It is, evidently, not clear to brother Flikkema what is meant by III, A, of the Declaration of Principles: “We repudiate the teaching that the promise is conditional and for all that are baptized.”
He asks the question whether this also implies our participation in these promises, i.e., the application of all the benefits of salvation. His question is, evidently, whether the unconditional promise also includes all the blessings of salvation in the subjective sense of the word.
Now, I have written rather extensively on this question in recent numbers of the Standard Bearer, before brother Flikkema wrote his contribution. I may, therefore, refer him to those articles in the hope that they shed light on his question. If not, he better write again.
Yet, in spite of the fact that I must needs repeat myself, I will briefly answer him once more.
First of all then, shall we agree on the definition of the term “condition” as I understand it, and as it is, undoubtedly, understood by all that employ the term. It is this: “a condition is a prerequisite which one must fulfill in order to, and before, he will or can receive something from someone else.” With respect to the case in question, i.e., the promise of God, therefore, we may define a condition as a prerequisite which we, which man must fulfill, in order to, and before we, or man, can receive the promise, i.e., all the blessings of salvation.” This is a correct definition. And this is, no doubt the meaning of the term in the popular mind.
Secondly, as I have explained in the articles referred to above, the promise of God certainly includes all the blessings of salvation, objective and subjective, all that we objectively have in Christ: reconciliation, the forgiveness of sins, the adoption unto children, eternal life; but also: the Holy Spirit, regeneration, calling, faith, justification in the subjective sense, sanctification, and preservation or perseverance.
Now, I apply my definition of “condition” and you will agree with me as a Reformed man that, if this promise is conditional, i.e., if it is depending upon any prerequisite which we must fulfill in order to receive the promise, it, i.e., the promise, lies exactly beyond our reach, is forever unattainable.
Just apply the test.
Let us apply it now only to the subjective possession of the blessings of salvation.
The promise includes the blessing of regeneration. Is this blessing conditional, i.e., dependent on anything we must do before we are regenerated? I don’t care now whether you believe in mediate or immediate regeneration (personally, I believe that the seed of regeneration is implanted in our hearts immediately). But no Reformed man will say (the Arminian will) that the blessings of regeneration is conditional. If it were, no man, dead in sin and trespasses, could be regenerated. The very fact that God is first in applying unto us His promise makes the promise necessarily unconditional.
The promise includes the efficacious calling, i.e., that work of God whereby we are translated from darkness into light, from death into conscious life, through the preaching of the gospel. It includes the gift of faith, whereby we are engrafted into Christ, and receive all His benefits. What must man do as a prerequisite, pray, to receive the gift of faith? Must he pray for it, perhaps? But prayer is already an act of faith. Must he hear the preaching of the gospel? But he cannot hear without faith? What then? Must he repent and obey? But faith is before repentance and obedience. He can do absolutely nothing unto salvation before God gives him the saving faith. And since faith itself is not a condition, but a God-given means or instrument, and since it is only by faith that we are justified and sanctified and preserved, it ought to be very plain to any Reformed man that all the blessings of salvation, included in the promise of God, are unconditional.
What all this has to do with responsibility I fail to understand, unless you mean to say that man is responsible for his own salvation, for his own regeneration, calling, faith, etc., in other words, unless you want to maintain that man is responsible for his-receiving the grace of God. But that is impossible. Man is no more responsible for his own regeneration than Adam was for his own creation, than the dead are for their own resurrection. Why then bring the question of responsibility in connection with conditions, unless we want to become thoroughly Arminian?
Man is responsible, not for what God does, but for his own moral acts.
What is responsibility? It is that state of man in which he is the free agent, i.e., the conscious and willing subject of all his moral actions before and in relation to God.
Adam was free to serve God, but so that he could turn about and choose against God. He did the latter. That was his responsibility.
The natural man is free only to sin. He cannot, and will not, and cannot will to do righteousness. And when he comes into contact with the gospel he will not, and cannot will to receive it, because he hates the light and loves the darkness. That is his responsibility.
But the redeemed and regenerated and called and believing child of God is free in the highest sense of the word: he is free only unto righteousness. Principally he can never sin anymore. O, yes, sin is still in his members, but even over against sin he is free. What he hates he does, but he hates it nevertheless. Hence, to be sure, by baptism we are obliged unto a new obedience, “namely, that we cleave to this one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; that we trust in him, and love him with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our mind, and with all our strength; that we forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a new and holy life.” That is our responsibility, our part in the covenant of God. But it is a responsibility which we fulfill, not as a condition to obtain the promise, but as those that have already obtained the promise, the fruit of God’s part in the covenant, which He, unconditionally, and by His absolutely sovereign grace, applied unto us. It is the responsibility of highest freedom. And that is what the Heidelberg Catechism means when in answer to the question whether the doctrine of free justification does not make men careless and profane, it teaches us that “it is impossible that those, who are implanted into Christ by a true faith, should not bring forth fruits of thankfulness.”
See, brother, that is the Reformed, and surely the Protestant Reformed truth concerning responsibility.
And by all this talk about responsibility as if it were dependent on conditions, we are in danger of losing our Protestant Reformed heritage.
That is one reason why we surely must adopt the Declaration of Principles.