A Critical Study
THE COMMITTEE’S VIEW OF HISTORY
It was to be expected, in the light of the background of the Dekker Case and in the light of the Committee’s mandate, that the Study Committee would pay no little attention to 1924. Not only does the Committee give its attention to the doctrine of the Three Points, but they present an analysis of the history of the Christian Reformed Church after 1924. Already here, however, the committee goes astray. This becomes evident in their “introductory analysis” (Acts, 1966, p. 439):
. . ..But it may be argued, and perhaps with some justification, that in our reaction to the Rev. H. Hoeksema’s attacks upon 1924 we may have been inclined to be somewhat afraid of being too evangelical in our missionary approach. This may have accounted for our apparent lack of zeal in witnessing to the world outside, especially during the first decade after 1924. We must confess that oftentimes our evangelistic efforts were feeble and sporadic. For example, only in a few places did we carry on extensive evangelistic programs, and even these were almost completely institutionalized and did not challenge the active participation of the rank and file of our church members. Even today, although we have made much progress in our missionary outreach, we still have to admit that more of our church members ought to be personally involved in evangelism. But especially in the first years after 1924 many of our people lacked the evangelistic fervor and zeal that should have characterized them.
Now one might, perhaps, with some justification, be somewhat inclined to overlook the fact that the committee seems to be somewhat afraid of making a forthright judgment and apparently is very much inclined toward qualified and overly cautious statements. But I nevertheless am very curious as to why the committee loads a statement like this with such qualifications. Note: “. ..it may be argued, andperhaps with some justification,….that we may have been inclined to be somewhat afraid of being too evangelical ,, . . . . Moreover, I am very eager to know what the committee understands by “too evangelical.” If being “evangelical” is something good (for example, being agreeable to the gospel, — cf. Webster), then how is it possible to be too evangelical? And if, on the other hand, it is something evil (for example, being inclined to conduct mission work of an Arminian, revivalist type), then is not any degree of being evangelical “too evangelical?” There are other questions. Does the committee contend that the position represented in “the Rev. H. Hoeksema’s attacks upon 1924” leads to a “lack of zeal in witnessing to the world outside?” Then I challenge them to prove this. For I maintain that a proper Christian “witness to the world outside” can only be made on the basis of and from the position of the antithesis, and that when once you abandon the absolute antithesis (as was principally done when the Three Points were adopted), you can no longer effectively witness. How can one witness against those with whom he stands on common ground? Or does the committee understand by “witnessing” the proclaiming of a general, well-meant offer of salvation to all men? But then the committee is accusing the Christian Reformed Church of being deterred from consistently following up the position of the First Point by the attacks, mind you, of one whom they had been bold enough and strong enough to cast out as a heretic?
But I would suggest that the committee’s explanation of the history after 1924 is negative and reactionary.
Mark you well, I would be the last to contend that “the Rev. H. Hoeksema’s attacks upon 1924” did not act as a check upon the tendency toward Arminianism and the tendency toward world-conformity in the Christian Reformed Churches since 1924. I believe that these “attacks” as well as his (and others’, —in fact, the entire witness of our Protestant Reformed Churches) positive maintenance of the Reformed line has been a definite restraint upon the Christian Reformed Church’s becoming “too” un-Reformed.
But the real explanation of the history of the CRC is to be found in the following factors:
1. “Beginselen werken door.” Principles work through. The principle in this case is the two-fold principle of common grace and of general grace in the First Point of 1924.
2. However, as leaven (or yeast) in a lump, it required time for a principle, such as that of the First Point, to work through into the practice of the Christian Reformed Church.
3. There was also present in the Christian Reformed Church, — especially in the generation of 1924, — a Reformed principle and a Reformed sense. This was a principle and a sense diametrically the opposite of that of the First Point.
4. The attacks and warnings of the Rev. H. Hoeksema and the testimony of the Protestant Reformed Churches appealed to the Reformed principle and the Reformed sensitivities of the Christian Reformed Church, and thus acted as a restraint upon the working through of the leaven of the First Point.
