This article first appeared in the December 15, 1949 issue of the Standard Bearer (Vol.26, No.6) and was penned by the editor, Rev. Herman Hoeksema.
At the close of our last article we were discussing Canons, chapter I, Rejection of Errors, V.
The Arminians, as is plain from that article, presented the entire way of salvation as conditional, and, therefore, as depending on something man must do, on conditions which he must fulfill in order to be saved.
They were afraid that the doctrine of unconditional election and unconditional salvation would lead to a denial of the responsibility of man. And the latter they wanted to maintain at all cost, even at the expense of the truth of sovereign and unconditional election and reprobation.
Hence, they spoke of a conditional election, and, therefore, of a conditional salvation.
For, let it be plainly understood, these two belong together. Either salvation is conditional because election is conditional; or both are unconditional. For the application of salvation flows from the counsel of election. Hence, he that teaches that faith is a condition unto salvation, must necessarily teach that it is also a condition unto salvation.
And this the Arminians did, indeed, teach.
Already from Art. II, of ch. I, Rejection of Errors, we learn that they taught “that there are various kinds of election of God unto eternal life: the one general and indefinite, the other particular and definite; and that the latter in turn is either incomplete, revocable, non-decisive and conditional, or complete, irrevocable, decisive and absolute."
And in the article we are now discussing, I, B, V, we read further about this incomplete or complete, non-decisive and complete election of particular persons. And this is further explained by saying that in God’s election of particular persons unto eternal life not only faith, but also the obedience of faith, holiness, godliness and perseverance are conditions and causes of the unchangeable election unto glory.
You understand what this means, reader?
Briefly, it means that for the Arminian the whole way of salvation is strewn with conditions!
And conditions means that, ultimately, everything depends on man’s free will.
We have all learned in catechism that the Arminians teach an election on the basis of foreseen faith. God chose those of whom He foresaw that they would believe in Christ. In other words the election of God unto salvation is conditioned by man’s faith.
But, true though this is, it is by no means all of the Arminian doctrine. They cannot possibly stop there.
When a man is chosen on condition of faith, his election is not yet sure, it is not yet complete and decisive. May he not lose his faith and become an unbeliever?
Hence, there is a further condition, which man must fulfill in order to have a place in God’s election unto eternal life and be saved. That further condition is the obedience of faith, which includes, of course, holiness and a godly walk.
But even this is not sufficient.
A man may be chosen on condition of his foreseen faith, and his foreseen obedience of faith, holiness and godliness, and still his election unto eternal life may be incomplete and non-decisive. May he not fall away, apostatize from the faith? And if he does, is not his election changed into reprobation? Hence, a final condition must be attached to God’s election of man unto eternal life. And that final condition is perseverance. Only the man whom God foresaw as persevering unto the end is elect. And only when man fulfills all the conditions can he be saved.
Do you not see, reader, that this road of conditions is a very slippery path, and that there is abundant reason to be “vuurbang” for this Pelagian and Arminian term?
Once you say that you are saved on condition of faith, you must continue and maintain that you are saved on condition of obedience, on condition of holiness, on condition of godliness, on condition of perseverance.
And always a condition is something, some requirement man must fulfill.
That means that the entire way of salvation, from beginning to end is, ultimately, dependent on the will of man.
Let us, therefore, reject this Pelegian heresy, together with the term that is used to express it.
But, you say, how then about the responsibility of man? Do we not need the term condition to denote that man is a responsible creature? Do we not make man “a stock and block” by laying all emphasis on the truth of election and sovereign grace?
My answer is decidedly: No!
I must say more about this in the future. I am not yet through with my discussion of conditions.
But let me suggest that instead of the Pelagian term “condition” we use the term “in the way of”.
We are saved in the way of faith, in the way of sanctification, in the way of perseverance unto the end.
This term is capable of maintaining both: the absolute sovereignty of God in the work of salvation and the responsibility of man.
But, as I say, about this I must write more in the future.
I must now continue my discussion of the question whether, in our Reformed Standards, faith is ever presenter as a condition unto salvation.
For this purpose I want to quote just one article from the second chapter of the Canons, viz., II, A. 8.
In the preceding articles under this head the Canons spoke of the atoning death of Christ and its infinite value, of the promiscuous preaching of the gospel unto all unto whom God sends it in His good pleasure, of the responsibility of those who reject the gospel, and of the truth that those that are saved are indebted for this benefit solely to the grace of God. And then it continues in Art. 8:
“For this was the sovereign counsel, and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of his Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly unto salvation: that is, it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation and given him by the Father; that he should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, he purchased for them by his death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory to his own presence forever.”
Notice that in this beautiful article, the entire truth of salvation, from election to eternal glory, is completely covered. And I quote it here in order to show, not only that it does not speak of conditions, but that there is absolutely no room for the notion in the entire article.
You cannot even make room in this quite comprehensive statement of the truth of salvation for the idea that faith is a condition of our entering the covenant of God, or of our obtaining salvation.
Just let us check up on this by following the various clauses and phrases of the article.
The article states, first of all, that it was sovereignly determined in the counsel of God, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of the Son of God should extend to all the elect and to them only. This is surely unconditional. It is an absolutely sovereign determination of God with respect to the exact scope of the power of the cross: it is limited to the elect, and it will surely save them all.
There is no room here, therefore, for the idea that faith is a condition of salvation.
Secondly, the article continues by stating: “for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly unto salvation.” Here, too, it is impossible to speak of faith as a condition, in any sense of the word. God bestows the justifying faith. It belongs, therefore, to salvation itself. How then can a gift of salvation be a condition unto that gift? This is, evidently, absurd. Moreover, by this gift of justifying faith, bestowed upon us unconditionally by God, He leads us infallibly unto salvation.
It is, therefore, all determined by God, faith and salvation, and there can be no conditions. There simply is no room for anything that man must fulfill before he can attain to salvation.
There is more in this article.
But the discussion of the rest must wait until the next issue, D. V.
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