This is the fourth article, written by the Rev. L. Doekes of the Netherlands Reformed Church, maintaining Art. 31, in answer to the four questions our Editor asked him, Vol. 23 of the Standard Bearer, March 15, 1947, page 271. This fourth article appeared in De Reformatie, Sept. 13, 1947, pp. 398, 399.
Our Editor desires to have these articles published in our paper in both languages, hence, there is no room in this issue for my editorials or my series on “Sion’s Zaiigen”.
The Rev. Doekes writes:
PROMISE AND PLEDGE
(Reply to Rev. Hoeksema)
How does the Rev. Hoeksema react upon our articles? The readers of De Reformatie have a right to know that. Therefore, we interrupt the continuance of our series, in order to insert something from the Rev. Hoeksema. It is a pity that I have not yet his side-notes on my first articles in my possession. But after receiving his accurately formulated questions (see our paper of April 12th) and my article as an answer to same (see: “Reformatie” June 7th) “The Standard Bearer” of Aug. 1st now contains first of all a careful translation of my article, after which the Rev. Hoeksema observes the following:
There is one point in the article of the Rev. Doekes on which I must reflect at once. It concerns the question whether anything in the writings of the liberated occasioned my question concerning the alleged distinction between promise and pledge, belofte and toezegging.
I am sorry that, for the present, I lack the time to peruse once again the abundant material that was sent me after the close of the war, and that is related to this question. I am writing this in a great hurry, because I am about to leave Grand Rapids for the far West, and I like to publish this article of the Rev. Doekes in the earliest possible issue of our paper.
Let me say this about it, that I sometimes received the impression from the writings of the liberated that they prefer the term “toezegging” the spoken pledge, to the term “belofte” or promise, because it more readily lends itself to express the idea of a conditional promise. And the quotation which the Rev. Doekes makes above from the “Declaration of Sentiment” rather strengthens me in that conviction.
I believe that I can even now, more or less offhand, explain how I received this impression.
I refer to De Reformatie, Vol. 22, No. 12, where Dr. Schilder criticizes the following synodical declaration:
“In the promise, He witnesses not only that whosoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but He also pledges the Holy Spirit (zegt Hij ook den Heiligen Geest toe), Who works faith whereby He makes us partakers of Christ and all His benefits.”
Prof. Schilder complains that the synod failed to make sharp and correct distinctions, especially with respect to the meaning of the term promise, And then he writes (I translate):
“Here, the contents of the promise is supposed to be indicated in the words: whosoever believeth in the Son hath eternal life.
“But is this a promise?
“O, if there were no debate, and no learned or seemingly learned reports were handed in, and the air were still pure, and the relation were still honest, we should probably call this sentence a promise, with the greatest of pleasure.
“But now things are being debated, now there is. expulsion and things are sharply accentuated, now we say: against the background of all this God and men grieving misery, we can only note that the problem of the promise is here being avoided, even though the word ‘promise’ is mentioned.
“For, strictly speaking, the citation is no promise, but a dogmatic truth. . . .
“The difference is felt at once when the beginning of the quoted expression is compared with the rest. The latter declares that the Lord pledges the Holy Ghost (“toe-zegt”). To whom? To him who already believes? I say: yes, for such a one needs the Spirit, every day, to remain steadfast, and to be reborn through faith (art. 24 Confession). But that is supposedly not the meaning here. We all think, in this connection, of the children (Lord’s Day 27, qu. 74). To the children, i.e. to John and Mary, and to every N.N., each time one by one, it is said: ‘to you, N.N., the Holy Ghost that works faith is pledged (toegezegd). There, not the general ‘whosoever’, but the individual: you, N.N. is used.”
Prof. Schilder then calls attention to a distinction which the fathers made between promise and pollicitatien. Now, a pollicitation is a promise without mutuality, i.e., a promise that has not been accepted by the party to whom it is made. It is, therefore, an unconditional promise. And Prof. Schilder himself writes in this connection: “The whole question of conditional or unconditional promise of salvation is connected with this.”
From all this, and also from other passages in the writings of the liberated, in connection, too, with the distinction they make between “bequest” (schenking) and “giving in possession” (in bezit stellen), I received the impression that they made a distinction between “promise” and “pledge”, belofte and toezegging. The promise (belofte) is a general statement, addressed to no one in particular: “Whosoever believeth in the Son hath eternal life”; the pledge (toezegging) is the promise as addressed to particular individuals. The promise is limited to believers, the elect; the pledge (toezegging) is for all that are baptized. Accordingly, the promise is unconditional, the pledge (toezegging) is conditional.
This impression is strengthened by what I read in De Reformatie, Vol. 22, No. 15: “In other words, to ALL legally baptized children regeneration is PLEDGED (TOEGEZEGD) and the Holy Ghost is PLEDGED (TOeGEZEGD). And justification PLEDGED (TOEGEZEGD). Just as it is PLEDGED (TOEGEZEGD) to them that the Father will provide them with every good thing, and will avert all evil, or turn it to their profit. But these pledges are conditional.”
