Our Synod of 1958
The Committee of Pre-advice in the matter of the proposed new Bible translation advised Synod to adopt the following letter:
“Dr. M.J. Wyngaarden, Corresponding Secretary of the Committee for Bible translation,
“Franklin and Calvin, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“Dear Dr. Wyngaarden:
“In reply to .your missives directed to the Protestant Reformed Churches of America in regard to the matter of Bible translation, the Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches of America express appreciation for the consideration shown in the invitation to collaborate in this project.
“Although we agree with your committee that there is room for improvement in the present translations, we do not feel, that at this time we can collaborate with you in this project.”
“Fraternally yours, “The Synod of the Prot. Ref. Churches.”
The grounds for this advice of the committee are the following:
“1. We feel that this request is worthy of an answer.
“2. That we answer negatively is because of the complexity of the group that is invited to work on this project as composed of Arminians arid Premillennialists.”
The Synod, however, accepted the request to collaborate in the proposed new Bible translation. It considered, as also the committee expressed it, that there is, indeed, room for such a new translation. It also was of the opinion that in this important request we might not refuse, especially in the light of the fact that we do have men that are able to collaborate in this matter. And, finally, as far as complexity of the group is concerned that are to work together in this project, the Synod felt that, after all, it is not a matter of doctrine that is to be decided but merely a question of translation from the original. Besides, if we should ever feel that the translation would go in the wrong direction, we could always refuse to collaborate any further.
The Synod appointed the Revs. G.M. Ophoff, H.C. Hoeksema, and undersigned for this work.
Yesterday, July 13, we received the very sad news that the Rev. Ophoff had a stroke while he was on his vacation. It happened evidently in Toledo, Ohio, on his way home. As yet I do not know how serious it is. If I have more information before this Standard Bearer is printed, I will let you know. In the meantime, let us all remember the brother, whom we, dearly love, before the throne of grace.
Missions and Common Grace
On the subject of “common grace” in relation to the mission work of the Christian Reformed Church writes the Rev. L. Verduin in the Reformed Journalof June 1958.
He writes that the Christian Reformed Church, in regard to mission work in the sense of evangelism, is a very sick man. Several doctors have already stood at the bedside of this patient, according to him, and they have suggested various remedies; but they, evidently, do not agree among one another, neither as to the nature of the illness nor as to the proper remedy. And now comes Doctor Verduin, and suggests that the patient needs a shot of “common grace” in the arm. The trouble with the patient is that he always emphasizes election and reprobation: “A distorted doctrine of divine sovereignty can stifle the missionary spirit and program. Such distortion occurs when we say that election and reprobation are equally ultimate. To say that God is as much pleased, or, that He is pleased in. the same way, with the spectacle of the reprobate on the way to perdition as He is with the sight of one of the elect on the way to glory—this is to bind the feet of missions. To say that God loves the elect and that He hates the reprobate and to let it go at that is to put hobbles on the missionary spirit. For then we must conclude that we cannot love a man until he gives evidence of election. And with that, attitudes and polities spring up that will doom our missionary activity to perpetual barrenness. To say that God loves the elect and hates the reprobate and to let it go at that is to make it impossible for us to manifest a prevenient love for men. Where this caricature of the Reformed Faith is regnant, there men get the impression that we are prepared to love them if and when, and to the extent, that they give evidence of a state of grace; they find us unable to love men anteriorly, prior to the beginning of their movement towards Christ” . . .
This, then, is, according to Doctor Verduin, the character of the malady from which the Christian Reformed Church suffers. It consists in an over emphasis or a wrong emphasis on the truth of election and reprobation.
To me this is sheer nonsense. It is quite contrary to fact. And I do not believe a word of it.
But let this be for the time being.
The trouble is that the doctor that examined this patient and made this diagnosis of his disease is so filled with the love of the false doctrine of common grace that he does not understand and cannot believe the truth of predestination.
Do not say this to him, for he would most vehemently deny it. Just listen to what he writes: “This article is not a plea for the relinquishment of the doctrine of election in order that missions may flourish. It does not propose a single step in the direction of an Arminian theology” . . .
But what then does this doctor propose? He writes: “So it is with the various elements of Christian truth: not a single creedal item may usurp the air. For ourselves we prefer to seat the several items of Christian truth at a round table, so that not one of them will assume an air of superiority above the rest.”
