it. It is difficult to understand why Janssen, an extraordinarily able man, could not see the harm he was doing to his own defense of his position by introducing common grace as an element in almost every aspect of the problem.

All this ought not, however, to obscure the fact that Janssen made an excellent case for the proposition that the doctrine of common grace was important for his position. Janssen pointed out very clearly that his position stood solidly on the rock of common grace, and that, in the final analysis, to repudiate his position involved one in a repudiation of common grace. He did not always demonstrate this in connection with every single detail of his position; nor did he show how common grace was connected to his position on every point which his accusers brought against him; but he drew the lines clearly enough when he explained how he developed his position from the doctrine of common grace. And his arguments at this point are so convincing that it is not difficult to see that, given common grace, Janssen came to the conclusions he did on such questions as the nature of the miracles, the relation between general and special revelation, the relation between Scripture and heathen culture, etc.

If we ask ourselves the question, however, what precisely was Janssen's view of common grace? we are in something of a bind. Never in all his writings does he deal with the concept as such. One can look in vain for any clear and concise definition of common grace, or any development of the idea. This is somewhat strange considering the great importance he attached to the doctrine and considering the different views of common grace which were held in the Netherlands and in America. One would think that when a doctrine holds such a prominent place in a person's thinking he would be at great pains to define precisely what he meant by it. This lack detracts from the cogency of all Janssen's argumentation.

Nevertheless, from Janssen's repeated appeals to common grace, from the connections he makes between common grace and his views of Scripture, and from his citations of Kuyper and Bavinck especially, it is possible to conclude that Janssen held to the view of common grace set forth particularly by Dr. A. Kuyper. I.e., he held to a view of common grace which taught that, because of God's operations of common grace in the unregenerate, it was possible for the unregenerate to discover truth, do good in the sight of God, and contribute by means of this good to the knowledge and welfare of the church in the world. This view of common grace surely supported Janssen's positions on Scripture.

As we noticed in Chapter III, Janssen's views on Scripture are not always easy to distinguish sharply from each other. They are related. His views on Isagogics, e.g., cannot be separated from his views on the relation between revelation and heathen culture; and his views on inspiration cannot be understood apart from his position on a scientific and critical approach to Scripture. Because of this close relationship between various aspects of Janssen's position with regard to Scripture, it is somewhat difficult to distinguish clearly between the various ways in which Janssen connected common grace to his position. In the nature of the case, there is some overlapping. Nevertheless, it is possible to distinguish five separate areas in which the issue of common grace was, in Janssen's opinion, crucial. They are: 1) the relation between common grace and the borrowing of elements in heathen culture by the Israelites; 2) The relation between common grace on the one hand, and general and special revelation on the other, which relation involved also the legitimacy of a scientific and critical approach to Scripture; 3) The relation between common grace and the miracles; 4) The relation between common grace and the inspiration of Scripture; 5) The whole question of Anabaptism and the denial of common grace by the Anabaptists. We turn now to a discussion of these points, although not in this order, nor always completely separate from each other.


Although the question of general and special revelation was by no means the most extensively discussed, it was probably the central issue. It is not certain why this matter did not receive more extensive treatment in the controversy, and the literature gives no indication of a possible reason, but one can surmise that such a reason exists in the fact that agreement was rather general in the Christian Reformed Church on several points. Most agreed that general and special revelation were to be distinguished from each other; most also agreed that general revelation, in distinction from special revelation, was common, i.e., to all men; and most agreed that general revelation was a fruit of God's common grace. It is also probably true that one could find agreement on the fact that general revelation gave to all men a certain knowledge of God, a certain ability to distinguish between good and evil, and a certain regard for good order and decency in society.7 Bavinck's rather extensive treatment of general revelation was accepted widely.Bavinck finds the value of general revelation in the following elements:

It is owing to general revelation that some religious and ethical sense is present in all men; that they have some awareness still of truth and falsehood, of good and evil, justice and injustice, beauty and ugliness; that they live in the relationship of marriage and the family, of community and state; that they are held in check by all these external and internal controls against degenerating into bestiality; that within the pale of these limits, they busy themselves with the production, distribution, and enjoyment of all kinds of spiritual and material things; in short, that mankind is by general revelation preserved in its existence, maintained in its unity, and enabled to continue and to develop in history.9

This is also connected to common grace by Bavinck:

The Christian, who sees everything in the light of the Word of God, is anything but narrow in his view. He is generous in heart and mind. He looks over the whole earth and reckons it his own, because he is Christ's and Christ is God's (I Cor. 3:21-23). He cannot let go his belief that the revelation of God in Christ, to which he owes his life and salvation, has a special character. This belief does not exclude him from the world, but rather puts him in position to trace out the revelation of God in nature and history, and puts the means at his disposal by which he can recognize the true and the good and the beautiful and separate them from the false and sinful alloys of men.
So it is that he makes a distinction between a general and a special revelation of God. In the general revelation God makes use of the usual run of phenomena and the usual course of events; in the special revelation He often employs unusual means, appearances, prophecy, and miracle to make Himself know to man. The contents of the first kind are especially the attributes of power, wisdom and goodness; those of the second kind are especially God's holiness and righteousness, compassion and grace. The first is directed to all men, and, by means of common grace, serves to restrain the eruption of sin; the second comes to all those who live under the Gospel and has as its glory, by special grace, the forgiveness of sins and the renewal of life.
But, however essentially the two are to be distinguished, they are also intimately connected with each other. Both have their origin in God, in His sovereign goodness and favor. The general revelation is owing to the Word which was with God in the beginning, which made all things, which shone as a light in the darkness and lighteth every man that cometh into the world (John l:l-9). The special revelation is owing to that same Word, as it was made flesh in Christ, and is now full of grace and truth (John l:l4). Grace is the content of both revelations, common in the first, special in the second, but in such a way that the one is indispensable for the other.
It is common grace which makes special grace possible, prepares the way for it, and later supports it; and special grace, in its turn, leads common grace up to its own level and puts it into its service. Both revelations, finally, have as their purpose the preservation of the human race, the first by sustaining it, and the second by redeeming it, and both in this way serve the end of glorifying all of God's excellencies.10

James Bratt, in discussing the Janssen case, also points out this relation. He writes:

In his own case, Janssen argued, their (Janssen's opponents, H.H.) removal of God's grace from the natural and common had forced his critics to denigrate man's residual abilities and misconceive the nature of miracles, revelation and science.11

H. Boer insists that this question lay at the very heart of the whole controversy. In a passage we quoted earlier, Boer says that perhaps the basic issue was "whether the God of general revelation (nature, common grace) is operative in the actions of the God of special revelation (redemption, special grace)." And he adds that the question was whether these two forms of revelation can be considered to intertwine and interact at those points in the Bible where the Bible seems to speak only of a super- natural mode of revelation.12 In a follow-up article, Boer elaborates a bit on this when he writes:

. . . conditions and happenings in the area of general revelation -- nature, history, the culture and religion of the peoples surrounding Israel, and the reflection of the Biblical writers -- could be and in fact were means used by God in imparting his redemptive revelation as given to us in the O.T.13

In the same article, referring to a protest of Q. Breen which was presented to the Synod of 1924, Boer says that Breen "places in the foreground again and again . . . the dimension of natural revelation" which "played a significant role as the bearer or medium of special revelation.."14

In an article in The Grand Rapids Press Dr. Boer says that Janssen taught that God's inspiration of the Bible availed itself of "historical, political, religious, and general cultural influences" in its composition; and that the basic issue was the value of general revelation in relation to special revelation.15

Dr. George Stob casts some interesting and undoubtedly correct light on this aspect of the question as it stood related to questions of encyclopedia, especially as the question created tensions in the Seminary. He writes:

But Ten Hoor noted that these (teachings of Janssen, H.H.) were differences on questions of principle with reference to which the Theological School stands or falls. They were questions about the relation of theological study to the science of learning in general, and about the relation of the Church to theological science. Ten Hoor held that theology is the queen of the sciences and is not to be subordinated to science or authorship in general, and that the church has absolute authority over theological science and the Theological School in which it is taught. In discussion with Curatorium Dr. Janssen declared that he was not ready to affirm that the church has the highest authority over theological science.16

Stob goes on to point out that Janssen was, on this point, in agreement with Kuyper who did not want theology to be under the control of the church, while Ten Hoor (and Heyns) feared that theology, not under the control of the church, would not be controlled by the Confessions and thus would lead to heresy. This was an important aspect of the case. If, as Janssen argued, theology is correlative with other sciences, it must be approached as any other science, and its study must take into account general revelation which is the study of the other sciences. If, however, theology is the queen of the sciences and stands over them, then general revelation will play no role in the pursuit of theology; Scripture alone will be its source book.

To sum up the point thus far, the issue of common grace was closely connected with Janssen's position because his starting point was the value of general revelation in Biblical studies, and general revelation was really the fruit of common grace. We must now point out specifically how Janssen related the two.

Already in 1921, when writing in The Banner, Janssen described common grace in some detail. He wrote that by His common grace "God curbs sin and upholds this world of ours." Without common grace the fall of man would have brought ruin to the creation. This same common grace "perpetuated the ordinances of creation," and preserved remnants of the divine image, the seed of religion and the consciousness of God in man. Because of common grace one found among the pagans men of genius, high morality, proverbial virtue and men possessing lofty conceptions of God.17

In his brochure, Voortzetting . . . , Janssen writes that what we find in Scripture indeed belongs to God's revelation, but not in every respect to God's particular grace in Christ. He adds that men in the church who deny common grace also deny this. He writes:

What Holy Scripture gives us, indeed belongs in all its parts to God's revelation, but not in all its parts to God's particular grace, to God's grace in Christ. People among us, where God's common grace is either seriously denied or misunderstood, have not understood this sufficiently.18

Further, in developing this thesis and in attempting to show that this idea has been taught in the Reformed Churches since the time of Calvin, he explains that this view affects the doctrine of inspiration, of the relation between Israel and the surrounding nations, etc., because revelation did not simply fall from heaven, but the knowledge of it came from heaven and from the heathen; i.e., it came from special revelation and general revelation.19 A few particular points are worth notice.

Janssen speaks specifically about what modifications common grace brought about in Old Testament studies. He points out that Abraham was not separate from the heathen in Canaan, but had much contact with the Canaanites. Because common grace preserved the remnants of the knowledge of God among them, Abraham could find in their thinking and religion much that was congenial to his thoughts and much that he could learn from them and incorporate into his own religion.20 He quotes Kuyper and Bavinck at length on this point and points out that Bavinck wrote that Israel's religion was in part determined by heathen religions: "Israel's religion was raised on the broad foundation of the original religion of mankind."21 He concludes by saying that Israel's history and the history of Israel's religion "must not be considered apart from the religion and culture of the Ancient Eastern peoples."22

In Crisis . . . , Janssen connects his conception of general revelation with the natural sciences, and explains how they have bearing on the question of our approach to miracles.23 His position is that the approach of general revelation and common grace to the interpretation of miracles is crucial for a correct understanding of them.

There can be no question about it that revelation and grace always are related to each other in Scripture. If one, therefore, holds to a general revelation (at least, in the sense in which this concept had been maintained by Kuyper, Bavinck, and some earlier theologians) in addition special revelation, one is also compelled by the logic of the matter to hold to a general grace in addition to a special grace. It is apparently for this reason that H. Hoeksema, after his repudiation of common grace, subjected the whole concept of general revelation to careful exegetical scrutiny. And in doing this, he finally came to reject the concept altogether. This is not to say that Hoeksema denied a certain communication of truth by God through a manifestation of Himself to all men; Romans l:18ff. is clear on that. But he did insist, as also Romans 1 makes clear, that this is the revelation of God's wrath (vs. 18), and that its purpose is only to leave man without excuse (vs. 20).24


This position of Janssen on the question of general revelation had ramifications for various aspects of his teachings on Scripture. It is well, however, to observe while Janssen discusses over and over again his position on common grace and repeatedly charges his opponents with a denial of this doctrine, he does not often deal with the specific charges which were brought against him. The references to these specific charges, with the possible exception of the question of miracles, are few and far between. Janssen is more concerned with the broader questions than with the specific points at issue.

First of all, Janssen taught that elements of the religion which were found among the patriarchs and Israel came from heathen and pagan sources. His argument was that the fruit of God's gracious revelation to all men was that certain elements of the truth were also revealed to the wicked, that these elements of the truth were preserved among them, and that they were incorporated into the religion of those who were the objects of God's special grace and special revelation because of the close contact between the two. Hence, we can acquire a better understanding of what Scripture tells us by a close study of pagan civilization, belief and culture.

Many examples of this are referred to in Janssen's writings. As early as November of 1920, Janssen, in summarizing his views on common grace, said that common grace must be taken into account in the interpretation of Scripture and revelation, for it works its power in the heathen world.25

We noticed above how the presence of common grace in the heathen made it possible for Israel to borrow ideas from heathen nations for its own religion, and how, therefore, Israel's history and the history of Israel's religion must "not be considered apart from the religion and culture of the Ancient Eastern peoples."26 But many more examples of Janssen's position on this matter may be cited. Abraham could borrow his idea of immortality from the heathen and Israel could borrow its idea of the resurrection and eternal life from the same source, because these ideas were preserved in heathen peoples by common grace. Yet, because they were the fruit of common grace they were imperfect, and this explains the imperfection of these ideas in Abraham and among the Israelites.27

While Janssen does not explain in detail, he claims that the views of his opponents in which they differ from his in connection with the life of Samuel and Saul are due to their erroneous dualistic and anti-common grace position. The chief point here is that Samuel was determined to purify the elements of heathendom which remained in Israel's religion. Samuel had hoped would co-operate with him in this, although Saul proved bitter disappointment. Janssen's point is that this purpose of Samuel gives evidences of the fact that Israel's religion incorporated in it elements of heathen religions, although these elements needed purifying. Thus we have evidence of common grace.28

Much the same is done in his defense of his views on Samson. While he makes a comparison between Samson and Achilles, he argues that those who object to certain legendary elements in the story of Samson are guilty of denying common grace and fall into Anabaptistic dualism. He writes:

... Indeed, if we pay attention a moment to the history of the world, that is to say, to the broad terrain where God works with his common grace, then we discover that the time in which God raised up Judges was a period in history in which heroes appeared. In Greece, Asia and in other lands we see heroes appear. This phenomenon in the history of people must be correctly considered as a confirmation of the historicity of the history of the Judges in the area of particular revelation. With respect to Greece and Asia this history is preserved for us in no other way than in the form of poetry, but later discoveries have indicated that we have to do with historical reality. There were heroes in those days. In the study of the heroes in Israel, raised up by God, we may with good reason pay attention to the heroes of other people. But the analogy between Israel and the heathen, between the judges and the heroes of other people, goes farther. Bavinck, as we said, says, "There is nothing in Israel, which cannot be found to be analogous with other people." In this way we have pointed out (referring to his teachings in the Seminary, H.H.) other details of comparison between Samson and, e.g., the heroes of Greece. The four professors and the four preachers, (referring to the authors of the pamphlet, Waar Het in de Zaak ..., H.H.) however, who deny and misunderstand the doctrine of common grace are, as is to be expected, fiercely opposed to the analogy which we made between Samson and the Greek heroes. This idea on their dualistic basis, profane, natural- istic, and whatever else. That leads them to the notion that we do not consider Samson to be an historical person. One sees that a deep chasm yawns between the four professors and four preachers, and our view, the Reformed position. In the nature of the case, a clash cannot be avoided. Their dualistic viewpoint is principally different from ours. It always leads again to strife between them and us. A reconciliation is not possible.29

This same principle applies throughout Scripture. David's ideas concerning bringing the ark to Jerusalem and building the temple came in part from heathen religions and made him more progressive, while the prophet was more conservative; and this too is connected with common grace. Janssen writes in connection with this point: In the second place, however, we must point out that we must never lose from sight that, in revelation and inspiration, God never suppresses the gifts of common grace. The personal disposition of the organs of revelation are in fact maintained in revelation and inspiration . . . . Revelation and inspiration are organic and reckon, for this reason, with the gifts of common grace There is an "adaptation of divine revelation in the prophetic personality." Because of this, the prophets were usually conservative people.30

The names of the patriarchs could very well have come, according to Janssen, from heathen sources; the body of Mosaic legislation had its roots in laws found in old Mesopotamian civilizations; and all these evidences of heathen religion in the religion of the Jews are to be ascribed to common grace which preserved remnants of the truth among the pagans of Israel's day In connection with his discussion of the objections of his opponents on this question, Janssen says: "Common grace -- this is very clearly evident -- is the wall of separation between our opponents and Reformed theology"31 In fact, although Janssen only mentions this in passing, he believed that his views on the canonical character of the Song of Solomon be interpreted as a natural love song) as well as his opinions on Ecclesiastes and Proverbs, ought also to be interpreted in terms of the influences of pagan thought, in which much truth was preserved by common grace in the religion of the Israelites. This is also Janssen's justification for his adoption of the source-theory of parts of Scripture; i.e., that the Pentateuch, e.g., was not written by Moses only, but was taken from many different sources.32

Through all these direct references to events in the Old Testament runs the repeated refrain that the differences between him and his opponents are differences over the doctrine of common grace. In Janssen's opinion, they are differences which strike at the heart of true Calvinism and the Reformed faith. Janssen repeatedly urges upon his readers that he, with his views of common grace, stands in the Calvinistic and Reformed tradition. His opponents have departed from it.


It is clear that the position outlined above reflects a certain view of inspiration. This subject of inspiration was, in various connections, also discussed by Janssen, though somewhat briefly. An examination of these references will show that Janssen, in connecting common grace with inspiration, was intent on emphasizing, and indeed was compelled to emphasize, the human element in Scripture -- although he always insisted he did not deny the divine element.33

In discussing the view that Israel's religion was, in part, received from heathen sources, Janssen pointed out that a denial of this involves a mechanical view of inspiration, while Reformed theology, and he as a part of this tradition, held to organic inspiration. Leaning heavily on Bavinck's statements concerning common grace and quoting from him, Janssen writes:

On the basis of organic inspiration Bavinck spoke, without hesitation, of "revelation to Abraham and thus the religion of Abraham," of "revelation to Israel" and "the Israelite religion," of "development and progress in the area of worship," of the religious ideas of the organs of revelation. A mechanical view of revelation will have nothing of this. Here, in the idea of a mechanical revelation, one has a dualism that indeed speaks of revelation, but has nothing to say of "ideas of God" belonging to the prophets, of "religious ideas, " of organs of revelation, etc.34

Organic inspiration, so Janssen argues, emphasizes the human element and thus leaves room for other cultural influences on the authors of Scripture. Thus organic inspiration and common grace are related. Mechanical inspiration has no room for any human element, denies general revelation, denies common grace, and thus is dualistic and Anabaptistic.

Janssen argues that Calvin already overcame this dualism with his doctrine of common grace, and that this principle of common grace must be applied to the truths of revelation and inspiration. When this is done, mechanical view of inspiration is impossible and an organic view of inspiration must be maintained.35

Thus revelation did not simply fail from heaven, but the knowledge of it came from heathen sources as well as from God. In connection with the narrative of creation, he describes his opponents' position:

Concerning the creation narrative, what is imparted through revelatio specialis (special revelation) is mostly accepted in such a way that it cannot be considered by us as anything else than mechanical. What the creation narrative contains must have its origin exclusively in particular revelation. The narrative, as it were, fell out of heaven. The considerations and reflections concerning God, the world as called into existence by God, the unity of the creation, -- considerations which God has given to man, to all men, and which He, by virtue of His common grace, has preserved from destruction, must be ignored ....36

In applying the principle of common grace to the relation between Babylonian and Mosaic law, Janssen specifically argues that common grace, as it operates in the unregenerate, must be considered as the broad basis or foundation for God's particular revelation and inspiration. In fact, the so-called human factor in Scripture is all but identified with common grace as that operates in the heathen world: "The common grace human factor must never be denied or misunderstood. It is completely the basis of particular grace (God's revelation)."37 Again he says, "Common grace is the broad basis or foundation with which the whole of particular revelation and inspiration must reckon."38 He speaks of "The human factor (a common grace element) ...."39

Janssen, quite clearly, meant considerably more by the so-called human factor in revelation than that God used men to write the words of Scripture. He broadened the whole concept to include the elements of truth which were found in the heathen world and which were incorporated into Scripture; and he did this in connection with a definition of inspiration which rejected verbal inspiration and interpreted inspiration as thought inspiration. These "thoughts" came from the heathen world outside Israel as well as from God.40


The same general principles of the operation of common grace among the heathen were applied to the whole question of miracles. It will be remembered that Janssen was accused of denying the supernatural element in miracles, an accusation which he strenuously denied, but which was accepted by the Synod of 1922 and on the basis of which, along with other points, Janssen was condemned.

This question of miracles involved various other questions. It involved the question of the relation between the natural and the supernatural; the question of whether God used means in performing miracles, or whether the miracles were all performed immediately; the question of whether some of the miracles involved additional creative works of God (as in the miracle of water from the rock in the wilderness, the feeding of Israel with manna, the multiplication of the oil for the widow, etc.); the question of a scientific and empirical approach to Scripture; and the question of the use of the natural sciences in explaining the miracles. And in every aspect of this problem arose the question of the relation of common grace to the performance and interpretation of the miracles.

In general, the following points may be mentioned as integral parts of Janssen's interpretation of miracles. In the first place, he held that, generally speaking, God used the ordinary means of providence to perform miracles. Miracles were not unusual events which could not be explained in terms of the ordinary providence of God, but the miraculous element in miracles was in the appropriate time at which they occurred and in their significance for the history of Israel. Thus, e.g., the walls of Jericho did not fall because of a direct and intervening act of God, but fell because of an earthquake. The miraculous element is to be found in the fact that God's ordinary providence brought the earthquake about at the crucial time when Israel was ready to begin its conquest of Canaan.41

In the second place, Janssen held that the view of miracles which his opponents held denied God's use of means in performing them. He repeatedly charged his opponents with making miracles immediate, while Scripture clearly taught that they were mediate. After all, God is repeatedly described as making use of the ordinary powers of creation and of the ordinary workings of His providence to effect miracles. God used a wind to dry the waters of the Red Sea before Israel and to bring quails to His people in the wilderness.

In the third place, this interpretation of miracles which denied means was basically a division, in Janssen's opinion, between the natural and the supernatural. It was false dichotomy which taught that the natural sphere had no connection with nor relation to the supernatural sphere; that the view resulted, therefore, in an Anabaptistic dualism of nature and grace, or of the natural and the supernatural.

To all this, common grace was once again related. It is not always so clear exactly how Janssen related common grace to these various elements, but apparently he saw this relationship in different ways.

One way in which common grace entered into the question was Janssen's use of the natural sciences to explain the miracles On the one hand, Janssen insisted that a knowledge of the natural sciences is necessary to explain the miracles Geology, e.g., is a natural science which we must use in interpreting the miracles But here too the natural sciences are the fruit of general revelation and God's common grace. He writes:

We must also bear in mind that Geology is a science which has been given us from God. In His common grace God gave that science to man. And however much we have to appreciate its discoveries with discriminating judgment, yet we must not proceed to consider this science as an error or work of Satan.42
... They (the four professors, H.H.) also here give occasion to fear a misunderstanding on their part of common grace. We fear a "deviation of science" on their part, a deviation, as Bavinck has said, (Alg. Genade, p. 34) which is a fruit of Anabaptistic origin.43

Thus, Janssen's argument is that because the natural sciences are the fruit of common grace, they discover truth. As such, they will aid us in understanding the miracles, which are phenomena in nature to which science has access. Thus a knowledge of Geology will help us understand how the walls of Jericho fell, for it will explain earthquakes which were the means God used in His ordinary providence to accomplish this end.

The critical-empirical method as applied to Scripture must also be applied to a study of the miracles, in Janssen's opinion, and this too involves the question of common grace.44 As the critical-empirical method is used in the study of the sciences (all gifts of God's common grace), so must this same method be applied to Scripture in order that we may learn how the miracles actually took place. In other words, Janssen seems to be saying (he is not always very clear on this) that the critical-empirical method applied to Scripture will enable us to apply our scientific knowledge to Scripture and thus learn how the miracles were performed in a way which does not contradict the material of Scripture. In this connection he writes:

The empirical method -- we must still add this -- belongs, if one reckons correctly, to the light which God has given us in the natural science, which is a fruit of his common grace. Whenever this science makes a declaration, it is not only our privilege, but much more our obligation to listen, even though with discriminatory judgment.45

And, so Janssen argues, because miracles are only God's ordinary providence, they are subject to empirical-critical analysis.

A further aspect of the question of miracles, an aspect which stands inseparably related to what we have observed above, is the question whether the miracles were performed mediately or immediately. Janssen refers to this many different times. It is, for Janssen, an important question; for if, as he claims, the wonder is mediate, the Scriptures give us the data concerning the wonder, but empirical investigation is necessary to determine the means by which the wonder was performed.46

A slightly different approach to this question is the problem which Janssen has with the position of his opponents who are willing to assert that God sometimes engaged in new creative activity in the miracles. Janssen repudiates this as an assault on the doctrine of common grace because common grace has as its point of departure an originally created world.47 He writes:

The wonder -- this is the view of our opponents -- must not be pulled down from the immediate, supernatural sphere (grace) to the mediate, natural sphere. These two spheres (those of grace and nature) are dualistically separated from each other and, standing over against each other, they are irreconcilable. The water out of the rock (in the miracle of Rephidim) must not be connected with the natural "sphere." It must be created. So also with the oil, the bread, the fish, and also the manna. Rather, it is true that Scripture, theological science (in particular, the doctrine of common grace), and natural science (gifts of common grace), proceed from the principle that the cosmos was complete and nothing, such as water, oil, bread, manna, etc., was added to it. Our erring opponents do not hesitate to enter into all this so that they place themselves in opposition to the teaching of Scripture, theological science, and the other sciences. And they persist in their opposition to the truth of Scripture and the sciences by unReformed views.48

Likely, the point here is that if miracles made use of means, no new creation or creative work of God was possible. The use of means precludes creative activity.

The opponents of Janssen, however, insisted that Janssen was confusing the issue in this matter of means. They did not deny that God sometimes made use of means in the performance of miracles, but they insisted that the question was whether miracles were supernatural or ordinary providence. The point was, evidently, that the four professors and four ministers did not deny God's use of means in the performance of miracles, but they took the position, as opposed to Janssen, that God's use of means was in a way unlike His usual way of working. The east wind, e.g., blows at regular intervals and is part of God's ordinary providence. But when that same east wind blows in such a way that a dry path is made through the Red Sea so that Israel could pass through the sea without getting wet, then God works in a supernatural way.49

The whole question of the use of means in the miracles was not addressed extensively by Janssen's opponents; and this was, perhaps, because the issue, as presented by Janssen, was confused. While the Scriptures undoubtedly refer to various means which God used in performing various miracles, in other instances such use of means is not at all clear. Scripture, e.g., speaks of the fact that the walls of Jericho fell at the sound of the trumpets and the shouting of the people, but Scripture does not indicate that these noises were "means" to cause the walls of Jericho to fall. If the multiplication of the loaves and fish at the time when Jesus fed five thousand people involved the "means" of these loaves and fishes, it was certainly a different use of means than the wind which brought the quails to Israel in the wilderness. Janssen apparently assumed that because in some miracles means were used, all miracles involved the use of means. This is not evident from Scripture.

The question of the use of means in miracles was, however, a question which was subordinate to a broader and more crucial question, the relation between the natural and the supernatural. Janssen repeatedly makes a point of this question and directly connects it with common grace and Anabaptistic error. In his earliest brochure, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika he already refers to this matter. He writes that the Anabaptists, by their denial of common grace, make an absolute separation between the natural and the supernatural, between nature and grace. This is the underlying thought behind the denial of the use of means in the working of miracles, in Janssen's opinion.50

This idea is referred to many times in subsequent writings. On page 9 of his brochure, Voortzetting ...,51  Janssen makes the bold assertion that the position of his opponents involves a separation of the supernatural from the natural by a denial of the mediacy of miracles, and that this is Anabaptistic dualism and a repudiation of common grace. And he returns to this theme repeatedly in this brochure. He writes:

As we said in our first brochure where such a dualism is held the doctrine of common grace can find no shelter.52

In his Het Synodale Vonnis . . . , Janssen summarizes what in his mind are the chief issues. He writes concerning the true Reformed faith that it teaches God's common grace; that it holds a doctrine of creation which does not maintain a later creation of such things as water oil etc.; that it has respect for an organic view of revelation and inspiration which maintains the unity of the natural and the supernatural as over against the "two-sphere" teaching of Anabaptism, which is unable to reconcile the two; that it holds to a science which does not commit the Anabaptistic error of minimizing science as fruit of God's common grace.53

Janssen, once again, does not work out the argument so that it is clearly presented and the relationships shown. But it is possible to deduce from his writings what he means. When Janssen argues that common grace precludes additional creation, he is most likely arguing that true science is the fruit of common grace; that science shows very clearly that the amount of matter (and/or energy) in the creation is constant; and that, therefore, common grace teaches that God engaged in no further creative work after the six days of the creation week.

In his argument concerning Anabaptistic dualism, he argues from the premise that Anabaptism taught the inherent evil of the material world, a position in their alleged principle of world-flight; that Anabaptism had a view of grace which held to only one kind of grace; and that this was a denial of common grace which is a second kind of grace. In this way Anabaptism held to a total separation between the realm or sphere of the natural and the super- natural because the latter was evil and the former good. So, if miracles are performed without the use of natural Janssen claimed his opponents taught, this can only be because the natural is of no use to the super natural. The natural operates on one level of history, wicked, carnal, untouchable by God's people, of no use to God Himself. The supernatural is an entirely separate level of activity which operates wholly apart from the natural. Thus Anabaptism teaches a dualism which is basically irreconcilable, and, because common grace is the bridge between the natural and supernatural in Reformed theology, an Anabaptistic dualism is also a denial of common grace.54

This whole question of Anabaptistic dualism and its relation to the denial of common grace emerged after the Synod of 1922 as one of the central issues in the common grace controversy, which resulted in the expulsion of Hoeksema, Ophoff and Danhof. While it is beyond our present purposes to enter into the common grace controversy after 1922, a brief reference to the discussion of the question of Anabaptism in connection with that subsequent controversy will shed some light on this problem.

Rev. J.K. Van Baalen opened this chapter of the controversy with his book, Der Loochening Der Gemeene Gratie: Gereformeerd of Doopersch?55  He identified the battle in the Christian Reformed Church as fundamentally a battle between Calvinism and Anabaptism.56 One chapter is devoted to proving that Hoeksema and Danhof are really Anabaptists. He does this by distinguishing between a right and a left wing in the Anabaptist movement and pointing out that, while these two ministers do not hold to all Anabaptist views, they nevertheless take the Anabaptist position on the doctrine of grace.57 By their doctrine of absolute separation from the world, so Van Baalen argues, the Anabaptists denied common grace and made a separation between nature and grace. This dualistic conception of Anabaptism was, in Van Baalen's opinion, identical to the error of Hoeksema and Danhof.58

This book of Van Baalen was answered by Hoeksema and Danhof in a brochure with the title, Niet Doopersch maar Gereformeerd: Voorloopig Bescheid aan Ds. Jan Karel Van Baalen betreffende De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie.59  In this brochure the two authors, though agreeing with Janssen that the issue of common grace was the basic issue in the Janssen controversy, insist that the issue was rightly decided on other grounds. But they warn that, should common grace not be repudiated by the church, Janssen's views would ultimately prevail.60 The main theme of the brochure is, however, a defense vs. the charge of Anabaptism. In their defense they argue that, while Anabaptism advised a physical separation from the world, the Bible spoke only of spiritual separation. Common grace broke down this spiritual separation and paved the way for spiritual union between the world and the church.

This theme was to be developed more fully, not only over against Van Baalen, but also over against many who had by this time taken up their pens against Hoeksema and Danhof. This was done in a book entitled, Van Zonde en Genade.61  Reference is made in this book to the Janssen controversy again, and the writers once more insist that Janssen's view of Scripture could indeed be drawn, as Janssen insisted, from the broad base of common grace. This was true because if the natural light which the unregenerated man possesses is true light, then the Scriptures could arise out of that natural light. And, if this is true, then the line of distinction between sin and grace, nature and the miracle, reason and revelation disappears.62 But the positive point of the book is the authors' firm conviction that the antithesis is one between sin and grace, an antithesis which requires spiritual separation, a separation which is not Anabaptistic, but Biblical, and a denial of common grace.

