Prof. Ronald Cammenga, rector and professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Theological Seminary and member of Southwest PRC in Wyoming, Michigan

What Says Herman Hoeksema?
In this series, we are concerned to point out the antinomianism of the Reformed Protestant Churches (RPC), the schismatic group that separated from the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC).
In the last several articles, we have examined the teaching of John Calvin with respect to the relation between repentance and forgiveness. We have compared the teaching of Calvin to the teaching of the RPs that forgiveness is eternally prior to repentance. Before the believer repents of his sins, God has eternally forgiven him. Forgiveness is not temporal, but eternal.
We have seen that in his Institutes of the Christian Religion, in his commentaries, in his classroom lectures, and in his recorded prayers, Calvin taught that God’s forgiveness follows upon God-worked repentance. Forgiveness is a blessing of salvation bestowed by the Holy Spirit throughout the lifetime of the Christian. In the way of repentance—never because of or on the basis ofrepentance—God forgives our sins. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9).
David knew this relation between forgiveness and repentance by his own bitter experience. So long as he continued impenitent in his sin, he testifies that God’s “hand was heavy upon me” (Ps. 32:4). When he “kept silence,” that is, kept silence before God, refusing to confess his sin, “my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long” (Ps. 32:3). But God worked repentance in David: “I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin” (Ps. 32:5).
In this article, I intend to demonstrate that this was also the teaching of Herman Hoeksema, one of the founding fathers of the PRC. Even though Hoeksema was a proponent of eternal justification—a subject for a different time—he was in complete agreement with Calvin as regards the relation between repentance and forgiveness. He never allowed the teaching of eternal justification to cloud the biblical truth of repentance and forgiveness. Rather, he was adamant in teaching that repentance is the way in which we enjoy the blessing of forgiveness.

Warning against antinomianism
It is worthwhile to begin our consideration of Hoeksema’s doctrine of repentance by taking note of his warning against antinomianism. He regarded the heresy as a real threat against which the church must be on guard. He did recognize that not everyone who was charged with being antinomian was in fact guilty of the heresy. More than once he and his beloved Protestant Reformed Churches were railed upon as being antinomian, especially because of their firm commitment to God’s sovereign predestination. Nevertheless, Hoeksema recognized that the threat of antinomianism was real and that there were those who were guilty of holding to this error.
Hoeksema writes as follows in Love the Lord Thy God, chapter 2, “The ‘Must’ of Perfect Freedom:”

I rather think that some sincere antinomians place a wrong emphasis on justification at the expense of sanctification. They place all the emphasis on the work of Christ for us, in our behalf and in our stead, at the  expense of the work of Christ in us and through us by His Holy Spirit.1

Hoeksema goes on to point out one significant aspect of the antinomian error. Antinomians, he says,

make such a separation between the old and the new man of the Christian that the believer is no longer responsible for the sins committed in the flesh and does not have to be sincerely sorry for them—if all this is supposed to be implied in antinomianism, it must be condemned as a very serious error.2

Still with regard to the error of the antinomians, Hoeksema writes,

[T]hey do not understand that by failing to give due emphasis to the work of Christ in the believer and through him, and therefore, by failing to understand that it is inevitable that those who are justified in Christ and therefore are by faith ingrafted into Him walk in a new and holy life, they detract from the glory of Christ as a complete Savior.3

The antinomians fail to give due emphasis to the work of Christ in us. Christ’s work is not only His work for us, insists Hoeksema, but also His work in us. And thus, Christ is a complete Savior. That is the seriousness of the antinomian error. Just as Rome denies that Christ is a complete Savior by denying the sufficiency of His work for us—Lord’s Day 11 of the Heidelberg Catechism—so do the antinomians deny that Christ is a complete Savior by denying the reality of His work in us. No one ought to minimize the seriousness of the antinomian error.