Just imagine this conception, if you can.
All the doctrines of the Christian truth are sitting at a round table, and all are of equal value, absolutely coordinate. No doctrine is subordinate to any other. There is the doctrine of God, His attributes, Persons and works, including the doctrine of predestination, election and reprobation; there is the doctrine of creation: of man and the fall; there is the doctrine of Christ, His virgin birth, death for our sins, His resurrection and exaltation at the right hand of God; the doctrine of the Spirit of Christ and His work of applying the salvation of Christ to our hearts: the work of regeneration, calling, faith, justification, sanctification, preservation, and glorification; the doctrine of the Church with the preaching of the Word and the sacraments; and, finally the doctrine of the last things and the creation of the new heavens, and earth.
All these doctrines are sitting in equal positions at a round table and none of them may assume an air of superiority over any other!
Did you ever read anything more absurd and that, too, from the pen of one who calls himself a Reformed theologian?
But, of course, we can easily understand why this doctor writes thus. Fact is that although he claims to believe the doctrine of election and reprobation, he must have nothing of it, and he surely does not understand it. He wants to give “common grace” a place of honor at that round table of his, and that is impossible if you really mean to maintain the truth of predestination. At any rate, the doctor does not want to give the doctrine of election and reprobation a place as the heart of the truth and as the foundation of our salvation. Hence, when he claims to believe the doctrine of election, the rest of his statements made in this connection give that claim the lie.
But let us now attend to the question of the remedy which this doctor wants to administer to this sick patient, the Christian Reformed Church which has, according to him, failed rather miserably in its efforts at evangelism.
The remedy is, in one word, “common grace.”
You see, we must love all men and from the motive of that love to all men we must and can do mission work. Only when, such is the thought, when men can feel that we are motivated by the love of them, can we expect to draw men to Christ. “It is wrong for us to be selective in our love for men; we must love in all directions . . . And this indiscriminate love, when practiced, is but a creaturely reflection of a similarly indiscriminate love on the part of God, the God who sends sunshine and rain upon saint and sinner alike. If we are to be children of God, that is, if we are to emulate God, then we will love indiscriminately and anteriorly. That is the point in this item of Christ’s teaching. Granted that this promiscuous benignity on our part is on the common grace level—for it deals within the commodities of common grace. But this only shows that the doctrine of selective grace must be supplemented by the doctrine of nonselective grace . . . Common grace is called common precisely because it is common, that is, non-selective, indiscriminate, promiscuous. And common grace is prevenient grace, that is, a grace that antedates any movement toward the Christ.”
This, to me, is pure Pelagianism and Arminianism. “Common grace” is prevenient grace? This means, if anything, that it comes necessarily before saving grace, or, as the doctor here expresses it, before any movement towards Christ. It also means that “common grace” can be used as a means to come to Christ. Of course, personally I do not believe in any sort of common grace; as the reader well knows. But this “common grace” of the doctor here is far worse than what is usually called common grace. The sinner is totally corrupt and incapable of doing any good. There is no grace that he can use as a movement towards Christ. This doctrine of the doctor is literally condemned by our Reformed fathers in Canons III, IV, Rejection of errors, V, where we read: “The Synod rejects the errors of those Who teach: That the corrupt and natural man can so well use the common grace (by which they understand the light of nature) or the gifts still left him after the fall, that he can gradually gain by their good use a greater, viz., the evangelical or saving grace and salvation itself. And that in this way God shows himself ready to reveal Christ unto all men, since he applies to all sufficiently and efficiently the means necessary to conversion.”
This is virtually identical with the prevenient common grace of Verduin, who wants to give his patient, the Christian Reformed Church, a shot of common grace in the arm.
But let me go on, for I am not through yet.
After the doctor has observed still another symptom of the patient’s condition, namely, that of a prayer policy that is virtual denial of common grace, he tells a story of a minister who said in his prayer: “Heavenly Father, bless all that Thy hand has made.” The doctor was, evidently, utterly surprised, considering that this was a very heretical statement. (I wonder if he might not have heard this prayer in the First Protestant Reformed Church, for I used to pray this frequently: there is no common grace in it whatsoever). But when the doctor thought about it, he came to the conclusion that it was correct. And mark you, from that time on dates “the success the present writer has had with outsiders.”