To both these writings Van Baalen once again responded in his book, Nieuwigheid en Dwaling. But nothing really new appeared in this book that had to do with the charge of Anabaptism. It is important, however, to note that Prof. W. Heyns, in personal correspondence with Van Baalen after the publication of Van Baalen's book, De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie, took issue with Van Baalen's contention that deniers of common grace were Anabaptists.63 It is true, Heyns argues, that both Hoeksema and Danhof on the one hand, and Anabaptists on the other hand, speak of only one grace. But their view of grace has significant and important differences. The fact that both the Anabaptists and the deniers of common grace find no good in the world does not mean that the view of both are identical. Heyns finds proof for this in many of the older writers who followed the same line as Hoeksema and Danhof and were not Anabaptistic. Many, Heyns says, were subjective Pietists.

This is an important observation on the part of Prof. Heyns, for, although he was one of those who criticized Janssen's teachings (and co-authored, Waar Het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat),64  he disagreed with Hoeksema and Danhof on their denial of common grace. In fact, he has some praise for the book which Van Baalen wrote. But Heyns very clearly does not believe that a denial of common grace is necessarily Anabaptistic.

To sum up, therefore, the charge of Anabaptism which was made by Janssen was a charge which was closely connected to his insistence on the relevancy of common grace to the debate. Janssen charged his opponents, by their denial of common grace, with making such a sharp distinction between the natural and the supernatural that they became Anabaptistic in their position. Janssen insisted that it was Anabaptistic to deny that Scripture revelation could come from heathen sources; to teach miracles were so completely supernatural that no could be employed; to ignore the findings of the explanation of the miracles; in fact, to refuse to make use of the scientific - critical method in one's approach to and study of Scripture. And all this was Anabaptistic because of a denial of common grace.

When some of Janssen's critics in fact did deny common grace, the charge of Anabaptism was picked up and brought against them. And this became the occasion for additional controversy in the church.

In summary, two conclusions may be drawn from all this. The first is that Janssen considered the matter of common grace to be decisive for his position and made it the cornerstone of his defense. It must have riled him that no one agreed to take him up on this specific issue and that no ecclesiastical assembly would face his real defense. In the second place, although Janssen dragged in the common grace question where it did not clearly belong, his defense of his views of Scripture with the common grace argument was persuasive. It is perhaps true, as Janssen's opponents insisted, that the issues could be decided on other grounds and without entering into the common grace question; but it remains a fact that Janssen's position, while emphatically condemned, was not really challenged and the basic premises of Janssen were not examined and judged. His defense is forceful and clear; his position unmistakable in most instances; his description of the relation between common grace and his view of Scripture beyond dispute.

To this question, regardless of any other consideration, the Synod should have addressed itself. That it did not is to be deplored. Its failure to do this only led to additional controversy and greater grief.

After many years had passed, Hoeksema wrote that Janssen continued to have respect for him and often sent him greetings.65 It could very well be that Janssen's respect for Hoeksema, in spite of Hoeksema's fierce opposition to his position, was due to the fact that Janssen recognized that Hoeksema alone had dealt honestly with Janssen in recognizing the importance of common grace for the entire controversy.



1 Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, p. 12. Return

2 Janssen, De Synodale Conclusies, pp. 11-15. Return

3 Janssen, Het Synodale Vonnis en Zijne Voorgeschiedenis Kerkrechtelijke Beoordeeld, pp. 2-29. Return

4 Janssen, "The Erroneous Views and Unwarranted Criticisms of Rev. H. Hoeksema." The Banner (March l0, 1921): 149-150. Janssen is not very clear on the question of how a rejection of the authority of Synod could be Anabaptistic, but he apparently means that the Anabaptists were opposed to civil authority, and that Hoeksema resembled them in this respect. But how this fits in with the whole question of grace is not clear. Return

Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, p. 52. The Bultema controversy was settled at the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1918, two years before the Janssen controversy first appeared on the Synod. Bultema was condemned for denying the kingship of Christ over the church. Return

6 Ibid. Return

7 Canons III & IV, Art. 4 was usually connected with general revelation. Return

8 See for such a treatment, H. Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1956). Chapters III, IV. This is an English translation by Henry Zylstra of the Dutch book, Magnalia Del.Return

9 Ibid-, p. 59. Return

10 Ibid, PP. 37, 38. W. Masselink deals extensively with the relation between general revelation and common grace in a book which bears the title: General Revelation and Common Grace (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1953). See especially chapters 3-5 Return

11 Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture, p. 108. Return

12 Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years..., " p. 19. Return

13 Boer, "Aftermath," p. 21. Return

14 Ibid., p. 22. For quotations from Q. Breen's protest (as well as others) see Acts of Synod, 1924, pp. 163-191. These pages include also the decisions taken. Return

15 Boer, "Broad Concessions Tragic, Man Says," p. D4. Return

16 Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools," p. 280. While Stob is speaking here of the early controversies in 1902-1906, they never were really resolved and continued to be the background against which the common grace controversy was fought. Return

17 Janssen, "Reply to Rev. Herman Hoeksema." The Banner (January 13, 1921): 24. Return

18 Janssen, Voortzetting van den Strijd, p. 59. The translation here, as in all future quotations from Janssen's Dutch writings, is ours. Return

19 Ibid. See pp. 64-81 for the entire discussion with its many references to past thinkers. Return

20 Ibid., pp. 68ff. Return

21 Ibid ., p. 68. Bavinck is quoted here. Janssen gives us no references, and it is thus impossible to check up on the context in which these words were written. Return

22 Ibid., p. 70. Return

23 Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, pp. 38-39. We shall give some additional attention to this question when we face the specific problem of the relation between common grace and the miracles. On this same point see, Janssen, De Synodale Conclusies, p. 10. Return

24 I well remember discussing these matters at length during the years when I was studying under Hoeksema in Seminary. He came to the position that revelation is inseparably connected with grace and that it is particular as grace is particular. Return

25 Janssen, "Reply to Rev. Herman Hoeksema." The Banner (November 25, 1920): 716. Return

26 Janssen, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd, p. 70. Return

27 Ibid., p. 78. Return

28 Ibid., pp. 87-90. The charge of dualism appears again and again in Janssen's writings, but usually in connection with his charges of Anabaptism. We shall consider this matter when we consider the question of Anabaptism. Return

29 Ibid-, pp. 93-94. Return

30 Ibid., p. 83. Return

31 Ibid., p. 86. Return

32 Ibid-, pp. 59-63. While Janssen never discusses the charges made against him in connection with his interpretation of the prophets, apparently he intends that the same principle apply. Return

33 It remains a fact, as the majority of the Investigatory Committee pointed out, that Janssen never dealt with the divine element in inspiration in his teaching. The same can be said of his writings in connection with the controversy. Although he assured the Synod of 1920 and the Curatorium that he held to the doctrine of divine inspiration, one looks in vain for it in his articles in The Banner and in his brochures. Return

34 Ibid., p. 69. Return

35 Ibid., pp. 68-70. It must be remembered however, as we pointed out earlier, that Janssen equated organic inspiration with thought inspiration. See Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, pp. 44-48. In this connection, Janssen quotes Ten Hoor as teaching the same thing. Return

36 Janssen, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd, p. 81. It is also in this discussion (as well as a few other places) that Janssen acknowledges the fact that the revelation which came from pagan sources bore some corruption with it and had to be purified by divine revelation. Return

37 Janssen, De Synodale Conclusies, p. 46. Return

38 Ibid., p. 40. Return

39 Ibid., p. 47. Return

40 We shall examine this question a bit more closely in the next chapter. Return

41 See our discussion of this in Chapter 3. Return

42 Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, pp. 38-39. Return

43 Ibid., p. 39. See also, R. Janssen, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd, 8, where Geology is described as a gift of God's common grace. Return

44 Ibid., footnote, p. 6. The relation which Janssen means to establish between common grace and the critical-empirical method is not defined here, although he claims that a rejection of this method involves a rejection of common grace. Return

45 Ibid., p- 37. See the whole section, pp. 33-43, for a discussion of this matter. In this section Janssen also refers to the science of Archeology as a gift of God's common grace which helps us to understand the culture in which Israel lived and developed its religion. See p. 43. This latter idea is also developed in De Synodale Conclusies, pp. 31, 36, where Janssen says that the empirical-critical approach must also be taken into account in exegesis when one explains a text in its whole cultural and social context. Return

46 Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, pp. 13-16, 28, 38. See also De Synodale Conclusies, pp. 10, 69. Return

47 Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, p. 33. He quotes Kuyper's Gemeene Gratie in support of this contention. See also Voortzetting Van Den Strijd, p. 8. Return

48 Janssen, De Synodale Conclusies, p. 69. Return

49 Berkhof, et. al., Waar Het In De Zaak Janssen Om Gaat, p. 21. The figure we have used here is ours for purposes of illustrating the point. The use of "super- natural" vs. "ordinary" is, in our judgment, unfortunate. We shall say a bit more about this in the next chapter. Return

50 Ibid., pp. 30, 34-39. Return

51 Janssen, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd, p. 9. Return

52 Ibid., p. 50. See also p. 68 where Bavinck is quoted in support of this assertion, and pp. 93, 94. Return

53 Ibid., p. 41. Return

54 This line of argumentation is not to be found in the form in which I have put it in any of Janssen's writings. But it seems to be Janssen's general line of argumentation implicit in his charges against his opponents. Return

55 Van Baalen, Der Loochening Der Gemeene Gratie: Gereformeerd of DooperschReturn

56 Ibid., P. 9. Without referring directly to the Janssen controversy, it is clear that Van Baalen had this struggle in mind. Return

57 Ibid., pp. 75ff. It is interesting that already in this book Van Baalen levelled the charge of rationalism against Hoeksema and Danhof because they pleaded for a consistent and logically coherent theology. Van Baalen was evidently aware of the logical inconsistencies of his position for he pleads for a "two-track theology," pp. 35-38. Return

58 Ibid., p. 81. Return

59 Danhof & Hoeksema, Niet Doopersch maar GereformeerdReturn

60 Ibid., pp. 4, 5. Return

61 Danhof & Hoeksema, Van Zonde en Genade (Grand Rapids: The authors, July, 1923). The date does not appear in the book, but can be found in Van Baalen's answer to these two writings: Nieuwigheid en Dwaling, p. 7. Return

62 Ibid., pp. 9-11. Of interest is that in this same section Hoeksema and Danhof explain that their withdrawal from the staff of The Witness was because of disagreements over common grace, 1l. See also pp. 78-80.Return

63 W. Heyns, letter dated September 3, 1922. (From the personal file of W. Heyns, in Heritage Hall, Calvin College & Seminary, Grand Rapids.) Return

64 Berkhof, et. al., Waar Het in de Zaak Janssen Om GaatReturn

65 H. Hoeksema, "Of Love and Hatred," The Standard Bearer (May l, 1954): 340. Return

Chapter IV: The Basic Issue

It is to be regretted that the entire controversy over the views of Dr. Ralph Janssen in the ecclesiastical assemblies never examined his teachings in the light of the more fundamental question of common grace. While there were undoubtedly reasons for this, (reasons which we shall have to investigate in the course of this chapter), the fact remains that, while the immediate issues of Janssen's views on Scripture were dealt with at length, the basic and fundamental issue of common grace was ignored.

One may ask the question; What difference did it really make that common grace did not enter into the official decisions of any ecclesiastical assembly? Is it not true that Janssen was condemned and that his views were officially declared heretical? Did not the church reaffirm her commitment to the truth of Scripture as taught in the Reformed Confessions? This was, after all, what really mattered.

The difficulty with this line of reasoning is that, because the basic issue was never faced, Janssen's position was never really examined and his position never adjudicated. The underlying question was common grace. From Janssen's position on common grace flowed all his other views, so much so that Janssen's position cannot really be understood without taking common grace into consideration. Because, therefore, common grace continued to be an open question in the church, Janssen's position was never really successfully refuted. And this left the door open for his teachings to be perpetuated in the church by those who agreed with him on this basic question.

It may, of course, be argued that the assertion that common grace stands at the basis of Janssen's position is fallacious; that common grace was a peripheral issue; that Janssen's views could be considered entirely apart from this question. And this was precisely the position that Janssen's opponents took when Janssen repeatedly brought up common grace as the main prop of his position.

The four professors and four ministers faced this question and charged Janssen with trying to divert attention from the main issue by his insistence on discussing common grace,1 and they refused to enter the subject, insisting rather that all eight of them agreed on the truths of the Confessions.

Y.P. De Jong answered charges of Janssen in which Janssen claimed that his opponents were Anabaptistic and took an Anabaptistic position on common grace. De Jong, by a review of the entire case,2 attempted to show that Janssen was wrong and that the issue of Janssen's teachings could be decided apart from common grace.3

W. Heyns took much the same position in a personal letter to J.K. Van Baalen in which Heyns took exception to some things Van Baalen had written in his book, De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie (The Denial of Common Grace).4 In this letter Heyns, while accepting common grace himself as Biblical and Confessionally Reformed, insists that common grace need not necessarily lead to Janssen's position, especially on the relation between general revelation and common grace.5

Hoeksema, early in the controversy, expressed the same opinion. When in The Banner Janssen publicly accused Hoeksema of a denial of common grace, Hoeksema complained that Janssen never showed the connection between his views and common grace and that to discuss common grace would be a distraction from the point at issue.6

H.J. Kuiper7 deplored the fact that common grace was constantly being interjected into the debate. In discussing "Salient Points in the Dr. Janssen Controversy," he strongly insisted that "they have nothing in common."8

Apparently, after the controversy had been settled at the Synod of 1922, Hoeksema began to change his mind on this question. While still insisting that the issues in the Janssen case could be decided apart from the common grace question, nevertheless, he (and Danhof) began to say that not only was common grace always really the issue, but that if common grace were not repudiated, Janssen's views would once again prevail in the church.9

Later, Hoeksema became yet stronger in his conviction on the relation between common grace and the Janssen case. While still leaving the question of a doctrinal and intrinsic relation an open question, Hoeksema took the position that the historical relation between the two was clear enough. He quoted many as saying: "There would never have been a Danhof-Hoeksema case in our churches if there had been no Janssen case."l0 This historical relation was clear, according to Hoeksema, from three considerations. In 1918 - 1919, Hoeksema writes, he wrote against common grace and no one opposed what he said. In fact, he was reappointed editor of "Our Doctrine" in The Banner. Only when he criticized the 1920 decision on the Janssen matter did the issue of common grace and Hoeksema's denial of it come up. Secondly, J.K. Van Baalen wrote a pamphlet against Hoeksema's views on common grace, "De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie." Hoeksema pointed out that, although Van Baalen did not express himself on the Janssen case so as to reveal his own personal sentiments, he nevertheless repeatedly connected common grace and this case. Thirdly, Hoeksema pointed out that those who protested his teachings on common grace were all Janssen supporters. And this led him to wonder whether the relation between the Janssen case was doctrinal or personal.ll Still later Hoeksema again returned to this point. He wrote:

The fact that the four professors and others of the opponents of Doctor Janssen could unite with the pro-Janssen faction in their action against the three ministers that were deposed in 1924-1925, plainly reveals that, apart from superficial differences, there was fundamental agreement in principle. There was in the Janssen controversy an underlying principle which, had it not been violently and intentionally forced into the background, would have paralyzed every effort of the four professors to combat Doctor Janssen's views and would have aligned them from the beginning with the pro-Janssen faction against the Reverends H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema.
This underlying principle is the theory of common grace.12

Q. Breen essentially agreed with the position that two were related. He wrote:

While I have heard Dr. Janssen many times on the human element in Scripture, the prevailing connection with theology was the doctrine of common grace . . . . By uniting himself with our nature, God conferred an unspeakable honor upon all natural being but especially upon all mankind. He thereby blessed the unfoldment of intellectual pioneering in modern times. Some call this by the pejorative name of secularism, as if it were something to deplore. Some accept the modern world, as it were to play the game by its rule, and do very well, but they are uncertain about its intrinsic worth; thus they cannot in good conscience commit themselves gladly and imaginatively to exploring the secrets of nature and the riches of man's intellectual, emotional, and volitional gifts and history. All this is a sad loss to the religious sense. To the religious sense alone can the natural and human order appear as a moment to moment gift of God's providence, doubly made clear to Christians by the Incarnation; to which the proper response is gratitude; the acceptance of the gifts involves using them without a double mind, and their grateful use will add to the joy of it.13

H. Boer is also convinced of the close relation between Janssen's views and common grace. In a passage we referred to earlier, Boer identifies as perhaps the most basic question in the Janssen controversy the issue, "whether the God of general revelation (nature, common grace) is operative in the actions of the God of special revelation (redemption, special grace).''14 A bit later in the same article he writes: "One thing is certain: with respect to Hoeksema and Danhof the Synod of 1924 adopted Janssen's position."15

James Bratt also finds the question of common grace to be a central issue. He writes:

At issue in each case (The Janssen case of 1922 and the Hoeksema case of 1924) was the doctrine of common grace, which, positively or negatively, defined the various streams of the Dutch Reformed tradition and, as the theory relating "the people of God" to "the world," constituted the prime theological metaphor for the question of acculturation.16

In developing this thesis, Bratt points out that the four professors who opposed Janssen were "Confessionalists"17 that Hoeksema and Danhof were "Antitheticists;"18 and that Janssen and his supporters were "Progressive Calvinists."19 The Confessionalists or Pietists feared the charge of Anabaptism which had been levelled against the critics of Janssen and so broke with the Antitheticists.20 The Confessionalists won out in 1924 adopting a common grace which was not so much Kuyperian as evangelistic, making the preaching of the gospel to the unconverted possible.21

That the doctrine of common grace was an integral part of the Janssen controversy can, therefore, hardly be denied. But to assert such a relationship brings up several additional questions. In the first place, what was the history of this question of common grace in the controversy? We shall have to take a look at this matter, however brief, to understand how common grace entered into the controversy and became a part of it. In the second place, we shall have to ask and attempt to answer the question, Why did Dr. Janssen repeatedly bring up the issue of common grace to the extent, in fact, that it became almost the only element in his defense; and why did the opponents of Dr. Janssen not only, but also the Synod of 1922 refuse to enter into the question? In the third place, how did it come about that although the question was ignored by the opponents of Janssen and by the Synod of 1922, controversy over it nevertheless broke out after the Janssen case was settled, which controversy resulted in the decisions on common grace at the Synod of 1924 and the expulsion of Hoeksema, Danhof and Ophoff? These are historical questions and with them we shall deal in the remainder of this chapter. In the following chapter we shall take a closer look at the relation between common grace and the position of Janssen which was condemned by the Christian Reformed Churches.

We turn then, first of all, to a brief survey of the history of the doctrine of common grace during the time of the controversy.

At the time that the Janssen controversy broke out the membership of the Christian Reformed Church was composed almost exclusively of people who were either immigrants from the Netherlands or whose ancestors had come to America from the Netherlands. The earlier membership of the Christian Reformed Church was predominantly from the churches of the Afscheiding, which churches had left the State (Hervormde) Church in 1834. Among the churches of the Afscheiding the doctrine of common grace was present, almost from the beginning,22 and was part of the heritage of the immigrants who formed the Christian Reformed Church in her early years. During the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth, many who came from the Netherlands and joined the Christian Reformed Church were members of the Dolerende churches which had left the State Church in 1886 under the leadership of Dr. A. Kuyper. Especially after Dr. Kuyper had become involved in the political movements of the Netherlands, he developed a doctrine of common grace which was imbedded in the thinking of his followers and which was, in the early part of the twentieth century, taught in the Christian Reformed Church as well.

So, although the idea of common grace was present in the church from her very inception, it had received no systematic development, nor had it become, by any ecclesiastical decision, official teaching. It was, so to speak, just there; it, like Topsy, just "growed;" but it was, emphatically, an open question in the churches. That is, no one was bound to believe and teach the doctrine by virtue of the binding character of ecclesiastical decision.

Because the doctrine of common grace had received no official definition within the church, certain conflicts appeared in the Christian Reformed Church in the first decades of the century. Already as early as the First World War, Rev. J. Groen was arguing in favor of membership in neutral labor unions on the basis of common grace. He represented a number of American Calvinists who wanted the church, primarily Dutch, to break out of its ethnic boundaries to become involved in the American world. This involvement was implied in their understanding of Calvinism, particularly when common grace was maintained being traditionally Calvinist.

On the other hand, A. Kuyper had pressed hard in the Netherlands for separate Christian organizations and had been instrumental in organizing the Anti-revolutionary Party. While he had accomplished much of this work before beginning his development of his theories on common grace, Kuyperians in this country were also pressing for separate Christian organizations and were doing this in conscious opposition to those who favored involvement in the American world. Those favoring separate organizations were often charged with Anabaptism, a charge which Janssen may have picked up when he connected his views of Scripture with common grace.

All this may at first glance appear to be somewhat confusing. But certain elements of the struggle must be remembered if one is to understand the conflicting views of common grace which were present in the church, and the conflicting appeals to A. Kuyper.

After Kuyper became a minister solidly committed to Calvinism and the Reformed faith, he clearly showed that his emphasis on particular grace was strong and consistent. He not only insisted on grace only for the elect, but he also sharply repudiated the whole idea of the free offer of the gospel. During this period in his life, he began his interpretation of Calvinism as including the whole concept of separate Christian organizations. Among these organizations was the Anti-revolutionary Party. Riding the crest of the success of this party, Kuyper was able to gain election to Parliament. He saw clearly the possibility of becoming prime minister of the Netherlands, although, because his party did not have a clear majority, he could attain this goal only by forming a coalition with the Roman Catholics. This he did and served his country briefly as prime minister. But it was at this time that Kuyper also began to develop his views on common grace. In America, therefore, separate Christian organizations were not connected with common grace, and the issues of common grace could be discussed apart from the question of involvement in American life or living a life of separation.

In the September 5, 1918 issue of The Banner, Rev. Hoeksema, by Synodical appointment, took over the rubric, "Our Doctrine." Very shortly after this, while developing, in a lengthy series of articles, the doctrine of the kingdom of God, Hoeksema began to question the traditionally held views on common grace, especially as they had been taught and developed by A. Kuyper. He was not immediately averse to speaking of a certain common grace, but he insisted that this "so-called common grace" meant nothing more than that the reprobate in the human organism share in the blessings given the elect in special grace. But even then, this share in the blessings of special grace is an outward sharing, an outward blessing, while inwardly these very blessings are a curse. They could, so Hoeksema argued, be nothing else but a curse because the total depravity of the sinner made it impossible for him to have any receptivity at all in his heart for the grace of God.23

In the issue of January 1, 1919, Hoeksema referred to a new paper which had made its appearance, Christian Journal, which had criticized Anabaptism and warned against its dangers. Hoeksema noted that sometimes views are called Anabaptistic which are "nothing but pure Calvinism."24 References to the Christian Journal continued to appear in Hoeksema's writings, in which he criticized the writers for advocating a Calvinism which would establish an alliance between the church and the world.25 This argument was later put in slightly different words when Hoeksema spoke of some who interpret common grace to mean that "in this common grace a sphere is created in which the children of light and the children of darkness as such can find common ground, common principle, and work together in harmony."26 Apparently the discussion became rather heated, for in the February 20, 1919 issue, the editor, Rev. Henry Beets, felt compelled to write an editorial on the need for moderation on the part of those who opposed the Christian Journal.27

Hoeksema continued his analysis and criticism of common grace. He asked the question: Is there any favor, grace, or love to man outside of Christ? And: Does the natural man have any receptivity for this grace?28 He attacked common grace head on when he emphatically condemned the view that God took an attitude of favor towards the reprobate.29 He warned that common grace led to a spirit of broadmindedness in the church,30and attacked common grace from the viewpoint of its efforts to establish the kingdom here below before Christ comes.31

While Hoeksema's critique was sharp and involved a fundamental denial of the whole concept of common grace, no one raised a voice against him and no one questioned his orthodoxy.32

The attention of the church, however, was soon directed to other matters. It was towards the end of 1919 that controversy began in the Seminary over the teachings of Prof. Janssen.33 In the initial stages of the controversy, the views of Janssen were debated without reference to common grace, but when H. Hoeksema began to discuss Janssen's views in The Banner subsequent to the Synod of 1920, Janssen responded to Hoeksema's criticism of his views by attacking Hoeksema's denial of common grace. In the issue of November 4, 1920, Janssen took up his reply. After criticizing Hoeksema on a number of other points, he wrote:

We can now sum up. Our discovery brings us face to face with a very discouraging fact. The unexpected has happened. In Rev. H. Hoeksema we are after all not dealing with a critic who is a sound Calvinist. In denying common grace he has broken with true Calvinism and has in so far joined ranks with Anabaptists. He has been found to deny one of the most important doctrines of our Reformed faith.34

This opening salvo marked the strategy which Janssen was to employ almost exclusively in his defense. In almost all his writings, including his pamphlets, his communications to the Curatorium and Synod concerning his views, and his articles in The Banner, Janssen returned again and again to this theme. However, although Hoeksema took the time to criticize Kuyper's views on common grace applied to the Noahic covenant and the history of Melchisedek, king of Salem,35 and although in these articles Hoeksema made some brief reply to Janssen's charges, nevertheless, neither Hoeksema nor Janssen's other opponents would allow the discussion to be turned into the channels of a controversy over common grace. This persisted throughout the controversy even through the Synodical discussions which led to Janssen's condemnation in June of 1922.

It was only after the settlement of the issue of Janssen's views and teachings that common grace became an issue in the ecclesiastical assemblies of the Church.36 This was partly due to the continued writings of Prof. Janssen and partly due to the writings of Janssen's supporters. While probably published just before the Synod of 1922 met, Janssen's pamphlet, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd was an answer to the pamphlet of the four professors and four ministers: Waar Het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat.37 Janssen continued his defense in this pamphlet and once again made extensive use of common grace in support of his position.

But after Synod met, two other pamphlets came from Janssen's pen: 1) Het Synodale Vonnis en Zijne Voorgeschiedenis Kerkrechtelijk Beoordeeld (The Synodical Judgment and its Preceding History Judged Church Politically), published in November of 1922, and, 2) De Synodale Conclusies, published in September of 1923. Although the first pamphlet is a church political treatment of the whole case, it also appeals to common grace and castigates Janssen's critics for their denial of common grace -- a denial in Janssen's opinion which had its fruit in church political errors. The second pamphlet, written over a year after the case was settled, is Janssen's final effort to defend his position. Why he continued to write at this late date is a question that probably cannot be answered; but it might be that the growing attack against Hoeksema and Danhof on the question of common grace led him to attempt to show 1) that he had been right all along in insisting that common grace was the underlying issue, and 2) that he saw a faint glimmer of hope in the possibility of a formal doctrine on the matter of common grace which would justify him and restore him to his position.

Perhaps the one person who was responsible more than any other in bringing common grace to the attention of the church was Jan Karel Van Baalen. A supporter of Janssen from the very beginning, Van Baalen wrote two books in which he attacked those who denied common grace. The first one was written sometime in 1922, probably after the Synod met, for it contains no direct attacks against the decisions of Synod. The title of the book is: De Loochening Der Gemeene Gratie,38 and it contains serious charges against those who deny common grace. Van Baalen defines the battle in the church as between Calvinism and Anabaptism;39 he accuses those who deny common grace of rationalism, in connection with which he pleads for a "two-track" theology;40 and in his development of the charge of Anabaptism against the deniers of common grace, he insists that these men hold to a view of grace which leads to separation from the world because it divorces nature from grace.41

Van Baalen's second book was entitled: Nieuwigheid en Dwaling.42 It was, in fact, an answer to two other pamphlets or books published by Hoeksema and Danhof in which they had answered Van Baalen's charges.43 This latter writing of Van Baalen was once again answered by Hoeksema and Danhof in the brochure: Langs Zuivere Banen (Along Pure Paths)44 . In his book, Niewigheid en Dwalling, Van Baalen was far less reluctant to take up the cudgel for Janssen. He upbraids Hoeksema for refusing to go into the matter of common grace during the Janssen controversy, even though Janssen repeatedly brought it up. Hoeksema, says Van Baalen, kept saying, "I refused to be side-tracked." But now, in Hoeksema's two latest writings, he enters the question after all.45 In a footnote he suggests that the reason why Hoeksema refused to go into the question of common grace during the controversy was that there was disagreement between Janssen's opponents over the question.46

The effect of all this controversy was another difficult and bitter struggle in the Christian Reformed Church which culminated at the Synod of 1924, at which Synod doctrinal pronouncements were made concerning common grace. These doctrinal pronouncements were later made binding in the church.47 The issues, therefore, proved to be of such compelling importance that not only additional controversy was created over them, but opponents of were themselves cast out of the Christian Reformed fellowship.

The second important question we face is: Why did Janssen persist in bringing up the issue of common grace? Was it the central issue he claimed it to be? And, if the answer to that second question is in the affirmative, as many, including Janssen's supporters, were convinced it was, why did the opponents of Janssen refuse to enter into scarcely any mention made of it in all the writings of Janssen's opponents, (other than the articles of Hoeksema in The Banner) and why did not the Synod of 1922 discuss it?

The answers to these questions are not so easily found. It is possible to take the easy route in answering these questions, and merely assert that Janssen, in his repeated insistence that common grace was the central issue, was dragging a red herring across his trail in the hopes that the real issues would indeed be lost sight of in the shuffle. It is also possible that Janssen operated on the principle that the best defense is an aggressive offense. This would presuppose that Janssen was aware of the fact that his opponents were not agreed on the question of common grace, that some favored it and that some opposed it. He, if this was his tactic, hoped to divide the opposition and, in this way, relieve the pressure which was being brought to bear on him.

Even if this explanation for Janssen's tactics is correct, the fact remains that Janssen had greater motivation than saving his own skin while bringing the opposition into disrepute. From all of Janssen's writings, it is clear that he firmly believed that the relation between his views and common grace was not a merely mechanical one, contrived in the emergency of the moment in an effort to divert the stinging criticism of his opponents, but that the relation between the two was close and necessary; that, indeed, his whole position on Scripture fell of its own weight if it was not firmly grounded in common grace. It is, however, to be regretted that Janssen did not always show the relationship between common grace and his views in greater detail and with greater clarity. Already Hoeksema complained about this failure of Janssen, and apparently considered Janssen's failure to demonstrate this relationship sufficient reason to put the question of common grace aside.48

But this criticism of Janssen must not be construed meaning that Janssen never made any effort to connect common grace with his views on Scripture. In his writings, general way and along general lines, he surely spoke of how his ideas were supported by common grace. His arguments are persuasive and give evidence of Janssen's careful thought on the matter.49

But, having established this, we are still faced with the question of why Janssen's opponents, particularly the members of the Majority Investigatory Committee and the four professors and four ministers50 refused to enter into the question of common grace, something which Hoeksema later regretted.

The answer to this is, in our judgment, somewhat complex. It is true that disagreement existed between Janssen's opponents over the question of common grace. Janssen spoke of this more than once in his writings. He knew that Rev. Hoeksema rejected common grace. He knew too that H. Danhof agreed basically with Hoeksema on this question.51 He suggested the strong possibility that S. Volbeda, one of the four professors, agreed with Hoeksema and repudiated common grace. Janssen found the proof for this in Volbeda's inaugural address which, according to Janssen, had been criticized in the Netherlands for being unReformed on the question of common grace.52 He spoke as if he was not sure whether the other three professors believed in common grace or whether they repudiated it. His language seems to suggest that he had always thought they believed it, but that their opposition to his teachings on Scripture would almost lead one to believe that they did not. Perhaps, opines Janssen, they simply misunderstand the doctrine.53 At any rate, Janssen was convinced that L. Berkhof took a position contrary to common grace when he taught that the speeches of Paul in Athens and Lystra contained mistaken ideas. These speeches, Janssen said, were full of common grace, and to say that they included mistakes is to give evidence of denying common grace.54 Concerning F. Ten Hoor, Janssen noted that, while Kuyper was the greatest advocate of common grace, Ten Hoor was at odds with Kuyper; further, Ten Hoor seemed to want to limit common grace to the natural life in distinction from the spiritual life of regeneration -- a virtual denial of common grace, according to Janssen.55

Whether Janssen correctly evaluated the views of the professors is difficult to say. But subsequent history is clear. The four professors, as well as others agreed with Hoeksema in his opposition to Janssen.56 Yet they all also joined in condemning Hoeksema in 1924 for his denial of common grace. This would surely seem to suggest that they held to common grace in one form or another, although they might not have been agreed among themselves as to its precise nature.

