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The basic charge against the Protestant Reformed doctrine of the covenant of grace by Canadian Reformed (“Liberated”) theologian Dr. J. DeJong is that it is an “election theology” of the covenant. In his letter in the March 15, 199l issue of the Standard Bearer, Dr. DeJong wrote:

Engelsma is only perpetuating the same kind of “election” theology which refuses to entertain the Scriptural teaching of faith as the way or condition to salvation and the notion of God’s wrath against covenant breakers.

He lodged the same charge in other words when he alleged “the typical Protestant Reformed interpretation that makes election dominate all other doctrines.”

To the accusation that theirs is an “election theology” of covenant, the PRC enthusiastically plead guilty.

By an “election theology” of covenant, we understand, first, that God’s establishment of His covenant with a people is due to His eternal election of that people. In harmony with this, secondly, eternal election determines who they are to whom God makes His covenant promise. Accordingly, in the third place, by His Spirit and Word God brings into His covenant, and gives the blessings of the covenant to, those men, women, and children whom He chose. Election is decisive for inclusion in the covenant. Therefore, fourthly, faith is not a condition unto membership in the covenant, or unto the salvation enjoyed in the covenant. Rather, faith is the way in which God unites elect sinners to Himself in the covenant, the means by which God’s covenant friends both embrace the blessings of the covenant and perform their part in the covenant, and the gift of God to the chosen in fulfillment of the covenant promise.

Apart from all other considerations, the reason why an “election theology” of covenant cannot regard faith as a condition is simply that the election upon which the covenant depends is unconditional. If election is unconditional, so also is the covenant unconditional, as well as the salvation that belongs to the covenant. If my choice of a woman to be my wife is an unconditional choice, the marriage that results from this choice is an unconditional relationship. On the other hand, if the covenant and its salvation are conditional, election also is conditional. If my contract as your employee is conditional, that is, depends upon my satisfactory performance of a certain work, so also is your choice of me to be your employee conditional.

It is the clear, pervasive, and massive testimony of the Bible that God’s covenant with Israel and the Church is due to, based upon, and wholly determined by God’s eternal election. Moses said to Israel, “The LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above (Hebrew: in distinction from) all people that are upon the face of the earth” (Deut. 7:6). Paul tells the New Testament church the same thing at the beginning of the outstanding New Testament book on the church: “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him; in love having predestinated us. . .” (Eph. 1:3-5). The church’s covenant position, covenant members, covenant blessings, and covenant responsibilities are determined by divine election in Christ.

This testimony of Scripture is made the creedal position of the Reformed churches in the Canons of Dordt. Although the Canons die not often mention the covenant of grace, the doctrine of the Canons is an “election theology” of covenant. For the saving of sinners is a matter of God’s making His covenant with them (Is. 55:3); and the Canons ground the salvation of sinners squarely upon election (cf. I/7).

At one crucial point, however, the Canons make this explicit. This occurs in the second chapter, “Of the Death of Christ and the Redemption of Men Thereby.” The central article is Article 8. This article sets forth Christ’s death as a covenant death: He died as Head and Mediator of the new covenant in order to redeem to Himself a covenant people out of all nations. As regards its purpose to gather particular persons and as regards its securing all the benefits of salvation for these persons, including faith, the cross of Jesus Christ was due to, based on, and strictly controlled by God’s eternal election:

It was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation . . . should confer upon them faith . . . should purge them from all sin . . . (and) should . . . bring them . . . to the enjoyment of glory in his own presence forever.

What makes this “election theology of covenant” of the Canons even more forceful is the Canons’ repudiation of every attempt to cut the covenant loose from election. The Canons guard against the error of separating covenant from election in the “Rejection of Errors” section attached to the second chapter, especially Articles 2-5. Specifically, our Reformed confession condemns the notion that anyone has been accepted “unto the state of reconciliation and unto the grace of the covenant” except the elect. The creed also rejects that view of the covenant that sees it as nothing more than a conditional means unto eternal life, man’s own faith being the condition.

Against this powerful witness of the Canons themselves to an “election theology” of covenant, the “Liberated” cannot appeal to Canons I/17 as though this article teaches that all the children of believers without exception, those who finally perish as well as those who are saved, are in the covenant. Dr. DeJong makes this appeal: “All the children are explicitly included in the covenant (in Canons, I/17).”

