It stands to reason that, if we believe that the covenant is the bond of friendship between God and His people in Christ Jesus, and that it is established with Christ and in Him with all whom the Father gave Him, we must also maintain the Scriptural truth of predestination, i.e. election and its counterpart, reprobation.
We, as Protestant Reformed Churches, are often accused of overemphasizing the truth of election and reprobation. In fact, they, i.e., our opponents, spread the story that we preach nothing else. This is, of course, not true. We preach and teach the whole counsel of God.
But we do believe that the truth of predestination is the very heart of the Church and of the truth.
We do believe, therefore, that if anyone preaches a so-called gospel that is not rooted in the truth of God’s eternal counsel of predestination, he does not proclaim the gospel at all. We do believe that if anyone camouflages in any way this fundamental truth, he must needs distort the whole truth. Then he cannot maintain the truth of particular atonement, that is, the truth that Christ did not shed His lifeblood for all men without distinction but only for the elect. Then he cannot believe and teach the truth of total depravity, that is, the truth that in soul and body, in mind and heart, in his will and all his affections, he is so corrupt that he cannot, will not, and cannot will to do any good; that he certainly cannot and will not and cannot will to accept Christ but the only thing he will and can do is to hate and reject Him. Then he cannot believe or teach that the saints shall surely persevere because God preserves them. All this he that denies or camouflages the truth of predestination must surely deny.
Yet, many preachers of the gospel do exactly this.
I do not refer now to many so-called preachers of the gospel outside of the Reformed Churches. That men like Billy Graham and others deny the truth of predestination and preach a free will gospel stands to reason. They never subscribed to the truth of sovereign grace. And to my mind, it is exactly because the “gospel” they preach is not rooted in the fundamental truth of predestination (as well as because of their tremendous organization), that they can have such large crowds. Fact is that men by nature do not want the gospel of sovereign grace and they certainly will not follow one that proclaims it in truth. The true gospel is never popular. This is evident from all Scripture. But I will refer to just one passage of Holy Writ. In John 6 we read of the feeding of the five thousand and of what followed on the next day. When the crowd had been miraculously fed, they were filled with enthusiasm and said: “This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.” They wanted to make Him king. But Jesus withdrew Himself into a mountain. Then in the night He joined Himself to His disciples who had left in a ship for Capernaum. He joined them as they were toiling by reason of a great storm and He did so by walking on the water. Then, on the next day, the crowd also came to Capernaum and Jesus. Then followed a most remarkable conversation between the Lord and the multitude. The subject was the Bread of life. At first it appeared that the multitude desired this bread. They even prayed for it: “Lord, evermore give us this bread.”
Then, however, came the turning point in the conversation.
For, first of all Jesus said unto them: “I am the bread of life; he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”
Secondly, He reminded them that they believed not: “but I said unto you, That ye also have seen me and believe not.”
And thirdly, He plainly told them that it was not in their power, in the power of their free will, to come unto Him and to believe on His name, but that this was a matter of sovereign grace, for He said unto them: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise them up again at the last day. And this is the will of Him that sent me, that everyone which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
It is when Jesus had thus emphasized the gospel of sovereign grace that the crowd became alienated from Him. They murmured at Him because He had said unto them: “I am the bread of life.” They began to understand that the Lord spoke of an entirely different bread than what they wanted. They began to remember that Jesus after all was a common man, the son of Joseph whose father and mother they knew, and that, therefore, He had not come down from heaven. But the Lord once more emphasized the gospel of sovereign grace: “No man can come to me, except the Father which sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”
And when the Lord had made plain once more that He spoke of an entirely different bread than that which they desired, and that they must eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood in order to have life, the crowd departed and “walked no more with him.”
Thus it was then.
And thus it still is. If anyone preaches the true gospel, the gospel of sovereign grace, he must not expect big crowds to follow him.
Only those whom the Father has given to Jesus will come to Him.
You say, perhaps, that the preacher does not know who are the elect and that, therefore, he must necessarily preach a gospel for all?
I answer that one who preaches the gospel surely must bring the same truth to all that hear him, but this does not mean that he can or may preach a gospel for all.