What complicates the question is the fact that Janssen repeatedly appealed to Kuyper and Bavinck in his defense of common grace. Janssen's opponents, on the other hand, were somewhat ambiguous in their attitude towards Bavinck and Kuyper, and it is not easy to determine in their writings just exactly what their sentiments were. seems clear that, generally, Bavinck was held in higher esteem than Kuyper, and that the opposition to Kuyper was in some instances rather strong.57 In this context the questions arose: Were Janssen's appeals to Kuyper and Bavinck justified? Were Janssen's opponents taking a position at odds with these two giants of the Reformed faith?

In order to sort out these matters, it is necessary to backtrack a bit and ask some questions concerning what precisely was the common grace which was so much at issue. It is not always so easy to answer this question because common grace had never received official status in either the Churches in the Netherlands or in America. It was, more or less, a doctrine which was taught by many and assumed to be truly Biblical and Confessional without the question of the nature of common grace really being answered.

This lack of precise definition was especially true of the men of the Afscheiding. While it is doubtful to say the least that the ideas of common grace can be traced back' to Calvin and the fathers at Dort,58 these teachings could be found among some in the Netherlands prior to the Afscheiding who were influenced by the Nadere Reformatie. Whether all the fathers of the Afscheiding held to some kind of common grace is also doubtful.59It is quite possible that De Cock himself did not. Nevertheless, the ideas were to be found strongly imbedded in the souls of many. Common grace was a part of the tradition of the Afscheiding -- of that there can be no question. But the common grace held among those who were spiritual sons of the Afscheiding was something quite different from the common grace found in A. Kuyper. And it is in these differences that, at least in part, the solution to the problem is to be found.

What were these differences? Some idea of them may be gained from consulting the writings of some of the men who influenced the Afscheiding and whose ideas were so influential among Afscheiding theologians.

A few decades before the Afscheiding, W.A. Brakel wrote concerning these ideas. While he is somewhat equivocal in his views, he very clearly held to some form of common grace. In writing on the subject of The Calling, Brakel writes:

Grace is distinguished as giving and that which is given. The giving grace is the mercy of God, as the fountain from which all that is good, which man receives, is given. That which is given are the gifts themselves . . . .
Grace is common or special. Common grace God shows to all men by bestowing physical bene- fits . . . . To this belongs also the good which God gives to all those whom He calls, giving them His Word, the means unto conversion and salvation. Along with this God usually gives enlightening, historical faith, conviction, being almost persuaded to become a Christian.60

Brakel had considerable influence on the men of the Afscheiding and remained in many circles one of the favorites among the "Oude Schrijvers" who were so frequently read in reading sermons in the churches and in the devotional readings of the members of the church.

To go back a bit more in time, Aegidius Francken writes concerning the natural knowledge of God which all men possess:

Is then this (natural) knowledge fruitless?
No, but it is still advantageous in many ways.
What is the advantage?
1. That natural knowledge of God serves to maintain human society, and suppresses wickedness in their licentious lives, without which the world would become a sepulcher of murderers.
2. It makes the sinner the more responsible before God (Romans 1:20).
3. It is moreover a powerful incentive to attain a higher knowledge which is saving.61

The idea of common grace held by some of the sons of the Afscheiding was a general attitude of favor and kindness on God's part towards all men which manifested itself in the bestowal of many temporal blessings and benefits. Common grace was often identified with God's providence, and the emphasis was placed on the fact that in His providence, God gives good gifts to men. God is good, the overflowing Fountain of all good, and hence His gifts are also always good. Yet, the emphasis fell on the fact that these gifts were grace, i.e., God's favor. On mankind in general these blessings consisted of such things as rain and sunshine, fruitful and prosperous years, health and strength, etc. Within the church, the unbelievers also received many additional blessings such as the preaching of the Word, the signs and seals of the sacraments, Christian nurture in home, church and school, etc.62

But the view of Kuyper on common grace was different. Hoeksema discusses this distinction at some length.63 After pointing out that Kuyper preferred to make distinction between gratie and genade,64 and after some discussion of Kuyper's view of common grace, Hoeksema sums it up as follows:

Which, then, are the three chief elements in the Kuyperian conception of common grace?
1. That God, though with a view to eternity and the eternal blessedness of the Kingdom He is gracious to the elect, with a view to things earthly and temporal He is gracious to all men.
2. That there is a restraining influence, ever since the fall of man, of the common grace of God upon the physical and ethical corruption of the world and of the heart of man, so that the principle of total depravity cannot work through.
3. That there is a positive influence of God's common grace upon the mind and will of man, whereby he is so improved that he can still live a positively good world-life.65

Without entering into the question of the differences over the free offer of the gospel, it is clear that the chief difference between Kuyper and the men of the Afscheiding on the question of common grace was this: the men of the Afscheiding were content to limit the blessings of common grace to the good gifts which God gave to men in general; Kuyper held to a more aggressive common grace, a grace which restrained sin and resulted in the ability of the natural man to do good.

This difference was, in our judgment, a significant factor in the history of the Janssen case in general, and in the refusal of the opponents of Janssen to take up the question of common grace.

When Dr. Janssen appealed to Kuyper and Bavinck in his defense of common grace he certainly did this with justification. Both emphatically taught a doctrine of common grace, and as we noticed above taught a view of common grace which was significantly different from the generally accepted view held among the descendants of the Afscheiding.66 Hoeksema admitted as much when he · in his attack on the doctrine of common grace specifically repudiated Kuyper's teachings.67

However while Janssen appealed to Kuyper and Bavinck in support of his teachings on common grace, Janssen was wrong when he deduced from this that Kuyper would have agreed with him on all his views on Scripture. The copious quotations from Kuyper and Bavinck which fill the Majority Report of the Investigatory Committee are proof of this.68 Without doubt Kuyper would have repudiated sharply Janssen's position had he been in a position to do so.

This leaves us with a problem: Janssen appealed to Kuyper and Bavinck in support of his position, but both these men showed in their writings that they would not have agreed with Janssen if they had had opportunity to express themselves. How can this be?

The answer lies in the area or areas to which common grace is to be applied. While Kuyper and Bavinck applied the doctrine to many different areas, such as the arts, the knowledge of God, etc., they never applied the doctrine to Biblical studies. Janssen did this and came up with his views. It was from Janssen's viewpoint a consistent application of the doctrine to the area of his particular interests.

There are two elements here that must be taken into account. On the one hand, Janssen's opponents, for the most part men in the tradition of the Afscheiding, held to a different view of common grace than did Kuyper, Bavinck and Janssen himself.69 On the other hand, Janssen's opponents themselves did not agree on the question of common grace. Hoeksema and Danhof certainly denied it in any form, especially as the controversy developed. What Volbeda believed on the doctrine cannot be determined. Janssen may have been right when he accused Volbeda of denying this doctrine altogether, although Volbeda, obviously, went along with the decisions of the Synod of 1924 on common grace and consented to the expulsion of Hoeksema, Danhof and Ophoff. The four professors, H.J. Kuiper, and other opponents of Janssen were probably believers in common grace, but the their precise views on the subject cannot be determined.

Against this background we must understand the reasons why Janssen's critics refused to enter into the question of common grace. In the first place, it is clear that it was possible to consider Janssen's views on Scripture apart from this basic question of common grace. This was possible because Janssen's views could be considered only on the basis of the teachings of the Confessions on the doctrine of Scripture. And this is, finally, what the Investigatory Committee and the Synod of 1922 did. In the second place, it is undoubtedly true that Janssen's insistence on bringing in the issue of common

grace would surely have been a diversion which could have endangered the case against Janssen. If the churches had become involved in a lengthy discussion of common grace, this would have so dominated the controversy, especially because no clear consensus existed in the churches, that the issues of Janssen's teachings would have been blurred. In the third place, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for Janssen's opponents to present a united front in their attack upon Janssen if the differences over their thinking on common grace had entered into their investigation and discussion. It may be that Janssen sensed this and hoped to "divide and conquer." But whatever Janssen's personal motives may have been, the fact remains that common grace would have torn the ranks of Janssen's critics and made any condemnation of Janssen's views impossible.

From the viewpoint, therefore, of the controversy itself, the church may be thankful that the discussion over common grace was postponed until Janssen's views were adjudicated and condemned. But it remained a striking fact that the issue of common grace would not die; that it was resurrected shortly after the Janssen controversy was settled; and that the men who brought it up were themselves Janssen's supporters. That Hoeksema took the lead in the condemnation of Janssen; that Janssen's supporters were mainly instrumental in forcing the issue in the churches, resulting in the expulsion of Hoeksema; that those who sided with Hoeksema in opposing Janssen later became his accusers and condemners are some of the ironies of history not easily explained.70

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1. Berkhof, et. al. Waar het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat, pp. 4, 15. Return

2. This was written after the Synod of 1922. Return

3. Y. P. De Jong, "Naar Aanleiding van het 'Document,'" The Witness 1 (November, 1922): 185. Return

4. The letter is found in the personal file of Prof. Heyns and is dated September 3, 1922. The book to which Heyns refers has as its full title: De Loochening Der Gemeene Gratie: Gereformeerd of Doopersch? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans - Sevensma, 1922). Return

5. Heyns was one of the four professors who objected to Janssen's teachings and co-authored the pamphlet, Waar het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat. Return

6. H. Hoeksema, "On Common Grace." The Banner (March 24, 1921): 181-182. Return

7. Also one of the co-authors of Waar het in de Zaak Janssen Om GaatReturn

8. H. J. Kuiper, "Salient Points In The Dr. Janssen Controversy," The Banner (April 28, 1921): 261. Return

9. H. Danhof & H. Hoeksema, Niet Doopersch maar Gereformeerd: Voorloopig Bescheid aan Ds. Jan Karel Van Baalen betreffende De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie. (Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids Printing Co. no date), pp. 4-5. This same viewpoint appears in H. Danhof & H. Hoeksema, Van Zonde en Genade. (Grand Rapids: The authors), p. 78. Return

10. H. Hoeksema, "De Jongste Kerkelijke Strijd." The Standard Bearer (November, 1924): 13. Return

11. Ibid., pp. 13-14. Return

12. Hoeksema, The History of the Protestant Reformed Churches. p. 23. Return

13. Breen, "My Reflections on Prof. Ralph Janssen and on the Janssen Case of 1922." pp. 10-11. Return

14. Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years . . . ," p. 1-9. Return

15. Ibid., p. 23. Return

16. James D. Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984). p. 105. Return

l7. Ibid., p. 106. Return

18. Ibid., p. 108. Return

19. Ibid. Return

20. Ibid., p. 110. This break came about when Hoeksema and Danhof were put off the staff of The WitnessReturn

21. Ibid., p. 114. This distinction between a Kuyperian common grace and an evangelistic common grace is an interesting one, and is an indirect reference to the adoption of the doctrine of a free offer in connection with common grace. Kuyper would have none of the free offer. We shall return to this question a bit later. Return

22. This matter will enter our discussion again. Return

23. H. Hoeksema, "The Fallen King." The Banner (October 31, 1918): 789. Return

24. Hoeksema, "Pseudo-Calvinism," The Banner (date): 6. This is interesting because the charge of Anabaptism was to be levelled against the opponents of Janssen, and this charge was always made in connection with a denial of common grace. Return

25. Ibid., p. 7. See also later articles. Return

26. Hoeksema, "The Fallen King and his Kingdom." The Banner (February 13, 1919): 6. Return

27. H. Beets, "Moderation, Brethren! Let the past Speak." The Banner (February 20, 1919): 3-4. The Christian Journal was written by men of the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church of America. G.G. Haan, in this discussion, came to the defense of the magazine; see, Haan, "Darts and Daggers." The Banner (February 20, 1919): 7. D.H. Kromminga, later a member of the Minority Investigatory Committee, wrote an article warning against this "New Movement." Kromminga, "Lead us not into Temptation." The Banner (April 3, 1919): 214-215. Return

28. Hoeksema, "The Fallen King and his Kingdom." The Banner (April 10, 1919): 230. Return

29. Hoeksema, "The Fallen King and his Kingdom." The Banner (April 17, 1919): 248-249. Return

30. Hoeksema, "The Fallen King and his Kingdom." The Banner (April 24, 1919): 261-262. Return

31. Hoeksema, "The Fallen King and his Kingdom." The Banner (May l, 1919): 277-278. See also Hoeksema, "The Fallen King and his Kingdom." The Banner (June 12, 1919) 374-375. Return

32. See footnote 11 and the material to which it is added. Hoeksema himself called attention to this fact. Return

33. See Chapter II. Return

34. R. Janssen, "Reply to Rev. Herman Hoeksema." The Banner (November 4, 1920): 667-668. Return

35. H. Hoeksema, "The New King and His Kingdom." The Banner (November 4, 1920): 666-667; (November 11, 1920): 683-684; 56 (January 6, 1921): 5-6. Return

36. We offer only a brief sketch of this history, because our concern is not so much with the subsequent controversy which culminated in the deposition of Hoeksema, Danhof and Ophoff, but with the relation between the issue of common grace and the views of Dr. R. Janssen. Return

37. We have referred to both these pamphlets earlier. The date of Janssen's pamphlet is June, 1922, the month in which the Synod met in Orange City. Return

38. Van Baalen, De Loochening Der Gemeene GratieReturn

39. Ibid., P. 9. He also devotes an entire chapter, beginning on page 75, to this question. Return

40. Ibid., pp. 35-38. Return

41. Ibid. See especially pp. 75-81. Return

42. Van Baalen, Nieuwigheid en DwalingReturn

43. H. Danhof & H. Hoeksema, Niet Doopersch Maar Gereformeerd, and Van Zonde en Genade, both of which we have referred to earlier. Return

44. The full title is: Danhof & Hoeksema, Langs Zuivere Banen: Een Wederwoord aan Bezwaarde Broederen (Kalamazoo: Dalm Printing Co., no date.) Return

45. Van Baalen, Nieuwigheid en Dwaling, 86-89. Return

46. Ibid., p. 88. This observation of Van Baalen is undoubtedly correct. If the issue of common grace had been taken up, Janssen's opponents would have been, hopelessly divided. See below. Return

47. Interestingly enough, the Synod itself did not make these decisions binding at its sessions in 1924. They were made binding only when Hoeksema, Danhof and Ophoff had been deposed by their respective Classes for refusal to sign the doctrinal statements of 1924, which depositions were upheld by the Synod of 1926. See H. Hoeksema History of the Protestant Reformed Churches, for detailed discussion of this history. Return

48. H., Hoeksema, "Not Satisfied." The Banner (January 27,1921): 56. Return

49. We shall pursue this in detail in the next chapter. Return

50. Two of the four ministers were, of course, members of the Majority Investigatory Committee. Return

51. Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, p. 4. Return

52. Ibid., p. 5. Return

53. Janssen, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd, p. 3. Return

54. Ibid., p. 24; Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, p. 8. Return

55. Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, p. 7. Return

56. H. J. Kuiper, e.g. Return

57. This was true of Foppe Ten Hoor. See above. The opposition to Kuyper, such as it was, could be explained in part by the fact that the opponents of Janssen were mostly men of the AfscheidingReturn

58. This point was also a minor issue in the early stages of the controversy over common grace. For an examination of this question, see my article on "The History of the Free Offer of the Gospel," Protestant Reformed Theological Journal (November, 1985): 25-36. Return

59. H. Algra, Het Wonder van de Negentiende Eeuw (Kampen: J.H. Kok, 1965), pp. l51ff., where Algra tells of a controversy among the men of the Afscheiding, which arose because Brummelkamp was suspected of being too broad in his preaching by virtue of his views on the free offer of the gospel, a doctrine always connected with common grace (as in the first point of 1924). Return

60. W. A. Brakel, Redelijke Godsdienst (Leiden: D. Donner, 1893). Vol. I., p. 729. The translation is ours. Return

61. Aegidus Francken, Kern der Christelijke Leer Second Edition (Groningen: Theologische Boekhandel, 1893). pp. 11, 12. It is especially the third advantage of natural knowledge which carries with it the idea of common grace, although common grace is not specifically mentioned. The value of this quotation, though early (the original edition was published in 1713), rests upon the continued use of this book in the churches of theAfscheiding. My father, in a private conversation, has told me that when he was pastor in Hull, Iowa in the early '30s the people of his congregation, all Afscheiding people, often spoke of Francken's book as the book of instruction which had been used in their Catechism classes in Afscheiding Churches in the Netherlands. Return

62. Among these same Afscheiding people was sometimes to be found the idea of the general offer of the gospel. This was intimately related to common grace and was often interpreted, in fact, as being a manifestation of common grace. See for further information on this subject my article, "The History of the Free Offer of the Gospel," Protestant Reformed Theological Journal (April, 1986): 41-55, especially pp. 46-51. A. Kuyper himself wanted no part of the free offer of the gospel, and in this too is to be found a distinct difference between his view of common grace and that held among the sons of the Afscheiding. See A. Kuyper, Dat de Genade Particulier Is (Kampen, J.H. Kok, 1909). See especially "Part One". See also D. Engelsma, Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1980). See especially Chapter 7. Return

63. Hoeksema, History of the Protestant Reformed Churches, pp. 309-314. Return

64. The two words must both be translated "grace," for the English language has no words to describe the difference. Kuyper referred gratie to common grace and genade to the particular grace bestowed only on the elect. See Hoeksema, Ibid., p. 309. Return

65. Ibid., p. 313. See, for Kuyper's own development of this position, A. Kuyper, Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1943). These contain Kuyper's "Stone Lectures." See also H.R. Van Til,The Calvinistic Concept of Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972). See especially chapters 8 and 16 in which Kuyper's views on common grace are developed and extensive quotations from Kuyper's magnum opus on the subject of common grace, De Gemeene Gratie, are given. A. Kuyper, De Gemeene Gratie (Amsterdam: Hoveker & Wormser, 1902). Three volumes. Return

66. That Bavinck agreed essentially with Kuyper on this question is beyond doubt. Why he came to agree with Kuyper is another question. Bavinck had his spiritual roots in the Afscheiding and disappointed many people from Afscheiding churches when he moved from his chair in the Seminary in Kampen (an Afscheiding school) to take the chair of Dogmatics in the Free University. Return

67. H. Hoeksema, "The New King and His Kingdom." The Banner (November 4, 1920): 666-667; (November 11, 1920): 683-684; 56 (January 6, 1921): 5-6. It is interesting to observe that in his earlier writings on the subject, Hoeksema still speaks of grace in the tradition of the Afscheiding when he refers to an overflow of "blessings" which come to the reprobate; but he adds as some of the old fathers, that these blessings are really a curse. See e.g. Hoeksema, "The Fallen King and his Kingdom." The Banner (May 8, 1919): 297; (May 15, 1919): 313. This too would seem to add weight to the idea that differences existed between Kuyper's views and the traditional views of the Afscheiding. It is also interesting to note in passing that Hoeksema, while still in the Netherlands, agreed with Kuyper on common grace. There are some evidences in his sermons preached in Fourteenth Street Christian Reformed Church, his first charge, that he still held to these views. See G. Hoeksema, Therefore Have I Spoken: A Biography of Herman Hoeksema (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1964). pp. 96ff. Return

68. See Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 25-26, 29-35, 37-40, and elsewhere. Return

69. This also undoubtedly explains the tensions between Janssen's opponents and the writers in Religion and Culture, which paper defended vigorously Kuyper's views on common grace. Return

70. It is interesting, and beyond the scope of this present study, to observe that both the Afscheiding conception of common grace, along with the free offer of the gospel, and Kuyperian common grace were incorporated into the three doctrinal statements adopted by the Synod of 1924. Disagreements over common grace among Janssen's opponents will also explain the fact that when Hoeksema and Danhof wanted to develop their views on common grace in The Witness (an anti-Janssen paper), they were refused and their resignations accepted; and this would perhaps explain why eventually The Witness and Religion and Culture merged. See Hoeksema, History of the Protestant Reformed Churches, p. 22. Return

Chapter III: The Issues

Having surveyed the history of the Janssen controversy, we now turn our attention to the issues which were debated and discussed and finally decided upon in the Synod of 1922. These were the issues which were discussed in hundreds of homes of Christian Reformed members, preached about in dozens of pulpits, written on in every church periodical published within the denomination, and debated at length in various ecclesiastical assemblies. They were considered by most to be issues of critical importance which would decide whether or not the church was to remain orthodox and sound in doctrine, or whether the church was now to start along the dreary road of apostasy.

As important as these issues were for the life of the church in the early twenties, it must be mentioned here that they are not, in themselves, of primary concern to us in this work. We are interested especially in the question of common grace as it stood related to these issues. However, common grace was woven into the very warp and woof of the controversy, was an integral part of much of the discussion, was the main defense of Janssen himself as, in his writings, he attempted to justify his position before the mind of the church, and was finally the main issue in the years following the Synod of 1922. Furthermore, common grace was related to the issues of the Janssen case in various different ways -- ways which we will have to explore in the next chapter. But the question of common grace cannot be understood unless some attention is given to issues for which Janssen was finally condemned. And to these we now turn, although we shall be as brief as possible in our discussion of this aspect of the matter.

Before we give specific attention to these questions, one remark of a more general kind has to be made. Anyone who reads the material, even as finally published by the Synod of 1922, will immediately be impressed with the evident fact that the issues were not only many in number, but very complex and often interrelated. Janssen's views appeared in student notes on various subjects not only, (Isagogics, Exegesis, Old Testament History, e.g.) but his views also involved different aspects of Scriptural studies. He was condemned for his approach to Scripture, for his views on revelation and inspiration, on the canonicity of various books, on miracles, etc. It is not always so easy, therefore, to relate the issues in a systematic way. Oftentimes questions overlap: Janssen's views on miracles, e.g., imply and presuppose his views on inspiration; and his views on inspiration include his general approach to Scripture. As we discuss these issues, we shall, in general, follow the main divisions used by the majority of the Investigatory Committee.1

In spite of the complexity and variety of the issues, however, all were agreed that the basic issue was that of higher criticism. The reports of both the majority and minority part of the Investigatory Committee speak repeatedly of this; Rev. Herman Hoeksema early in his discussion in The Banner charged Janssen in general with conceding too much to the higher critics;2 and Janssen himself more than once referred to this criticism not only, but defended himself against these charges by insisting that his references to higher critical methods and conclusions were only to defeat the higher critics on their own ground.3

Higher criticism was, therefore, the issue. Did Dr. Janssen use higher critical methods? If so, how did he use them and why did he use them? What was the effect of their use on Biblical studies? Was their use a legitimate approach to Biblical studies? These were the questions. And to these we now turn.


The first subject we face is the question of Scripture. This question was discussed in various articles written prior to the Synod of 1922; it was discussed in various brochures published throughout the controversy; and it was a major part of the studies of the Investigatory Committee.

Several elements are involved in this question of a "scientific" approach to Scripture. The majority of the Investigatory Committee called attention in its report to Janssen's "formal attitude toward Scripture." Under this heading, the Majority Committee charged Janssen with making theological disciplines sciences and thus failing to distinguish between science in general and theological subjects. By doing this Janssen was forced into the position that the theological disciplines are a search for truth, and not a study which assumes truth. The Majority Committee writes:

1. Janssen's formal attitude towards Scripture is that of a mere scientist. This is evident, in the first place, from his definition of O.T. Introduction, and from his description of science and the method of science. Quotations from Janssen's Notes on O.T. Introd., pp. l and 2.
a. Isagogics is conceived of as a science.
"Old Testament Introduction is the science that treats of the origin and history of the writings which the Christian church inherited from the church of the old dispensation and with it, on the strength of the testimony of Jesus, and the apostles, accepted as Holy Scripture."
Note that Janssen does not, formally, accept the Holy Scriptures as the Word of God, but he subjects a branch of theology to science.
b. This science is defined as a mere science.
"By science we mean in general a discipline that has for its aim the discovery of truth."
Formally, truth is not assumed.
"Science searches for truth. That makes every science fascinating. Bearing this in mind we can understand how it is that sciences which have no charm for us, have great charms for other individuals. Man longs for truth." Mark what is said here of man.
Science searches for truth. This is the characteristic of every science. With truth for their goal, and spurred on by the element of search, seemingly dry sciences become very interesting to some people."4

Further, such an identification of science with theological disciplines requires that one take an empirical approach to Scripture which is out of keeping with the nature of Scripture.

"Another condition: The search or investigation must be critical. That seems objectionable at first flush. By the critical element I mean that an act of judgment must be used in the study of the data. An act of 'krinein' must take place in every branch of science. Careful judgment must be brought to bear on the object of science.
"By the element of criticism is not meant that it must be negative or destructive."
Nevertheless, Holy Scripture is made subject to the criticism of mere science.
d. Consequently, Janssen assumes the position of a critical scientist.
"In every science we have to take a position. When data are presented we must make a separation between what seems to us to be false and seems to be true.
"Expressed positively, that act of 'Krinein" is to be 'kat' aleetheian'--in accordance with truth. Our judgment brought to bear on the data, should be unprejudiced. We may have prepossessions, and no man can rid himself of these. Each individual has a certain type of religion, for religion is an essential characteristic of the human being. Nevertheless, this should not influence him to such an extent that it will determine the conclusion, so that the conclusion is a foregone one. No science can permit that."
Hence, Janssen, being a scientist, does not proceed from the principle that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, but subjects the Bible itself to the scientific research and unprejudiced criticism of mere man.5

The correct approach to Scripture is the approach of faith which assumes Scripture to be the Word of God. Janssen's approach is empirical-critical, which requires that one come to Scripture without any presuppositions whatsoever in order to learn from an empirical study of the data whether sufficient evidence exists to conclude that Scripture is indeed the Word of God.

b. Our opinion concerning Janssen's method.
Janssen's method is in strict accordance with his position. He adheres closely and consistently to the method of science. Now science demands that the method should be empirical and critical. "The empirical element cannot be wanting in any branch of theological science. No branch has any business here unless it is empirical." "The search or investigation must be critical." "Judgment, brought to bear on the data, should be unprejudiced." Prepossessions we may have, but only such as are characteristic of a human being. "Religion is characteristic of the human being." This plainly excludes the Reformed faith in the Bible as the Word of God, for that is by no means characteristic of the human being.6

It is in this light that the Committee also objects to Janssen's position that Exegesis precedes Isagogics, because the Scriptures must be studied as a piece of literature just as any document must be studied before Isagogical questions can be asked, questions concerning date of composition, authorship, method of writing employed, purpose of writing, etc. Hence the Committee objected to Janssen's determination to treat Scripture as any other piece of literature as being a denial of faith in God' s Word.

a. Janssen's peculiar manner of determining the encyclopedic place of the study of Isagogics. According to Janssen exegesis proper should precede Introduction. Notes on O. T. Introd., pp. 3, 4: "Well, if it belongs to the group of 'exegetical theology' then what place does it occupy there? It is not necessary to go into detail regarding its relation to all the branches under exegetical theology. But we must discuss its relation to exegesis proper.
"Does it come after or before?
"When we take a document and study what do we do first? Read it, of course. Now it is true beyond doubt that the intelligent reading of any book implies interpretation to a limited extent. If the author is not mentioned, how do you discover the authorship? By reading and studying the book. If the date and place are not indicated you will have to read and perhaps reread the document to determine these questions. The same is true as to the 'why' of the document. Logically interpretation takes place before we are able to settle introductory questions.
"If you hold to the term 'exegetical theology' for the group of branches then it stands to reason that exegesis precedes introduction, because introduction is subsumed under the general term. Experience shows us that exegesis comes first.
"Another thing. The science of Introduction arises rather late in the study of theology. Why? Because the questions of style, authorship, times, etc., are always questions that come later. So in English, Dutch, etc., literature. We first study the poetry and then make a special study of its style, vocabulary, etc. "Because of the logical order of the two branches, the relative importance and their historical order, we conclude that exegesis proper precedes introduction."7

Quirinus Breen later commented on this same point in a defense of Janssen's position. Breen argued that theology is only a continuation of philosophical discourse, and therefore the Biblical text must be judged as any other text. What the text says necessarily involves the way it is said.8

That Janssen indeed took this empirical-critical approach cannot be denied, for he comes to its defense in more than one place in his writings. In his Synodale Conclusies (Synodical Conclusions) he justifies this approach by appeals to B.B. Warfield and Calvin and claims that this approach is necessary in exegesis when one explains a text in its whole context, which includes its cultural and social setting.9

Others also defended this approach. The Minority of the Investigatory Committee, while not approving of all that Janssen taught, defended him by showing that Janssen made many statements which testified to his firm commitment to the approach of faith when one is studying God's Word; and by demonstrating that the approach of faith does not necessarily preclude the scientific empirical-critical approach.l0 B.K. Kuiper also defended this approach of Janssen. He argued that the question is not whether ~e subjectively possess all the truth, for we do not. But he asked the question whether we investigate to learn truth on the basis of our faith in the Bible as God's Word, or whether this matter of the Bible being God's Word is also an object of investigation. He answered that this problem involves the question of the relation of faith to reason, of science to theology, of Apologetics, etc. He then claimed that Janssen's approach was that of Apologetics.ll

The argument also centered in the teachings of A. Kuyper on this subject, both Janssen and his opponents claiming to have Kuyper on their side, and both citing extensive quotations from his writing.12

The Synod of 1922 condemned Janssen for this approach. The decisions on this matter read:

I. As regards Prof. Janssen's Standpoint and Method we point to
A. What Prof. Janssen says in his definition of Old Testament Introduction. This definition reads: Old Testament Introduction is the science that treats of the origin and history of the writings which the Christian Church inherited from the Church of the Old Dispensation and with it, on the strength of the testimony of Jesus and the Apostles, accepted as Holy Scriptures . . . . In this definition the standpoint of faith does not come to light. Such a definition an unbeliever could also employ.
B. What we read in the passage on Science regarding the search after truth. This passage gives the impression that searching after truth is more important than finding it. This conflicts with the importance of theological science.
C. What we read concerning method:
(1) It is said, in the first place, that an important element in the theological sciences is the empirical side. Here Prof. Janssen fails to explain that he simply intends to say that he desires to let the Scriptures speak.
(2) It is said, in the second place, that the search must be critical. Here again Prof. Janssen fails to bring out plainly whether the object of this criticism is the material which Scripture offers or the different views concerning this material.
Prof. Janssen does, in fact, declare that the object of his empirical, critical search is the origin and history of the writings of the O. T., and these, from the standpoint of faith, cannot as such be the object of empirical, critical investigation.
D. What we read in the last paragraph of this passage in which Prof. Janssen again refers to his standpoint. Here the professor fails to show that for the believing searcher of Scripture the prepossession that the Bible is the inspired Word of God does indeed pre-determine his conclusion.
The entire passage creates a bad impression. In general we have this remark in regard to Prof. Janssen's standpoint and method, as indicated in this passage from the Notes: Whereas, Prof. Janssen gives theological instruction in a Reformed institution, and has subscribed to our Forms of Unity; it must be demanded that he proceed from the Scripture as the Word of God. The above named passage is an instance of the fact that oftentimes this does not become evident in his instruction.
E. This same lack we find in Prof. Janssen's instruction as such . . . (instances cited, H.H.).
Even though such expressions must be considered as indications of an apologetic standpoint in this instruction, then the serious objection still remains that in such passages it does not plainly appear that the Bible is the Word of God and therefore must be believed on its own authority… .13

Although no doubt at all exists that this summary of Janssen's teaching is correct, and although Janssen himself did not dispute these conclusions, apparently Janssen saw no incompatibility between this approach to Scripture and his own expressed commitment to the truth of divine inspiration. This is difficult to explain. When Janssen was examined by the Curatorium and by the Synod of 1920,14 he was exonerated because he expressed firm agreement with the doctrines of infallible inspiration and the supreme authority of the Bible. It seems as if only two explanations of this are possible. The more condemnatory explanation is that Janssen was not honest with either the Curatorium or the Synod of 1920 and expressed a position which in fact he did not hold and which he did not teach in his classes. The more charitable explanation is that Janssen firmly believed that no conflict existed between his approach and the truth of infallible inspiration, and that this could be justified on the grounds that he was merely demonstrating that a genuine scientific approach to Scripture, i.e., an approach without any presuppositions and which leads to an empirical- critical study of God's Word, would surely support and verify Scripture's infallible inspiration. This latter is probably true.