In view of all this, I must repeat my question to the Kev. Doekes, but now in this form:
Although you use promise and pledge (belofte en toezegging) promiscuously often, yet, when a distinction must be made, that distinction is as follows:
a. The promise is the unconditional, general statement to the believers or the elect: they that believe in the Son have life, and similar statements in Scripture.
b. The pledge (toezegging) is the conditional promise addressed to all baptized children.
Is this, my impression, correct?
And, secondly, when the liberated use the terms promise and pledge, belofte en toezegging, promiscuously, do they not always ascribe to promise (belofte) the meaning of the spoken pledge addressed to concrete individuals?
Finally, does not the Bible ever speak of the promise of God as the unconditional assurance of salvation
to the elect?
Thus far the Rev. Hoeksema. We thank him for his observations. For now we are able to assist him to further progress.
First, something about his quotations of Prof. Schilder. I can imagine that the Rev. Hoeksema supposed to find support in them for his first impression. But through repeated accurate reading of that which Prof. Schilder wrote, I must nevertheless come to the conclusion that the Rev. Hoeksema reads more in these quotations than is contained in them.
In number 12 of our paper, following the words quoted by the Rev. Hoeksema, Prof. Schilder continues: “We do not say that we are going to teach that pollicitation-theory. We do say, that we shall not ignore it.” From this the Rev. Hoeksema may see, that Prof. Schilder first of all insists on accurate investigation of the question, and further, that he terms the promise, which is sealed in baptism, individually addressed to each lawfully baptized child. In my opinion, he employs the expression “to pledge” (toezeggen) in that connection, in order to bring out very clearly that the covenant promise is not merely a general communication which is pronounced, as it were, “over their heads” (and Whereby then everybody must try to find out whether or not it is addressed to him or to her), but that this promise addresses itself very concretely unto every child of believing parents. In other words, the term “pledge” (toezegging) merely serves here to denote that the covenant promise is individually addressed to all the children of believers; not in order therewith to distinguish the “promise” as something unconditional from a “pledge” which would be conditional. Apart from that, I will not omit to observe in this connection that my interpretation of is different from that of Prof. Schilder. But that will come up for discussion later.
That the Rev. Hoeksema is wrong when he supposes that with us the difference between the terms “promise” and “pledge” coincides with the distinction of “conditional” and “unconditional” can also be proven from the Writ of Grievances against the Elucidation, presented in June, 1943 by the group of aggrieved persons which I mentioned before (Dr. S. O. Los, c.s.), and as an appendix inserted in the Declaration of Sentiment. We point especially to pages 55-59, where the authors set themselves against the “unconditional promise of salvation to the elect”, manipulated in the Elucidation (and later also defended again and again). They say against that: “The promise of salvation. . . . comes to us. . . . not otherwise than in a conditional form, i.e., with the injunction of belief and conversion.” (page 55).
Hence, my answer to the first question of the Rev. Hoeksema, mentioned above is: from the side of the liberated I have not been able to discover a distinction between “promise” and “pledge” in the sense in which the Rev. Hoeksema thought he could ascertain it. And personally I do not deem it in accordance with the Scriptures to reduce the promise of salvation to a special unconditional assurance of salvation to the elect. There is, of course, a grammatical distinction between “promise” and “pledge”. But therein we certainly do not find the by-thought of “conditional” or “unconditional”. And in my opinion the Scriptures do not give occasion at all to connect such a distinction to those terms.
On the second question of the Rev. Hoeksema I would answer this: Indeed, from the side of the liberated there is repeatedly spoken relative God’s promise of salvation as of a concretely and individually addressed pledge (in contra-distinction to the synodical theories). Meanwhile I would like to point out that especially Prof. Schilder oftentimes has reminded us of Ursinus’ distinction between conditional and nonconditional promises. For instance, God’s declaration that the earth shall never again perish by water is, according to Ursinus, an unconditional promise; but the promise of salvation of the covenant is according to him indeed conditional. In a following article I will gladly try to clarify how in my opinion the Scriptures speak on this important point. At the same time we will be brought into contact with the question of common grace.
Finally, the Rev. Hoeksema asks: does not the Bible ever speak of the promise of God as the unconditional assurance of salvation to the elect?
Grant me first a counter question on this: Can you quote a text for me from the Scriptures where the promise of salvation (which is fulfilled unto all the elect and believers) is pledged as an unconditional assurance of salvation unto one or more of the elect? I am especially curious to know this. During my (ecclesiastical) trial, a classical committee first did their utmost to advance arguments in order to refute my opposition against the synodical doctrinal decisions (leeruitspraken). They quoted a number of texts in their report which texts I have quietly examined at that time, and which certainly did not prove to be fit to serve as pillars under the unstable synodical bridge construction. Would the Rev. Hoeksema do me the pleasure to present some texts which, in his opinion, plainly contain an unconditional promise of salvation to the elect? I shall thankfully acquaint myself with such information, and gladly enter into the subject.
G. V. (Translator)