Recently, as our readers will recall, the editor of The Banner wrote about a hymn and a latch. In the issue of Jan. 14 he devotes an editorial to “a narrow bridge.”
That narrow bridge is the truth. “He who would know the truth must walk on this narrow bridge. On either side is a deep abyss from which there is no return.”
Although the editor informs us that this figure of speech is derived from an old Arab story, the phraseology reminds one rather strongly of Barth and his dialectic performances. We say this without even remotely intending to accuse the editor of The Banner of any form of Barthianism. Only the similarity is striking. Barth prefers to think dialectically. In fact, it is the only way one can think about God. And he loves to illustrate this dialectic method by referring to the figure of a man walking on a knife-edge mountain ridge, on which he must continue to walk, and cannot stand still, lest he fall into the abyss on the right or on the left. And not only is there a striking similarity in the figures employed by the editor of The Banner and Karl Barth, but also the actual method of thinking about God recommended by the former is similar to that of the latter. Barth thinks dialectically. He always moves on between the Yea and the Nay, and remembers that the truth lies beyond both in God, the only Yea and Amen. We can state the truth only in the form of question and answer, and always in such a way that the answer contains a question; or in the form of a dialogue, with the two sides opposing each other, a conflict. Somewhat similar to this is the method the editor of The Banner recommends to us in thinking about the matter of salvation. He speaks in the form of a conflict. The matter of salvation is Yea and Nay, and, therefore, it is neither absolutely Yea, nor absolutely Nay. And the editor would have us walk on the “narrow bridge” of these dialectics in order to abide in the truth. On the one hand, there are those that insist on saying only Nay, and they fall into the abyss on the one side of the bridge; on the other hand, some would say only Yea, with the result that they plunge into the abyss on the other side. We must be careful, however, to remain on the bridge, and balancing ourselves by constantly saying Yea and Nay, keep ourselves from dashing headlong into the abyss, “from which there is no return.”
Let me explain.
In the article referred to above the editor first says Yea. And we like to hear him say that, even from the depth of the abyss into which we have plunged according to him. For when he says that, he is soundly Reformed, leaves the latch on the outside, and condemns the Arminians that are singing their hymns in the abyss opposite from us. Just listen to this:
“Our contention is that the latch is on the outside. No person who is Reformed in his creed and holds that the gospel of ‘sovereign grace’ believes otherwise. Our doctrinal standards stress that man is by nature an enemy of God, not subject to the law of God neither able to be (Rom. 8:7); that he is unwilling to believe and be saved unless Christ first makes him willing by sending the Holy Spirit into his heart to regenerate him; in other words that Christ must open the door to the sinner’s heart, take possession of it, and awaken a true saving faith. He who puts the sinner’s act of faith before God’s act of regeneration—a doctrine clearly contradicted by what we read of in Acts about Lydia, namely, that God opened her heart in order that she might give heed to the message of Paul—makes the work of sinner rather than of God primary in salvation. Such a one cannot consistently say that we love God because he first loved us; that we sought him because he first sought us.”
And we, from the depth of our abyss, when we hear him thus pronounce his Yea, shout our Amen of agreement; and from the other side of the bridge, in the Arminian abyss, we hear loud exclamations of protest about this “deluded minister” on the bridge, that goes “haywire” about election.
But, alas! no sooner did we express our agreement, but we hear acclamations of great joy from the depth of the Arminian abyss, for now they hear the “walker-on-the-bridge” speak his Nay! For hear him: “Now, all this is but one side of the gospel. There is another side which the Scriptures stress not less strongly, namely, that the offer of salvation comes to all who hear the gospel, to the reprobate as well as to the elect. We must hold to both sides if we would preserve our balance on the narrow bridge of truth.” And all this would not be so serious, if the editor merely meant that the gospel is preached promiscuously to all, and that the “call to faith and repentance comes to every person who hears the message of salvation,” if the editor would only explain that according to the good- pleasure of God this preaching is a savor of death unto death to the reprobate, as well as a savor of lift unto life for the elect. But this he does not mean, neither believe, still less teach. On the contrary, what he now means is the very opposite of what he first taught, viz., that God seriously wills the salvation of all men, and well-meaningly offers it to them, which is in full accord with what he wrote in a previous article, that although Christ does not plead with sinners to do what they cannot, what He alone can do, He does plead with them to repent and believe, implying that they can do the latter. And that this is, indeed, his meaning, is sufficiently evident from his quotation of II Pet. 3:9 in this connection: “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” And does the editor here purposely quote from the Revised Version, and prefer the weaker translation “wishing” to the better and stronger “willing?” No doubt, the Revised Version had the Arminian interpretation of this passage in mind when they so translated it, for the original (boulomenos) does not usually mean “wishing” but “willing deliberately.”