Two objections against this latter explanation must be raised. Janssen, so far as the Student Notes revealed, never discussed the truths of Scripture's inspiration and authority. They are not mentioned in the notes, except in a very few instances in a passing way. Janssen made no effort to teach these doctrines and teach his students to defend and uphold them. This is impossible to justify in the light of Janssen's signature on the Formula of Subscription which binds him to a vow to teach the truths contained in the Confessions -- which includes the truths concerning the doctrine of Scripture found in Arts. III - VII of the Confession of Faith.

Further, Synod, by condemning this approach, evidently intended to say that Janssen, even if his method led to the same conclusions concerning the character of Scripture as is contained in the Confessions, was wrong in taking this approach and adopting this method. Synod said, in effect: No matter how orthodox your conclusions are, the method which you used was wrong. And, from further decisions of Synod on such matters as Janssen's interpretation of the miracles, it became evident that Synod believed that Janssen's method and approach led to erroneous views of basic doctrines of Scripture itself.

It is of more than passing interest that Janssen often appealed in support of his position to A. Kuyper. Hoeksema and others insisted that this appeal to Kuyper was a misinterpretation of Kuyper.15 What is the truth of the matter?

There is little question about it that Kuyper spoke repeatedly of a scientific approach to Scripture. But that he meant by this the same as Janssen cannot be supported by the evidence. Kuyper firmly held, not only to the truth of infallible inspiration, but to the fact that this truth had to be the dominating and all-controlling principle of one's approach to Scripture and therefore of Biblical interpretation. Hoeksema,16 in a rather lengthy citation from Kuyper's Encyclopedia, shows that Kuyper not only insisted on the approach of faith to Scripture, but also condemned any other approach. This position of Kuyper can be substantiated by other references in his works.l7On page 50 of his Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology, Its Principles, Kuyper speaks of the impossibility of coming to a study of theology without any presuppositions and insists on the need of faith by which one believes that his theology is the right one. On page 225 of the same work he writes of the importance of regeneration in scientific studies:

From this it follows that all study of science, where the investigation occupies the view-point of palingenesis, must reckon with the four phenomena: 1) of personal regeneration; and 2) of its corresponding inspiration; 3) of the final restoration of all things; and 4) of its corresponding manifestation of God's power in miracles. These four phenomena have no existence to the scientist who starts out from materialistic premises. On the contrary, his principle and starting point compel him to cancel these phenomena, or, where this is not possible, to explain them naturalistically.

What, then, was specifically the difference? Kuyper spoke of a scientific approach to Scriptural studies from the viewpoint of discovering the relation between the various truths of Scripture as together they form an organic whole, and discovering the relation between theology and the other sciences. He writes, e.g., that to use the word "science" in connection with theology is simply to know it in its "organic coherence and relation.''18

. . . the conception of Theological Encyclopedia consists in the scientific investigation of the organic nature and relations of Theology to itself and as an integral part of the organism of science.19

While Janssen latched on to the term "scientific approach," he meant something quite different. He did not hold to the impossible position that one can rid himself of all presuppositions in his Bible studies;20 but he did maintain that insofar as it is possible one should not allow these presuppositions to influence him. His approach must be, insofar as possible, without bias and prejudice. He must examine the data which he discovers in the Bible in connection with all other evidence and must come to conclusions concerning the nature and character of Scripture.

This position of Janssen was correctly condemned by the Synod of 1922. It is the opposite of the approach of faith; it is the approach of unbelief. It is based on the "presupposition" that Scripture can be treated as any other literary document and occupies no unique place among all the writings of men. And in dealing with Scripture in this fashion, the unique character of Scripture as the infallibly inspired record of the Word of God is lost. It is this approach which brought about Janssen's other errors.

The approach of faith proceeds from the assumption that the Bible is of divine origin, that it is the inspired record of God's revelation in Jesus Christ, and that it is given for the salvation of all who believe in Christ. The purpose of the study of the book is not to determine whether it is divine or has divine elements in it. One does not come to Scripture to investigate its origin and character. One comes believing all this. One comes to hear "what the Spirit says to the churches." That is the approach of faith. That approach Janssen denied.

There is one more issue which entered the discussion on this point: the issue of the place of theology in the organism of the sciences. Rev. George Stob calls attention to this problem. He speaks of tensions in the Seminary between Profs. Ten Hoor and Heyns vs. Janssen which were rooted in the fact that Janssen was not an ordained minister.21 This difficulty brought about other tensions:

Ten Hoor noted that there were differences on questions of principle with reference to which the Theological School stands or falls. They were questions about the relation of theological study to the science of learning in general, and about the relation of the Church to theological science. Ten Hoor held that theology is the queen of the sciences and is not to be subordinated to science or authority in general, and that the church has absolute authority over theological science and the Theological School in which it is taught. In the discussion with Curatorium Dr. Janssen declared that he was not ready to affirm that the church has the highest authority over theological science.22

Kuyper did not want theology to be under the control of the church. This idea led Ten Hoor and Heyns to fear that theology would not be controlled by the Confessions and this would lead to heresy.23

While it would lead us too far from the subject to deal with this rather complicated question, one can understand how Janssen, from his viewpoint, made a legitimate appeal to Kuyper. If, according to Kuyper, theology is only one of the sciences, standing on a par with the other sciences, it can be argued that the approach to all must be the same, and a scientific approach to jurisprudence, e.g., would imply the same scientific approach to theology. While Janssen never appealed to this view of Kuyper in defense of his scientific approach, it could very well be that he had this in mind.24


Dr. Janssen's approach to the Scriptures led to views of inspiration which were also condemned by the Synod of 1922 as it followed the report of the majority of the Investigatory Committee.

There are several elements which must be included in a discussion of this point. Before we examine each point in some detail, the several elements ought to be before our minds, for they often overlapped. 1) The committee charged Janssen (and the Synod concurred) with not including in all his instruction a doctrine of inspiration or revelation. Janssen was silent on these matters. 2) Janssen was accused of attributing sections of Scripture to pagan or human origin. 3) This position of Janssen involved the whole question of inspiration because, if some parts of Scripture were of pagan origin, sections were not written by divine inspiration, but were simply incorporations into Scripture of human views. 4) This position in turn involved the question of revelation. And this question of revelation, in turn, involved two additional questions: a) Was Scripture in its entirety the record of divine revelation? To this Janssen, according to Synod, answered no; to this the Synod answered yes. b) What is the relation between special revelation and general revelation?25

In his article, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years," H. Boer speaks of the fact that Prof. Janssen insisted that the literary, linguistic and historical data of Scripture had to be taken into account to explain Scripture's origin.26

Q. Breen says that Prof. Janssen charged his opponents with denying God's sovereignty by forbidding God to use folklore in Scripture; he says that Janssen emphasized strongly the human element in Scripture's writings.27

The four professors and four ministers addressed themselves to the question of the human element in Scripture in their pamphlet, Waar Het in De Zaak Janssen Om Gaat. They pointed to Janssen's view that the creation narrative in Scripture was, at least in part, the result of human reflection on the creation itself and was, therefore, of human origin;28 that the author of Ecclesiastes was a skeptical philosopher plagued by moments of doubt which he expressed in his writings;29 that the Documentary Theory of the composition of the Pentateuch would explain its formation;30 that some of the stories recorded in Scripture concerning Samson were not historical;31 and that various elements in religion came from heathendom.32 Rev. H. Hoeksema spoke rather frequently of Janssen's incorrect view of inspiration in his articles in The Banner. While discussing the charge that obliterated the distinction between general and special revelation, Hoeksema cites as proof incorrect views on the origin of Scripture. He points to Janssen's teachings that the Psalms and the law show Babylonian influences; that the Pentateuch may have been written in Babylon before Moses; that Proverbs and Ecclesiastes show possible Egyptian influence; that, and this in spite of Scripture's record to the contrary, a semi-monotheism prevailed in Israel until the time of the prophets; and that Abraham, again in opposition to the Biblical record, gave Sarah to the Egyptian court as a political strategem.33

The majority report of the Investigatory Committee cited considerable evidence to demonstrate its allegations that Janssen held an incorrect view of inspiration. Among other examples, it pointed to the fact that Janssen taught that the creation account could very well have come from Babylon, although it was purged from mythological elements by inspiration;34 that Amos and Joel drew from their own experience in their visions and from mythological conceptions originating in the Orient in their prophecies;35 that the Psalms and laws of Israel show Babylonian influence;36 that the chokma or wisdom literature came from elsewhere (probably pagan sources) and not from divine inspiration;37 that Abraham's call to leave Ur was not a divine call, but that his departure is to be explained in terms of religious conditions which affected his life;38 that Jethro was instrumental in bringing Israel to the true worship of Jehovah and that this true worship was not, therefore, a matter of divine revelation;39 that, in fact, the name "Jehovah" may have come from Babylon;40 that the laws of Moses may have come in part from the Code of Hammurabi, an ancient Babylonian ruler and lawgiver;41 that the disagreement between David and Nathan concerning the building of the temple is to be explained in terms of David's more progressive views and Nathan's conservatism;42 that many parts of Scripture are to be explained as being derived from other literary or oral sources;43 and that this use of sources in Scripture can very well mean that Scripture has authors who were from other religions and cultures and who were not worshippers of Jehovah.44

That Janssen held to a view of Scripture which was not in keeping with the traditional view of infallible inspiration is evident from his own writings. He specifically rejects what he calls mechanical inspiration and, in pleading for organic inspiration, identifies organic inspiration with idea Inspiration.45 While Janssen did not enter into detail in a defense of his position on this question of organic inspiration, other references exist which indicate his views. But these are mostly found in connection with his insistence that the issue of common grace is the fundamental issue at stake.46

Thus there the Synod charged, instruction in the generally accepted Scriptures, is no question about it that Janssen, as held to a view of inspiration in his Seminary which was different from that in the Christian Reformed Church. The according to Janssen, are not in their totality the record of God's revelation, but they incorporate much in them which came from human, even pagan, sources. In some instances Janssen even spoke of human sources where the Scriptures emphatically ascribe what is recorded to speech.47

A quotation from the Majority Investigatory Committee, with some references and citations from Student Notes will illustrate the point.

b. Janssen's conception of the historical origin of the Bible. Evidently, Janssen places the historical beginning of Scripture in Babylonia. Why not in Egypt, the country of Moses, we are not told, and from his historical-critical viewpoint, we ourselves are quite unable to see . . . .
Concerning the origin of the creation narratives (Fopma's notes, pp. 6, 7--these are individual notes and the only lectures ever given on the first 11 chapters of Genesis--) we read: "Where does the point of contact enter in between the Babylonian account and our creation story? One position is that Abraham and his followers took a narrative with them; they may also have taken a story of the flood and of Cain and Abel with them. These were polytheists and it is not safe to say that the stories as we have them came from them but when these stories became part of Scripture, inspiration worked on them and cleansed them of their mythological character."
"In the last analysis these stories came either by revelation or reflection. The position that it is due to revelation is of little import to us. For even through the channels through which it passed it became polytheistic."
"The evolutionistic theory is very similar to the account of creation of Gen. 1; and if men can now come by reflection to a view of creation, they could at another time do this also. The evolutionists regard Gen. l as having scientific value."48

In close connection with Janssen's views on the origin of Scripture and inspiration is the question of the character of special revelation and its relation to general revelation. While this question was an important element in Janssen's defense of his position on the grounds of common grace, it must also be briefly referred to here. Dr. Boer has pointed this out.49 He defines one of the issues in the Janssen controversy in this way:

Finally, and perhaps basically, whether the God of general revelation (nature, common grace) is operative in the actions of the God of special revelation (redemption, special grace). Can these two forms of divine revelation be viewed as intertwined and interacting where the Biblical report as it stands appears to present only the supernatural mode of revelation?50

In a reference to the protest of Q. Breen, Boer summarizes Breen's position and then concludes:

(Breen) places in the foreground again and again · . . that the dimension of natural revelation played a significant role as the bearer or medium of special revelation . . . .
Conditions and happenings in the area of general revelation -- nature, history, the culture and religion of the people surrounding Israel, and the reflection of the Biblical writers could be and in fact were means used by God in imparting his redemptive revelation as given to us in the Old Testament.51

Janssen himself, though usually in connection with his discussion of common grace, speaks of this as an issue. He insists that God's revelation outside of the sphere of special grace is also God's work which must be appreciated not only, but which was incorporated into the religion and views of the Old Testament saints and which was, therefore, also included in Scripture.52

The majority of the Investigatory Committee also took Janssen to task for an erroneous view of the character of special revelation and the relation between special revelation and general revelation. In the first place, the committee found Janssen in error for claiming that much of Scripture came in other ways than divine, i.e., special, revelation.53 Secondly, the committee questioned how it was possible for the Song of Solomon to be a song of natural love, as Janssen taught, and still maintain that this was a part of divine revelation. The assumption here, as also expressed by the committee, is that to be a part of special revelation, a book must reveal Christ.

. . . . What place, we ask, could mere conjugal love hold in this special revelation of God in Christ? But suppose, what may not be supposed, that mere conjugal love could do such a thing, why then not place the Song of Solomon on par with prophecy? Do not also the prophets speak of this same love? (References cited, H.H.) Evidently, Janssen himself does not think very highly of the Song of Solomon, but how then can he still maintain it as a part of Scripture? Undoubtedly, his answer to this question will reveal his conception of the contents of the Word of God, and will prove, we trust, that not the whole Bible, as to its contents, is God's special revelation in Christ. Part of it, at least, is the product of mere human thought and endeavor.54

Thirdly, the committee repeatedly pointed out that if parts of the Scriptures, such as the Sinaitic law, the call of Abraham, the words of the prophets, etc., came from other sources or from the personal views of the prophets themselves, they could not possibly be a part of special revelation.55 Thus, the committee accuses Janssen of explaining Scripture more from the viewpoint of secular history as the Bible characters were a part of it, than as the record of God's revelation in Christ: "So that the general impression is received that 'historia profana' is, perhaps, quite sufficient for the explanation of things biblical."56 And in its summary, the committee claimed that Janssen subjectivized divine revelation: "Janssen shows a marked tendency to subjectify the several acts of divine revelations."57

In an article in The Banner, Rev. H. Hoeksema accused Janssen of obliterating the distinction between special and general revelation. As proof he cited Janssen's teachings that the Psalms and the law contained Babylonian influence, that at least parts of the Pentateuch may have been written in Babylon before Moses, that there are possible Egyptian influences in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, that a semi-monotheism prevailed in Israel till the time of the prophets, and that Rebekah brought her troubled questions concerning the wrestling of the twins in her womb to an oracle.58

On this question of general and special revelation it is clear that Janssen took the position that because both types of revelation are from God, not only does harmony exist between the two, but what God revealed in general revelation was incorporated into special revelation and served the cause of the latter.59

The position of the committee and of the Synod of 1922, which approved the committee report when it was submitted to the Synod by the Curatorium, makes clear that the opponents of Dr. Janssen insisted on the position that Scripture in its entirety was the record of the revelation of God in Christ. In its entirety it was the record of special revelation only and not of general revelation. Hence, in it was to be found Christ and Christ only. On this key point a wide gulf yawned between Janssen and the church which condemned him, between his teachings and the views then current in the church.60


Another important area of disagreement between the church and Dr. Janssen was the question of the miracles recorded in Scripture. This question too is closely related to the question of the inspiration of Scripture and the relation between general and special revelation. But it needs special mention here, for it was a major issue; in fact it may have been the one issue which especially captured the attention of the church at large and turned the sentiments of the people against Janssen.61

While only relatively few of the miracles recorded in Scripture were actually discussed by Prof. Janssen in his classes (e.g., the falling of the walls of Jericho, the water from the rock for Israel while in the wilderness, the standing still of the sun and moon at the command of Joshua), two separate issues were connected to this problem.

In the first place, the question of God's use of means in the performance of miracles was repeatedly brought up. Janssen insisted that the miracles were mediate, i.e., always through the agency of means, while he accused his opponents of teaching an immediate view of miracles, i.e., a view of miracles which denied the use of means.62 Janssen's critics, however, denied that this was the issue. They claimed that the problem was not whether God used means in miracles, but whether these miracles were supernatural or ordinary providence. I.e., does God use means in a miraculous way? and is it legitimate to speak of secondary causes?63 Boer defines the issue in this way: Did normal divine and providential activity play a role in the miracles or were the miracles a complete suspension of the laws of creation?64

It is not entirely clear what the issue here was. It seems, however, that Janssen simplified and even misrepresented the views of his opponents when he charged them with denying the use of means in miracles. His opponents never intended to do this, nor can any evidence be adduced that they in fact did deny God's use of means. If one reads the material which is gleaned from the Student Notes on this question, it soon becomes evident that, whatever may have been Janssen's own views on the subject, he explained the miracles in such a way that the miraculous element was eliminated. He explained the fall of the walls of Jericho as due to an earthquake; the flowing of water from the rock as due to the striking of the rock which released water already present in it; and the standing still of the sun and moon as the reappearance of the sun after a very dark storm or perhaps an eclipse.65 These miracles were indeed God's work, but God performed them through ordinary means rather than extraordinary workings of His power. Hence they could only be called miracles in the sense that they were events which happened at very opportune times. They were not miracles in the sense that God worked in ways other than His normal ways of working, according to the natural laws by which He governs all things in theworld.66

Janssen's view of miracles was important and was related to his empirical approach to Scripture. If miracles were part of ordinary providence, then empirical investigation was necessary to determine how the miracle was performed. The "how" of the miracle was certainly within the reach of ordinary empirical investigation because the miracle belonged to ordinary providence.67

In the second place, closely related to what we have said above, the issue of miracles involved the issue of the relation between the natural and the supernatural. Janssen claimed that his opponents made such separation between the two that they, in fact, created a dualism between the natural and supernatural and fell into the trap of separating nature and grace.68 His argument, though it is difficult to see the legitimacy of it, apparently was that those who opposed him, in refusing to recognize the use of means, refused to see the close relation between God's supernatural works and his natural works in creation.69 By making the miracles wholly supernatural, Janssen's critics, so Janssen argued, interpreted the miracles as complete supernatural interventions in the course of nature without being related to nature, and thus dualistically opposed to God's own works in nature.

This question of the relation between the natural and supernatural involved the further question of whether God created something in the miracles. Janssen insisted this was impossible, for God's work of creation was completed at the end of the creation week.70 He charged his opponents with teaching that the miracles involved new creations -- and his opponents also freely admitted to this.71 Thus, when water came from the rock in the wilderness, God, according to Janssen's opponents, created that water. It was not previously in the rock, as Janssen taught, but was formed by God at the moment of the miracle.

Whatever may be the solution to this problem of creation in miracles, it is clear that, while Janssen

accused his opponents of separating the supernatural from the natural, Janssen himself denied the supernatural altogether in the miracles. That is, while Janssen did not deny God's work in the miracles, he did not distinguish between God's work in His ordinary providence and God's work in the miracles. In this way, Janssen denied the miraculous.

One more issue was raised in connection with the condemnation of Janssen by the Synod of 1922. That was the question of canonicity. It is by no means the most important of the issues, but it deserves some passing mention, because it stands related to the other questions raised by Janssen's teachings.

Really two issues were present also in connection with canonicity: Does the canonicity of a book require that Christ be revealed in it? and: What is the relation between Isagogics (the study of canonicity) and Exegesis?

In general, the Investigatory Committee also criticized Janssen's teachings on canonicity from the viewpoint of his failure to develop and teach a doctrine of Scripture.72 Evidently the committee believed that if a proper doctrine of Scripture had been taught in his courses, Janssen would not have erred on this question. And, Janssen's failure to teach a doctrine of Scripture was ground for suspicion that he either had no definite views on the subject, or that what views he had were defective and unReformed.

Canonicity involves such questions as authorship, source, occasion for the writing, audience addressed, and the unique place which a given book occupies in the organism of Scripture as a whole. This latter question would involve two additional questions: how does a given book differ from other books in the canon? and what is the relation between a given book and the other books? A correct view of the doctrine of Scripture would, in the committee's opinion, provide proper answers also to these questions. But Janssen failed to teach explicitly a doctrine of Scripture, and the result was definite errors in canonicity.

More particularly, when the committee spoke of the unity of Holy Scripture, it undoubtedly referred to the fact that Scripture, while composed of a wide diversity of parts (diversity of testaments, of genera, of literary styles, etc.), was a unified whole with one principle of unity. This one principle of unity was the one great truth that Scripture is the infallibly inspired record of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.73

In The Banner Rev. Hoeksema criticized Janssen as early as 1921 for undermining the organic unity of the canon. He cited as proof Janssen's description of Ecclesiastes as a pessimistic viewpoint of a skeptical philosopher, Janssen's description of the Song of Solomon as a song concerning natural love, and Janssen's assertion that Abraham was ignorant of the truth of the immortality of the soul. Hoeksema's argument was that these views of Janssen really deny that these parts of Scripture reveal Christ. Since Christ is the principle of the unity of Scripture, by denying Christ in these passages, Scripture's unity is also denied.74

The majority of the Investigatory Committee made specific reference to this question. It asked how it was possible for Ecclesiastes to be revelation if it was the writings of a skeptical philosopher, and how it was possible for the Song of Solomon to reveal Christ if it was song of natural love.75 Very clearly the assumption was that Scripture has its principle of organic unity in the one truth of Christ; to eliminate Christ from a given book is to bring into question its canonicity, and, therefore, its place in Scripture which is the record of divine revelation.

Q. Breen defended Janssen's views on this matter. He wrote:

Much of the same (Janssen's position that a firm commitment to God's sovereignty would allow God "to inspire Scripture in any manner he chose.") holds for Professor Janssen's interpretation of the Song of Songs. I recall how eloquent his conversation about this could be. If, indeed, this book was intended as a prophetic allegory of Christ and the church, it must be regarded as the strongest and clearest O.T. document of its kind. But here he saw a paradox. If this was so, why did not Christ or any N.T. writer ever quote it? Besides, why should the love of a man and a maid not be given the eloquent blessing of an entire Bible book? Is it not a creation of God and maintained by his providence? Does not this pure example of praise for natural love suggest that all God's works in nature and man and maintained by his providence are holy, and not to be neglected at one's peril of disgracing the Holy Spirit?76

Obviously, the Synod did not agree with this explanation of Janssen's teachings and condemned him for departing from the Reformed view.

Only one reference in all the material, so far as I can determine, can be found on the relation between Isagogics and Exegesis.77 In this passage, the majority of the Investigatory Committee explains that Janssen taught the view that exegesis preceded Isagogics in the organism of the various theological disciplines because every piece of literature must be studied before Isagogical questions can be asked. The committee criticized this because it attempted to treat Scripture like any piece of literature.

While there can be no question about it that the study of Scripture as any piece of literature is a serious mistake78 and while, as we noticed earlier in this chapter, Janssen certainly was guilty of this in his views on inspiration and revelation, nevertheless, it is not so clear that the criticism of Janssen is to the point on this question. Scripture must be studied as the infallibly inspired record of God's revelation, and that approach of faith must be the all-controlling principle of exegesis. But it seems patently true that all the questions raised by a proper Isagogics are questions which can only be answered on the basis of exegesis.

The assertion of Janssen's critics on this point must have taken into account, however, Janssen's views on other matters. Janssen did not think it impossible that, not only the Pentateuch, but also other books of the Bible made use of sources, even in some cases, uninspired sources.79 And, because other sources were used in the composition of Scripture, books, or parts of books, were not authored by means of those whose names appear in the books (or in other parts of Scripture) as the authors.80

All these views of Janssen pointed to erroneous conceptions of Isagogics, and, though these errors in Isagogics stood related to other errors, they were, in their own right, sufficiently important to merit the condemnation of the Synod of 1922.

So the issues were clear-cut and the church, in condemning them, reaffirmed the views of Scripture held by the whole of the Reformed tradition from the time of the Reformation and repudiated in no uncertain terms errors of higher criticism that had entered the Seminary through Janssen's instruction.



1. This report is found in Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. JanssenReturn

2. H. Hoeksema, The Banner (September 30, 1920): 599-600. Return

3. R. Janssen, De Synodale Conclusies (Grand Rapids: The author, 1923): 26-27. As far as I have been able to discover, this was the first time that Janssen used this in his defense. It may be, therefore, that he was not the originator of this idea, for the Minority Report of the Investigatory Committee suggested this same idea as a defense of Janssen's teachings. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 158. This position was, however, obviously untrue. Janssen himself never made very much of it; but his defense of his position presupposed the accuracy of the judgments made against him. That is, Janssen never really disputed that he taught the things charged against him. Admitting that he taught what his critics claimed were his views, he insisted they were genuinely Reformed. Return

4. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 20-21. See also H. Hoeksema, "The New King and his Kingdom," The Banner (September 30, 1920): 599-600; 56 (April 14, 1921): 229-230. What appears here and in the following quotes in quotation marks indicates quotations made by the Majority Committee from Janssen's Notes. Return

5. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 22 Return

6. Ibid., p. 29. Return

7. Ibid., p. 34. Return

8. Breen, "My Reflections of Prof. R. Janssen and on the Janssen Case of 1922," p. 9. Return

9. Ibid., pp. 29-31. Return

l0. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 155-168.Return

11. Kuiper, De Janssen Kwestie en Nog Iets, pp. 17-20. Return

12. See H. Hoeksema, "Dr. Janssen's Notes." The Banner (April 21, 1921): 245-246; Janssen's repeated appeal to Kuyper as quoted from the Student Notes and in his brochures; the Majority Report, Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 33-34. This question of the interpretation of Kuyper also involved a further question of the encyclopedic place of theology, a subject I discuss briefly below. Return

13. This is quoted from Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 215-216. This document does not specifically indicate that all this was approved by Synod. For such approval, see Acts of Synod of 1922, Art. 51, pp. 125-128. Return

14. See Chapter II. Return

15. See, e.g., Hoeksema, "Dr. Janssen's Notes." The Banner 56 (April 21, 1921): 245-246. Return

16. Ibid. Return

17. See especially Abraham Kuyper, Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology Its Principles, tr. by Rev. J. Hendrik De Vries. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1898.)Return

18. Ibid., p. 54. Return

19. Ibid. See also pp. 292ff.Return

20. See Hoeksema's citation from Janssen's Notes in the article in The Banner referred to above, where Janssen says: "We may have prepossessions and no man can rid himself of these. Each individual has a certain type of religion, for religion is an essential characteristic of the human being." Return

21. Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools," pp. 277-278. Return

22. Ibid., p. 280. Return

23. Ibid., pp. 281-285. Return

24. It is interesting to observe that the Form for the Ordination of Professors of Theology, still in use in the Protestant Reformed Churches and the original Christian Reformed Form, speaks of theology as the queen of the sciences. Return

25. This latter question assumed considerable importance in connection with the question of common grace we shall treat it more extensively in the next chapter. Return

26. Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years . . . , " p. 19. While no one, so far as I know, would disagree that literary, linguistic and historical data had to be taken into account in the interpretation of Scripture, the determinative word here is "origin." Return

27. Breen, "My Reflections on Prof. Ralph Janssen and on the Janssen Case of 1922," p. 10. Return

28. L. Berkhof, et. al., Waar Het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat, p. 31. Return

29. Ibid., p. 31. See also, Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 50ff. Return

30. Ibid., p. 33. Return

31. Ibid., p. 34. See also Hoeksema, "The New King and His Kingdom," The Banner (October 7, 1920): 615-616. Return

32. Hoeksema, "Not Satisfied," The Banner (January 27, 1921): 55-56. Return

33. Ibid. Return

34. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 42. Return

35. Ibid., pp. 43-44, 56. Return

36. Ibid., pp. 48, 53. Return

37. Ibid., p. 54. Note on this page that Janssen is quoted as saying that Scripture is in part human thought. While surely in the study of inspiration, distinction has usually been made between formal inspiration (the infallible record of human words, sometimes sinful, as in the case of what Scripture records from the lips of Pilate) and material inspiration (the infallible inspiration of God's own Word to His people), it is clear from the quotations that Janssen had more in mind than this traditional distinction. Return

38. Ibid., p. 54. Return

39. Ibid., pp. 59-60. Return

40. Ibid. Return

41. Ibid., p. 61. Return

42. Ibid., p. 64 Return

43. Ibid., pp. 75-79. Return

44. Ibid., pp. 83-84, 106. Return

45. R. Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika (Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids Printing Co., 1922.) pp. 44-48. The view which Janssen here takes is very common today. One is said to have to make a choice between mechanical inspiration (an obviously impossible position to take) and organic inspiration (which is idea inspiration and allows for "errors" in Scripture). This is, in my judgment, a false disjunction. Return

46. See e.g., Janssen, De Synodale Conclusies, already referred to, p. 38, and Janssen, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd, pp. 3-6. Return

47. See, e.g., the instances mentioned above concerning the call of Abraham, the revelation of the name Jehovah, etc. The majority of the Investigatory Committee cites other instances as well. Return

48. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 42 Return

49. Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years..., " pp. 17-22. Return

50. Ibid., p. 19. Return

51. H. Boer, "Aftermath." The Reformed Journal (November 1973 ): 21-22 Return

52. See, e.g., Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, pp. 38-39. Return

53. See above where this point is discussed. Return

54. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 52-53. Return

55. See above, where these views are discussed in connection with Janssen's views on inspiration.Return

56. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 102. Return

57. Ibid., p. 106. Return

58. Hoeksema, "Not Satisfied." The Banner (January 27, 1921): 55-56. It might be well to note in this connection that this article, as well as others written during this period, were written after the Synod of 1920 and before the Synod of 1922. During this interim there is some evidence that Janssen modified some of his teachings, although no principle difference can be found in them. Return

59. This is an important and crucial point in Janssen's defense of his position, but a detailed examination of it must wait till the next chapter and our discussion of common grace. Janssen himself connected general revelation and common grace, and this is justification for postponing our treatment of the issue. Return

60. Neither the Majority Committee nor the Synod made an effort to explain what was the relation between special and general revelation. This is, at first glance, some- thing of a surprise; but it may be that the views of Janssen on the relation between general revelation and common grace were rather widely held in the church even in these years. We shall look more closely at this matter a bit later. Return

61. While the other issues were somewhat doctrinal and abstruse, the issue of the miracles was one every person could easily understand. And it was, after all, this question of the validity of the miracles which was then being debated in Presbyterian circles. It was an issue between Modernism and Fundamentalism. Return

62. Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, pp. 13-16. Return

63. Berkhof, et. al., Waar het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat, pp. 21-22. Return

64. Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years..., p. 19. Return

65. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 131-133 Return

66. The issues in the discussion strike one as being unclearly defined, and the problem somewhat vague. This is perhaps due to a wrong definition of miracle by both Prof. Janssen and his opponents. It may be that this was partly why Rev. Hoeksema re-examined the whole question of miracles and defined them in a different way in his later dogmatic studies. See for this, H. Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics, (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1966): pp. 237-243. Return

67. Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, p. 16. Return

68. Janssen, De Synodale Conclusies, p. 69; Janssen, Voortzetting van den Strijd (Grand Rapids: The author, 1922). p. 9. Return

69. Janssen again connects all this to common grace, as we shall presently see. Return

70. Janssen, Voortzetting van den Strijd, p. 8. Return

71. Berkhof, et. al., Waar het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat, p. 23. Return

72. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 41. Return

73. Neither the Investigatory Committee nor Janssen's opponents went into these matters in detail in their writings. This is to be understood from a certain point of view. Janssen's critics could not have developed any positive views on these subjects in their critiques of Janssen's position, and it was to be assumed in the church that these things were commonly believed. Our analysis of the argumentation, therefore, is, in the nature of the case, somewhat speculative, but can in most instances be deduced from the assertions of the critics. Return

74. Hoeksema, "Not Satisfied." The Banner (January 27, 1921): 55-56. Return

75. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 50ff. Return

76. Breen, My Reflections on Prof. Ralph Janssen and on the Janssen Case of 1922, p. 6. Return

77. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 34. Return

78. This mistake is also made in literary - historical criticism or redaction criticism. Return

79. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 75-84, 106. Return

80. Many instances of this can be found. See especially Ibid., pp. 42, 48, 53, 54, 61, 79-84, etc. See also, Hoeksema, "Not Satisfied." The Banner (January 1921): 56, where Hoeksema quotes Janssen as teaching that Daniel was not the author of the prophecy by that name, but that the unknown author used a literary device when claiming to be Daniel. Return

Chapter II: The History


The battle which rocked the Christian Reformed Church to its foundations during the years 1919 - 1922 swirled around Prof. Ralph Janssen, professor of Old Testament in Calvin Theological Seminary.