The forgiveness of sins
In the volume of The Triple Knowledge series entitled Abundant Mercy, Hoeksema treats the article in the Apostles’ Creed that concerns the forgiveness of sins. He calls attention to the fact that “of all the spiritual blessings that are, in this life, bestowed upon believers, by the Spirit of Christ, only the forgiveness of sins is mentioned in the Apostolic Confession.”4 Take note of the fact that Hoeksema views the forgiveness of sins as a blessing of God bestowed on believers “in this life.”
Clearly, this blessing of salvation in time is rooted in eternity. “Without eternal, sovereign election, there is neither atonement nor forgiveness. Except for this eternal forgiveness in God, there is no remission of sins in time.”5 Take note that in this quotation, Hoeksema distinguishes between the atonement and forgiveness. Atonement is thework of Christ on the cross that is the basis for forgiveness. Forgiveness is the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer to apply that which Christ merited on His cross. Both atonement and forgiveness have their origin in God’s sovereign decree of election. By the work of the Holy Spirit this “eternal forgiveness in God” becomes the temporal forgiveness of sins in the believer. The forgiveness decreed by God assures the “remission of sins in time.”
In his treatment of the article concerning the forgiveness of sins, Hoeksema is at pains to emphasize its close connection to the preceding articles in the Apostles’ Creed, which concern the communion of the saints and the holy, catholic church. He takes for granted that forgiveness is a present blessing in the life of the believer. From the perspective of the Apostles’ Creed, the believer’s sins are not forgiven in eternity, but are forgiven in time, as the child of God lives in the fellowship of the church and exercises himself in the communion of the saints. “Outside of the holy catholic church, [and] the communion of saints,” he insists, “there are no spiritual benefits, [and] the forgiveness of sins cannot be appropriated. If, for some reason, the believer severs himself… from that communion, the first effect of this error is always that he lacks the joy of forgiveness.”6

Forfeiting forgiveness?
Is it possible for the child of God to forfeit forgiveness? If forgiveness is a present blessing, is it possible for the Christian to forfeit forgiveness for a time? Is it possible that by his sinfulness, by his disobedience to God’s law in his lifetime, or by some sin against a fellow church member, the Christian forfeits the forgiveness of his sins?
According to Hoeksema, this is indeed possible. This is a very real possibility and a frightening prospect that ought to serve as a warning to every child of God. By his sin and impenitence in sin, in the course of his earthly life, he may indeed forfeit the forgiveness of his sins. God, then, during the believer’s lifetime, keeps from him the forgiveness of his sins. Rather than enjoy God’s smiling countenance, he beholds God’s frowning disapproval.

Perhaps, for a time, he lives in hatred over against some of the brethren; or he evinces an unforgiving spirit; or he seeks the friendship of the world; or he lives in whatever other sin may sever his fellowship with the saints, and disturb the exercise of the communion of saints: in that state of separation from the body of believers, he forfeits the forgiveness of sins.7

A bit later, Hoeksema speaks of the same thing: “If, therefore, through some sin, the believer separates himself from the body, and does not live in the communion of saints, he immediately forfeits the forgiveness of sins.”8 If the forgiveness of sins is only an eternal reality, we cannot “forfeit the forgiveness of sins” because of our conduct in time. Clearly, Hoeksema is speaking of forgiveness as a blessing of God that is enjoyed in the lifetime of the believer.
As might be expected, champion of God’s sovereign grace that he was, Hoeksema underscores the sovereignty of God that works repentance in the elect sinner and bestows the blessing of the forgiveness of sins:

It is never in our own power to lay hold on the forgiveness of sins. That we are sorry for sin, repent, seek forgiveness, and obtain it, is the work of Christ Himself. By His Spirit and grace, He works the true sorrow after God in our hearts. By that Spirit, He brings us to repentance, leads us to the cross, and assures us of redemption, even the forgiveness of sins in His blood.9

Notice Hoeksema’s order: repentance and seeking forgiveness are first, followed by obtaining the forgiveness of sins. If forgiveness follows Spirit-wrought repentance, forgiveness is a present blessing enjoyed in the lifetime of the child of God.
Herman Hoeksema was a proponent of eternal justification, that is, that the actual justification of the sinner takes place in eternity. But the doctrine of eternal justification in Hoeksema’s theology did not cloud over the biblical truth concerning the relation between repentance and forgiveness. Although he held to eternal justification, Hoeksema also taught very clearly the truth that our sins are forgiven during our lifetime in the way of repentance. Only they who repent enjoy the forgiveness of their sins.
Next time, more of what Hoeksema taught concerning the relation between repentance and forgiveness.


1 Herman Hoeksema, Love the Lord Thy God, The Triple Knowledge, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1955), 37-38.
2 Love the Lord Thy God, 37. Emphasis added.
3 Love the Lord Thy God, 38.
4 Herman Hoeksema, Abundant Mercy, The Triple Knowledge, vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1949), 83. Emphasis added.
5 Abundant Mercy, 87.
6 Abundant Mercy, 87-88.
7 Abundant Mercy, 88. Emphasis added.
8 Abundant Mercy, 90. Emphasis added.
9 Abundant Mercy, 89.