5. But: principles work through! And it was inevitable, therefore, that eventually the Arminian principle of the First Point should work through and leaven the entire witness of the Christian Reformed Church. This is due to the fact that historically the Arminian principle has always proved to be more popular than the Reformed principle. And in the Dekker Case the Christian Reformed Church is simply experiencing the realization of the axiom that “beginselen werken door. ”
In this connection, it should draw the attention of the serious-minded and concerned Christian Reformed brethren, those who are truly minded to be Reformed, that all this was predicted. Let me give but one example of such a prediction. I quote from Rev. H. Hoeksema’s “The Triple Knowledge, An Exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism,” Volume III, p. 112. This prediction was published in 1946; but in essence it was made many times ever since 1924:
And this also holds for the camouflaged Arminianism that professes to believe in sovereign election, and in particular atonement, but presents the gospel as a well-meaning offer of salvation on the part of God to all men without distinction. God’s well-meaning “offer” of salvation cannot possibly be wider in scope than the objective satisfaction and justification of the cross of Christ (Thus: limited atonement, H.C.H.). And those that preach a well-meaning offer of God to all men, must and will ultimately embrace the doctrine of universal atonement also.
Hence, what has taken place in the Dekker Case is the literal fulfillment of the above prediction. Prof. Dekker has consistently followed the line of the First Point to the consequence of universal atonement.
I say this not to gloat, nor in any since to rejoice about the fact that this prediction proved true. This is not a cause for joy, but for grief.
I say it as another warning to the earnest-minded in the Christian Reformed Church who do not really want to go in the direction of Arminianism and who are frightened by the prospect of the doctrine of universal atonement.
This prediction has been fulfilled before your very eyes! It is embodied in the position of Prof. Dekker!
Ought this not to be viewed as concrete historical proof that the First Point of 1924 and its well-meant offer was wrong, and that the Protestant Reformed Churches were right in their opposition to that First Point? Think on these things!
The February 24 issue of The Banner (cf. Henry Peterson’s “The Sincere Offer of the Gospel” on pp. 16, 17) presents a concrete example of the point made in my editorial in this issue about the Report of the Doctrinal Committee.
It is not my intention to give a detailed account and criticism of this article. The article is full of confusion and half-truth. Moreover, while it purports to be an exposition of Canons III, IV, 6-9, it bears about as little resemblance to the teachings of the Canons in these articles as black to white. In fact, it seems to me that any thinking reader of The Banner who takes the trouble to read these very clear articles of the Canons will detect this. The Rev. Peterson is not actually writing about the Canons here, but he is attempting a defense of the First Point of 1924.
My purpose is to illustrate the utter inconsistency between the idea of the general, well-meant offer of salvation and the Reformed doctrine of limited atonement. This article is a case in point.
Mr. Peterson makes the following points by quoting with approval from various writings of Prof. John Murray, the late Ned B. Stonehouse, and the late R. B. Kuiper:
1. This general offer is an offer of grace. (Let the Dekker Case committee take note of this!) “The whole gamut of redemptive grace is included” in Christ’s offering Himself. “Salvation is all of its aspects and in the furthest reaches of glory consummated is the overture.”
2. God desires the salvation of all men, and the preacher must declare this. He must declare that “God does not desire the death of any but the salvation of all.”
Now take note of the following facts that are indubitable on the basis of Scripture and our Reformed confessions:
1. The gospel is the gospel of the cross, of Christ crucified. And the preaching of the gospel is the proclamation of Christ crucified.
2. Moreover, Christ crucified is the revelation and realization of God’s desire and purpose to save.
3. But Christ crucified is Christ crucified for the elect, and for them only. He is the Christ of limited atonement.
4. How, then, can it properly be said that in the gospel of Christ crucified for the elect only there is declared God’s desire for the salvation of all men?
The Rev. Peterson calls this a seeming contradiction, or paradox.
It is perfectly obvious, however, that this is not aseeming contradiction,. but a real contradiction.
Here you have an illustration of the attempt to maintain the doctrine of limited atonement in Canons II, and at the same time, when one speaks of Canons III, IV and projects that doctrine of the atonement into the actual preaching of the gospel, nevertheless to delimit the atonement and make it universal.
Prof. Dekker did this; and he openly came out for universal atonement.
The Rev. Peterson apparently does not want to do the latter, and he seeks refuge in the “seeming contradiction” or paradox.
Prof. Dekker, — on the basis of the First Point, — is consistent.
And Peterson, to be consistent, must inevitably come to the same position.
The alternative is: let go of the First Point.
