Eating and Drinking Christ

In the Blue Banner Faith and Life magazine of July-September issue, we came across the following review of Hoeksema’s latest book on the Heidelberg Catechism written by Adam Loughridge. We liked most of what the reviewer says of this book and pass on to our readers the entire article in the hope that it will encourage especially our own people to read the book.

“This is the seventh volume in a series of Exposi­tions of the Heidelberg Catechism. The book is divi­ded into four sections, and covers in detail the ans­wers to questions 75-85 in the Catechism. In Section 1 the author deals with the institution of the Lord’s Supper. He shows the significance and the meaning of the various symbols; what is represented by the bread and wine, the breaking of the bread and the pouring out of wine, the eating and drinking, and how by partaking in fellowship and communion we feast upon Christ through faith. He shows clearly that the Lord’s Supper is more than a commemoration of His death; it is a means of grace.

“In Section 2 the errors and false teaching con­cerning the Supper are exposed. The author reviews the positions held by the Romanists, by Luther, by Zwingli and by Calvin. He gives an accurate survey of the whole teaching on the subject from a histori­cal and from a doctrinal angle, and the arguments are well substantiated by references to the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent on the one hand and to the Reformed Confessions on the other. He concludes convincingly that the spiritual food at the table of the Lord can only be received in a true spiri­tual disposition of heart and mind.

“Section 3 deals in a most heart-searching manner with the question of those who would worthily par­take of the Sacrament. Three distinguishing marks of a worthy communicant are listed and expounded. There must be sorrow for sin, trust in the Savior for forgiveness of sins, and a desire for a stronger faith and for holiness in life and walk. The believer is to examine himself in the light of God’s Word on these three points. The subject of self-examination is dealt with faithfully and in great detail.

“The concluding section brings refreshingly before us the much neglected matter of discipline. In every true church there should be three things: the preach­ing of the Word, the proper administration of the sacraments, and the right exercise of Christian Dis­cipline. The modern Ecumenical Movement has dis­carded the use of discipline and has attempted to make one body of all the churches. The result is a failure. The preaching of the Word is corrupted, the sacra­ments are profaned, and the body thus formed, what­ever it may be, is certainly not the body of Christ. The exercise of discipline in the spirit of love will glorify God, promote the well-being of the Church and the salvation of its members.

“In a thought-provoking chapter on the preaching of the gospel the author effectively argues that the Gospel is not a conditional offer to be received or re­jected by man at will, but an unconditional promise of salvation to the heirs of the promise, the elect of God.

“The book is a faithful interpretation of the Heid­elberg Catechism. The language is simple, the argu­ment lucid, the tone sincere and earnest, the appeal heart-searching and altogether full of spiritual com­fort for the believer. Here and there in the book the very intensity of the author leads him to use language that is strong almost to the point of extravagance. In his evident desire to magnify the grace of God in our salvation, the doctrine of man’s depravity, with which we are in entire agreement, is over-emphasized on pages 47 and 48 to the extent of denying the exis­tence of any good whatever in the unbeliever. Surely also at the top of page 136 it is not correct to say that to debar those who hold false doctrines from the Lord’s Supper is essentially the same as to excom­municate them from the Church of Christ. A man may be suspended from fellowship without being ex­communicated from the Church.

“The book will be read with pleasure and profit by all who love the Lord and His ordinances.”

We wish to note here in the first place that it is refreshing to read of some outside our circle who apparently agree with Hoeksema’s conception that the gospel is ‘an unconditional promise of salvation to the heirs of the promise, the elect of God’; while some of our own people appear ready to discard this view.

And secondly, we find it difficult to understand how the reviewer can say he is in agreement with Hoeksema’s doctrine of man’s depravity, while at the same time he thinks it too much to say that there is no good in the unbeliever. This is an inconsistency we find also in the writings of several Christian Re­formed brethren. It must be, according to them, that man is not by nature totally depraved after all.

The ‘Absolute’ Antithesis

This is the caption over, the article written by the Rev. L. Yerduin in the June issue of the Reformed Journal. A popular subject, indeed, for comment among some of the clergy in the Christian Reformed Churches in recent weeks.

