If ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever. Jeremiah 7:6-7.
We are interested in only one aspect of this passage from Jeremiah - its conditional character. It is to this conditional structure of the verse that a question sent to us refers: "Are the promises of God always conditional? A brother I am in correspondence with recently wrote to me quoting Jer. 7:6-7 as proof that God makes conditional promises. . . . [This passage] calls to obedience with attached promises of blessing. The question is, are the promised blessings conditional on obedience?"
By no means is it true that all the promises of God which are mentioned in Scripture are, in the form in which they appear, made conditional on obedience. It is true that conditional sentences are much used in Scripture, and many times they are indeed used in connection with the promises of God. This passage from Jeremiah is by no means an isolated case. One can find them again and again.
But to conclude from the use of conditional sentences to the theological proposition that "promised blessings are conditional on obedience" is wrong.
I want to make three points in connection with this question: 1) The promise of God is never conditional because of what the promise of God is. 2) In the Reformed creeds the word "condition" is condemned because it was used by the Arminians to teach a salvation dependent upon the will of man. 3) Answer the question: Why does Scripture use conditional sentences in connection with the promise of God?
Perhaps our answer to these questions will take a few articles in the Newsletter, but the questions are sufficiently important that a bit of time in treating them will not hurt.
First of all then, what is the promise of God?
We must answer this question from a two-fold point of view. We must ask the question, first of all: What is the promise of God from a formal point of view? And, secondly: What is the promise of God from a materialpoint of view, i.e., from the viewpoint of its contents?
We have the answer to the first question in Hebrews 6:13-18: "For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men verily swear by the greater; and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to shew unto the heirs of the promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath: that by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us...."
This is a beautiful and important passage, and we must notice the following about it. In the first place, the promise of God is described as an oath. It is an oath which God swears.
In the second place, from God's point of view it was not necessary to swear an oath, because what God had determined to do for His people was determined in His counsel which is immutable, and which, therefore, guarantees that what God has determined to do He will certainly do.
In the third place, however, God adds to His counsel an oath because he knows the weakness of our faith, and He is willing to show more abundantly unto the heirs of His counsel this immutability. And the result is that we have a strong consolation who have fled for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us.
In the fourth place, that oath which he swears is somewhat different from oaths which we swear. When we swear an oath we swear by God Who is higher than we are, Who knows the sincerity of our hearts and the truth of what we swear, and Who will certainly destroy all perjurers.
But God could not swear by anyone higher because there is none higher than Himself. And so He swears by Himself as the Highest One.
In the fifth place, by swearing by Himself He states: as truly as I am God, so surely will I do what I have promised; and, indeed, if my promises fail, it is only because I am not God.
Now that is the promise of God from a formal point of view. Is it conceivable that that promise of God be conditioned on our obedience? Then it is no longer an oath which God swears by Himself, but an oath which He swears contingent upon what we do.
And then we no longer have a strong consolation, we who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us!
- Volume: 6
- Issue: 4
Prof. Herman Hanko (Wife: Wilma)
Ordained: October 1955
Pastorates: Hope, Walker, MI - 1955; Doon, IA - 1963; Professor to the Protestant Reformed Seminary - 1965
Emeritus: 2001Website: www.sermonaudio.com/search.asp?speakeronly=true&currsection=sermonsspeaker&keyword=Prof._Herman_Hanko
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