The alternative is the better way. For it is Reformed!
In connection with the Rev. Peterson’s writings on God’s desiring the salvation of all men reference is made to several Scripture passages. As might be expected, one of these is the well-known and oft-quoted Ezekiel 33:11: “Say unto them, 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; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?”
Ever since 1924, of course, this text has frequently been misused in order to show that God does not desire the death of any, but the salvation of all. The defenders of the First Point cited this text and explained it in this way. And they have been followed in this by many others.
The claim has even been made that John Calvin supports this explanation.
Now it may be granted that Calvin is not always entirely clear in his explanation of this passage. I am not saying that Calvin adopts the Arminian explanation, but rather that it is sometimes a bit difficult to see clearly that he does not believe that this text teaches that God desires the salvation of the reprobate.
Recently, however, my attention was drawn to a passage in the “Institutes” in which Calvin speaks very plain language on this score. I pass it on to the reader, not because John Calvin is the end of all argument, but in order to show that his support cannot be claimed for an Arminian interpretation of Ezekiel 33:11. The quotation is from Book III, Chapter XXIV, Paragraph XV (the Allen translation):
“But as objections are frequently raised from some passages of Scripture, in which God seems to deny that the destruction of the wicked is caused by his decree, but that, in opposition to his remonstrances, they voluntarily bring ruin upon themselves, — let us show by a brief explication that they are not at all inconsistent with the foregoing doctrine (of reprobation, H.C.H.) A passage is produced from Ezekiel, where God says, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.’ If this is to be extended to all mankind, why does he not urge many to repentance, whose minds are more flexible to obedience than those of others, who grow more and more callous to his daily invitations? Among the inhabitants of Nineveh and Sodom, Christ himself declares that his evangelical preaching and miracles would have brought forth more fruit than in Judea. How is it, then, if God will have all men to be saved, that he opens not the gate of repentance to those miserable men who would be more ready to receive the favour? Hence we perceive it to be a violent perversion of the passage, if the will of God mentioned by the prophet, be set in opposition to his eternal counsel, by which he has distinguished the elect from the reprobate. Now, if we inquire the genuine sense of the prophet, his only meaning is to inspire the penitent with hopes of pardon. And this is the sum, that it is beyond a doubt that God is ready to pardon sinners immediately on their conversion. Therefore he wills not their death, inasmuch as he wills their repentance. But experience teaches, that he does not will the repentance of those whom he externally calls, in such a manner as to affect all their hearts. Nor should he on this account be charged with acting deceitfully; for, though his external call only renders those who hear without obeying it inexcusable, yet it is justly esteemed the testimony of God’s grace, by which he reconciles men to himself. Let us observe, therefore, the design of the prophet in saying that God has no pleasure in the death of a sinner; it is to assure the pious of God’s readiness to pardon them immediately upon their repentance, and to show the impious the aggravation of their sin in rejecting such great compassion and kindness of God. Repentance, therefore, will always be met by Divine mercy; but on whom repentance is bestowed, we are clearly taught by Ezekiel himself, as well as by all the prophets and apostles.” (italics mine, H.C.H.)
This is “Calvinistic.”
This first note is for those who send in contributions . I cannot always discern from letters sent to me as editor whether such letters are intended for publication or not. I do not wish to slight anyone who intends a letter for publication; nor do I wish to embarrass anyone who does not intend his letter for publication. It would be helpful, therefore, if letters to the editor would include a note to clarify this matter.
This second note is for my fellow staff members. It has been happening recently that occasionally I receive correspondence, questions, and other extra copy which makes it necessary to delay publication of one of the regular department contributions. Usually this entails only a delay of one or two issues, and only rarely the skipping of a regularly scheduled turn for a department. Hence, please do not interpret the fact that your department does not appear as scheduled as a signal not to send in your scheduled copy. In order to keep the wheels of publication running smoothly I must receive all scheduled copy. Please observe your schedule unless you receive explicit notice to the contrary.
This third item will be of general interest. A recent issue of Christianity Today carried special notice of “Reformed Dogmatics” in its “Reading for Perspective” department, along with a miniature picture of the volume. We appreciate this publicity, especially because of the comparatively large circulation of this magazine. Incidentally, we will keep our readers informed of various book reviews which appear in the near future on a number of review copies which were sent out.