This article first appeared in the November 15, 1949 issue of the Standard Bearer (Vol.26, No.4) and was penned by the editor, Rev. Herman Hoeksema.
The teaching of the Canons of Dordrecht, in regard to the subject we are now discussing, is very clear and emphatic.
On the one hand they present election as unconditional and absolute. The Remonstrants, as we all know, did not literally deny the Scriptural truth of election, but made it contingent upon the faith of man, and upon his perseverance to the end. But our fathers of Dordt rejected the Arminian doctrine, and maintained that election is unconditional and absolute. It is not contingent upon anything in man, or upon anything that he can do or must accomplish, but rests in the sole good pleasure of His will.
It is defined as follows:
“Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, he hath out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of his own will, chosen, from the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault, from their primitive state of rectitude, into sin and destruction, a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom he from eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect, and the foundation of salvation.” Canons of Dordt, I, A, 7.
Here we have, as you will notice, an infralapsarian definition of election. But it teaches very emphatically that election is unconditional, and that it rests only in “the sovereign good pleasure of his own will”.
And this alone would be sufficient to rule out all possibility of speaking of conditions in connection with salvation. For it must be evident to all, that if election, from which all our salvation flows, is absolute, salvation itself, whether in the objective or in the subjective sense of the word, can never be said to be conditional on anything man must do.
But this is not all.
The Canons do not leave it to us to draw the conclusion from their definition of the truth of election, that salvation is unconditional, and that faith may never be presented as a condition unto salvation, but they also state this truth clearly.
Already in the same article in which the definition of election occurs, quoted above, we read:
“This elect number, though by nature neither better nor more deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery, God hath decreed to give to Christ, to be saved by Him, and effectually to call and to draw them to his communion by his Word and Spirit, to bestow upon them true faith, justification and sanctification.”
It is plain from this article that faith, together with all the other blessings of salvation, is a gift of God which flows from the unconditional decree of God, and is, therefore, never itself to be presented as a condition.
But this truth is expressed still more clearly in other articles of the Canons.
Beautiful, in this respect, is the language of Art. 8 of I, A, which presents the counsel of God as the only source of all our salvation, for according to that counsel and purpose of his own will, “he hath chosen us from eternity, both to grace and glory, to salvation and the way of salvation, which he hath ordained that we should walk therein” (cursives are mine). How clearly and beautifully it is expressed here that the whole of salvation is determined by the counsel of God! Salvation and the way of salvation, regeneration, calling, faith, justification, sanctification, perseverance, and glorification,—it is all of God. And not only that, but He has also ordained that the elect should, and do walk in that way. How utterly impossible it is, then, to conceive of faith as a condition which man must fulfill in order to obtain salvation, or to enter into the covenant of God!
That this is, indeed, the meaning of the Canons is evident also from I, A, art. 9. There we read:
“This election was not founded upon foreseen faith, and the obedience of faith, holiness, or any other good quality or disposition in man, as a prerequisite, cause or condition on which it depended; but men are chosen to faith and to the obedience of faith, holiness, etc., therefore election is the fountain of every saving good; from which proceed faith, holiness, and the other gifts of salvation, and finally eternal life itself, as its fruits and effects.”
Notice, first of all, that here, for the first time, the term condition is used. But it is put in the mouth of the Remonstrants. We will call attention to this again, for in the Canons we will meet with the term conditions more often, but always in the same condemnatory sense. To the fathers of Dordt it represents, not a Reformed, but an Arminian notion. This should certainly teach us a lesson. Dr. Schilder wrote in one of his articles in De Reformatie that there are Reformed people that are “vuurbang” i.e. afraid as of fire, of the term “condition”. Well, I belong to them. And I dare say that I am in good company. The fathers of Dordt also were “vuurbang” of the term, witness the fact that they never use it for the positive exposition of the Reformed truth, although they were well acquainted with the term, but always mentioned it as an Arminian term expressing an Arminian idea. And why, pray, should we play with fire?