In other words, the preaching of the gospel is general, but the contents are particular.
Again, you ask, perhaps, whether there is anything specifically Protestant Reformed in this doctrine that we preach a particular gospel to all that hear and whether not all that call themselves Reformed maintain the same truth. Is there, in this respect, any difference between the Protestant Reformed and Christian Reformed Churches?
There certainly is.
First of all, apart from any specific declaration with regard to this truth, they, i.e., the preachers in the Christian Reformed Church, all believe in a general offer of grace and salvation, that is, in the error that God, on His part, proclaims in the gospel that He seriously seeks the salvation of all that come under the preaching of the Word, if they only will accept Christ and believe on His name. And this is not Reformed but Pelagian and Arminian. It presupposes the ability on the part of man to accept the offer and to come to Christ. Oh, I know that if you confront them with this error, they will object that they also teach that it is only by grace that anyone can accept. But, in the first place, they usually do not add this in their preaching to the error of the general offer. And, secondly, if they would add this to the preaching of the general offer, grace and salvation can be no longer a general offer. How can God offer that which is not the work of man at all but which God only can and must do and that, too, without the will of man?
What is meant by the general offer of grace in salvation, and how the Christian Reformed ministers ought to preach and actually do preach, may be gathered from what the former professor L. Berkhof wrote as his interpretation of Ezekiel 11 and Ezekiel 33 in his booklet on the Three Points, pp. 21, 22. I quote: “That God calls the ungodly to conversion is presented in Holy Scripture as a token of His desire for their salvation. In the prophecy of Ezekiel we listen to the word of the Lord in words that speak of mercy: ‘Have I any pleasure at all (even in any measure) in the death of the wicked? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways and live?’ And again: ‘For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth (i.e., of him that is already dying in his sin), saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.’ These passages tell us clearly as may be expressed in words, that God has no pleasure in the death of the sinner (mark you well, that he does not say ‘of the elect sinner’ but ‘of the sinner,’ entirely in general); and the tender calling to which we listen here, witnesses of His great love for sinners and of His desire to save the ungodly.”
And again Berkhof writes: “There is still another place in the prophecy of Ezekiel in which the Lord expresses the same thought in still stronger language, and in which he corroborates it with an oath, namely, in Ezekiel 33:11: ‘As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked: but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways and live; for why will ye die,
O house of Israel?’ Are not these words of tender mercy, in which a Father beseeches his deviating children to return to the house and heart of the Father?”
I ask: is not this interpretation by professor Berkhof a denial of the truth of election and reprobation? Is not this pure Arminianism? Does not this teach in plain words that God, on His part, strongly desires to save all the wicked, that He does all that is in His power to save them and that, if they are not saved, it is entirely up to them?
And mark you well, this is supposed to be the Christian Reformed interpretation of the first of the “Three Points” adopted by the Synod of 1924 and for the denial of which faithful Reformed ministers, elders and deacons, with their congregations, were cast out of the Christian Reformed Church.
Nor is the interpretation of the “First Point” of 1924 as offered by professor Berkhof in the above quoted passages an incorrect explanation of the first of the “Three Points.” For that first doctrinal expression of the Synod of 1924 is, indeed, not Reformed but Arminian. Let me quote it once more:
“Relative to the first point which concerns the favorable attitude of God towards humanity in general and not only to the elect, Synod declares it to be established, according to Scripture and the Confession, that, apart from the saving grace of God shown only to those that are elect unto eternal life, there is also a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to His creatures in general. This is evident from the Scriptural passages quoted and from the Canons of Dordrecht, II, 5 and III, IV, 8, 9, which deal with the general offer of the gospel, while it also appears from the citations made from the Reformed writers of the most flourishing period of Reformed Theology that our Reformed writers from the past favored this view.”
It is not my purpose to explain this first point in detail nor to give the reasons why we cannot subscribe to its doctrine. This has been done before.
But we were discussing the general well-meant offer of salvation, which we as Protestant Reformed Churches deny.
But further discussion of this must wait till next time, D.V.