And does not the author of The Banner know, that Reformed men never interpret that passage in this Arminian sense?
I might offer him my own exegesis of this passage, but, lest he refuse to listen to a voice out of the abyss into which he beholds us as hopelessly precipitated,
I will quote from the very exponent of “common grace” who, in his earlier days wrote about this passage as follows. (I translate):
“And to demonstrate this, I will, in regard to II Pet. 3:9, leave it to the judgment of my opponents themselves, whether they will accept the inner contradiction one must face if one makes this Scriptural passage say what they put into it.
“For about the context and the way of argumentation in II Pet. 3:9 there can be no difference of opinion.
“In this passage, all admit this, the only subject is the long tarrying of the return of the Lord upon the clouds.
“The church of those days had long expected this return. . . .
“And when they were disappointed in this expectation, and one year after another passed by, without heaven being opened and the Lord descending, unstable souls in the church began to murmur and to ask, whether what the apostles had told them was the truth, and whether they had not published as a promise of Jesus’ return what was after all only the product of their own imagination, and, therefore, false prophecy.
“Now, if in this connection and argumentation I insert the conception: “Ye yourselves, and not God, are the cause of this tarrying about which ye murmur. For why do ye not hasten your repentance? For this ye surely do know, that first the last of the elect must come to repentance, before that day can come,—then the whole argument runs perfectly smoothly, the chain of thought is unbroken, and everyone understands why and for what purpose the apostle employs exactly these terms.
“But note now, how all this is lost, and the sense becomes completely unintelligible, if I, for other reasons, try to carry the idea of common grace- into this passage.
“Then I must come to the following unreasonable argumentation: ‘Jesus cannot come as yet, for the will of God must be fulfilled, and according to this will all men must first come to repentance!’
“But. . . .if Jesus cannot return before all men have come to repentance, then He will never come!
“For, in the first place, thousands upon thousands have already died without repentance, for whom this postponement of Jesus’ return is of no avail.
“Secondly, there are millions upon millions that will die tomorrow, or the day after, or next year, without ever having heard of Jesus, for whom this postponement neither is any profit.
“And finally, if God without fixing a definite number, constantly causes new men to be born, and if the return of Jesus must wait until also these have come to repentance, the return of Jesus may be postponed indefinitely. And this is the more serious in view of the fact that the population of the world increases every day, and it becomes more probable all the time that not all men come to repentance.
“Hence, this does not jibe. This does not harmonize. That is the most unreasonable argumentation conceivable; it has neither sense nor solution.
“No, if I want to demonstrate why the Lord God, humanly speaking, fulfills the promise of Jesus’ return somewhat later than we had imagined, then this can become intelligible only if I start to figure from a definite starting point.
“For if the number of men. that must be born is determined, and if God knows for whom out of all men a place must be prepared in heaven,—then, indeed, I can understand perfectly well, that Jesus’ cannot return until they all have been brought in; and then the process of thought is perfectly pure, clear and lucid, if I say: ‘God tarries, for there still are some unconverted of those that are elect, and God surely will not that any, be they ever so few, shall be missing from the number of His elect, but that they all shall have come to repentance before Jesus appears. . . .
“There is, therefore, nothing left of this objection, and the meaning of II Pet. 3:9 can be nothing else than this: ‘Jesus cannot return until the number of the elect is complete, and while there are at present still many elect that have not come to repentance, He postpones His coming in longsuffering, not willing that through His early coming some should perish, but willing that all shall first be converted’.” Uit Het Woord IV, pp. 33-36.
Although we might, perhaps, follow another method of exegesis in some respects, the point Dr. Kuyper here makes is perfectly clear: All in II Pet. 3:9 does not denote all men head .for head, but, all the elect.
And for interpretation the editor of The Banner offers is the explanation of those whom Dr. Kuyper in the above quotation opposes: the Arminians.
The editor makes his usual appeal to “mystery.” And about this I hope to make a few closing remarks the next time, the Lord willing.
But in closing this time, I would like to point to a patent fact.
The editor of The Banner exhorts us to stay on the narrow bridge, and in his editorial he supposedly gives us a demonstration how to accomplish this.
Instead, however, he tries to show how a man may perform the wonderful stunt of jumping off the bridge (as he presents it) on both sides, frantically and crazily hopping from one side to the other, and still stay on it.
I like to see a man perform that stunt on an actual bridge.
But neither can it be done on the “narrow bridge” of truth!