For the rest, it is very plain that there is no room for the concept faith as a condition in the article quoted above. For faith does not occur as a condition in the counsel of God, and if it does not occur in that relation in God’s eternal purpose, it cannot possibly occur in that relation in the historical realization of salvation, nor in the experience and consciousness of the people of God. We are not chosen, and therefore, we are not saved on condition of faith, or of the obedience of faith; but we are chosen to faith, and to the obedience of faith, and, therefore, we are saved through the instrument of faith, and in the way of obedience. That, and that only is Reformed language.
The same Arminian use of the term condition is referred to in the very next article of the Canons, I, A, 10. There we read:
“The good pleasure of God is the sole cause of this gracious election; which doth not consist herein, that out of all possible qualities and actions of men God has chosen some as a condition of salvation; but that he was pleased out of the common mass of sinners to adopt some certain persons as a peculiar people to himself.”
The meaning of this is plain. The Arminians denied the truth of personal election. Instead, they invented the theory that God had selected certain qualities as a condition of salvation. The chief of these qualities is, of course, faith. Hence, the Arminians drew the conclusion, that, in the counsel of God, and, therefore, also in reality, faith appears as a condition of salvation. But note, that our fathers rejected this notion, and emphasized the truth of unconditional and personal election. Again I say that the term condition or faith as a condition is an Arminian term. We should not even attempt to use it in a sound sense. For by making this attempt, we willfully classify ourselves with the Arminians. And why should we want to adopt their language? There is absolutely no need for it in Reformed terminology.
Again, the same denotation of the term condition, i.e. in the Arminian sense, is referred to in the “Rejection of Errors” under caput I of the Canons.
We read in I, B, 3: (The true doctrine concerning Election and Rejection having been explained, the Synod rejects the errors of those):
“Who teach: That the good pleasure and purpose of God, of which Scripture makes mention in the doctrine of election, does not consist in this, that God chose certain persons rather than others, but in this that he chose out of all possible conditions (among which are also the works of the law), or out of the whole order of things, the act of faith which from its very nature is undeserving, as well as its incomplete obedience, as a condition of salvation, and that he would graciously consider this in itself as a complete obedience and count it worthy of the reward of eternal life. For by this injurious error the pleasure of God and the merits of Christ are made of none effect, and men are drawn away by useless questions from the truth of gracious justification, and from the simplicity of Scripture, and this declaration of the Apostle is charged as untrue: ‘who saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before times eternal.' II Tim. 1:9."
After what I wrote above on I, A, 10, it is not necessary to comment elaborately on this article. I quote it here chiefly because it furnishes another proof for my contention that the term condition, and faith as a condition is not Reformed, but Arminian, and for that reason should be scrupulously avoided by us. When the Arminians teach that, in the counsel of God, faith and the incomplete obedience are chosen by God as a condition of salvation, they mean, of course, to deny sovereign election and reprobation, and to present salvation as a matter that is contingent upon the freewill of man. Such is the implication of the term in the thought-structure of the Arminians throughout. And our fathers, understanding very well that words not only have meaning in themselves, but deserve significance also from the usus loquendi, i.e. from the common use of a term, avoided it altogether.
We will do well if we follow their example.
Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965) was born in Groningen, the Netherlands on March 13, 1886 and passed away in Grand Rapids, MI on September 2, 1965. He attended the Theological School of the Christian Reformed Church and was ordained into the minitry in September of 1915.
"H.H." is considered one of the founding "fathers" of the Protestant Reformed Churches in America. He and his consistory (Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI) were suspended and deposed from their offices in 1924-1925 because of their opposition to the "Three Points of Common Grace" adopted by the Christian Reformed Church in the Synod of Kalamazoo, MI in 1924. He, together with Rev. George M. Ophoff, Rev. H. Danhof and their consistories continued in office in the "Protesting Christian Reformed Church" which shortly thereafter were named the "Protestant Reformed Churches in America."
Herman Hoeksema served as pastor in the 14th Street Christian Reformed Church in Holland, MI (1915-1920), Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1920-1924), and First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, MI (1924-1964), He taught in the Seminary of the Protestant Reformed Churches from its founding and retired in 1964.
For an enlarged biography, see: Herman Hoeksema: Theologian and Reformer
Notes: You may also find many sermons of "H.H." at the RFPA website. And you may find copies in print of an entire set of "H.H.'s" catechism sermons here.