Verduin’s article is too long to quote in full. We can only give the reader a snatch here and there, while we try to restate his main thoughts on this sub­ject. Here follows the quotations:

“In Reformed circles men speak of an antithesis between the Kingdom of Christ and that of Satan, be­tween the children of God and men of the world, be­tween the regenerate and men in the raw. And, this antithesis is sometimes said to be ‘absolute’.

The history of Christ’s Church is littered with the wreckage caused by an extremism, an absolutism touching the antithesis. It is born of a ‘relentless logic’ rather than of an agonizing attempt to be faithful to the Word of God. To tone down the anti­thesis so that presently all the Faith’s great opposites pale into a common grey is to do the cause of Christ great harm; but one can also paint in such contrasty colors as to fall into equally serious fault.

We seek to serve a good cause as we set down in this article some of the axioms that have hitherto been a part of the Reformed tradition and faith anent the matter of the antithesis.

First of all, it should be stated that ideologically considered the antithesis is necessarily absolute. By definition regeneracy is the exact opposite of unregeneracy. Life and death differ absolutely not gradu­ally….

It is indeed the glory of the Reformed faith that it has insisted upon an antithesis, and, upon an anti­thesis that is absolute—when considered ideologically. ….To cease from using these terms (i.e., ‘sheep’ and ‘goats’, ‘saved’ and ‘lost’, the ‘elect and reprobate’—M.S.) as opposites is not only to cease from speaking in the Reformed idiom—it is to scuttle historic and Biblical Christianity.” Verduin continues;

But” (I underscore, M.S.) “now come footnotes, modifying footnotes, in which complementary truths are set forth,… And it is the need for such footnotes that marks the mind of the truly Reformed thinker. When he is discoursing on the sovereignty of God, for instance, he will feel the need of a footnote in which the complementary truth of the responsibility of man and the actualness of option are recognized.” (I un­derscore, M.S.).

“It happens that it is part of the Reformed heri­tage to feel the need of a modifying footnote when we speak of the antithesis. This will account for the fact that the expression ‘absolute’ antithesis is quite rare in our tradition.”

“A second but equally well enunciated axiom of the Reformed faith is that the antithesis as it mani­fests itself empirically in this dispensation is never absolute… In the regenerate there are traces of the earlier modality of unregeneracy; and in the unregenerate there are similarly traces of the earlier mode of rectitude. It is this situation that makes it neces­sary for Reformed people to be extremely cautious with the expression ‘absolute’ antithesis.”

The Rev. Verduin then proceeds to develop his thoughts under the following three main titles: “Ab­solute’ Unregeneracy?'”, “‘Absolute’ Regeneracy,” and “So What?”.

Under the first he takes you into the ‘laboratory’ to let you see the unregenerate under the microscope. And what do you see, according to Verduin? “Un­regeneracy, by and large, sin, depravity, fallenness.” But—oops! just a minute, down there in the corner of the plate you will see an area that is not so deprav­ed. Hence, the unregenerate is not absolutely unre­generate.

And what happens when you go into the same ‘laboratory’ and take a look at the regenerate? Do you see ‘absolute’ regeneracy? Of course not! To be sure, you see something radically different than in the unregenerate. You see a “heavy concentration of re­generacy”, but up in the right hand corner of the plate you also see traces of carnality which is but an­other name for unregeneracy.

So what? The conclusion is plain and simple. There is no such thing as an “Absolute” antithesis, except as you think and speak of it ideologically. To speak of an “absolute” antithesis is to be guilty of “relentless logic”. Absolutism “breeds the notion that there are men and organizations that deserve only benediction,” this is Phariseeism.

If Verduin’s conclusion of “absolute” antithesis is the result of relentless logic, I’m wondering what our conclusion musts be of Verduin’s conclusion? Is his based on a sound exegesis of the Word of God? or is it the fanciful imagination of a rationalistic bent in the mind of Verduin? I’m inclined to conclude the latter.

—M. Schipper