Ralph Janssen was born to a family of farmers in the Zeeland - Holland area in 1874. As a youth he attended Christian Reformed Churches in Niekerk and Zeeland, the latter congregation pastored at that time by Rev. Johannes Groen, who, it seems, had some influence on him.1

He studied at Hope College, the University of Chicago where he received his A.B. in 1898, University de Strasbourg, Universitat Heidelberg, University de Lausanne, and Universitat Halle where he received a Ph.D. in 1902.

In 1902, through the influence of Rev. Johannes Groen, his former pastor, he was appointed Professor of Old and New Testament at the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church, and served as Lecturer in Old and New Testament till 1906.2

Tensions soon arose in the school, partly because Janssen was not an ordained minister as the other professors,3 and partly over the question of the relationship between the authority of the church and science.The result was that Janssen was not reappointed in 1906.

He took the opportunity to continue his studies at the Free University in Amsterdam where he earned a Th.D. in 1908. From 1908 to 1914 he was professor of Greek in Knox College, Galesburg, Illinois. 1914 was the year in which he again received an appointment to Calvin Theological Seminary as Professor of Old Testament.

Not many years elapsed before trouble arose once again between Janssen and his colleagues in the Seminary: Profs. Louis Berkhof, William Heyns, Foppe Ten Hoor, and Samuel Volbeda. It has been suggested that the reasons for this trouble are to be found in the fact that Janssen was a man of different "academic spirit and theological temperament." Janssen was a man of somewhat strange personal characteristics. He himself considered the trouble to be jealousy on the part of those who opposed him, and he saw in the opposition of the other professors plots to turn students against him.5

However all this may be, the real trouble surfaced when Professors Berkhof, Heyns, Ten Hoor, and Volbeda became suspicious of the orthodoxy of Janssen's teachings. Their suspicions were aroused by statements made by some students during Seminary huisbezoek;by various conversations among the students overheard by the professors during break-times, which conversations suggested unorthodox teachings in Janssen's classes; and by less than orthodox answers given by some students who were examined after their graduation for entrance into the ministry.7

So concerned were these men for the welfare of the Seminary that they decided to present a petition to the Curatorium.This was done at the meeting of June, 1919.

They filed no charges against Prof. Janssen but asked for investigation of Prof. Janssen's teachings on the authority, infallibility and credibility of Scripture.The Curatorium appointed a committee which met first with the four professors and then with Prof. Janssen. They submitted a report to the Curatorium which was adopted by that body. The complete report reads:

Report of Comm. on Communication by four Profs.
The communication referred to us contains request, signed by Profs. Ten Hoor, Heyns, Berkhof and Volbeda -- that the Board of Trustees examine Prof. Janssen's position in respect to the authority, the infallibility and the credibility of the Holy Scriptures. They state that the question whether the instruction of the said professor does not fall short of doing justice to these things, rises irresistably (sic).
They ascribe the origin of this question to three sources: 1. Statements of some students made to the above named profs. during their official student-visits; 2. Questions asked by certain students in the class-room of one of the profs.; 3. Rumors of what has transpired at certain classical examinations.
After examining .the communication of the four professors, your committee heard them
personally, and found:--
1. That, according to their own testimony these four professors had not personally brought
these matters to the attention of Prof. Janssen; and
2. That the remarks touching the instruction of Prof. Janssen, as made to these four Professors concerned: a. the authorship of the Pentateuch; b. the historicity of Job; c. the Old Testament miracles, e.g. the collapse of the walls of Jericho; d. the inspiration of the Song of Solomon; e. his theory of inspiration.
Thereupon your committee met with Dr. Janssen and informed him of the contents of the document and requested him to explain himself.
In very frank and open discussion the professor explained himself fully on all these points. He read freely to us from his lectures.
I. Prof. Janssen gave most heartily the assurance that touching the authority, credibility and infallibility of the Holy Scriptures he is wholly in accord with the Form that bears his signature (The Form for Professors of Theology).
II. Prof. Janssen states that the Reformed Organic Theory of the Inspiration of the Scriptures is his.
III. Touching the remarks made by students to the other professors the professor quoted freely from his lectures, that:
a. That certain portions of the Pentateuch are not of Mosaic origin, but that the Pentateuch as a whole is the product of a Redactor under the Inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
b. Job. That the professor has always assumed the historicity of Job.
c. Miracles. In all these O.T. miracles there is operating a divine causation, but the Lord uses in many cases natural agencies, e.g. that the walls of Jericho did not, as Borstius says, fall of themselves, but possibly thru' an earthquake, tho' the Scriptures do not indicate the manner.
d. Song of Solomon. That, tho' the Song of Solomon may not contain Messianic prophecy, but shows the Divine Origin and the Sacredness of Love, the professor has never thought of doubting the inspiration of said book.
IV. Furthermore the professor produced evidences by signed statements, containing confessions and apologies of various parties that had been instrumental in spreading these damaging reports, that he has been the victim of persecution.
Your committee examined these signed statements and confessions also.
1. The Board of Trustees express their disapproval of the fact that the four professors came with this document to the Board before having personally conferred with Prof. Janssen on these matters.
2. The Board express their full confidence in Prof. Janssen.10

The Curatorium, upon the advice of its committee, decided basically two matters: 1) that the four professors should have gone with their objections to Prof. Janssen before they came to the Curatorium;11 2) that Prof. Janssen had given full assurance that he believed completely and wholeheartedly in the authority, credibility and infallibility of Scripture, and that therefore the Curatorium expressed full confidence in him.12

Rev. Herman Hoeksema, many years later, reflected on the events of that meeting of the Curatorium and provided some interesting side-lights.13 He had himself studied for one year under Prof. Janssen prior to his own ordination into the ministry; he was a member of the Curatorium at the time these events were taking place; and he became a strong opponent of Prof. Janssen after the Synod of 1920. He writes that the Curatorium had considered adopting a resolution of support, but had decided not to pass such a resolution since Janssen's continued presence in the school already implied the support of the Curatorium.14 It was at recess, after the decision had been taken, that Rev. Hoeksema had, as he writes, a long private conversation with Prof. Janssen, in which conversation Prof. Janssen spoke of a lack of harmony among the faculty. While Hoeksema was in agreement with the decision of the Curatorium concerning the failure of the professors to see Prof. Janssen in private, he was uneasy with the part of the decision which expressed confidence in Prof. Janssen. His uneasiness was not so much that he was dissatisfied with Janssen's testimony before the committee; it was rather that the four professors had asked for an investigation of Janssen's teaching. This had not been done; rather, a motion of confidence in Janssen had been passed on the basis of what Janssen said he believed, rather than on an investigation of what he taught in his classes in Seminary.15 This uneasiness on Hoeksema's part prompted him to begin a private study of Janssen's teachings.

The four professors who had submitted the original request for an investigation were not satisfied. They gave notice to the Curatorium of their appeal to the Synod of 1920 and submitted to the Curatorium a copy of that appeal. The Curatorium requested the four professors to delay their appeal to Synod until they could resubmit the whole matter to the Curatorium once again. This the four professors agreed to do. The Curatorium then asked the four professors to submit a written document in which all their objections against the teachings of Prof. Janssen were clearly set forth. The Curatorium conducted a rather lengthy investigation in which the opposing parties were given opportunities to answer each other.16

This lengthy investigation resulted in the following decision:

l. That the Curatorium is satisfied with Dr. Janssen's statement concerning his view of Inspiration of Holy Scripture.
2. That the Board trusts that the objections and dissatisfactions of the four professors will disappear through brotherly, mutual discourse.
3. That Dr. R. Janssen strive to evade anything that might give cause to misconception, and that he express himself so clearly in his instruction, that misconception is excluded.17

This decision was adopted by "every member voting aye, contrary none."18

The four professors, however, remained unsatisfied and they notified the Curatorium that they were appealing to the Synod of 1920, which Synod was scheduled to meet in the same month in which the Curatorium had finished its work on the Janssen case. While apparently the purpose of the appeal of the four professors to Synod was still to persuade Synod to make an investigation of Prof. Janssen's teachings in the Seminary, the appeal contained specific charges against Prof. Janssen. These read:

1. With reference to the doctrine of inspiration, that though Dr. Janssen professes to believe in "organic inspiration" as including "verbal," he believes there are exaggerations and inaccuracies in the Scripture.
2. With reference to the explanation of wonders, Dr. Janssen defines them as "events which are the product of a special act of God's power or will, but God frequently uses human or physical agencies to bring them about." Consequently, he believes there are many wonders that can be explained in large part from natural causes.
3. With reference to the Pentateuch, Dr. Janssen holds to the four-source theory, and that only those parts specifically ascribed to Moses were written by him.
4. With reference to the Song of Solomon, Dr. Janssen regards it as simply an Oriental love song, rejects the typical-messianic interpretation, and is on this not in the Reformed tradition.19

As is evident from the Acts of the Synod of 1920, Synod spent a great deal of time with the case, undoubtedly because Synod recognized its great importance for the Seminary and the Churches.20 This broadest body of the denomination took the time to study the documents which were sent to Synod, heard from all the parties concerned (Dr. Janssen himself, the four professors, those who could speak for the Curatorium), and considered the advice of its advisory committee. It is striking, however, that the Synod also did not investigate the teachings of Dr. Janssen as the four professors had originally requested, but rather heard the professors themselves and listened to Dr. Janssen's defense of his position.

Synod also considered the matter of whether the four professors should have met personally with Dr. Janssen to discuss with him the matter of his instruction before bringing their suspicions, along with a request for an investigation, to the Curatorium. While the advisory committee advised Synod to instruct the four professors that they should have first seen Dr. Janssen (which advice would have supported the position taken by the Curatorium), Synod rejected this advice.21

With respect to the case itself, Synod decided:

1. Dr. Janssen, in his hearing before Synod, took (a) very definite position on the standpoint of the verbal inspiration of Holy Scripture and its absolute authority for faith and life.
2. It has not become evident to Synod that Dr. Janssen teaches anything that is irreconcilable with the Reformed teaching of the verbal inspiration of Holy Scripture and its absolute authority for faith and life.
3- It does appear to Synod, however, that Dr. Janssen, in the interpretation of Holy Scripture, sometimes has placed too much emphasis on the human factor and on the natural means, so that on that account the special divine factor did not come to its right in the mind of some students.
4. Synod declares that Dr. Janssen should endeavor to avoid all that has given or might give occasion to misunderstanding, and express himself so clearly in his instruction that misunderstanding is excluded.22

At this point, therefore, Dr. Janssen had been vindicated two different times: by the Curatorium and again by the Synod of 1920. One would think that this would have been the end of the matter; and this very idea was apparently on the mind of the president of the Synod when he spoke, in his concluding remarks, of the Synod being characterized as a "Unity Synod."23

Unity was, however, not to be. The Church was soon in turmoil over the "Janssen Case," and very soon after the Synod of 1920 it became obvious that the decisions of 1920 had accomplished nothing. Several events took place which brought the "Janssen Case" before the mind of the Church and threw it into confusion.

The first event was the writings of Rev. H. Hoeksema. He had been appointed editor of the column, "Our Doctrine" in The Banner (the official paper of the Christian Reformed Church) by the Synod of 1918. He assumed his responsibilities and began his writing in September of that year.24 Shortly after the Synod of 1920 had completed its meetings, Hoeksema had succeeded in obtaining a set of Student Notes which he studied privately and which formed the basis for a series of articles in The Banner in which he criticized Dr. Janssen for his alleged higher critical views. Hoeksema offered Dr. Janssen full use of his rubric to defend himself, which offer Janssen also took. The result was a series of articles by Rev. Hoeksema and a series of replies by Dr. Janssen.

It is interesting that Hoeksema says he made an effort to see Janssen before he began this attack. Two reasons lay behind this effort to see the professor: 1) Dr. Janssen was a member of Rev. Hoeksema's congregation, the Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church, and Rev. Hoeksema saw the matter of Janssen's teachings in a pastoral light; 2) Rev. Hoeksema had supported Janssen up to this point. He had voted for Janssen on the Curatorium meeting; he had objected to the four professors' refusal to see Janssen before they came to the Curatorium with objections against his teachings; he had voted in support of Janssen at the Synod of 1920. But after a study of the Student Notes, Hoeksema was convinced that Janssen's teachings were wrong. He writes that he went to see Janssen privately, but that Janssen would not see him after Janssen learned that Hoeksema had become Janssen's opponent.25

The second event which brought the "Janssen Case" before the minds of the people and stirred up unrest in the Churches was the writings which now began to appear in other religious periodicals within the denomination. Not only De Wachter, the Dutch official publication of the Christian Reformed Church, but also Religion and CultureThe Leader, and Onze Toekomst joined the fray. The third event that added to the tumult was the publication in February of 1921 of the brochure, Nadere Toelichting Omtrent De Zaak Janssen.26  It was published by the four professors who had originally asked for the investigation of Janssen's teachings: F.M. Ten Hoor, W. Heyns, L. Berkhof, and S. Volbeda. It was written in response to the rather general opinions that the issues in the Janssen case were unimportant and that the four professors were motivated by jealousy in their attacks against Janssen..27 It treated the history of the case up to that point, stated the specific objections which the professors had against Dr. Janssen's teaching, and explained why, in the opinion of the professors, these teachings were contrary to the Word of God and the Confessions.

The tumult in the churches grew with the result that, when the Curatorium held its next meeting in June of 1921 it was faced with overtures from eight of the thirteen Classes in the Christian Reformed Church, all asking for an investigation of Janssen's teachings.28 The Curatorium agreed that such an investigation ought to be carried out, and it appointed a committee composed of Reverends J. Manni, Chairman, Herman Hoeksema, Henry Danhof, Henry J. Kuiper, Gerrit Hoeksema, Dr. J. Van Lonkhuyzen, and Prof. D.H. Kromminga. Some effort was apparently made to get a committee which would be balanced in its constituency, for the latter three mentioned above were known to be supporters of Dr. Janssen; Hoeksema, Danhof and Kuiper were well-known critics, and J. Manni had not publicly committed himself -- if indeed he had come to any personal conclusions. The Curatorium made two other decisions: one, to ask the Churches that all discussion of the case cease till after the committee had done its work; two, to give Dr. Janssen a year off from teaching with pay, although Janssen himself did not want this forced vacation and considered it indication that he was already under a cloud of suspicion, if not condemned.29

Generally speaking, the ecclesiastical press did keep silence, for, although some discussion continued in various papers, and although a new publication appeared, called The Witness, the discussions were concerning various church political questions rather than the doctrinal issues, insofar as anything at all substantive was discussed. The Banner carried very little, because it had been closed to discussion by decision of the editorial board even before the Curatorium had asked for a moratorium. The closing of The Banner had come about in the following way: after Hoeksema had begun his attack on Janssen's teachings, Janssen had for a time responded; but he suddenly, and with no apparent reason, ceased writing. He informed the readers of The Banner of this by a brief statement in the issue of January 27, 1921. Hoeksema expressed astonishment that Janssen did this, particularly because Janssen had not yet come to grips with the basic issues, but had limited his discussion to peripheral matters. Perhaps stung by Hoeksema's expression of astonishment, Janssen suddenly took up the pen again with the February 17, 1921 issue. On April 21, 1921 a notice appeared in The Banner that the editorial board had decided to close the paper to further discussion.

After the June, 1921 meeting of the Curatorium, the Investigatory Committee began its work. It had, obviously, first of all to learn what Janssen actually taught in the classroom in his various courses. To accomplish this, the committee made a formal and public request for both "Student Notes" and "Individual Notes," and also requested Dr. Janssen to submit his notes from which he lectured to the committee for investigation. The first letter to Janssen was ignored; the second letter was answered with a brief statement in which he refused to cooperate with the committee on the grounds that cooperation would involve him in responsibility for the many violations of Reformed Church Polity which, in his judgment, had been committed in the treatment of his case up to that point.30 This was the procedure Janssen was henceforth to follow throughout the treatment of his case including its final resolution at the Synod of 1922.

Stob31 expresses his sadness with the failure of Janssen to defend himself. He points out that, although Janssen had many of the same church political objections from the very outset of the case, as, e.g., that the four professors never came to see him prior to the lodging of their complaint with the Curatorium, Janssen did defend himself before the Curatorium and the Synod of 1920 in spite of his objections. But at the critical point when the committee began its work, by refusing to cooperate with the committee and later refusing to defend himself before the Synod, Janssen lost his opportunity to explain himself publicly and brought upon himself the suspicion of evasiveness and genuine heterodoxy.

At any rate, the material with which the Investigatory Committee had now to work was limited to "Student Notes" and "Individual Notes." Perhaps a word or two ought to be said about the former. While the "Individual Notes" were the notes which individual students had taken in Dr. Janssen's classes, the "Student Notes" were prepared by a few students who took notes in class, compared their notes after class, drew up from their notes one set of notes which was "complete," and gave (or sold) this "master set" to the other students in the class. Apparently this was done, not out of any motives of antipathy towards Dr. Janssen, but to avoid the necessity of every student taking his own notes.

The rightness of judging Dr. Janssen on the basis of such notes was repeatedly discussed. Dr. Janssen himself had brought it up when he first began to answer Hoeksema in the columns of The Banner;32  and the minority part of the Investigatory Committee also made a point of this in its report to Synod.33 Nevertheless, several points must be kept in mind. In the first place, Janssen himself forced the committee into this course of action by refusal to cooperate with the committee. This refusal is always difficult to understand. Janssen, in the cause of the truth, could have defended himself before the committee even while protesting the alleged church political errors. Secondly, although Janssen protested the use of "Student Notes" on several occasions, he never once challenged their accuracy. He repeatedly said that they were, in the nature of the case, untrustworthy, but he never once, in a specific instance, pointed out where they were incorrect. In the third place, even after the decisions of the Synod of 1922 were taken and Janssen had objected to his own deposition from office in a pamphlet34 he never pointed out specific points in Synod's decisions which misrepresented his position. Even Dr. Harry Boer, whose sympathy with Dr. Janssen has been publicly expressed, admits that Prof. Janssen never challenged the accuracy of anything in the Student Notes, though he often spoke of them as unreliable.35

These "Student Notes" then formed the material on the basis of which Prof. Janssen's teachings were investigated. For a period of time each member of the committee worked independently in his study of the available material. After this was completed, the entire committee met for ten days in Chicago to attempt to come to unanimous conclusions and to draw up a report for the Curatorium.

It soon became apparent that the Investigatory Committee was hopelessly divided -- a development which could hardly be considered surprising in the light of the fact that the views of most of the members were known when the committee was appointed. So, a majority and minority report were submitted to the Curatorium for consideration. The majority report was signed by Revs. Manni, H. J. Kuiper, H. Danhof, and H. Hoeksema. It was throughout critical of Dr. Janssen and condemnatory of his views. The minority report was signed by Rev. Gerrit Hoeksema, Dr. J. Van Lonkhuyzen, and Prof. D.H. Kromminga. While this report did not clear Dr. Janssen completely, it was, on the whole, an attempt to explain Janssen's teachings in ways which were acceptable in a Reformed community and Seminary. According to Hoeksema,36 Rev. H.J. Kuiper wrote the Introduction to the Majority Report, Revs. Danhof and Hoeksema drew up the report proper, and Rev. Manni signed the final document.

During the time the report was being formulated, three important pamphlets were published. Prof. Janssen wrote, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika (The Crisis in the Christian Reformed Church in America). The four professors who had lodged an original complaint against Janssen and four ministers, Reverends H. Hoeksema, H. Danhof, H. J. Kuiper and Y.P. De Jong, answered in a pamphlet entitled,Waar Het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat (The Issues in the Janssen Case).37

Janssen's pamphlet is probably the most important work he published in the controversy from the viewpoint of a defense of his position and has to be considered in any analysis of the doctrinal questions involved. The pamphlet of the four professors and four ministers was again answered by Janssen in a pamphlet, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd.

Before we turn to the work of the Synod of 1922, two other matters must briefly be mentioned. An important pamphlet appeared in June of 1922, just before Synod met. The pamphlet was written by B.K. Kuiper and was intended to explain why the author, formerly an opponent of Dr. Janssen, had come to favor him, or at least to withhold judgment on the matter.38 It would appear as if this pamphlet was published just prior to Synod in order to have the maximum effect upon the gathering.

In the second place, Dr. Stob calls attention to a couple of important considerations which also affected the deliberations of Synod. He points out that the minority part of the Investigatory Committee apparently thought that if Janssen were once again given opportunity to explain his views before the Curatorium and Synod, he would be exonerated. And so they suggested an interrogation. In the Conclusion of their report, they say:

5. Since the Confessions alone are the standard by which heresy or orthodoxy must be determined, the final decision must not be taken hastily.
Therefore we believe it is necessary, before a final decision is passed, that Janssen be further interrogated on these points.39

But Dr. Stob also suggests that such an exoneration of Dr. Janssen would have been extremely unlikely. And that for two reasons. In the first place, by the published writings on the case a climate had been created in the Churches in which Dr. Janssen was already condemned in the court of popular opinion. Because it was generally known that a great deal of trouble and agitation had been created in the church by a public discussion of the case, and because it was also known that popular opinion was opposed to Janssen, it was difficult for the Synod of 1922 to be an unbiased judge of the matter.40

We consider this an important matter. There seems to be little question about it that the public discussion of the case after the Synod of 1920 was, if not in a technical sense of the word wrong from the viewpoint of church polity, at least wrong from the viewpoint of the spirit of the Church Order which governed the church political life of the Christian Reformed Church. While it is certainly true that synodical (as well as classical) decisions may be discussed in the public forums of the churches, this ought only to be done when proper protests and appeals are also made and pending in the assemblies. This is especially true if disagreement with these decisions is voiced and criticism made of them. If there were those who, for whatever reasons, were dissatisfied with the decisions of the Synod of 1920, the proper way to bring their dissatisfactions before the churches was through the normal way of appeal as outlined in the Church Order. This would have given the Synod an opportunity to reconsider its former decisions on the basis of new evidence which was brought. To appeal directly to the churches without also protesting or appealing these decisions was wrong.

Further, by means of such an appeal made directly to the churches, great turmoil was created in the churches. This made an unbiased discussion on the floor of the Synod of 1922 virtually impossible. The broader ecclesiastical assemblies in the Reformed Churches have always been considered deliberative bodies which are called upon to evaluate material presented and pass judgment in the light of the Word of God and the Confessions of the Reformed Churches. When, through public agitation, turmoil is created in the churches, polarization takes place and people begin clamoring for the condemnation of the man under investigation. Under such circumstances, calm deliberation is virtually impossible. In fact, it becomes psychologically difficult to speak against prevailing views. It is almost as if a spirit of intimidation prevails which makes calm deliberation a will o' th' wisp.

In the second place, Dr. Stob points out that Dr. Janssen made life difficult for himself. He made unreasonable protests against the personnel of the Investigatory Committee; he brought complaints against the orthodoxy of his colleagues;41 and, Janssen's persistent refusal to submit his own notes and materials to the Investigatory Committee for study was probably the reason why the Curatorium voted down a motion to ask Janssen to appear before it to defend himself. In other words, Janssen's conduct breathed a spirit of evasion and refusal to cooperate, and surely such conduct did his cause no good.

The result of all this was that the Curatorium decided by motion "to present these findings (of the Investigatory Committee, H.H.) to the coming Synod and to state that it is the conviction of the Curatorium that such teachings are unsatisfactory and not desirable for our school."42

The same spirit of refusal to cooperate characterized Dr. Janssen's actions during the Synod of 1922. He refused to appear before the Committee of Pre-advice when it asked him to do this43 and before the Synod itself.44Even those who favored Janssen were dismayed by this refusal. Dr. D.H. Kromminga, a signer of the Minority Report, was so incensed that he advised Synod either to prevail upon Dr. Janssen to appear before it, or depose him forthwith from his office of professor.45

The Committee of Pre-advice presented unanimous advice, which advice was also adopted. Throughout, the views of Dr. Janssen were condemned, and as its final duty, Janssen was relieved of his responsibilities in the Seminary. The concluding decision read:

With regard to the question as to what to do with Prof. Janssen:
Concerning this question the Committee decided to submit the following as its advice to Synod: (l) Whereas it has become evident that the instruction of Prof. Janssen, as reflected in the "Students and Individual Notes" is unReformed in character, and
(2) Whereas, Prof. Janssen, through insubordination on his part has made it impossible for Synod in its investigation to go back of the "Student Notes",
Your Committee judges that Synod is called to the sad tack (task, H.H.) of deposing Prof. Janssen from his office, in accordance with the Formula of Subscription...46

In this way the controversy was brought to its end.

The decisions of 1922 all but finished the matter. What events transpired beyond this Synod really had no important bearing on the case itself. We mention them only briefly.

An attempt was made, shortly after Synod concluded its sessions, to organize opposition to the decisions of Synod and to prepare protests which would force the church to reconsider its condemnation of Dr. Janssen. A document was circulated inviting all interested to a meeting. The circulation of this document brought sharp criticism in the church papers, particularly The Witness, and the movement died out.47

Twelve protests were submitted to the Synod of 1924 against the decisions of 1922, but little attention was given to them, partly because the issue was considered settled, and partly because the Synod of 1924 was embroiled in the "common grace" controversy.

Rev. Quirinus Breen had repeatedly made his views favoring Dr. Janssen known in the Churches. This also became a matter of ecclesiastical decision by the Synod of 1924, but Rev. Breen himself, minister at the time in the Twelfth Street Christian Reformed Church, resigned from his pastorate and from the ministry in the Christian Reformed Church before discipline could be exercised.48

Some reverberations of the Janssen controversy were still to be heard in the debate over the teachings of Dr. Wezeman in Chicago Christian High School in the mid thirties. Dr. Wezeman was a student the time of the Janssen trouble, was at Calvin Seminary at an acknowledged supporter of Dr. Janssen, and was condemned in Chicago for views very similar to those held by Janssen.49

After his deposition Dr. Janssen lived in the Chicago area where he taught for a while at the Y.M.C.A. college and worked for an investment firm.50 But his work in the Christian Reformed Church was over and his views condemned.


1. For these and other biographical details, see, George Stob, "The Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools" (Th.D. Dissertation, Princeton Theological Seminary, 1955), pp. 300ff. Return

2. Peter De Klerk, Compiler and Editor, A Bibliography of the Writings of the Professors' of Calvin Theological Seminary (Grand Rapids: Calvin Theological Seminary, 1980). Return

3. Stob, "Christian Reformed Church And Her Schools", pp. 277-278. Return

4. Ibid., pp. 280, 301, 302. There is also some relation between these two elements in the conflict. We shall have opportunity to enter into them in more detail at another time. Return

5. Idem., pp. 302, 303. It is difficult to weigh these underlying tensions objectively. Here and there in the literature appear some passing references to these matters. See, e.g., F.M. Ten Hoor, W. Heyns, L. Berkhof, S. Volbeda, Nadere Toelichting Omtrent de Zaak Janssen (Holland, MI: Holland Printing Co., no date), pp. 3-5. This pamphlet was written, at least in part, in response to charges that the issues were unimportant and that the four professors who were Janssen's accusers, were motivated by jealousy. Return

6. Literally, "house visitation": a periodic visit of the students in the Seminary by the professors to discuss with the students their spiritual welfare. Return

7. Ten Hoor, et. al., Nadere Toelichting Omtrent de Zaak Janssen, pp. 6-8. Return

8. The governing body of the Theological School whose members were appointed by Synod. Return

9. The letter of the four professors is quoted in full on pp. 13-16 of Ten Hoor, et. al, Nadere Toelichting Omtrent De Zaak Janssen. The fact that the professors asked for an investigation rather than brought charges was point which was to come up repeatedly in the course of the controversy when the church political aspects of the case were discussed. Return

10. The history and the committee's report are found in, Ibid, pp. 17, 18. Return

11. This also became a bone of contention in the subsequent history of the case. The disagreement revolved in part around the question of the interpretation of Matthew 18:15-18 where Jesus admonishes one whose brother has sinned against him to go and see the brother alone. Those who pointed to the failure of the professors to do this claimed that this grievous omission put the whole case on a wrong footing at its outset, and nothing could be done correctly until that error was rectified. The four professors claimed that Matthew 18:15-18 did not apply to this case partly because they were bringing no charges against Janssen and partly because Jesus refers in this passage to private sins, while Janssen's teachings in the Seminary were public teachings. Return

12. This expression of confidence, while recommended by the committee, was not actually voted on by the Curatorium because, so the members argued, one is held innocent until his guilt has been proved ( dewijl we iemand voor onschuldig houden, zoolang zijn schuld niet bewezen is. Ten Hoor, et. al., Nadere Toelichting Omtrent de Zaak Janssen, p. 18. The effect was, however, an expression of confidence. Return

13. Herman Hoeksema, "Of Love and Hatred," The Standard Bearer (May 1, 1954): 340-341. Return

14. See above. Return

15. Hoeksema speaks of other things which were discussed in this conversation, among which was the matter of some letters which Janssen claimed were apologies from students for misrepresenting Janssen's teaching, and admissions of cheating in examinations. These were apparently the same as those submitted to the committee of the Curatorium to which reference is made in their report. See above. According to Hoeksema, at least some of these letters proved to be no letters at all, but notes that Janssen himself had taken down. Hoeksema cites this as an additional reason for his uneasiness with the decision of the Curatorium. Apparently what he means is that Janssen was being less than honest with respect to these letters, and that this dishonesty created in Hoeksema additional uneasiness concerning the whole matter. Return

16. Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools," pp. 310-311. To keep in mind a proper chronology, it must be remembered that the Curatorium usually met once a year (because the members were rather widely scattered throughout the denomination), in the latter part of May and/or early part of June. This meeting could and usually did last for several days. In it the events of the past school year were evaluated and a report (with recommendations) was prepared for the Synod, if Synod was to meet that year later in June. The original request for an investigation was made in June of 1919, a year Synod did not meet. The decision quoted above was also made at the same meeting. Apparently also notice of appeal was filed by the four professors at this meeting, and it was also during this period that the Curatorium asked the professors to delay their appeal and resubmit their request. However, the new document of the four professors, the new decision taken, quoted below, and the final appeal to the Synod of 1920 were all actions of the Curatorium in June of 1920. Return

17. Quoted from Ibid, p. 311. Return

18. Ibid. This unanimous vote might seem to conflict with what Hoeksema mentioned above concerning his feelings of uneasiness: if he was uneasy, how could he vote in favor of this decision? It is perhaps impossible to answer this with certainty, but it would seem most likely that the uneasiness of which Hoeksema speaks prevailed throughout this entire period of almost a year, and that his own personal investigation of Janssen's notes did not begin until after the Synod of 1920 met. Although he was not, therefore, completely satisfied with the whole matter, as yet he had no reason to vote to condemn Janssen. Return

19. Ibid., p. 311. Since the professors were still asking for an investigation, these charges were probably intended to be proof that such an investigation was necessary. Return

20. For this material, as well as other references to see Acts of Synod, 1920, Arts. 46-51, 66, 68, 69, pp. 78-82, 95, 96; Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools", p. 312; D.H. Kromminga, The Christian Reformed Tradition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2943),pp. 144-145; Ten Hoor, et. al., Nadere Toelichting Omtrent de Zaak Janssen, pp. 31-33; Hoeksema, The Protestant Reformed Churches In America, p. 18; Harry R. Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years . . . ," The Reformed Journal 22 (December 1972): 17-22. Return

21. Implicit in this rejection of the advice of its advisory committee was a particular interpretation of Matthew 18 (See above); i.e., that the case before it was of such a kind that the requirements of Matthew 18 did not apply. It is to be doubted, however, whether one can draw from this the conclusion which Dr. Stob, Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools, p. 312, says some have drawn: "This has come to be accepted by many as an official interpretation of Matthew 18 which allows perpetual open season for heresy hunting." Return

22. Acts of Synod, 1920, Art. 68, p. 96. The decision is in Dutch; we have used the translation of Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools", p. 312. Return

23. Acts of Synod, 1920, Art. 74, p. 98. Return

24. H. Hoeksema, The Banner 53 (September 5, 1918): 632-634. Return

25. Hoeksema, "Of Love and Hatred," The Standard Bearer, 30 (May 1, 1954): 340-341. But see an article of Janssen in The Banner of November 4, 1920, in which Janssen accuses Hoeksema of never coming to see him, though he was a member of Hoeksema's congregation, p. 667. Return

26. The date of publication does not appear in the pamphlet itself. At least one writer on the Janssen controversy dates the brochure in September of 1920 (R. Owenhand, "The Janssen Controversy," Student Paper, 1973). Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools" p. 320, sets the date in February of 1921. This is much closer to the correct date. Its publication was after Hoeksema began his writings against Janssen and before the Curatorium meeting of June, 1921. Return

27. See Introduction, pp. 3-5. Return

28. Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years . . . , ,, pp. 17-22. Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools," p. 322. Return

29. Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years...," pp. 17-22; Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools," p. 322. Return

30. Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools," p. 326. Return

31. Ibid., pp. 325-326. Return

32. R. Janssen, "Reply to Rev. Herman Hoeksema," The Banner 55 (November 4, 1920): 667-668. Return

33. Reports And Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, Decisions of the Synod of Orange City, Iowa (Grand Rapids: Commercial Printing Co., 1922), p. 153. Return

34. R. Janssen, Het Synodale Vonnis en zijne Voorgeschiedenis Kerkrechtelijk Beoordeeld (Grand Rapids: M. Hoffius, 1922). Return

35. Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years...," pp. 17-22. Return

36. Hoeksema, "Of Love and Hatred," p. 341. Return

37. While the dates of these two pamphlets are not included in the pamphlets, we know from other sources that they were most likely published in February and March of 1922. See B.K. Kuiper, De Janssen Kwestie en Nog Iets (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans - Sevensma Co., 1922), pp. 44-45. While the matter is not important, Janssen himself says that his pamphlet was published in January of 1922. See R. Janssen, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd (Grand Rapids, The author, 1922.) Return

38. Kuiper, De Janssen Kwestie en Nog Iets (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans - Sevensma, 1922): pp. 5-14. Return

39. Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, p. 200. Return

40. Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools," pp. 328-330. Return

41. We shall investigate the content and validity of these complaints in Chapter IV. Return

42. Quoted from Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools," p. 330. Return

43. Synods divided all the material coming before their bodies and submitted this material to Committees of Pre-advice, which Committees would study the matters assigned to them and present Synod with advice. Janssen's letters of refusal are included in the Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 202-207. Return

44. Acts of Synod, 1922, Arts. 22, 26. Return

45. The Formula of Subscription, which all officebearers are required to sign, includes a promise that should the signer's theological position come under suspicion, he is required to submit to an investigation of his views, and that should he refuse, he is to be de facto suspended from office. Return

46. Quoted from Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 224-225. Return

47. J. De Boer, E.J. Tuuk, G.W. Hylkema, "Een Opmerkelijk Document" The Witness (September, 1922): 150-151. Return

48. See Quirinus Breen, "My Reflections on Prof. Ralph Janssen and on the Janssen Case of 1922." (MS from the Q. Breen file, Heritage Hall.) See also, Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools," p. 339. Q. Breen later became a professor of history in the University of Oregon. Return

49. See Herman Kuiper, The Chicago Situation, A Word of Warning to the Churches (Chicago: Chicago Calvin Press, no date). Herman Hoeksema, "Storm in the Windy City" The Standard Bearer (1936): 151, 173-174, 196-198, 220-222, 244-246, 268-269, 292-293, 316-317, 340-341, 388-391. Return

50. Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools," p. 340. Return

Chapter I: Introduction

Heresy trials are always of great importance in the history of the church. They arise out of difficult circumstances in the church's life. They disturb and disrupt the life of the church and keep her from concentrating upon her chief calling to preach the gospel. They bring grief and sorrow into the lives of many and often ecclesiastical separation into families and between friends. They cast long shadows over the future life of the church; their effects are felt for generations.

