This article first appeared in the December 1, 1949 issue of the Standard Bearer (Vol.26, No.5) and was penned by the editor, Rev. Herman Hoeksema.
Thus far we have shown:
- That in our Confessions the term condition never occurs in a good sense. From this we may safely conclude that in the Reformed system of doctrine there is neither room for nor need of the term. For, first, our fathers were well acquainted with the term; and, secondly, in our Reformed symbols we have a rather complete and even elaborate system of doctrine, so that we might certainly expect that, if the term condition were at all important, if not indispensable, for the expression of Reformed truth, it would occur in these symbols. Yet it is never employed there in a sound sense.
- That in those Confessions faith never appears as a condition, but uniformly as a means or instrument which God works in the heart by the Holy Spirit. And to be sure, faith cannot be a condition which somehow man must fulfill and a God-given instrument, which He unconditionally works in man’s heart, at the same time.
- That the gift of faith, according to the same Confessions, flows from God’s unconditional election. We are not chosen on condition of, but unto faith. In God’s decree, therefore, faith does not occur as a condition. It follows that it cannot appear as such in time, either objectively in the promise of the gospel, or subjectively in the experience of the believers.
- That, in the Confessions, the term condition is always attributed to the Pelagians and Arminians. They, and they only, had room for and need of the term. And, to my mind, this is sufficient reason to be “vuurbang” for the term, and not even to attempt to employ the term in a sound Reformed sense, lest we “instill into the minds of the imprudent and inexperienced . . . the poison of the Pelagian errors.” Canons II, B, 6.
I think that the truth of the above conclusions is plain to all our readers.
The term faith as a condition is not confessionally Reformed; is, on the contrary Pelagian and Arminian.
But we are still discussing the Canons.
We meet with the term condition, as ascribed to the Pelagians, also in I, B. 4.
There we read: “The true doctrine of election and reprobation having been explained, the Synod rejects the errors of those:
“Who teach: That in the election unto faith this condition is beforehand demanded, viz., that man should use the light of nature aright, be pious, humble, meek, and fit for eternal life, as if on these things election were in any way dependent. For this savors of the teaching of Pelagius, and is opposed to the doctrine of the apostle, when he writes: ‘Among whom we also once lived in the lust of our flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest; but God being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace have ye been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in heavenly places, in Christ Jesus; that in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus; for by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man should glory.’ Eph. 2:3-9.”
The Arminians taught an election on the basis of foreseen faith and perseverance. God had chosen those whom He knew would believe and persevere. Faith, therefore, is a condition in the counsel of God, unto salvation. Yet, they understood, too, that man does not have this faith of himself. Scripture teaches too plainly that it is a gift of God. Now, how did they meet or rather circumvent this difficulty by their theory of “common grace”, or of the proper use of the light of nature. By this theory, they could even, if need be speak of an election unto faith! O, the error is made to look so much like the truth! When the Reformed believer speaks of sovereign grace, the Arminian agrees with him wholeheartedly—it is all of God! When the Reformed believer confesses to believe in election, the Arminian has no objection. When the Reformed child of God confesses that we are saved through faith, and that faith is a gift of God, the Arminian agrees with him. And yet their views are opposed to each other as light and darkness. This becomes apparent as soon as you ultimately ask the question: but to whom does God give this saving faith? Then the Reformed believer confesses: God gives the saving faith to whom He will, unconditionally, according to His absolutely free and sovereign and unconditional election! There are absolutely no conditions in the matter of salvation, no condition of faith, neither any conditions unto faith! But the same question the Arminian answers as follows: God bestows the gift of faith upon those that are willing to receive it. There is, after all, a condition attached unto election unto faith, and that condition is that man must use the light of nature aright, that by that light he must walk humbly and in meekness before God, become pious, and render himself worthy and fit for eternal life!
Thus the question is always ultimately: is salvation determined by God or by man?
If you answer: by God, you say at the same time: there are no conditions which man must or can fulfill.
But if you speak of conditions in the matter of salvation, no matter how or where or when, you deny that salvation is of God, and you agree with the Mssrs. Pelagius and Arminius.
That is why our fathers were so “vuurbang” for the term conditions.
Some Reformed theologians use the term and camouflage it by adding that God Himself fulfills all conditions which He demands.
This, however, is plain nonsense.
For a condition is either something which man must fulfill in order to receive grace from God, or it is no condition, but simply a work of God.
Faith, or believing the promise of the gospel, is either a condition the fulfillment of which God demands of man before He saves him, and in order that God may establish His covenant with Him; or the gift of faith, together with the act of believing, is the sovereign work of God, and then it is no condition.
And only the latter is true.
We say that the sinner is responsible for the sin of unbelief; and rightly so, because he is a rational and moral being.
But did you ever hear that he is responsible for his faith, even though by faith he becomes a rational and moral being in highest and perfect freedom?
To be sure, no Reformed man would ever speak thus.
But in the article quoted above, the Pelagians and Arminians teach that man is responsible for his own faith, for it is entirely up to him, up to his free will, up to his fulfillment of certain conditions, viz., the proper use of natural light, whether or no God will bestow or not bestow faith on him.
Did you ever hear of the nonsense of a man’s being responsible for his own election?
Yet that nonsense is the plain implication of the theory of the arch heretics Pelagius and Arminius. For they teach that man is elected unto salvation on condition of faith, or on condition of the proper use of his natural light.
And ultimately any theory of conditions must lead to the same Arminian error.
I have room in this issue for just one more reference to the Canons. In Art. 5 of I, B, we read:
“The true doctrine concerning election and rejection having been explained, the Synod respects the errors of those who teach:
“That the incomplete and non-decisive election of particular persons to salvation occurred because of foreseen faith, conversion, holiness, godliness, which either began or continued for some time; but that the complete and decisive election occurred because of foreseen perseverance unto the end in faith, conversion, holiness and godliness; and that this is the gracious and evangelical worthiness, for the sake of which he who is chosen, is more worthy than he who is not chosen; and that therefore faith, the obedience of faith, holiness, godliness and perseverance are not fruits of the unchangeable election unto glory, but are conditions, which being required beforehand, were foreseen as being met by those who will be fully elected, and are causes without which the unchangeable election to glory does not occur.”
This article needs, perhaps, some elucidation for some of our readers, perhaps for most of them.
We will therefore wait with discussing it till our next issue.
But even now I want to point out that one who sets his feet on the path of conditions moves on a very slippery road.
For once he speaks of faith as a condition, there is no possibility of stopping, and he will soon discover that the entire way of salvation is strewn with conditions.
But about this next time.
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.