In response to our publishing of his statements that “Many people also speak this way about accept the terms of the covenant. We do indeed believe in covenant obligations and privileges, but never as conditions,” the Rev. Gritters objected by personal letter and declared that we could not find in any of his current writings that he now embraces conditional election.
We let the readers judge. We never accused him of that, in fact we pointed out in that article appearing October 1 that when he stated that “Many people also speak this way about accepting the terms of the covenant” he was exactly touching upon the issue which is raging in our churches today. As yet we have not come to that stage where we must even directly defend unconditional election. But we are very, very busy fighting against the conditional theology as applied to the covenant. We fail to understand the word “also” in the quotation above if it does not mean that there are people who likewise speak of the terms of the covenant being conditional. And then we cannot see the last sentence in any other way than that he says that in that covenant he would never say that what we are obliged to do and are privileged to do is a condition.
And rather than to accuse the Rev. Gritters of teaching conditional election—we will not do that today, in spite of his conditional theology—we meant, by quoting him, to show our people that ten years ago he not only condemned unequivocally conditional election but ALSO, and at that time forever, all idea of our covenant obligations and privileges being conditions in and unto the covenant.
We had no malice in our hearts when we reprinted his words. Rather than to try to publish errors he made in the past, we wanted him and all our people to see and remember the beautiful Protestant Reformed convictions that flowed from his able pen. Since our contact with the Liberated, many of our people did forget what we formerly believed and maintained. After all it was so much nicer and easier to embrace, at least to a measure, that appeal of the Liberated theology to our own conceit and pride. It gives us more room to be man-centered in our thinking and to adopt the methodistic tactics of striving to frighten people into an outward semblance of obedience and faith. We must keep man from being careless and profane, is then the idea, not by gospel of a salvation wholly and entirely by the works of Christ but by filling man with all kinds of fear as to the consequences, if he does not do this or that and a few more things. Preach to him admonitions, warnings and rebukes, but do not spoil it by telling him that God must first give him unconditionally this grace before he will heed these admonitions and that God will most assuredly give that grace to all His elect people. Our people, some of them, actually have developed a craving for Christless sermons. And that is a fact! But we wanted our people to be refreshed with the former writings of one who knew how to present the God-centered truth of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Nor is that all. We wanted to spare the brother of continuing until he did come to the point where he and his followers would maintain conditional election also. We pleaded in that article to him to come back and cast away all conditionality. For to carry out this conditional theology must needs result in a denial of unconditional election too. That is so very plain now that all the proponents of conditional theology amongst us, without an exception, have departed so far that they will now speak of conditions in the sense of prerequisites. (By the way, will those who like to ignore the fact that the Revs. Hoeksema and Ophoff have published their acknowledgments that they were wrong when they used the word “condition” in the past, please quote one passage to show them speaking of prerequisites unto salvation or unto any phase of it? We can now drop all such quotations of theirs which use the word “condition.” And you can thank the Rev. De Wolf for being the spokesman for the whole movement to show us that the conditions of the Revs. Hoeksema and Ophoff are as different from those which they, the proponents of conditional theology in our midst maintain, as there is between our understanding of the word election and between that of the Arminians.) But to return to what we began to say, the idea of conditions in the sense of prerequisites unto salvation is set forth among us because, so it is said, we need that pedagogical approach. If you do not come thus to man, he will become careless and profane. We might add that then it surely follows that to preach election also requires the pedagogical approach lest by teaching an unconditional election we move men to carelessness and profanity. What holds for the one, surely holds for the other. If preaching that there are no conditions even IN the covenant we lose that pedagogical element which keeps man from being careless and indifferent, then by all means we will need a conditional election for the same pedagogical approach and for the avoidance of carelessness and profanity in the one who hears about election.
But in this connection also we would like to show you how the Rev. Gritters, ten years ago, was not at all afraid that to preach unconditional election made man careless and profane. We appreciate these lines of his and would to God he would apply that also to “conditions in the covenant” and to the covenant promise and have the confidence that to cast all conditions away, would not influence man to carelessness and profanity. On page 10 he writes,
“Art. 13…You will recall that the Arminians (of today also) argued that election is moreover a dangerous doctrine because it leads men to careless living. Arminians said that election will induce people to say, ‘Eat, drink and be merry, we are elect and no matter how we live, we will be saved anyway.’ This Art., however, testifies that people who say such things reveal their hatred for the holy matters of God and by talking that way show by their very speech what awful judgments come upon them that do not walk in the way of grace and holiness. The article instructs us rather that election leads men to humiliation and adoration with consequent lives of holiness and thanksgiving. God first loves us, and therefore we also love Him. And having that love in our hearts none of us will jump to the careless conclusion that no matter how we live, we will be saved or lost anyway.”
Why can the brother not say that same thing about the covenant promises and the whole of our salvation? With that love in our hearts when the covenant promise, as an unconditional promise, is preached, why will we then suddenly jump to careless conclusions? The next paragraph for which we have no room is also very much to the point. He writes in it that election must not be treated like an “exquisite piece of furniture, stored in the attic and occasionally brought out for display.” The brother had a knack for hitting the nail on the head.
But how much heavier our hearts become when we turn away from the fact that conditional promises, faith as a condition, our act of conversion as a prerequisite to our entering the kingdom, etc. etc., will lead to conditional election, and then realize that already steps, great steps have been taken in that direction and have not been retraced! It is not a mere abstract theory that to maintain conditions somewhere along the line will lead to including election which stands at the head of the line. Exactly as we wrote last time. God cannot be mocked, and when you play with fire you are very apt to get burned. That is why those who defended conditional theology—even though they told themselves and us that they would do so in a limited sense—now defend prerequisites, the most obnoxious form of conditions. Even Dr. Schilder in his definition of conditions tried desperately to avoid that idea. The most he would say is that conditions are two things that are always found together, that is, next to each other. Prerequisites say that one thing is built UPON the other. Faith as a prerequisite is the basis for our salvation. And that is heresy pure and simple.
Nor is it difficult to see why the Rev. De Wolf had to speak disrespectfully of election in those sermons in which he made those heretical statements which in their literal form are heretical, that is, are heretical until you change a word, add a word or take one away. That is why he had to include, as we understand, such a statement about election even in the sermon outline which he gave the classical committee which studied his case. If we have not spoken the truth, he may feel free to use this department the next issue to show us how he can defend those statements in the light of election. We would appreciate an explanation as to why election has to be hushed in connection with any truth of Scripture. We would like to see how the “everyone of you, if you believe” in that first statement fits in with unconditional election, and with the “prerequisite” idea of the second statement. A chain is no stronger than its weakest link. And the chain is unconditional election unto an unconditional promise of an unconditional salvation. Make one of these conditional and they all become conditioned by that one, Make the promise conditional and those unconditionally elected to it are yet before a condition which puts their election in doubt. Make one of these three conditional and the whole chain is useless. It will break rather than be God’s means to draw us into the glories He has promised.
Still more, another revealing fact. The Rev. Petter, in order to defend the two statements also felt the need of meddling with election, be it with a different approach. He speaks of promises to the reprobate, the contents of which promises is the same as that promised the elect. God promises elect David a “sure house,” and to reprobate Jeroboam that same promise is not simply preached, but according to the Rev. Petter God promises this also to him. We are glad, however, that in later writings he began to doubt this and presented the possibility that the Rev. Hoeksema could show that the distinction between Promise and promises cannot stand. And, by the way, the Staten Bijbel does not translate the Hebrew word “Saith” inas “promise” even though the English translation does six times.