All this is not to say that doctrinal controversy and heresy trials are not necessary and cannot have beneficial results for the church. Scripture makes it abundantly clear that in the continuous warfare which the devil wages against the church, one powerful weapon in his arsenal is the weapon of false doctrine.l The church, to preserve herself in the world, must fight against false doctrine, also as it appears in her own midst. When the church successfully defeats false doctrine, many blessings come to her through the battle. A renewed interest in the Scriptures characterizes God's people; a clearer definition of disputed points of doctrine is forged; an enlivened zeal for the cause of God's church is found in the lives of the saints.

Yet the fact remains that doctrinal controversy and heresy trials are sad and trying experiences. They are difficult and filled with much suffering. They are trials of faith which bring out the worst as well as the best in men. They are often experiences which the church as a whole would rather forget.

In the second and third decades of this century, over the space of a little more than six years, the Christian Reformed Church endured three doctrinal controversies, all of which had to be settled by the Synod, the broadest ecclesiastical assembly of the denomination. Four consecutive Synods2 conducted heresy trials: in 1918, Rev. H. Bultema was deposed for denying the Kingship of Christ over the church; in 1920 and 1922 the views of Dr. Ralph Janssen were examined, and he was deposed from his position as Professor of Old Testament in Calvin Theological Seminary; in 1924 the views of Revs. Herman Hoeksema and Henry Danhof were examined, particularly their denial of common grace, and their views condemned by implication when a doctrinal statement concerning common grace was adopted by the Synod. Never in all its history has the Christian Reformed Church endured such bitter conflict over crucial doctrinal issues in such a short time.

The second and third controversies are of interest to us in this study. In fact, not even the last of these controversies, the controversy over the doctrine of common grace, is of primary importance. The teachings of Dr. Ralph Janssen and the disputes which revolved around his views are the main themes of this paper. Insofar as the common grace issue, resolved by the Synod of 1924, enters into this discussion, it is only because of its relationship to the Janssen heresy trial.

It is possible to approach the Janssen heresy trial from different points of view. Writing in the Grand Rapids Press under "Viewpoint in Religion," Dr. Harry R. Boer reflects on the significance of the Janssen controversy for the history of the Christian Reformed Church. He writes:

The year 1922 marks the absolute watershed determining the limits of freedom in CRC academia. In that year Prof. Ralph Janssen, a man of erudition and teaching competence, was dismissed from the Calvin Seminary faculty. He had taught God's inspiration of the Bible as availing itself of historical, political, religious and general cultural influences in the composition of its several books.
The pall that this event cast over the freedom of academic discussion in the CRC as a whole has never been entirely dispelled.3

Boer defines the issue in terms of academic freedom, and perhaps he is correct to some extent

(depending on how one defines the term "academic freedom"), although at the time the battle was fought, this was not a consideration.

The Synod of 1922, which finally condemned Janssen's teaching and deposed him from his position in the Seminary, did so chiefly because it did not believe Janssen did justice in his teaching to the truth of Scripture's infallible inspiration.The question for Synod was: Does Janssen teach the doctrine of Scripture which is outlined in the Reformed Confessions?

What is intriguing about the controversy is the fact that those who were officially involved in it5 stuck steadfastly to this main point even though Janssen himself repeatedly and on numerous occasions not only insisted on his orthodoxy with respect to the doctrine of inspiration, but also attempted to show his detractors and accusers that another issue was involved of a more basic kind: the issue of common grace. In fact, so insistent was Janssen on this point that he repeatedly charged his accusers with being the ones who had strayed from the paths of orthodoxy, while he was the one faithful to historic Calvinistic and Reformed thought. For Janssen, the only question was the question of common grace. Yet as often as Janssen insisted on this point, so often did his accusers refuse to deal with it.

This insistence on the part of Janssen could be construed as a "red herring" by which he made a valiant but unsuccessful attempt to divert the attention of his accusers, if it were not for the fact that the controversy over common grace arose not only immediately after the Janssen controversy, but actually arose out of it.6 In fact, Rev. H. Hoeksema, a member of the Investigatory Committee and of the Synod of 1922, and himself finally deposed from the ministry in the Christian Reformed Church for his opposition to common grace, later said with reference to common grace:

In the light of subsequent history it was evidently a mistake on the part of the Reverends H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema, that they co-operated with the four professors in the Janssen controversy, rather than to oppose his views separately from their own standpoint . . . .7

The subject of the relation between the views of Dr. Janssen and the doctrine of common grace brings up a number of interesting and important questions. Was it true that the issue of common grace stood inseparably connected with the views of Dr. Janssen concerning Scripture? And, if they were connected, as Dr. Janssen insisted they were, were they connected in such a way that they could not possibly be discussed separately? Or, to put it a bit differently, did the Synod of 2922 err when it refused to deal with common grace, but nevertheless condemned Janssen? Janssen insisted that a repudiation of his own views was, in effect, a repudiation of common grace.

To answer this question will involve us in other questions. How did Dr. Janssen connect his views on Scripture with common grace? Why did the Investigatory Committee refuse to become involved in this crucial issue? Why did the Synod of 1922 follow the leadership of the Investigatory Committee and also refuse to become embroiled in the question of common grace? And, after such repeated refusals to deal with common grace, why was it that, after all, only two years later, the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church was prepared to make an official statement concerning this doctrine, and within but a short time of four years was prepared to approve of the deposition from office of those who opposed it?

These are the questions which we propose to investigate in our study. To concentrate on this aspect of the question will, quite obviously, set up some parameters outside of which we do not intend to go. Our primary concern in this paper is not with Janssen's views on Scripture. We shall have to deal with them, but we limit our concern with them to their relationship to the doctrine of common grace. For that reason also we are not primarily concerned with evaluating the decisions of the Synod of 1922. Some evaluation is obviously necessary and one can hardly write about these decisions without passing judgment upon them; but it is not our primary intent to weigh these decisions in the light of Scripture. The same is true of the church political aspects of the case. These aspects occupied a great deal of attention in the church: in the periodicals, discussions, and deliberations of the assemblies; but a detailed study of these matters lies outside our concern.

To accomplish the chief goal, we shall first of all give a brief and sketchy history of the controversy. Secondly, we shall define the issues as they were officially discussed by the Churches. Thirdly we shall examine the question of the relation between Janssen's views and common grace: how Janssen saw their relationship; how the Churches saw the relationship; and our own judgment concerning the question. And finally we shall come to some conclusions on the effect of the controversy, not only on the Synod of 1924 and its decisions on common grace, but also on subsequent history in the Christian Reformed Church and Protestant Reformed Churches.

1. Of. e.g., the many warnings in the New Testament to the saints to be on their guard against false doctrine: Acts 20:29-31II Peter 2:1Jude 3, 4, and such like passages. Return

2. Synods met every other year. Return

3. H. Boer, "Broad Concessions Tragic, Man Says." The Grand Rapids Press, April 25, 1987, p. D4. This article was written in answer to an earlier article in The Press which carried a report concerning three professors in Calvin College who "have openly described the coming into being of the physical world quite differently than is done in the first two chapters of the Bible." (Quoted from Boer's article, not the original Press article.) Return

4. We will have opportunity to look more closely at the precise issues involved in a different context. Return

5. The Curatorium of the Theological School, the Investigatory Committee, the Synods of 1920 and 1922, along with their Committees of Pre-advice. Return

6. While this point is one which needs exploring, an exploration which we intend to conduct in the course of the paper, one can find abundant proof for this assertion in Jan Karel Van Baalen, Nieuwigheid en Dwaling. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans - Sevensma Publishing Co., 1923.) Return

7. Hoeksema, Herman, The History of the Protestant Reformed Churches (Grand Rapids: The author, second edition, 1947). Return


The years 1920-1925 form a crucial period in the history of the Christian Reformed Church. During this period two doctrinal controversies troubled the churches: the Janssen controversy over the nature and authority of Scripture and the common grace controversy. The outcome of these controversies helped to set the theological direction of the Christian Reformed Church in subsequent decades.

While a reading of the decisions of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1920, 1922, 1924, and 1926 would not lead one to suspect that any connection between these two controversies was present, a study of the many brochures and articles which were written during the period prove that the two stood in the closest possible relation to each other. The common grace controversy was an inevitable result of the troubles over Dr. Janssen's teachings.

It is the purpose of this thesis to show this relationship and trace the connection between the two. The thunder of the storm which broke over the church in those years continues to reverberate down the corridors of time. An examination of this question will, therefore, be of assistance in an understanding of subsequent history in the Christian Reformed Church and will give insight into the origin of the Protestant Reformed denomination.

Five Points of Calvinism - Hanko & Engelsma (2008)

The Five Points of Calvinism 


"The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein" (Ps. 111:2). This touches upon our heart: in what do we take pleasure?

Jehovah’s works centre in His salvation of His church in Jesus Christ: glorious works wrought before the foundation of the world, at the cross of Calvary and in the hearts and lives of His people.

This is the calling and delight of the saints: to seek to understand these works. In this wonderful activity, all of God’s faithful children are occupied, for Jehovah’s works are "sought out of all them that have pleasure therein."

This book is written to help God’s people in their delightful calling to search out and study the wonderful works of the Triune God.

Its authors, Profs. David Engelsma and Herman Hanko, have between them spent almost 100 years in the Christian ministry extolling and magnifying "the God of all grace" (I Peter 5:10) and His "so great salvation" (Heb. 2:3), in preaching and polemics, in catechising and counselling, in lecturing and writing. Between them, they have authored or edited some 20 books, including the previous publication of the British Reformed Fellowship (BRF), Keeping God’s Covenant.

The six chapters of The Five Points of Calvinism were originally the six main speeches at the ninth biennial British Reformed Fellowship Family Conference at Cloverley Hall, Shropshire, England, in 2006. This little book proclaims the doctrines of grace, both warmly and antithetically, and with deep scriptural penetration. It draws upon a wealth of historical and creedal material, especially theCanons of Dordt (1618-1619), the original Five Points of Calvinism. Here is robust, unashamed and uncompromising Calvinism which is also deeply personal and moving, calling the saints to love, confess and promote "the true grace of God" in Christ Jesus (I Peter 5:12).

Reader, the biblical truth of God’s sovereign grace is near you, even in a book in your hand; you do not need to descend into the depths of the sea, encompassed with seaweed, and be swallowed by a great fish, like Jonah, to learn that "Salvation is of the Lord"—all of it (Jonah 2:10)!

This book is sent forth "to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved" (Eph. 1:6), that we might grow in gratitude and worship Him for His great work of saving us in Jesus Christ.

Rev. Angus Stewart
BRF Chairman


Chapter 1: The History of Calvinism
Chapter 2: Unconditional Election
Chapter 3: Particular Redemption
Chapter 4: Total Depravity
Chapter 5: Irresistible Grace
Chapter 6: The Perseverance of Saints

Now also available in eBook form! Visit the Covenant PRC site for more information.

Chapter 5 - The Perseverance of the Saints

We read in Rev. 21, "And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, 'Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall he no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.' And He that sat upon the throne said, 'Behold, I make all things new.' And He said unto me, 'Write: for these words are true and faithful.'"

That is beautiful, is it not? To us is given the description of the new heavens and earth where righteousness dwells. But -- are you convinced that you shall arrive there? Are you sure at this very moment, without any shadow of doubt, that this place is your place? We live in the present age; and though the end is at hand, the road before us yet looks long and treacherous. There are the snares of the wicked laid to catch our souls. Their temptations surround us along this road to glory, for the wicked would seek to lead us astray. Do you think then that you shall surely arrive at the New Jerusalem? Can you endure to the end in the face of additional threats? There is persecution along that way before one arrives in the new heavens and earth. And all the time we live on the earth, we still have a sinful flesh: a flesh which wants to enjoy this world; a flesh which falls so often into sin. Will we arrive at that glorious place described in Rev. 21?

Remember what the Psalmist said in Psalm 69? "I sink in deep mire where there is no standing: I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me, I am weary of my crying: my throat is dried: mine eyes fail while I wait for my God. They that hate me without a cause are more than the hairs of mine head; they that would destroy me, being mine enemies wrongfully, are mighty; then I restored that which I took not away." The Psalmist saw the terrible pitfalls along the way indeed. Psalm 38 expresses the same fact, "There is no soundness in my flesh because of thine anger; neither is there any rest in my bones because of my sin. For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me." Other passages express the same idea. You get the point, do you not? Between here and heaven there is a long way which the child of God must go; a way in which there appears to be threat and danger on every hand. Will you stand fast along that entire way?

That question is the concern of this essay. We confess the truth of the perseverance of the saints. We maintain that though the way is dark and though dangers lurk on every hand, the child of God shall be preserved and shall persevere until New Jerusalem descends from the heavens.

If you have followed the series of lectures as spoken and presented now in this booklet, you would have to acknowledge that if the preceding four points of Calvinism are true, then this fifth one follows as B follows A. We confessed the truth of total depravity. We confessed the truths of unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace. If those four are true, and they are, then the fifth, which is concerned with the perseverance of saints, follows. I will point that out later more definitely.

The truth of perseverance of saints is a truth so plainly scriptural that one wonders how any could question it. I hope to point out some of the most pertinent texts in this essay.

The subject we now consider is, "The Perseverance of Saints." Let us consider first, what is the perseverance of saints? In the second place, we must view its basis: how does one know that the saints shall persevere to the end? Finally, we must see the wonderful comfort of this truth.



There are two terms in our theme: "perseverance" and "saints." We must understand them clearly. First of all, there is the term: "saints." Of whom do we speak? Sometimes one gets this wrong notion that a saint is a person far above all other normal people in the church. A saint is one who has performed a superabundance of good works and is therefore above all others to be praised. That idea comes from the Romish church, which elevates some above others, maintaining that saints, because of their superabundance of good works, can immediately enter into heaven. But this is not the Scriptural idea of a saint. According to the Word, a saint is one who is both separate and separated. A saint is one chosen by the living God from all eternity through Jesus Christ our Lord. He was no better than others, but is lifted out of that miry clay of sin and death. He is regenerated, called, converted, so that now he lives in conscious union with his Lord Jesus Christ. He is separated then from this world, and is made righteous and holy. That is a saint. I do not say he is a man without sin; I do say that he is a saint for Jesus' sake. And we confess that we are numbered among those saints.

It is to those saints, though they are so imperfect on this earth, that the Word of God is addressed repeatedly. The epistles are written to the "saints" of a certain city. Of these saints we speak.

In the second place, there is the term, "perseverance." By this, we mean that one continues in the state of holiness and righteousness to which he has been elevated through the work of the Holy Spirit, and he continues in this state through all of his way through the valley of the shadow of death until he is brought finally to glory.

Perseverance suggests first of all dangers or threats to that new life which one has received. There is that which seeks to drag one down, to destroy, to take away that living faith which we confess is ours for Jesus' sake.

But perseverance likewise implies that though the dangers are present on every hand, we walk safely through them all until finally we receive exactly that glory which God has promised to us in Christ. There is one passage in Scripture which points out this truth clearly: I Corinthians 15:58. Remember it? After the apostle had spoken much of the resurrection of Christ and our resurrection in Him, Paul declares, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord." That is it; that is the perseverance of the saints. And though the word, "perseverance," is used only once in the Bible, the idea is found throughout Scripture, including that passage in I Cor. 15.



You are aware, I presume, that this fifth point, together with the other four points of Calvinism, was proposed overagainst the heresy known as Arminianism. There were in the years 1600 and following in the Netherlands, a group influenced by Arminius who taught that a saint can also fall from grace. He can be a real saint; he can be holy and righteous; he can actually be regenerated -- and yet fall away from grace. I will quote to you from their own works to show that this is indeed what they teach. First, I quote from the fifth article of the Remonstrance, the so-called Arminian Articles, written in 1610. Listen to it carefully. Notice how the Arminian definitely questions the truth of perseverance of saints.

That those who are incorporated into Christ by a true faith and have thereby become partakers of his life-giving Spirit, have thereby full power to strive against Satan, sin, the world, and their own flesh, and to win the victory; it being well understood that it is ever through the assisting grace of the Holy Ghost; and that Jesus Christ assists them through his Spirit in all temptations; extends to them his hand, and if only they are ready for the conflict, and desire his help, and are not inactive, keeps them from falling, so that they, by no craft or power of Satan, can be misled nor plucked out of Christ's hands, according to the Word of Christ, John 10:28: "Neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand." But whether they are capable, through negligence, of forsaking again the first beginnings of their life in Christ, of again returning to this present evil world, of turning away from the holy doctrine which was delivered them, of losing a good conscience, of becoming devoid of grace, that must be more particularly determined out of the Holy Scripture, before we ourselves can teach it with the full persuasion of our minds.

Notice how cleverly the above is stated? The Arminian also emphasizes the assisting power of the Holy Ghost. He is careful in the article to state not that the saints Do NOT persevere, but rather that the matter is not yet clearly ascertained from Scripture.

But later the Arminian openly rejected the idea of perseverance of saints. I quote from John Wesley as given in the book, "Elements of Divinity," by Ralston, page 455.

Can a child of God, then, go to hell? Or can a man be a child of God today, and a child of the devil tomorrow? If God is our Father once, is he not our Father always?
I answer, 1. A child of God - that is, a true believer - (for he that believeth is born of God,) while he continues a true believer, cannot go to hell. 2. If a believer makes shipwreck of the faith, he is no longer a child of God; and then he may go to hell, yea, and certainly will, if he continues in unbelief. 3. If a believer may make shipwreck of the faith, then a man that believes now may be an unbeliever some time hence; yea, very possibly tomorrow; but if so, he who is a child of God today, may be a child of the devil tomorrow. For, 4. God is the Father of them that believe, so long as they believe; but the devil is the father of them that believe not, whether they did once believe or no.
The sum of all is this: If the Scriptures are true, those who are holy or righteous in the judgment of God himself; those who are endued with the faith that purifies the heart, that produces a good conscience; those who are grafted into the good olive-tree, the spiritual, invisible Church; those who are branches of the spiritual, invisible Church; those who are branches of the true vine, of whom Christ says, "I am the vine, ye are the branches;" those who so effectually know Christ as by that knowledge to have escaped the pollutions of the world; those who see the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and who have been made partakers of the Holy Ghost, of the witness and of the fruits of the Spirit; those who live by faith in the Son of God; those who are sanctified by the blood of the covenant, MAY NEVERTHELESS SO FALL FROM GOD AS TO PERISH EVERLASTINGLY.
Therefore let him that standeth take heed lest he fall.

The capital letters above are added. The quotation allows no doubt to remain. Words could not be plainer. A saint, says Wesley, a real living spiritual child of God can fall and finally be cast into hell though Christ died for him.



Of course the Arminian claims the support of Scripture. When one reads the passages which he quotes, one would begin to think that indeed the Arminian has proved his point from the Bible. I can not possibly mention all of the passages which are quoted. There are certain representative ones nevertheless which we must consider. One of them is from Hebrews 6:4-6, "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame." Does not this appear to teach a falling away of the saints? What would you say of that? These were once enlightened, tasted of the heavenly gift, they were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, etc. Does not then the Arminian correctly teach that one can fall from grace?

Another passage is Romans 11:17, 21, 22, "And if some of the branches be broken off, and thou, being a wild olive tree, were grafted in among them, and with them partaker of the root and fatness of the olive tree.... Well; because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith. Be not high-minded, but fear. For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness; otherwise thou also shalt be cut off." What can one say of this passage? There is a grafting in and a cutting off. Is that not falling away of saints? The Arminian says, "Yes."

We read again in I Timothy 1:18-19, "Holding faith, and good conscience, which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck; of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme." Some have made faith shipwreck. Now these are cast into destruction. That proves, does it not, the falling away of saints? The Arminian says, "It does."

What would you say of these texts? In the first place these passages can not mean that there is a falling away of saints. Whatever meaning they have, they can not mean that. Otherwise, some texts would conflict with and contradict hundreds of other passages of Scripture. And Scripture does not contradict itself.

One can find explanation for all these passages which are quoted. One of the simplest ways to refute all the arguments of the Arminian is to quote I John 2:19, "They went out from us but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us." That is the principal explanation for most of the passages the Arminian would use to deny perseverance of saints. Some do indeed appear to be of us; they are called "Christian"; they speak as Christians - but they depart from the church. The very fact that they left proves that they were really never of us. That is how we must understand Hebrews 6. There were those who were enlightened, etc. Were these regenerated sons of God? No; in this particular instance the text speaks of one unconverted or unregenerated. Here is one who had not fallen on his knees in sincere repentance and cried out, "Oh, God, be merciful to me the sinner." But the man of Heb. 6 is one of those who for one reason or another has affiliated with the church on earth. He has listened to the preached Word. In that sense he also tasted the good Word of God. He spoke of that Word. He was made "partakers" of the Holy Ghost. That is, he enjoyed the other means of grace given to the church: baptism and the Lord's Supper. Thishypocrite pretends to be righteous and holy, until finally he reveals his true colors and departs. Of such Hebrews speaks. If they fall away, it is impossible to renew them to repentance, seeing that they crucify again unto themselves the Son of God afresh and put Him to an open shame. The following verses of Hebrews 6 substantiate this idea.

Or consider the passage of Romans 11. In this text there is mentioned a cutting off from and a grafting into that olive tree. But one who reads the passage carefully, understands that the apostle is comparing what happened to the church of the old dispensation with that which takes place in the new. Throughout the old dispensation God had gathered His people from among the Jews. After Pentecost, He yet had many of His people from among the Jews, but many there were who were cut off in their generations. At the time of Pentecost whole generations of Jews were separated from the church; and the Gentiles in their generations were brought in. Now the apostle warns these Gentiles that, in their generations, faithlessness results in this: rotten branches, generations, are cut off. That happens too. Not individual saints are cut off from the living tree which is Christ, but disobedient generations which were formerly called "church," are cut off.

Or again, there is the reference to Hymenaeus and Alexander. There one notes the same thing as presented in Hebrews 6. Those men had put on a show of piety and faith. It is this pretended faith that they made shipwreck. They departed. This is not a falling away of saints, but an exposing of hypocrisy. The "Arminian" texts do not disprove the perseverance of the saints.



May I state first of all that the Word of God throughout emphasizes that the saints must persevere. They must be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord. That is the calling of the church of Christ. It is our calling. Many passages teach this truth. In Rev. 3:11 (to the church of Philadelphia) Christ says, "Behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown." In Phil. 2:12 we read, "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."

And the Christian shall persevere. Do you want proof? Read John 5:24, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life." Is that not plain? What is here true for him that heareth Christ's word and believeth? The Scripture does not state that this one might finally obtain eternal life, or that he shall conditionally receive it; but he has it already. It is his now. And that one shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death into life. The promise is sure.

Romans 8 emphasizes the same truth. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" The point that this Word of God makes is exactly this: there is nothing that can or will separate us from that love of God in Christ. Nothing.

Or read Paul's own confession in II Timothy 4:7-8, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith; henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day; and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing." Paul does not question whether finally the crown will be there, but he expresses the assurance that it IS laid up for him and for all the saints.

Now we should consider the confessions of the Reformed churches. In the Canons of Dordt there is an entire section treating the subject under discussion now. I will quote one pertinent article: Nine.

Of this preservation of the elect to salvation, and of their perseverance in the faith, true believers for themselves may and do obtain assurance according to the measure of their faith, whereby they arrive at the certain persuasion, that they ever will continue true and living members of the church; and that they experience forgiveness of sins, and will at last inherit eternal life.

That is the confession of Reformed churches since 1618-1619 and even before.



When one speaks of the perseverance of the saints, there is one element that renders this perseverance of the saints absolutely sure, an element which may never be forgotten. One always perseveres because he is preserved by the living God -- and there is no other possible reason for perseverance. If one speaks with an Arminian concerning the subject of perseverance of the saints, it is very conceivable that he would not disagree with you. The Arminian would be ready to say that there is and must be perseverance -- and there will be if we remain steadfast to the end. If we continue to maintain the truth of God's Word, then we will persevere to the end. It iswe who have the strength to persevere if we want to; but also we can lose that which we have and be lost. So the Arminian would also urge the saint to persevere. But he teaches then that it is really possible, and does happen, that a saint can finally be lost. We deny that such is ever possible. The saint can not fall because his preservation rests not on his own act, but on the power of the almighty God. There is much that could be emphasized to show this. One could he reminded of the fact that the attributes of God necessarily imply the sure preservation of the saint. God reveals His mercy, His love, His justice, His grace, His truth, His almighty power. Consider each of the attributes, which are all essentially one, and one must recognize that each necessarily implies that God must preserve His own people, otherwise He is not God.



The five points of Calvinism are closely related. One point presupposes the others. There is the subject of eternal election. According to Eph. 1:4, election is sure; it is accomplished in Christ; and it is before the foundation of the earth. If that is true, and it is, it necessarily follows that there must be preservation of the saints. God has eternally elected some; if it means anything at all, it means this: these shall surely sit before His face in glory. Deny perseverance and preservation, and election means nothing. Or reverse it: deny election, and perseverance has no meaning.

The same relationship is seen with limited or particular atonement: that Christ dies for His people and that therefore their sins are removed according to the justice and righteousness of God. Because that is true, He must preserve His people so that they do persevere to the end. If Christ's death represents power and life, so that those who are in Him are forgiven all their sins, they must also surely be taken to glory. If these for whom Christ died could nevertheless fall from grace, to that extent Christ would have died in vain. But that is impossible. With irresistible grace this is likewise true. Irresistible grace is the power of God according to which He accomplishes His good pleasure with His saints. Those who were sinners, but chosen eternally in Christ, He fashions anew. God forms them in His own image by the power of grace. Therefore, where irresistible grace is, there must also be preservation of saints. The irresistible grace of God both begins and completes our salvation.



Scripture contains very many passages which prove the truth that God preserves His chosen people. I will quote some of these. In Phil 1:6 the apostle states, "...He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." There are no "ifs", no "buts", no "conditions." He WILL complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. He preserves and we persevere.

Here is another passage from John 10:27-29, "My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me; and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand." Can there be anything clearer than that? He gives eternal life. What could the meaning of this be were one to adopt the Arminian concept? Does God give eternal life, and in some instances take it back again? Oh, no. Hear this: "And they SHALL NEVER perish." Do you know why? Not because these are so strong; not because they are better than anyone else. But they are in their Father's hand, and He is greater than all. No man can take the saints out of the Father's hand. No one!

In II Tim. 1:12 we read, "...for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day." Notice how Paul speaks. He does not say, "I am persuaded that I am able to keep that which I have received unto that day;" but, "HE IS ABLE." That is God Who is greater than all. He keeps us in the way of life. He preserves the saints so that they are assured that they shall persevere.

Or again, read in Romans 8:29-30, "For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified." You notice, God did not tell His church that He maybe will glorify them, conditioned upon their own action; but God declares, "Your final salvation is already an accomplished fact." God foreknew; God justified; God glorified. According to the eternal counsel of God that stands. We are preserved by our God.

Many more passages could be quoted. One could point to John 17, that beautiful prayer of Christ before crucifixion, where He speaks of and prays for His own. We could read of Peter who boasted so in his own ability to stand fast though all the others forsook the Christ. Christ tells Peter, "I prayed for thee that thy faith fail not." And that was the difference between Peter and Judas Iscariot. Christ held fast to Peter and died for him. And Peter entered into glory.

Now consider again our confessions, the Canons of Dordt, articles 6 and 7.

But God, who is rich in mercy, according to his unchangeable purpose of election, does not wholly withdraw the Holy Spirit from his own people, even in their melancholy falls; nor suffers them to proceed so far as to lose the grace of adoption, and forfeit the state of justification, or to commit the sin unto death; nor does he permit them to be totally deserted, and to plunge themselves into everlasting destruction.
For in the first place. in these falls he preserves in them the incorruptible seed of regeneration from perishing, or being totally lost; and again, by his Word and Spirit, certainly and effectually renews them to repentance, to a sincere and godly sorrow for their sins, that they may seek and obtain remission in the blood of the Mediator, may again experience the favor of a reconciled God, through faith adore his mercies, and henceforward more diligently work out their own salvation with fear and trembling.

