In the present issue of the Standard Bearer I have not much space left for my reply to Dr. Schilder. But I must call attention to a bit of reasoning that, to my mind, is rather confusing, and because it is confusing is also dangerous, especially because it concerns some very specific terms of the confession. Dangerous it is, because Dr. Schilder presents those terms of the confession in so uncertain and ambiguous a light that no one knows anymore what is their contents, and that anyone can, apparently, read his own meaning into them.
I had almost written that my colleague in the old country is juggling the terms, but since this word has the connotation of intentional deception, I will not use it.
The reader will remember that Dr. Sehilder criticized the statement in the Declaration of Principles that election is the sole fountain and cause of our salvation. He very definitely stated that he did not believe that these terms were correct. Cf. the last Standard Bearer.
I called his attention to the fact that both these termst occur literally in the confession.
But before I did so some other reader of De Reformatie called his attention to the same mistake.
Now, what does he do? Does he admit that he made a mistake, and that, when he wrote as he did above, he did not think of it that the terms “fountain” and “cause” were confessional terms? On the contrary, he attempts to explain the terms in such a way that, while he, apparently, still does not believe that they are correct, he, nevertheless, is in harmony with the contents of the confession.
I will quote and translate only the essential parts of what he writes in this connection:
“One might ask: but is not that objection imaginary?? Do not the Canons also say, I, 9, that election is the FOUNTAIN of all saving good? . . .
“To be sure, it stands there, and for that reason I stated immediately that no one that uses this term shall be troubled by us. . . (By the way, this statement is very clearly riot true. Dr. Schilder certainly did riot write that it wris for that reason, i.e., for the reason that the term “fountain” is a confessional term, that he would not trouble anyone that used it. Fact is, he did not think about the confession, and, therefore, unwittingly criticized it. How could he possibly trouble anyone for using a purely confessional term? H.H.).
“But when one wants to bind and sharpen, and wants to fasten people by a sharper expression to a new binding, then we say; pardon, it says ‘fountain’ (precisely what the Declaration says, H.H.). And fountain or source (foils) signifies, if you want to make a sharp distinction, very often, consciously, something quite different from ’cause’ . . . (True enough, but “cause”, of which colleague Schilder stated that it can refer only to time, also occurs in the confession with reference to God’s eternal good pleasure. And who, please, is trying to bind people to any sharper dogmatical expression? We certainly do not, but simply use the terms of the confession. Hence, all this argumentation is null and void).
“That means, therefore, that I have nothing against the word ‘fountain’, and nothing against the word ’cause’ (He did though, in his first writing about this matter: he did not believe that the terms were correct, and blamed us for our slouchy terminology, H.H), although this does not occur in this passage of the confession of Dordt (but it, nevertheless, does occur, H.H.), as long as you allow me to say, what I, speaking more precisely, want to understand by it; and front this it will have to appear whether I agree with the CONTENTS of the Confession.” (I underscore, H.H.).
“But one must not fasten me, in a more defined expression with sharper binding to the word, the term ’cause’. (The Declaration is not guilty of this, H.H.); for then it is possible that he that uses it, takes it tip erroneously, and that then it is in conflict with the contents of the confession; and that he that repudiates it exactly therewith protects the contents of the confession over against errors of a later date.” (I underscore, H.H.).
I maintain that in the underscored sentences there lurks a great danger. They really imply that terms have no objective meaning, that, when our confession says one thing it may mean something entirely different, when our confession speaks of fountain and cause it may mean ground, when one faithfully uses the terms of the confession he may militate against its contents, and when one argues against the terms of the confession he may defend its contents. In other words, the terms of the confession have no objective significance, their meaning is so ambiguous, obscure, and uncertain, that anyone can read his own meaning into it.
When Schilder reads in the confession the terms cause and fountain, he says that, speaking more precisely, they mean ground, and he criticizes the simpletons that want to bind the people to the words of the confessions.
But does he not understand that, on this basis, we cannot have confessions?
If we may juggle terms in this fashion, words mean nothing anymore.
I think that Dr. Schilder stands on dangerous ground here.
But let me, in conclusion, remind the reader once more of the history of this little but important skirmish.
1. We, on our part, did not, in the Declaration of Principles, insist upon any sharper accentuation or binding to any dogma, but simply used the terms of the confession.
2. Dr. Schilder declared those confessional terms incorrect, and wanted to put the term ground instead. That, according to him, is a more precise and sharper term than cause and fountain.
3. Exactly because of those confessional terms in the Declaration, he accuses us of wrongfully binding the people.
4. Instead of admitting that he erred, and that he never thought of the confessions, he makes things worse by depriving the terms of the confession of all objective meaning.
A dangerous business.