We must still call attention to the thanksgiving at the close of the Form for the Administration of Baptism. There we read the well-known words:
“Almighty God and merciful Father, we thank and praise thee, that Thou hast forgiven us, and our children, all our sins, through the blood of thy beloved Son Jesus Christ, and received us through thy Holy Spirit as members of thine only begotten Son, and adopted us to be thy children, and sealed and confirmed the same unto us by holy Baptism.”
This is strong language indeed!
True, it does not literally mention the promise.
But the rich contents of the promise is expressed here in no uncertain terms: the forgiveness of sins, reception into the fellowship of Christ, so that we are His members, adoption unto children.
Moreover, all this is presented as an indubitable fact. It is all accomplished: God has forgiven us all our sins, He has received us through His Holy Spirit as members of His only begotten Son, He has adopted us to be His children. It is all finished.
And of whom is this said here? Is it, perhaps, for conscious believers, that fulfilled the “condition” of faith? Or is the promise here necessarily presented as unconditional?
The latter is, evidently the truth. For, in the first place, this thanksgiving does not only speak for those that utter this thanksgiving, but also for their little children. God has forgiven little infants, that certainly cannot consciously perform the act of faith, that are wholly incapable of fulfilling any conditions, all their sins; through His Holy Spirit He made them members of His Son, before they knew anything about it. And through the same Spirit He gave them the adoption unto children and heirs. Here we have again the same language we met in the doctrinal part of the Baptism Form: “for as they are without their knowledge partakers of the condemnation in Adam, so are they again received unto grace in Christ.” Hence, in the thanksgiving the promise is surely presented as unconditional.
But a second reason why this thanksgiving, evidently, means to present the promise as unconditional, is that it mentions the gift of the Holy Spirit as the Author of our having become members of Jesus Christ. And the engrafting into Christ as His members by the
Holy Spirit is surely prior to any possible act of faith on our part, and, therefore, unconditional.
Our fathers, therefore, surely maintained that the unconditional promise was signified and sealed unto us and to our children in baptism.
But how could our fathers speak so positively? How could they give thanks that God has forgiven us and our children all our sins, that He has made us and our children members of Christ through the Holy Spirit, and that He has adopted us and our children unto His children?
Is this true, then, after all, of all the children that are baptized?
Or, is this, perhaps, all presumed, and based upon a presupposition?
I well remember the case of a certain minister in Classis Pella, who had conscientious scruples to pray this thanksgiving of the Baptism Form in his congregation. He appealed to classis and revealed his objections. This classis, however, did not explain the problem to him, but, nevertheless, insisted that, in baptizing children in his congregation, he would have to use the Form including the thanksgiving.
He tried to get light on the subject from others, even in Grand Rapids.
I know that he came to Prof. Heyns. And the professor explained that he must understand the language of this thanksgiving as merely an objective bequest, which God, on His part, granted to all the children that are born under the dispensation of the covenant, but that would be subjectively granted to them and realized in and for them on condition of faith and obedience. But the brother that had the conscientious objections was not satisfied with this. He pointed to the very positive language of that thanksgiving, and insisted that, according to it, the children as well as the adults were really partakers of all the blessings of salvation in Christ.
I know, too, that he approached Dr. Van Lonkhuyzen with his problem. He believed in presumptive regeneration, and explained to the brother that the thanksgiving does, indeed, refer to all the children that are born under the dispensation of the covenant, but that we must simply presume or presuppose that they all have the blessings of the covenant. Whether this is really the case will not become apparent until the children grow up and reveal themselves as real and spiritual children of the covenant. But again, the objecting brother pointed to the very positive language of the Baptism Form, and remarked that this language could never be interpreted as presumptions or presuppositions.
Evidently, the brother was right as far as the language of the thanksgiving is concerned.
But what then?
What did our fathers mean?
There is only one possible explanation. The Baptism Form has in view the believing Church and her spiritual seed. It is that believing Church that confesses, prays, pledges, and gives thanks. And that believing Church includes her spiritual seed, the children of the promise. To that Church and her spiritual seed are all the promises of God. And only in that light can we understand that, in the thanksgiving it can say: “Almighty God and merciful Father, we thank Thee that Thou hast forgiven us, and our children all our sins, through the blood of thy beloved Son Jesus Christ.”
In other words, our fathers believed and maintained that the promise is unconditional and for the elect only.
In the Agenda of Classis West there occurs among other items, such as two protests against the Declaration of Principles, two protests against sending delegates (as visitors) to the Reformed Ecumenical Synod, an overture concerning the new translation of the Bible as follows:
“The consistory of Sioux Center comes to you with the request that Classis West overture Synod to appoint a committee to study the newly published Revised Standard Version of the Bible, which committee is to report to the Synod of 1954, in order that Synod may advise our membership in regard (s) to the new version.”
I do not know, at the time of this writing, whether or not Classis West will adopt this overture and send it through to Synod.
As I see it, it can never do any harm. It offers Synod something positive to think and deliberate about.
But, in the first place, I would suggest that, in case Synod receives and adopts this Overture, it does not appoint a committee to study the matter and report to the Synod of 1954, but give in the hands of one of the committees for pre-advice to report to the present Synod that meets, D.V. in June, in order that the Synod may make a decision immediately. My chief reason for this is that, by the time Synod meets, the delegates, at least the majority of them, are or should be acquainted with the new version of the Bible and be able to judge of the character of the new translation. It can, of course, easily be purchased. Every one of the delegates can read it for himself. Nor is it necessary to read it through from cover to cover in order to be able to judge of its contents. Many papers have been written about it. A pamphlet has even been published by Carl McIntire, president of the International Council of Christian Churches, under the title: “The New Bible:—Why Christians should not accept it.” In this pamphlet all the salient errors of the new version are exposed and discussed. Anyone, therefore, may be able to judge for himself. It surely will not require a whole year of study to determine whether or not the new translation should be recommended to our people. I dare say that it will be almost a foregone conclusion that the result of such an investigation will be negative.
But for the same reason, I am also of the opinion that this is hardly a synodical matter. It might be if the overture advised the official adoption of this new version for use in our churches. But why should Synod advise our people what to read or not to read, even a new version of the Bible? Our people can read for themselves and are able to judge for themselves also of the new Bible. They can read the literature that is published about it just as well as the delegates to Synod. And if they are not sufficiently interested to read, it certainly will not help them that Synod pass a decision on the matter and have it printed in the Acts of Synod, for those same people surely will not read those Acts.
Hence, it seems to me that, if people need more light on the matter, lot them read whatever is published in papers or pamphlets, and for the rest pastors, elders, or leaders in our societies discuss the matter.
This will be far more effective than any decision of Synod that is printed in the Acts.
And it also will look much better, for it will recognize the office of believers, according to the Word of God in I John 2:20: “But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.”