Our fathers confessed it. We must. It is the comfort, hope, assurance of the church.



The idea of the perseverance of saints is not something boring, cold, and unrelated to the Christian's life. Are we possibly willing to study perseverance occasionally as a doctrine of the church, but otherwise this means nothing to us personally? God forbid. This truth is vital; it is lovely; it is comforting; it is filled with hope -- nor does it lead a person into carelessness. That is one of the objections of the Arminian to this truth: he claims that this necessarily leads to carelessness in walk. If one is preserved to the end, it matters not what he does or says in his life. But if we realize that WE have to work, then we will not become careless -- says the Arminian. But the Arminian is dead wrong. The truth of perseverance does not lead to carelessness. This truth of the perseverance and preservation of the saints is exactly the truth which is an incentive to the child of God to walk in all godliness and holiness before God. That is a fact. No child of God would ever say that he can sin as he pleases -- for he will be preserved anyway. One who says that he may sin as he will is no Christian and gives no evidence of Christ's work in his heart. The Spirit just does not work that way. He regenerates us, giving us the life Christ merited for us; and the same Spirit leads us in a walk of godliness and holiness on the earth. We are not yet perfect. We do have the beginning of new life though, and according to that, there is the spiritual desire to serve God now while we are on the earth. Then with the apostle Paul, we truly say from the heart, "The good that I would, I do not; and the evil that I would not, that I do." Does the doctrine of perseverance lead to carelessness? To profanity? That can never be. Rather this truth must so stir us up that daily we adore only Him Who has delivered us by His own blood and keeps us by His Word and Spirit through all the way to the end when we shall surely be glorified.

This perseverance of saints is specially of comfort to us who still sin. Perseverance does not mean that we are perfect, though all our sins are blotted out through the blood of Christ. We still do sin as long as we live on the earth. But the truth we are considering in this essay does comfort us with respect to our sins. There is that way which we must travel here below. There are all kinds of dangers along that way - not the least of which is my own flesh. Daily I sin. In thought, word, and deed, I sin. Shall I assuredly then enter into heaven? Ah, I know that great though my sins are, these are purged; I shall enter into glory without doubt. Scripture is replete with examples. Remember King David -- the man after God's own heart? Yet David committed some horrible sins: he committed adultery; committed murder; lied; numbered the people. These are only some of the more prominent sins of David. There was a time when David was overwhelmed because of the burden of his sins. For a time he lived in impenitence until the prophet of God came to him, pointing him to his transgressions and the way of deliverance therefrom. David knew what it was to sin against the living God; but David also knew what it was to be preserved in the faith. David, on his knees, in Ps. 51 cries out, "Cast me not away from thy Presence. Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation and uphold me with Thy free Spirit." And God did for David -- and does for all His elect. Do not forget Peter either, boastful, proud Peter, who denies Christ three times. Can you think of any sin worse? But Christ prayed for Him. Christ kept him. Peter is brought back and once more enjoys the glories of his salvation in Christ. He did not fall away from grace; he could not fall from that grace. He could sin -- yes; grievously -- yes; but unto death? No. Christ died for Peter. And Christ preserved him so that Peter also is now in glory.

And so one could go through the whole roster of saints. They all had their sins, sometimes grievous sins, but they are forgiven; and these saints are preserved and glorified. That is my comfort. Nothing can change this fact. Arminianism says, "I know I am a child of God today. Today I know I shall inherit eternal life. But tomorrow possibly I can not say that." But the child of God (one does not have to call him a "Calvinist") on his knees before God cries, "I know my Redeemer lives; I know that I live through Him; I know that I shall receive the crown of glory laid up in store for me. I know it." Dangers there are on every hand; threats; fears; persecutions; -- but I know that I belong to Him and shall enter into that glory He has promised me.

Sometimes the question is yet asked, "Am I one of those saints who persevere to the end?" Sometimes children of God do question and wonder concerning their own final salvation. In the Christian, doubt does at times arise, sometimes to the extent that for a time we seem completely separated from all of the blessings and favors of our God. But God tells us in His Word that His people belong forever to Him. He speaks that Word and applies it to my heart by His Spirit. His Spirit with my spirit cries, "Abba, Father." When I am concerned, as I am, of my salvation; when I am concerned with the fact that I am a sinner unworthy of any blessing; I then see already the fruit of the work of the Spirit in me. The concern, real spiritual concern, for sin; the hope and longing for salvation is the work of the Spirit. The fruit of the work of the Spirit in me is proof that I also am one of those preserved to the end. He who begins the good work in us will complete it unto the end.

Need I add: tell this to your children. Do not have anyone teach them that there is no perseverance and preservation of the saints. They will need this comfort especially today when the night is far spent and the day is at hand. Not only we, but the covenant seed must know that whatever temptations, persecutions, imprisonments, or death lie in their path, they shall also persevere to the end. They are kept in His hand; no man can take them out. Knowing all this, we can say with the apostle Paul in Romans 8:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.

For published materials on Perseverance of the Saints, please click here

Chapter 4 - Irresistible Grace

I have in my possession several exhibits. First, I have a check, rather widely distributed, and sent out evidently in order to encourage others to be saved. It is dated: "Anytime, anywhere." It is written out on the "Bank of the Riches of Jesus --Resources Unlimited." It is written out to be paid to the order of the bearer on demand "his need according to the riches in glory by Christ Jesus." Among other things, the explanation on the back states this: "Will you take Him today as your Savior? Friend, don't turn Him away. He's waiting to receive you. He is longing to bless and to save you. He wants to give you eternal life. And if you accept Him, he will fill your soul with a joy such as you have never known in all your life and make you a child of God, an heir of God, and a joint-heir with Jesus Christ." Now I ask you, what kind of God is this Who must await the endorsement of the sinner before He can confer upon him this salvation?

Here is a second exhibit. I have a ballot, an opportunity to vote for your salvation. This "ballot" has also been widely distributed to promote "acceptances" of Christ. There are three who vote on this ballot, and each can vote in one of two ways. First, God votes - and He votes "yes" for your salvation. Secondly, the devil votes - and he votes "no." Then there is your vote - and two possibilities are presented: "yes" or "no." Your vote becomes the deciding vote. The idea is that man's final salvation is determined by himself. And I ask again, what kind of God is this Who, though He votes, must await your vote before your salvation is finally determined?

Another exhibit I have from The World Aflame by Billy Graham. He writes this, "There is also volitional resolution. The will is necessarily involved in conversion. People can pass through mental conflicts and emotional crises without being converted. Not until they exercise the prerogative of a free moral agent and will to be converted are they actually converted. This act of will is an act of acceptance and commitment. They willingly accept God's mercy and receive God's Son and then commit themselves to do God's will. In every true conversion the will of man comes into line with the will of God. Almost the last word of the Bible is this invitation: 'And whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely' (Rev. 22:17). It is up to you. You must will to be saved. It is God's will, but it must become your will, too." (Pg. 134, pocket-book edition). I ask you again, what kind of God is this Who wills your salvation, but now is eagerly awaiting your will to be made conformable to His?

These examples set before us the Arminianism of our day which would deny those important Scriptural truths concerning our salvation. We do indeed today have the threat of another evil: modernism. This denies the cross of Christ itself and denies the glory which is promised us for Jesus' sake. Yet it is implied far too often that the alternative to modernism is Arminianism. It is suggested, even among those within Reformed circles, that because these do speak of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, we should cooperate with them and encourage them. You understand, do you not, that these exhibits which I have presented above do mention the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ - nevertheless these deny the power of God and the power of the cross of His Son. No, Arminianism does not deny all of God's power, nor all of the power of the cross, but it denies much of it. Arminianism would place such power in your hands whereby you finally must determine your own salvation. Is it really a matter worthy of debate - this subject of Arminianism? Two things one must remember. In the first place, our subject is not simply that which is interesting, but basically unimportant; rather we deal with God as He has been pleased to reveal Himself in His infallible Word. Neither you nor I may just say anything we please about God. We must, on the contrary, maintain Him and confess His Name as He has revealed Himself in His Word. And we must confess His work as He has set it forth in this Word--which work we have experienced within our own hearts. We are treating the subject of the salvation of God's church, and it makes a world of difference how we believe this salvation takes place.

In this chapter, your attention is called to that fourth point of the five points of Calvinism: Irresistible Grace. Notice, first of all, what this grace of God is; secondly, notice its irresistibility; finally, notice its comfort.



Questions do arise in the study of the truths related to our salvation. Questions there are with respect to the three points of Calvinism which have already been presented in preceding chapters. The question arises when one speaks of the wonderful truths of unconditional election and limited atonement, "How am I ever to be a partaker of that? Am I, who am no better nor different than anyone else, a beneficiary of that limited atonement of Christ? How does this come to be? Is it because God nevertheless has seen in me something that He has not seen in others? Is it because in me there is found some willingness and desire to follow after Him, that is not found in others?" But that can not be; for with all those born of Adam, I am totally depraved.

Another question arises: "If it is true, and I believe it is, that I am a beneficiary of that atonement of the cross, how is this applied to me? How do I enjoy those benefits of that salvation merited for me by my Lord Jesus Christ? Do I receive His benefits because I am willing to come to Him? Do I receive these benefits because I am ready to endorse the "check" He offers to me?" But that also can not be.



The answer of all Scripture is: I am partaker of Christ's atonement (even as God has eternally chosen me before the foundation of the earth) by the free, sovereign, unmerited, grace of God. Read it in Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." We are "saved by grace through faith" - and that is the only possible way. "FOR ye are saved by grace," says that Word of God. That is the basis and foundation of the salvation of God's church. By grace, and by grace alone, He has chosen unto Himself a people from before the foundations of the earth in Christ. By grace alone He sends forth His Word and Spirit and calls forth that new life of regeneration, which the Spirit instills in our hearts, drawing His people from darkness into His marvelous light. By grace, and by grace alone, we are preserved daily until finally we are brought to eternal glory. Indeed: "by grace are ye saved through faith."



What is that grace which saves? I can not begin to present the many texts of Scripture that speak of grace. Nor is it possible in this short essay to treat in detail the various elements of the grace of God. Yet there are several truths which we ought to know of grace. Concerning the idea of grace, there are especially two elements which require emphasis. In the first place, the root idea of grace is beauty. One who is gracious is one who is lovely in appearance. Secondly, the term grace suggests favor which is shown to another. Oftentimes in Scripture the term grace is so used. We read of those which find grace or favor in the eyes of another.

Now grace, despite some who deny this, is an attribute of God. Grace is that attribute of God which emphasizes the fact of His infinitely glorious perfection. All righteousness, truth, holiness, and love are found without measure in the living God. These infinite perfections are His beauty or grace. The Psalmist David saw that in Psalm 27:4, "One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple." That "beauty" is the grace of God.

One must say more of this grace of God. The grace of God within Himself is the attribute in which He as the triune God beholds His own perfections, and finds favor in His own eyes with respect to Himself. The triune God, beholding Himself, rejoices eternally that He is the God of all perfections.

The same grace of God He has been pleased to reveal outside of Himself. This attribute of God is reflected towards and in His people for His own Name's sake. We read in Romans 5:15, "But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many." God has been pleased to reveal His own perfections outside of Himself to that people whom He has eternally chosen by grace. This grace of God to His people is unmerited favor. Do we not usually use that term in this way? Scripture, and we, speak of the contrast between grace and works. Scripture declares in Romans 4:4, "Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt." Notice the contrast between works and grace in this passage? Grace is here the undeserved, unmerited favor which God is pleased to work in us for Jesus' sake. It is unmerited because we deserve nothing of that given. I am dead in sins. I deserve nothing. I can earn nothing. That which God bestows upon me is not earned by me, but is given solely by His free grace.

In the third place, this grace of God is grace that works. This favor of God that He reflects to and in His people is a beauty that is power. It fashions and forms His people according to God's own design. Remember what the apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 15:10? "But by the grace of God I am what I am...." What a brief statement - but what a wealth of meaning! Paul had persecuted the church in the past; he had pursued them even to Damascus; he had imprisoned them and participated in killing them. This same Paul was taken by that marvelous, completely unmerited grace of God, and was turned so that the persecutor now himself became the persecuted as a result of his union to Christ. Now Paul was imprisoned and mocked and whipped. "By grace," he says, "I am what I am." The power of God's grace fashions His people. He forms them that they may show forth His praise. That is the grace of our God.

But what is the significance of such a grace? Do not forget, first of all, the power of this grace. It is not simply an influence, but the very power of God that accomplishes what He determined to do. Secondly, this power of grace is revealed only in and through His only begotten Son Jesus Christ. He has been pleased to show His favor in no other way than through Jesus. It is shown to no other people than to those who have been united to His Son. Finally, this too we must remember: there is only one grace of God. That grace which exists within God Himself is the grace which He reveals outside of Himself. And that grace outside of Himself is revealed only to His people and to none other.



The grace of God is irresistible. You understand what the term "irresistible'' emphasizes. Do not think that irresistible grace is some sort of blind force which simply drags the struggling, rebellious sinner into heaven against his will -- as a policeman might drag a rebellious prisoner to jail. The grace of God is not such a power that compels to enter into heaven those who would not.

That God's grace is irresistible emphasizes the idea that not only does grace bring His people to glory, but it prepares them for this glory and works within them the desire to enter into glory. Grace is irresistible in the sense that by it the knee is bent which otherwise would not bend; the heart is softened that otherwise is hard as stone. Nor is there anything which can prevent the accomplishment of that purpose of God to save His people by His grace.



Not all confess the truth of the irresistible grace of God. One who believes that Christ died for all sinners, can not believe the truth of irresistible grace. There are those who maintain, as we do, that one is saved by grace alone. These maintain, as we do, that the sinner apart from grace can never be saved. These maintain, as we do, that only by the power of God's grace does the sinner bow the knee; only by grace does one come to Christ; only by grace is one preserved and guided in his way. "BUT," say these, "this grace of God is a grace administered to all, head for head, so that those who otherwise could not, now can accept Christ and desire to be saved if they will." This is the old heresy of Arminianism.

You recall James Arminius, a Dutchman. Under his instigation, many in the Reformed Church of the Netherlands departed from the old truths of Scripture. At that time, in 1610, those who opposed Calvinism drew up a document called The Five Articles of the Remonstrance, or, The Five Arminian Articles. Five articles these were that opposed the five truths which we are considering in this booklet. The fourth article of that document treats the subject of the resistibility of grace. It reads as follows:

That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of all good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself, without prevenient or assisting, awakening, following and co-operative grace, can neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements, that can be conceived, must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But as respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible, inasmuch as it is written concerning many, that they have resisted the Holy Ghost. Acts 7, and elsewhere in many places.

Do you follow the argument? It is all of grace whereby one is saved. But all receive this grace. And one not saved, is unsaved because he resisted the grace given him. On the other hand, when one is saved, it is because he received that grace and accepted Christ. Thus salvation comes forth from that man who does not resist God's grace. But if a man rejects that grace, the Holy Spirit is utterly helpless with respect to him, says the Arminian.

James Arminius himself in his Complete Works (Vol. 1. pages 253-254) states it virtually the same way. Seeking to show the validity of his views, he writes:

In this manner, I ascribe to grace THE COMMENCEMENT, THE CONTINUANCE AND THE CONSUMMATION OF ALL GOOD, and to such an extent do I carry its influence, that a man, though already regenerate, can neither conceive, will, nor do any good at all, nor resist any evil temptation, without this preventing and exciting, this following and co-operating grace. From this statement it will clearly appear, that I by no means do injustice to grace, by attributing, as it is reported of me, too much to man's free-will. For the whole controversy reduces itself to the solution of this question, "is the grace of God a certain irresistible force?" That is, the controversy does not relate to those actions or operations which may be ascribed to grace, (for I acknowledge and inculcate as many of these actions or operations as any man ever did,) but it relates solely to the mode of operation, whether it be irresistible or not. With respect to which, I believe, according to the scriptures, that many persons resist the Holy Spirit and reject the grace that is offered.

It is this idea which the Reformed churches have ever opposed. We must oppose that -- this idea that the sovereign glorious unmerited grace of God is resistible.



But we must have proof that grace is irresistible. In the first place, I would remind you that this truth of irresistible grace necessarily follows out of the preceding points of Calvinism which have already been treated in previous chapters: total depravity, unconditional election, and limited atonement. One can not maintain total depravity, yet deny irresistible grace. Can you see that? If the sinner is totally depraved, dead in sin, unable to do any good, then he needs far more than mere assistance. Give a dead man a cane and try thus to assist him in walking! You know that such assistance would be of no avail. Rather, he must be made alive again or he will never walk. So it is with the totally depraved sinner. God does not give to every totally dead sinner some sort of cane (grace) and say, "Here is something to assist you; now serve me!" God does not do that. On the contrary, His grace must take the dead sinner and must make him alive again. Total depravity implies that an irresistibly powerful grace of God is the only hope for the dead sinner.

The same can be said of unconditional election: this truth implies necessarily an irresistible grace of God. God has chosen unto Himself a people from before the foundations of the earth. The execution of the decree of God can not rest now upon the fickle will of man, but rests upon the irresistible grace of God which will surely bring to realization His eternal purpose.

Limited atonement is also inseparably related to God's grace. In the atonement, we confess, Christ dies only for His people on the cross, redeeming them fully from their sins. Now, how does this work of Christ become ours? Does it rest upon your will whether or not you shall receive that atonement? And could God allow the death of His Son to come to naught in that some for whom He died would not be saved? God forbid! When His Son pays for the sins of His people, it is the power of God's grace whereby the life of Christ is given to His own and they are brought unto eternal life.



But you want proof from Scripture. And Scriptural proof you shall have. What does God teach of this in His Word? The Arminian would have us consider Acts 7.Acts 7,says he, teaches a resistible grace of God. Let us examine that passage. Verse 51 states: "Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye." Stephen addresses the Jews who were about to stone him. "Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost," he says. Does it not from this appear that God's grace is after all resistible? Other passages of Scripture apparently speak in this same vein. But remember: in Acts 7 Stephen is speaking to the Jews concerning the words of the prophets which came to the Jews in the past. In resisting the words of these prophets, the Jews had resisted the Holy Ghost. How did they do that? The Holy Ghost reveals God's Word to holy men: prophets and apostles. The Holy Ghost uses ministers of the Word to proclaim the Word of God throughout all ages: to the Jew of the Old Dispensation, and to every tribe and tongue and language in the New. And what do these who hate the Word do? They resist; they rebel; they show scorn. They take those whom the Holy Ghost uses to proclaim the Word, and kill them. Of all this Stephen is speaking. He is not telling them that the Spirit of God was given to all to lead all to repentance - but many resisted. Certainly not. But the Spirit is resisted when these resist the holy men whom the Spirit sends.

Now consider some other pertinent passages of Scripture. Read John 3:3 and 5 particularly, "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he can not see the Kingdom of God.... Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he can not enter into the kingdom of God." What does this passage teach? There is presented, first, the picture of a birth - a new birth. What does that mean? In physical birth, does the one that is born exercise his own will in order to come forth? Is it according to his will that he is either conceived or brought forth? Impossible! One is born into this sinful world, and he must live here his allotted life span. Therefore Scripture uses the term "new birth." That phrase "born again" serves to emphasize what happens in the realm of the spiritual. God is not waiting to see if any will desire to be born again, but God forms a people unto Himself by giving unto them the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. He causes also that life to grow and develop. "Except ye be born of water and of the Spirit, ye can not enter into the kingdom of God." Ah, yes; it is this irresistible grace that brings to the birth the elect of God. Besides, the term "born again" can also be translated "born from above." Again, that same passage states: "Except a man be born again he can not SEE the kingdom of God." One who can not see this kingdom, can not even believe that it exists. That is the meaning of this passage which states that no man can see the kingdom of heaven except he is born again. Surely this emphasizes that there is not in the dead sinner a will which he can exercise in order to see. It is by the irresistible grace of God that one is born again. Only then can he see.

Turn now to Ephesians 2:10, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." Whose is this work of salvation? We are Hisworkmanship. An artist forms his work as he will. The artist does not ask the clay which he forms, "In what form would you desire to be made?" But he fashions the clay according to his own will. So also we are God's workmanship. God Himself forms His people to be what they now are. The prophet states this too in Isaiah 43:21, "This people have I formed for myself; they shall show forth my praise." That is irresistible grace. This power of God does not wait for those poor miserable sinners to accept Christ - but it forms them to be His people. They therefore show forth His praise.

Now read John 6:37, "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." Verse 44, "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day." Verse 65, "And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come to me, except it were given unto him of my Father."

Notice: no man can come unto Christ except it were given unto him of the Father. All that the Father giveth shall come. How? These come because, "My Father," says Jesus, "shall draw him and I will raise him up again in the last day." That is the irresistible grace of God which takes the dead sinner and brings him to Christ.

Now recall that wonderful Lydia of Acts 16, "And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul." Lydia's heart is opened by the Lord. This has an entirely different sound than that class of religious songs which is heard today proclaiming, "Open your heart and let Him come in." You have heard such. And the evangelist of this day declares, "Christ stands waiting at your heart's door; won't you let Him in before it is too late?" I quoted that from the "gospel check" too: "Open up your heart and let Him in." But Scripture never says that. It is true that in Revelation 3:20 Jesus is presented as knocking at the door. But this is not the door of anyone's heart. He knocks at the door of that corrupt church of Laodicea and He calls unto separation those who yet love the Word of God. But Christ does not knock at any man's heart. The Lord opened Lydia's heart - then she listened and believed. That is the irresistible power of the grace of our God. He breaks open the closed heart; and the child of God believes.

We read in Acts 13:48, "...and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed." This too emphasizes the idea I stated earlier: those whom God has chosen, He also will surely save. The ones He has ordained to eternal life, believe. What is the explanation for that? Is there a willingness within them? Oh, no. Only the irresistible grace of God accomplishes that which He has eternally determined to do.



Our confessions teach the same thing. The Canons of Dort especially state this truth more beautifully than I ever could. I quote from the third and fourth head of doctrine, Article 10:

But that others who are called by the gospel, obey the call, and are converted, is not to be ascribed to the proper exercise of free will, whereby one distinguishes himself above others, equally furnished with grace sufficient for faith and conversions, as the proud heresy of Pelagius maintains; but it must be wholly ascribed to God, who as he has chosen his own from eternity in Christ, so he confers upon them faith and repentance, rescues them from the power of darkness, and translates them into the kingdom of his own Son, that they may show forth the praises of him, who hath called them out of darkness into his marvelous light; and may glory not in themselves, but in the Lord according to the testimony of the apostles in various places.

That is the confession of all those truly Reformed. Article 11 of the same confession states:

But when God accomplishes his good pleasure in the elect, or works in them true conversion, he not only causes the gospel to be externally preached to them, and powerfully illuminates their minds by his Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God; but by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit, pervades the inmost recesses of the man; he opens the closed, and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised, infuses new qualities into the will, which though heretofore dead, he quickens; from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, he renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like a good tree, it may bring forth the fruits of good actions.

The other articles are also pertinent. Read them. This is the confession of Reformed churches in which they express what they believe the Word of God plainly teaches.

Other confessions of the church teach this same truth. The Westminster Confession, Article 10 of Chapter 1 states:

All those whom God hath predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in His appointed and accepted time, effectually to call, by His Word and Spirit, out of that state of sin and death, in which they are by nature, to grace and salvation by Jesus Christ; enlightening their minds, spiritually and savingly, to understand the things of God; taking away their heart of stone, and giving unto them an heart of flesh; renewing their wills, and by His almighty power determining them to that which is good, and effectually drawing them to Jesus Christ; yet so as they come most freely, being made willing by His grace.

Is the picture clear? Both the confession of Scripture and the Confessions of the church based upon Scripture express that the grace of God is His irresistible power whereby He saves His people in Christ.



But does it mean anything to you? What does this irresistible grace of God mean to you? It must mean something. It is the basis of comfort for the Christian. Imagine once that we were to deny this irresistible grace of God. That would mean first of all, of course, that we would be denying what Scripture itself teaches concerning the power of God's grace. That is a serious thing in itself -- to trifle with the revelation which God gave concerning Himself. But also, were His grace resistible, it would mean that all assurance would be gone concerning my salvation. I have a will which is no different from that of any other man. If God's grace were merely an influence which could be resisted, then I would be lost - for I would never will my salvation. If I can resist, I will resist. If that grace of God were resistible, no Christian could endure in this evil age. I can stand only by a grace which not only saves me, but holds me daily to the end.

That is our comfort, and the comfort of our children: the irresistible grace of God not only draws me, but preserves and glorifies me for Jesus' sake. I am saved to the uttermost by the power of God's grace. The devil can never change that -- nor can evil men of this age. These will try, but they can never take us from the Father's hand. The old nature which loves the world and seeks the things of darkness can not oppose successfully that irresistible grace of God. For His grace comes and breaks me down. It softens my hard heart. It bows my stiff knee. It takes my arm which would by nature raise itself in rebellion against God, and causes it to beat upon my breast so that I cry out, "O God, be merciful to me the sinner." That is the irresistibility of the grace of our God. It makes me His child. It leads me in paths of righteousness. And it finally glorifies me according to His promise for His Name's sake through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Then we can sing with that poet of old who also must have experienced the wonder of that irresistible grace of God, for he cried out:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

Chapter 3 - Limited Atonement

Nowadays when you hear the expression "Limited Atonement" you immediately think of the debate and, to an extent, controversy that is going on in the Reformed community exactly about this subject. And if you expect that in this chapter I will have something to say about matters connected with what generally has come to be called the "Dekker Case," you are correct.

But I wish to make the following crystal clear in this connection.

In the first place, I have absolutely no interest in and no intention of engaging in personalities or in tearing down or railing against anyone's church, whatever the name of that church may be, or in gloating about anyone's ecclesiastical difficulties. I want no part of that. The matter of the church and the matter of the truth of our Reformed heritage are far too serious for that. Let this, therefore, be understood.

In the second place, the other side of the previous statement is that I am interested solely in the truth of the gospel and its advance; and I approach you, my readers, on that same basis. I expect that you are interested in the same thing. And let me add immediately that for me the truth of the gospel and the Reformed faith are synonymous.

In the third place the question is, therefore, solely this: what do our Reformed confessions say about this doctrine, and what does Scripture, on which our Reformed confessions are based, say about it? That is the only issue. The issue is not one of theological opinions. Nor is it a question of what is popular, --because certainly the Reformed truth is not very popular today. Nor is it a question of what is apparently useful or what may apparently be harmful in the preaching or on the mission field. Nor is it a question of what we would like to think. But the issue, first of all, for Reformed believers is this: what do our confessions, which we agree are binding and to which Reformed officebearers must subscribe, -- what do these confessions say? To this, if we are Reformed, we must agree. If we do not, then we should be honest enough to say, "I don't want to be Reformed." And ultimately, of course, the issue is one of Scripture. Before Scripture, whatever it says, you and I have no choice but to bow.

In the fourth place, I do not intend to develop this subject negatively: I do not like to be negative. I wish to develop, -- as much as possible in the course of this one chapter, -- the Reformed and Scriptural truth concerning the atonement positively, in order then to point out the negative implications with respect to various departures from that truth.

In the fifth place, I hope you will understand that I must needs limit myself to trying to sketch the main lines and the main implications of this very rich truth. Undoubtedly several chapters could easily be devoted to this one subject; and this would also be worthwhile. But that is not our purpose now; it is not our purpose to go into all the details of this subject. We are rather interested in the main lines of this so-called Third Point of Calvinism. These main lines I wish to sketch, taking for granted that you have followed the exposition already made by my colleague, Professor Hanko, in the two previous chapters, as well as in the expectation that you will follow the further implications of this doctrine of the atonement as they shall be expounded by Pastor Van Baren in the fourth and fifth chapters of this booklet,

Finally, - by way of introduction, - I had intended to devote one entire point of this lecture to the subject of the relative importance of this truth of Limited Atonement in the whole of the Five Points of Calvinism and in the whole of the truth of salvation by grace. This, however, would unduly lengthen this chapter. But I want to point out by way of introduction, first of all, that it is in this truth of limited atonement that the doctrine of sovereign election (and, in fact, sovereign predestination with its two aspects of election and reprobation) comes into focus. The cross is the objective realization and revelation of God's predestinating purpose. That revelation of God's sovereign predestination in the cross is painted upon the background of the reality of man's total depravity, of man's totally, hopelessly lost estate by nature. On the other hand, there is in the cross the focal point of the whole of the truth of salvation by grace as far as the irresistible calling and the preservation and the glorification of the saints are concerned, - from this point of view, that it is in the cross and the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ, that centrally and objectively all of the salvation of God's people, as it is actually realized in their hearts and lives, is concentrated. It is in the atonement that we have the guarantee, the absolutely certain guarantee, of the calling and of the preservation and of the final glorification of God's people. Salvation by sovereign grace is a closed system, - closed to any work and any boasting of man. It is from beginning to end the work of God alone. It is the realization of that which is set forth in Romans 8:29, 30 in the well-known words: "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified." What according to God's counsel was fixed and finished from all eternity, from before the foundation of the world, is realized and revealed in time.

After these introductory remarks, we turn to our subject proper: LIMITED ATONEMENT. I ask your attention for three aspects of this subject: 1) The Atonement; 2) The Limited Nature of the Atonement; 3) The Importance of Maintaining this Doctrine.



Let me say from the outset that I intend to follow the order and the instruction of the Second Head of Doctrine of the Canons of Dordrecht. It will be helpful to consult those articles.

In the first place, let me clarify the exact subject.

First of all, we should note that our subject concerns the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. This probably sounds like a truism. But it has this two-fold importance. In the first place, this means that in all that we say about the atonement we are dealing with an historic fact, something that is objectively real. We are not discussing something that remains to be accomplished or that remains to be completed, but something that has been accomplished nineteen hundred years ago. Whatever belongs to that atonement is finished! It belongs to the past! It is an accomplished fact! We must distinguish here between the work of Christ for us, as it was accomplished in the cross, and the work of Christ in us, as it is concerned with the realization, in the hearts and lives of God's people, of what was objectively finished at the cross. This realization and application of the benefits of salvation in the experience of God's people does not belong to our subject in this chapter. In the second place, this point is important because the question is not merely whether Christ suffered and died. But the question is: what is the meaning, the significance, of that death of Christ? That Christ died is a fact; and all Christendom recognizes that fact of Christ's death, regardless of what they say about the meaning of it. But there have been various answers given, in the course of church history, to the question what was accomplished by that suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some say that it was merely an example. Others say, - this is the governmental theory, that it was a demonstration of God's just government of the universe, designed to bring men to repentance and thus to save them. We say, on the basis of Scripture: the death of Christ was atonement,that is, payment for sin and purchase of righteousness and eternal life. Still more: we say that it was vicarious atonement. It was substitution. Christ atoned not for Himself, but as a substitute for others (whoever those others may be). Christ was a substitute for others. Still more: the Reformed faith maintains, on the basis of Scripture, that the death of Christ was limited vicarious atonement. That is, Christ atoned as a substitute not for all and every man, but for His elect people alone.

In the second place, let me clarify the terms.

Neither of these terms, limited or atonement, is found in our confessions. Nor will you find these terms in Scripture. The term atonement occurs sometimes in our King James Version where it could better be translated either by "reconciliation" or by "propitiation, covering." The terms limited and atonement are simply dogmatic terms which have grown up in the church's vocabulary and which are used to describe briefly a thoroughly Scriptural and confessional concept. The term atonement covers such confessional terms as redemption, redeem, purchase, satisfy, propitiatory sacrifice, etc. And it covers such Scriptural terms as reconciliation, propitiation, ransom, purchase, etc. It simply looks at all these various Scriptural and confessional terms from a very basic point of view, a point of view which as far as the term is concerned is closely related to the idea of reconciliation. Atonement is really in its root idea at-one-ment. It refers to the fact that through the death of Christ God wrought reconciliation.

Also the term limited is used dogmatically to describe briefly a thoroughly Scriptural and confessional truth. The term has been criticized because the term seems to imply a defect, a shortage, a limitation in the death of Christ. Substitutes have been suggested which perhaps are better: substitutes like definite or particular. From a practical point of view this does not mean much. For our purposes the term is very clear. It means, - and it means this to everyone who hears the term, - it means this, that Christ died and atoned for the elect, and for them only.