Surely Dr. DeJong sees that his appeal to Canons, I/17, in support of the “Liberated” doctrine that all the children are in the covenant in the same way, proves far too much, even for the “Liberated.” For this article speaks of our children’s being comprehended in the covenant of grace in the sense that the children are elect and saved. Does Dr. DeJong want to contend that all the children of godly parents alike are comprehended in the covenant of grace as elect and saved?

Canons, I/17 is not speaking of all the children of godly parents without exception. The article refers to a specific, limited number of covenant children: “(those) whom it pleases God to call out of this life in their infancy.” If this pastoral statement were to be formulated as a doctrinal proposition, the proposition would run thus: “All of the children of godly parents who die in infancy are to be considered elect and saved by virtue of the covenant of grace.” So far is this article from supporting a doctrine of the covenant that pits membership in the covenant against election that, on the contrary, the article expressly grounds our children’s comprehension in the covenant in election. “Godly parents have no reason to doubt of the election . . . of their children,” who die in infancy.

Above all else, the PRC are constrained to hold an “election theology” of the covenant by the ninth chapter of Romans. The Holy Spirit here addresses the exact issue that divides the covenant theology of the “Liberated” from the covenant theology of the PRC. The issue is decided by this chapter of Holy Scripture.

Romans 9 is not a theological treatise on predestination in general, but apostolic doctrine concerning God’s covenant of grace. The great concern of the apostle is to demonstrate that the Word of God has not failed (v. 6). This Word of God is the covenant promise to father Abraham, to establish His covenant with Abraham and his children so as to be a God to Abraham and his children. This covenant Word might be thought to have failed because so many natural sons and daughters of Abraham reject Christ and perish – the thing that causes Paul “great heaviness and continual sorrow” (v. 2).

But the Word has not failed. The explanation is that God never made the covenant promise to every physical descendant of Abraham. The promise, “I will be the God of your children,” did not refer to all physical Jews.

There is a distinction between two kinds of children of believing Abraham. There are those children who are merely physical offspring. The apostle calls them “children of the flesh” (v. 8). There are also the children whom the apostle refers to as “the children of the promise” (v. 8). These are the children who are born again by the power of the promise, so that they are living children of God.

The Word of God’s covenant promise did not refer to the “children of the flesh.” They were not in view when God said to Abraham, “I will be the God of your seed.” Only the “children of the promise” are counted for the seed (v. 8). Since the seed of Abraham are exclusively the children of promise, the Word of God has not failed. God has kept and fulfilled His covenant promise with every one of the seed of Abraham.

Paul illustrates, and proves, the truth of this distinction from Old Testament history. Abraham had two sons, but God Himself said, “In Isaac (only) shall thy seed be called” (Gen. 21:12Rom. 9:7). Also the Word of Jehovah to Rebecca concerning her unborn twins, grandsons of Abraham, “The elder shall serve the younger,” was a Word that made radical distinction between two physical children of Abraham (Gen. 25:23;Rom. 9:12, 13). The promise of the covenant was only for Jacob. Esau was excluded. This distinction between two kinds of children of Abraham is fundamental for the concern of the passage that the Word of God did not fail. If all the children of Abraham are the same and if the Word of promise came to them all alike, the Word did fail in numberless instances. It failed in the case of Esau.

The question then is, What accounts for the distinction between the two kinds of children?” Specifically, What accounts for the fact that some of Abraham’s physical children are O children of the promise?” The answer of the apostle is: “The purpose of God according to election” (v. 11). Eternal election determines the true, spiritual seed of Abraham. Eternal election determines that the covenant promise is for them only. Inasmuch as the covenant promise is the promise that the covenant is established with someone personally – the promise of one’s own inclusion in the covenant of grace – eternal election determines membership in the covenant of grace.

Romans 9:11ff. is not simply the classic passage in the Bible on the eternal decree of election and reprobation. But the passage sets forth God’s predestination as the source and standard of all of God’s covenantal dealings in history. The subject of the passage, it must be remembered, is the saving and the hardening of the children of believing Abraham. By implication, the subject of the passage is the saving and the hardening of the children of godly parents in every age.

Romans 9 is the Holy Spirit’s “election theology” of covenant. Thus, and only thus, is defended and proclaimed the sovereignty, the grace, and the faithfulness of the covenant God of Israel and the church.

Thus, and only thus, is maintained the reliability of the Word of promise for believers and their children today. The Word of promise by which we are saved and upon which we depend does not fail.

(to be concluded)

– DJE