Is it possible?
In conclusion, the doctor left a prescription at the bedside of the patient which reads as follows: “Let the patient stop paying mere lip-service to the doctrine of common grace, that is, to a grace that is both prevenient and promiscuous. Then a love for men in their unsaved condition will become possible for him. Let him begin to love all, love them fervently, love them anteriorly and as they are, so that if and when they embrace the Gospel they will experience a higher love at the hand of their benefactors—just as they at that point experience a subsequent and higher love at the hand of God. This should make the patient’s pallor depart, color will return to his checks, and a sense of joyous well-being will course through his frame as he leaps to the task that awaits him.”
And now my own conclusion.
It is this: there is literally not a word of truth in the whole article by the Rev. L. Verduin. To substantiate this rather strong statement I will point to the following facts:
1. It is not true that the Christian Reformed Church is a sick patient, or rather feels sick, because of a lack of common grace so called, but rather because she does not understand why she has so little “success” in her work of evangelism. As soon as she understands two things she will be cured of her feeling of sickness. These two things are: (1) That she must understand that her whole task is that she must simply preach and witness of the gospel of Jesus Christ and be satisfied to leave the fruit to God. She must not be tempted to fill in the “common grace prescription” of Verduin, but know and trust that the fruit of her labors is up to the sovereign grace of God and is rooted in predestination: God calls whomsoever He will. (2) She must not and cannot expect too much fruit among those that once, perhaps in former generations or even recently, belonged to the Church and have departed. It is simply a rule that God gathers His Church in the line of continued generations, and although there are, no doubt, exceptions, He does not often return to those that once were of the Church and have left her. It may seem as if the work of men like Sunday and Graham contradicts this statement, because they seem to be able to create much enthusiasm for the gospel, but more than mere appearance this is not. Time will show that by far most of this what I would call mob-enthusiasm will soon die down and that there is little or no permanent fruit left of the labors of these men.
2. It is not true that: (1) According to Scripture, we may love all men. (2) That the love of men, so-called common grace love, may be or can be the motive for mission work. As to the first, the Bible teaches very plainly that we may not and cannot love those that plainly reveal themselves as enemies of God and of the gospel of Jesus Christ. With a holy hatred, which is essentially love, the love of God in Christ, we must hate them, “Should I not hate them that hate Thee?” Ps. 139. Nor did Jesus love all men with the “common grace love” of Verduin. He certainly did not love the hypocritical Pharisees as we may learn emphatically from Matthew 23. Besides, listen to what Jesus said to the Jews who first pretended to believe on Him: “Ye do the deeds of your father. . . Ye are of your father the devil, and the lust of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.” John 8:44.
And as for the second, only the grace in Christ, and not so-called common grace, can be the motive for the work of mission or evangelism. For, first of all, the missionary must preach Christ and the cross, and that is always foolishness to the natural man: “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness, but unto us which are saved it is the power of God,” I Cor. 1:18. And again: “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God,” I Cor. 1:23, 24. And in II Cor. 5:14, 15 we read: “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them and rose again.” This is and should be the only motive for missionary labor, and not a certain common grace and love for all men.
3. We may notice, too, that the Lord” Himself does not hesitate to emphasize strongly, in His preaching, the truth of election and, in connection with this, the truth that man of himself is wholly incapable to come unto Him and be saved. This is evident from the context of that well-known gospel-call and promise in Matthew 11:25, 26: “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it was good in thy sight.” And inJohn 6:36, 37: “But I said unto you, that ye also have seen me and believe not. All that the Father giveth me shall come unto me; and he that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.” And in v. 44: “No man can come unto me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.” And once more, in John 10:26-30: “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.” This is the truth concerning salvation as the Lord proclaimed it. This is the truth which the apostles preached. And this is the truth which also the church must preach, whether it be to its own members or in its missionary labors. There is no other gospel.
4. Hence, my final conclusion is that the article of Rev. Verduin in the Reformed Journal is not Reformed but Pelagian and Arminian. He avows, indeed, to believe the truth of predestination, but this does not mean a thing: in his whole article he never applies it and, on the contrary, he presents “common grace,” which, according to him, is prevenient grace, as the motive for mission work. Such is my opinion.