In the third place, let me clarify the subject historically.

The doctrine of limited atonement is the Reformed doctrine concerning the death of Christ and the redemption of men thereby (as Canons II puts it in its title) as it was officially set forth over against the Arminian heresy of general, or universal, atonement. The Arminians' second article, the Second Article of the Remonstrance, teaches this:

That, agreeably thereto (that is, in harmony with the Arminian doctrine of election set forth in their first article, HCH), Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, reconciliation and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins except the believer, according to the word of the Gospel of John 3:16: "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." And in the First Epistle of John, 2:2: "And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."

Hence, the Arminians teach: 1) That the atonement of Christ is for every individual man, so that Christ obtained reconciliation and forgiveness of sins for all men. 2) Yet this atonement is effectual only in the believers. Though Christ obtained reconciliation and forgiveness for all, not all enjoy this reconciliation and forgiveness, but only the believers. The Arminians, therefore, teach a general atonement of which the benefit and the effect is dependent upon faith. They teach a universal atonement, but not a universal salvation. And they really deny the whole idea of the atonement, as we shall see. It is also very significant to notice the texts which they quote. By their quotation of these texts they give expression to the common Arminian error of making the Scriptural term "world" equivalent to every individual man.

Over against this Arminian doctrine stands the Reformed doctrine in Canons II.

If you remember this, it really makes the whole issue of the atonement as it is currently being debated a very simple one. It is simply literally Arminian to teach that Christ died for all men. That is the literal teaching of the Arminians. And that is the literal teaching that is explicitly opposed by the positive truth in Canons II, the first part, and rejected outright in Canons II, the second part, or the Rejection of Errors. It is important that we keep our bearings in this regard and that we do not begin to imagine that it is possible at all to impose that Arminian idea on our Reformed confessions. This attempt has been made. It has been attempted to appeal to the confessions, and especially to the Canons, for support of the doctrine of universal atonement. Now that is simply flying in the face of the confessions. Canons II would never have been written if it had not been for the rise of the Arminian doctrine of universal atonement. It would not have been necessary. It is utterly fallacious, therefore, to try to maintain the doctrine of universal atonement in the name of the Reformed faith!

The contents of the Canons, Second Head, bear out what I have just said about the historical background and about the fundamental position of the Reformed faith over against the Arminian heresy.

Let us note the specific elements of the atonement as set forth by our confessions.

In the first place, I call your attention to the key element of satisfaction. This is a key term in all our confessions. That is especially the case with the Canons. But this term is emphasized repeatedly in our Heidelberg Catechism too. The Canons, however, start out with this idea of satisfaction. In the last part of Article I they already mention it: "...which we cannot escape, unless satisfaction be made to the justice of God."

Atonement, in this connection, is a matter of strictest justice. There is no grace, there is no mercy, there is no blessing, except in the way of God's righteousness. God blesses the righteous, and He curses and punishes the wicked temporally and eternally. That is the first principle in this idea of satisfaction. That is Article 1:

God is not only supremely merciful, but also supremely just. And his justice requires (as he hath revealed himself in his Word), that our sins committed against his infinite majesty should be punished, not only with temporal, but with eternal punishment, both in body and soul; which we cannot escape, unless satisfaction be made to the justice of God.

Sin, therefore, in relation to the justice of God, is guilt. It is debt. It is liability to punishment. And that punishment, according to God's justice, cannot be escaped, and man cannot be restored to God's favor, unless satisfaction is made not to the devil, but to God's justice. That satisfaction, very simply, means "to do enough, to make payment of a certain debt or obligation, according to the demand of justice." If, among men, such satisfaction is made, let us say, of a debt of $1000, then as soon as that satisfaction is made, that debt is gone. It has been removed. It is no more. That is satisfaction, and that is the effect of satisfaction. Thus, if satisfaction of the debt of sin is made for any man, then that man's debt of sin and guilt is gone! It is no more! From the moment that satisfaction has been made, that debt is forever removed. It is forever removed before the bar of God's justice, mind you! That means that God Himself for the sake of His own justice and righteousness cannot hold that debt against the man for whose debt satisfaction has been made. We are not yet up to the question for whom such satisfaction has been made: we will face that question later. But whoever the man may be for whom satisfaction has been made, his debt is gone before God! If that satisfaction embraces all men, then the debt of all men is removed. But whoever are included in that satisfaction, their debt is forever gone! Such is the idea of satisfaction. This key element of the atonement cannot be emphasized too strongly. It is safe to say that the whole Scriptural and confessional concept of the atonement stands or falls with this fundamental element.

In this connection, in the third place, we must remember that we ourselves cannot make this satisfaction. I need not go into detail on this score. That is simply the implication of the hopelessly lost state of the sinner as he is by nature. It is the implication of the doctrine of total depravity. We cannot make that satisfaction. On the contrary, we can only increase our debt. Such satisfaction can be made only by the free, loving, obedient bearing of the punishment of sin, bearing of death, bearing of all the agonies of everlasting hell, to the very end. When that burden of the wrath of God has been borne, when all the vials of God's wrath have been poured out over a man, and he has borne them freely, out of love, for the sake of the love of God and the righteousness of God, - then satisfaction has been made. And when atonement is made, that is what is accomplished. To make such atonement-by-way-of-satisfaction for men who could not make that satisfaction by themselves God sent His only begotten Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.

Such is satisfaction.

That is the teaching of our Canons. In the first few articles of the Second Head of Doctrine that idea of satisfaction occurs again and again. Moreover, anyone who is familiar with the Heidelberg Catechism will recall how much emphasis the Catechism places upon this idea of satisfaction. The Confession of Faith likewise stresses this idea (Articles 20 and 21).

This teaching of our confessions is the teaching of Scripture too. The term satisfaction itself is not a Scriptural term. But it is the key idea in all the Scriptural terms that set forth the meaning of the death of Christ. That is true of a term like propitiation, as in Romans 3:25: "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past...." The fundamental idea in that propitiation is this satisfaction. The same is true of a Scriptural term like ransom. Satisfaction is the basic idea of ransom. When the Scriptures say in Matthew 20:28 that the "Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many," the idea is that He makes satisfaction. He satisfies the just demand of the One Who sets that ransom-price. The same is true of reconciliation. "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them." II Cor. 5:19. How is that possible? How is it possible that God can reconcile the world unto Himself and not reckon their trespasses unto them? How is it possible in the light of God's righteousness? Only on this basis, that that demand of God's righteousness and justice is totally met. Satisfaction! And so all the other Scriptural terms referring to the atonement have this same idea of satisfaction at their core.

The second main element in the atonement is that of substitution. The necessity of that substitution lies in the fact that we are unable to make satisfaction of ourselves. It lies in our total depravity. That is the historical reason for the necessity of the atonement. We are hopelessly lost! We can never deliver ourselves! Therefore a proper substitute was necessary. This idea is set forth very plainly in Article 2 of Canons II:

Since therefore we are unable to make that satisfaction in our own persons, or to deliver ourselves from the wrath of God, he hath been pleased in his infinite mercy to give his only begotten Son, for our surety, who was made sin, and became a curse for us and in our stead, that he might make satisfaction to divine justice on our behalf.

This is the doctrine of vicarious, or substitutionary, atonement. You cannot state it any more plainly than the Canons state it. You cannot improve on that language. It is very plain. Our Lord Jesus Christ stood in the stead, in the place, of those for whom He died. Before the bar of God's justice He represented men. He was their substitute in a legal sense.

Notice again that this is a very exact relationship. Put these two ideas, that of satisfaction and that of substitution, together now. What is the result? That result is very exact. If one man of one thousand other men, - let us say, at the Old Kent Bank he pays off the mortgages for one thousand men, then that relationship is such that the debt of those one thousand is paid, and not the debt of every mortgage-holder at Old Kent Bank. That's the exactitude here. It is the same way with the cross, with Christ's atonement. Whoever are in Christ, whoever are represented by Him on the cross, in whosoever place he stood before the bar of God's justice and satisfied, --their debt is paid. If all men were in Him, then the debt of all men is forever gone. Whoever are represented by Him, their debt is absolutely gone. God cannot and does not hold that debt against them any more in His judgment.

Such is the idea of substitutionary atonement.

Also this is not merely the doctrine of our confessions, but it is the teaching of Scripture itself. Scripture teaches this idea of substitution in more than one way. But there are especially two terms in the New Testament which express this idea of substitution. These terms are usually translated by the word "for" in our English Bible. One of these terms means literally "in the stead of." You find this term in Matthew 20:28: "Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister and to give his life a ransom for (instead of, in the place of) many." The other term has fundamentally the same meaning. It is the expression "in behalf of, for the sake of." But that idea, ''in behalf of," is possible only because Christ makes satisfaction instead of, in the place of, those for whom He dies. Notice how beautifully that is stated in the last part of Canons II, 2: "....who was made sin, and became a curse for us and in our stead, that he might make satisfaction to divine justice on our behalf." The second term you find, for example, in II Corinthians 5:21: "For he hath made him to be sin for (in behalf of) us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." These are only two examples of many passages of Scripture in which this idea of substitution occurs.

The third element of the atonement is that of its infinite value. Let me warn from the outset that this infinite value must not be conceived of in terms of finite numbers. It is not a question of quantity, but of quality, of intrinsic worth.

That truth of the infinite value of the atonement answers these questions: how could the death of one cover many sinners? How is it that when Christ atoned, He did not simply atone one for one, but one for many? Or again: how could sin, which is against the infinite majesty of God and which calls down infinite divine wrath and which requires everlasting punishment, - how could that sin be atoned for in a moment in the suffering and death of our Lord Jesus Christ? All the infinite wrath of God was concentrated finally in that moment when the cry was pressed out of Jesus' soul, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" And that infinite value answers the question: how could we be raised out of our totally lost estate, not simply back to the state of Adam in paradise, but so that we were provided with an everlasting righteousness, which we could never lose? How could we be provided with the right to eternal life?

The answer is: it was the Son of God, the eternal and infinite God Himself, in the likeness of sinful flesh, but as a real and perfectly righteous and holy man, Who brought that satisfaction.

That is the basic idea also in that sometimes-debated expression in Article 3 of Canons II: "...abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world." That cannot mean, you know, that Christ intended to die for the whole world conceived of as all men. That would be the Arminian doctrine. That is just exactly what the fathers were fighting against in Canons II. It does not mean that at all. The article does not say either that Christ made satisfaction for the whole world. The idea is that in itself that death of Christ is so precious that in itself it is sufficient for the whole world. If God had wanted to save the entire world, head for head and soul for soul, He would not have needed another sacrifice. As one of the theologians of Dordrecht put it in his written opinion for the Synod of Dordrecht, the death of Christ was in itself sufficient for the whole world and for a thousand more worlds like it! The death of the Son of God is of infinite value: there is no end to its intrinsic worth!

Finally, there is the element of the efficacy of the atonement. The atonement is efficacious. Actually this is not a separate element of the atonement. The term efficacious simply emphasizes the reality, the actuality, the accomplished factuality of the preceding elements. This is spoken of in Article 8 of Canons II. Let me quote that article right here:

For this was the sovereign counsel, and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of that 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 to 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 to 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 in his own presence forever.

The main subject in this article is not efficacious grace or efficacious calling; that is the subject in Canons III, IV, which teaches the doctrine of irresistible, or efficacious grace. But the main subject here is the efficacy, the power to accomplish something, that is in that death of Christ itself. Such efficacy is implied in the atonement. Really, as far as the meaning is concerned, when you include in the atonement the elements of satisfaction and substitution and infinite value, you do not have to say "efficacious" in addition. Those three elements spell efficacy. But because the Arminians also talked about atonement and about satisfaction and substitution and meant by their teaching something that was not efficacious, that did not really accomplish something, it became necessary for the Reformed fathers to say, "Yes, but the death of Christ is efficacious." It is with this expression much as it is with the expression "total depravity." Depravity is always total. There is no such thing as a half rotten man. But because of the fact that some have tried to speak of a partial depravity, it has become necessary for Reformed people to add that word "total." Thus it is with "efficacious atonement." You cannot really conceive of a non-efficacious atonement. That is a contradiction in terms. A non-efficacious atonement would be an atonement that did not atone. It did not accomplish anything. The atonement, - such is the idea of efficacious atonement, - really atoned! It really satisfied for all who were in Christ, for all for whom Christ substituted! Mark you well, efficacious atonement does not mean that Christ's death really atoned for all who get into Christ, - now, consciously, by faith. But Christ died and atoned for all who were in Him, - nineteen hundred years ago, when He died. It accomplished something for all of them. Their guilt is forever gone. Righteousness and eternal life can never be denied them. Their right to all the blessings of salvation was forever established there, at the cross.

Notice, in connection with this doctrine of efficacious atonement, how in Article 8 of Canons II our fathers emphasized the crucial element in the efficacious death of Christ (the efficacy, the power of the death of Christ). They emphasize it twice. It is this, that Christ purchased for His people faith. Faith! The atonement does not mean that Christ purchased righteousness and eternal life and all the other blessings of salvation and that now He says in the gospel, "Here is salvation, but it is up to you to believe." It does not mean that. Christ purchased faith. He guaranteed by that purchase of faith that all for whom He died will also believe and will also lay hold personally and consciously on all the benefits of salvation that are in that death of Christ.

Hence, according to Article 8, the present, subjective application of the blessings of salvation (which was God's purpose, His sovereign purpose), whereby I and all God's people come into the actual, conscious possession of salvation, - that application proceeds from, is based upon, is guaranteed by the atonement. All those blessings were once and for all time actually purchased, merited, obtained on the cross; and they belong to Christ and to all who were in Christ at the cross. All the saints that had gone before, the saints of the old dispensation, - they were in Christ at the cross. All the elect who lived at the time of Christ's earthly sojourn, whether they were conscious children of God or whether they still had to be converted, - they were in Christ at the cross. And all the people of God who were still to be born at that time and who are still to be born today, - they were in Christ at the cross. He was in their place. He was their representative. And for them all He purchased, once for all, all the blessings of salvation. That is the teaching of Article 8. Notice: "This was the sovereign counsel (that's beautiful, you know: it proceeds from God, from His eternal decree, HCH), and most gracious will and purpose (in the original that is: "and intention") 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 to salvation: that is, it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross (that's the atonement, HCH), whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem (that's what Christ did when He died, HCH) out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to 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 in his own presence forever." (emphasis mine, HCH)

Such is the beautiful truth of efficacious atonement, set forth here by our fathers in its relation to the actual application and realization of salvation all the way to final glory!



It is not surprising, therefore, that this article of the Canons at the same time teaches limited atonement. This is obviously what the article teaches: teaches: "....all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation...."

That the atonement is limited is inseparable from the truth that the atonement is efficacious.

This question is very simple in the light of what we have already said about the atonement. If the atonement is satisfaction in the true, factual sense of the word, and if the atonement is substitutionary satisfaction in the real sense of that term, and if therefore the atonement is efficacious, so that those included in it have their debt removed and have eternal righteousness and life merited for them, so that, having been objectively redeemed, ransomed, reconciled, they will surely be saved and become the actual possessors of salvation, --then, I say, the matter of limited atonement is very simple. Those included in the atonement are surely saved. But all men are not saved. Hence, not all men were included in the atonement.

Who were included in the atonement?

The answer is that Christ died only for the elect, that is, for those whom God has chosen from eternity and sovereignly and whom He gave to Christ. God elected an entire church and all the individual members of that church; and He gave that entire church, with all its individual members, to Christ. Christ is their representative-head. In the judgment of God He represents them, takes the place of them, and of them only, at the cross.

This is the truth of limited, (or call it, if you will, definite, particular) atonement. It is a very simple doctrine. There is atonement, and therefore removal of guilt and forgiveness of sins and righteousness and all the benefits of salvation and eternal life, for the elect only in the cross. For all the rest, for the reprobate, there is nothing positive, there is no benefit, in that cross. Christ did not die for them; He did not represent them and take their place.

Moreover, and this is a beautiful truth which we should never overlook, - that definite atonement is personal. Christ did not die indefinitely. And Christ did not die merely for a number of men, so that He provided salvation indefinitely for a certain total number of men, whoever they might turn out to be. But Christ died for all the elect and for each of them personally. God chose them. He chose them individually. From eternity He called them by name. And all of the elect personally God gave to Christ. Christ knew them all, even as they had been given to Him by the Father from all eternity. And He laid down His life for them, for all of them, for each of them, and for them only. All the elect, and they only, were therefore very really in Christ at the cross nineteen hundred years ago.

Thus the cross is the revelation of God's sovereign love: "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins." I John 4:10

Such is the doctrine of the confessions. It is very explicitly the doctrine of Canons II, 8. The same truth is already taught in connection with the doctrine of election in Canons I, 7. But this truth is also taught throughout our confessions. When you find the term "us" in the Heidelberg Catechism and the Confession of Faith in connection with the atoning death of our Lord Jesus Christ, do not forget that this "us" is from the objective viewpoint not all men, but the elect. In no other way can this expression be understood. And what occurs in the Catechism and the Confession of Faith in that subjective form is set forth in our Canons objectively as the elect exclusively.

There are many, many passages of Scripture which teach this truth, either directly or by clear implication in the context.

Let me concentrate for a moment on just one beautiful passage: John 10:14, 15. The correct rendering of this text is found in the American Revised Version: "I am the good shepherd; and I know mine own, and mine own know me, even as the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep."

Who are the sheep that are mentioned in this passage as those for whom Christ lays down His life? They are those whom the Father gave to Christ, that is, the elect. This is the plain teaching of the context. In verse 29 you also read of these sheep; and there Jesus says, "My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all..." (italics mine, HCH) And this is enforced by way of contrast in verse 26, where Jesus says to the unbelieving Jews who opposed Him at that occasion: "But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you." Notice that! Do not change that around as though it reads, "Ye are not of my sheep because ye believe not." That is not the text. The text is: "Ye believe not because ye are not of my sheep." They were reprobate.

This also makes it plain already that the concept "sheep" is exclusive. The argument has been raised that John 10:14, 15 does not teach that Jesus atoned only for His sheep. But that is a very poor argument. In the first place, as also the theologians of Dordrecht already pointed out in connection with this passage, the text would make no sense if it did not mean the sheep exclusively. Why should Jesus say that He lays down His life for the sheep, if after all He died equally for all men? And, in the second place, the context draws a sharp contrast between those who are His sheep and those who are not His sheep. And that contrast has its origin in God's predestinating purpose!

But notice that in this passage there is not merely a cold doctrine of election. The warm, throbbing, vibrant knowledge of divine love from eternity is involved here. "I know mine own...." Christ knew the whole church and every member of that church when He laid down His life! That is because those sheep are those whom the Father gave Him. He knew them all! Adam was in Him. Abel was in Him. Noah was in Him. Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all God's people of the old dispensation, - they were in Him at the cross. He knew them. He knew them individually. He knew them in love. All His people of that time, His elect people, had been given Him, given Him individually, from eternity. He knew them! The apostle Paul was in Him. He had not been converted yet. But he was in Christ at the cross because God gave him to Christ from eternity. That is why later the apostle Paul can speak of the personal aspect of that definite atonement in the well-known words of Galatians 2:20: "I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me." He is speaking here of something that took place at the cross in the year 33 A.D. Then Christ loved him and gave Himself for him! Even though the apostle Paul did not know Him yet, Christ loved him and gave Himself for him. The same is true of us as God's people today. That is why we can say in a personal confession of faith, "Christ died forme." That is based on an objective fact! That does not become true merely when I believe in Christ. It was so, - from eternity, according to God's counsel! And it has been so historically ever since Christ's death at the cross. And because of that objective reality, you and I, when we come to a conscious faith - union with Christ, can also confess, "Christ died for me!"

That, briefly, is the truth of limited, that is, definite and personal atonement.

There are, of course, many other passages of Scripture which plainly teach this same truth. In fact, this is the current teaching of Scripture. In this connection, let me enumerate a few passages which very clearly teach that Christ's atonement was definite, that is, for the elect only. Isaiah 53:10 speaks of a definite "seed" which Christ shall see when His soul shall be made an offering for sin. In John 17 we find Christ's high-priestly prayer, offered immediately before He laid down His life and brought the perfect sacrifice for sin. The whole tenor of this prayer is definite. As the High Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ prays only for His own; as it were, laying down His life and going the way of the cross, He utters this prayer: "1 have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me...I pray for them; I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine. And all mine are thine...And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth. Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.... Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world." John 17:6, 9, 10, 19, 20, 24. In Acts 20:28 it is the church of God "which he hath purchased with his own blood." In Romans 8:32, when we read that God "spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all," that "us all" is very plainly the elect, according to the context. For in the immediately following verses we read this: "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us." And, finally, in Ephesians 1:7 we read this: "In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace." And what is the context of these words? It is a context which speaks most plainly of God's predestinating purpose as the source of all the blessings of salvation, including this "redemption through his blood." Eph. 1:3-12.

One more point must be made in this connection. When Scripture speaks of the "world" and of "all men" in connection with the atoning death of our Lord Jesus Christ, it does not and it cannot possibly teach something contrary to the plain Scriptural teaching of definite atonement. To study all of the passages in which these terms occur would take us far afield. But there are two observations which I wish to make. In the first place, if these passages which speak of the "world" and of "all men" are explained as meaning every individual man, and if then the atonement is ascribed its full meaning of actual satisfaction for sin and actual substitution, then they prove too much. For then they necessarily lead to full-fledged universalism, that is, the doctrine that all men are saved. And if the latter consequence is not accepted, then one must needs accept the consequence of the denial of God's justice: for if Christ actually satisfied for the sins of all men, and if all men are not saved, then God does not deal justly. And let me add: neither consequence is acceptable in the light of Scripture. In the second place, the point must be made in the light of the truth of the unity of Scripture, that all such passages which speak of the "world" and of "all men" must needs be interpreted in harmony with the current teaching of Scripture that Christ atoned for the elect only. If this is not done, then the consequence that Scripture contradicts itself must be accepted; and this, of course, is an unacceptable consequence.

Yet the attempt has always been made, and is made today, to find something and to say something positive about salvation and about the love and favor of God with respect to those who were not in Christ at the cross, with respect to the reprobate. This usually does not happen, - at least, not in Reformed circles, - as long as you are talking only in the area of Canons II, that is, as long as the doctrine of the atonement as such is under discussion. This arises rather in the preaching. It arises in the practical area of the preaching of the gospel. There is a striving to say something positive, to present something positively good in that atonement of Christ in the preaching of the gospel to all men. This is the way the entire matter arose in Professor H. Dekker's writings. It arose out of the question concerning mission work, the question concerning what must be said in the preaching of the gospel on the mission field. In so far, from a Christian Reformed point of view, Prof. Dekker was consistent: he saw that if you wanted to be general in the preaching, you had to go back a step and be general as far as the death of Christ was concerned also. That is consistent; but it is consistently wrong! But there is the same striving on the part of others in various ways. To be sure, you expect that from all kinds of Arminian preachers. They believe in a general atonement; and they preach accordingly. But there is the same striving in the Reformed community. Some try to accomplish this goal of being general in the preaching by simply leaving the matter of Christ's death indefinite and vague in their preaching. They simply say: "Christ died for sinners." That is true, of course. But if that is all that is said, it is only a half-truth. And a half-truth is subterfuge! Others, - and that seems to be the striving of the committee that studied the issues of the Dekker Case, - others try to speak of "non-saving benefits of the death of Christ." And although they also claim to maintain definite atonement, they nevertheless claim that those non-saving benefits somehow come from the death of Christ Who died only for the elect. How that is possible I don't know. If Christ died for the elect only, then there are no possible benefits in that death of Christ for anyone else but those for whom He died. That is plain! Others speak, sometimes without even defining it very carefully at all, of a universal gospel offer. Others say, - and I read this in the column about the Canons in The Banner of February 24, 1967, - that we must say in the preaching that Christ desires the salvation of all men, and that God desires not the death of any but the salvation of all.

You understand, that is where the difficulty has arisen. It has arisen not in this doctrine of limited atonement as such. But when that atonement is projected into the preaching, then it suddenly becomes general in one way or another. And that is all rooted in the First Point of 1924 and its general, well-meant offer of the gospel as an evidence of so-called common grace. Everyone has recognized this, as is very plain from the fact that no one thus far has written or said anything about the issues of the Dekker Case without bringing in 1924. It is this that has led Prof. Dekker and others, - I say again: consistently, from their point of view, - to this idea of general atonement. But also those who have criticized Prof. Dekker's position have nevertheless not been willing to embrace wholeheartedly the doctrine of limited atonement and to follow it through consistently, but have insisted on somehow maintaining a universal and general element in the contents of the preaching.

If you look at this attempt from the basis of the Reformed doctrine of limited atonement, it is an impossible attempt. The gospel that must be preached is the gospel of the cross, the gospel of Christ crucified. Our Canons say that, and Scripture says that. The apostle Paul says, "We preach Christ crucified." He says, "I was determined to know nothing else among you but Jesus Christ, and him crucified." That means, in the light of all that we have said, that Christ crucified is Christ crucified for the elect, however you describe those elect in the preaching, whether you describe them historically as believers, as penitent, as hungry and thirsty, etc., Christ crucified is Christ crucified for the elect! I do not say the truth, I do not present Christ crucified, therefore, if I merely say, "Christ died for sinners." And I certainly do not present the gospel of Christ crucified when I say, "Christ died for all men." And in so far as that cross is the revelation of Cod's desire, God's purpose, God's will, I do not say the truth of the gospel of Christ crucified when say, "God desires the salvation of all men." He does not. He reveals very plainly in the cross that He purposed and desired and intended and counseled the salvation of the elect, and of them only.

Often this disjunction between Christ's death only for the elect and God's purported desire for the salvation of all men is presented as a mystery. But that is no mystery. If you say that Christ died for the elect, and for them only, and that God desires the salvation of all men, that is no mystery, but a flat contradiction. That is impossible. It is impossible because there is nothing positive, no benefit, no salvation, no love, no so-called non-saving benefit, - nothing positive whatsoever, - in that cross for anyone but the elect. And that cross is the revelation of God's purpose of salvation. To say otherwise, to make the scope of salvation wider in the preaching than it is in the cross is an implicit denial of particular atonement. The gospel is God's good news concerning the promise, to make known unto the heirs of the promise, that is, the elect, their salvation.

That is the positive side of the cross and of the atonement.

That is leaving out of the picture yet the fact that there was judgment at the cross, - judgment as well as salvation. Wrath as well as favor were revealed in the cross and are proclaimed in the gospel of Christ crucified. Indeed, there is nothing positive for the reprobate in the cross. But that does not mean that the cross is of no significance for them. The wrath of God is revealed in the cross as well as the love of God.

That is why our Lord Jesus Christ could say in John 12:31, for example, with a view to the death that He would die: "Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out." And not only does our Lord Jesus Christ repeatedly make plain that He has come into the world for judgment (cf. passages like John 9:39, Matthew 21:21-43, etc.), but we must remember that the first coming of our Lord belongs to "the great day of the Lord" of which the prophets speak so often and in connection with which they also always speak of God's judgment. In that same connection we may note that John the Baptist, the forerunner, preaches Christ under the aspect of judgment: the ax is laid to the root of the trees! And the apostle Paul refers to this same element of the judgment of the cross in Colossians 2;14, 15: "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.''

Let me briefly sketch this idea.

There was a trial at the cross. There was not merely a trial of Jesus by men. But there was a trial of the world by God. The world outside of Christ, the world of sinful men, the world in their state of sin and guilt, the world of men as they are in the present creation with all their means of subsistence and development, all their means of "culture," -that world was on trial. The whole world of men as they are in Adam, by nature, together with the prince of this world, the devil, and all the fallen angels, the principalities and powers, the whole world, our world (apart from Christ) as it is in alliance with and under the moral dominion of the prince of darkness - that whole world was on trial before God, the Judge. God summoned them there. He controlled the events surrounding the suffering and death of Christ. Christ went to the cross, remember, according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, though by wicked hands.

That world was well represented. It was represented in Judas, the apostle. It was represented religiously in the Sanhedrin. The world of men at large, of society, was represented in the multitude. The political world-power, the Graeco-Roman world of wisdom and justice, was represented. The world in all its aspects was put on trial.

That trial consisted in this. They were openly exposed. They were stripped naked, as the apostle Paul says in Colossians 2:15. They were cloaked in self-righteousness and wisdom and religion and jurisprudence. They were masked! And they could not go to hell with a mask on! They had to be exposed. God exposed them. He stripped them bare. He did that by standing before them in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ as a man, without power, and by confronting them with the question, "What will you do with God? What will you do with God if He stands before you as a mere man, a man without a sword, a man without an army, a man without any defense except the defense of righteousness, a man who will not fight back against you?"

They were compelled to give answer to that question. They tried to avoid it. Pilate, for example, especially tried in various ways to avoid answering that crucial question. But the Judge of heaven and earth insisted: "Give an answer!"

And they answered: "We will kill Him! We will nail Him to the cross!"

It was at the cross that the verdict of the Judge of heaven and earth was rendered and executed. When the trial was finished, God poured out the vials of His wrath. The word was proven worthy of the wrath of God; and the execution followed at Golgotha, -- in the cross, in the darkness, in that fearful revelation of God-forsakenness! And Christ was in the center of it all! Christ as representing His own, Christ representing the whole world of God's election, was in the center of that fearful outpouring of judgment and wrath. And all the vials of God's wrath were concentrated in one hour, the hour of judgment! And God was there, in behalf of the world of His election, bearing His own wrath in our flesh!

The result?

The world in itself, the world outside of Christ, was condemned! That is revealed at the cross too. The veil is rent: God leaves the temple, and Israel is forsaken. The earth quakes, and the rocks split, signifying that this world must pass away. That is even evident in the two thieves at the cross: only one of them was saved, covered by that cross of Christ.

And yet, in Christ the world, that is, the world of God's love and God's election, is justified.

The judgment is past! The last day, the day of the revelation of God's righteous judgment shall finally reveal the condemnation of the world in itself and the justification of the world in Christ.

To that end the church must preach the gospel, the gospel of absolutely sovereign grace, revealed in Christ crucified. To that end the church must preach the gospel of Christ crucified: Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness (that is, to the natural man, whether Jew or Greek, a power of God unto condemnation); but to them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

It is this negative aspect of the cross and this negative aspect of the gospel that is completely forgotten and denied nowadays for the most part. For the most part, the church no longer is willing to be obedient to its calling to preach the gospel negatively as well as positively. It is no longer willing to preach Christ crucified as the power of God, Who is really God. The church would much rather preach a Christ and a God Whose salvation are, after all, dependent upon the will and the choice of the fallen sinner.



This precious truth must be maintained. It must be maintained as far as the atonement is concerned, and it must be maintained as far as the negative aspect of the cross and concerned.

That is important for us, first of all, as individual believers.

For remember: a Christ for all is really a Christ for none! You must choose between a general atonement which is actually not atonement or vicarious and limited atonement which is real and efficacious. After all, if Christ actually atoned vicariously for all men, then all men must be saved. But even the Arminian, who holds to general atonement, must face the fact that all men are not saved. Hence, the Arminian presentation of the atonement comes down to this: Christ died for all men, but all men are not justified and saved. What follows from this? This: Christ's atonement was ineffectual. I cannot be sure that He atoned for any man, including myself. Thus the believer is deprived of the solid basis of assurance that there is in the atoning death of the cross.

In the second place, this is important for the church and its gospel-proclamation. I am well aware that this is a foreign note in our day. It sounds so sweet and so humane to proclaim a Christ for all and a love of God for all. And it has become very popular. It is claimed that it is impossible to preach and to do mission work without a general gospel and a general salvation. Basically, however, the trouble is that men do not want to put their confidence in a cross that is the power of God! Nor do they want to trust that God will surely use the general proclamation of a particular promise to gather and save His elect church.

But remember that the gospel cannot possibly be wider in scope than the objective satisfaction and justification of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. If you hold to a general, well-meaning offer, you must and you will, if you are consistent, ultimately embrace the doctrine of universal atonement also.

The proof, - I call you to witness, - is already here!

Hence, we must stand one hundred per cent in the truth of our Reformed confessions, both with respect to the atonement and the preaching. And if we have already departed from that, we must return and forsake what is false.

May God lay this upon your heart and mine.

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