Letters

Conditional Covenant, Conditional Salvation

Allow me a few words in response to Dr. Steve Spencer (Standard Bearer, Feb. 15, 1996). That the covenant contains a condition should be clear to all. Romans 11:22 states this clearly, that is, that God showed great kindness to the Gentiles (the wild branches) when they were grafted into the covenant tree in place of the disobedient natural branches, a place they will keep, “if you continue in His goodness.” That is a condition!

Dr. Wm Hendriksen, in his commentary on this particular verse, puts it this way, “The manifestation of this kindness is, however, not unconditional. It requires genuine faith on man’s part. Says Paul, ‘toward you God’s kindness, if you remain in his kindness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.’ This must not be understood in the sense that God will supply the kindness, man the faith. Salvation is ever God’s gift. It is never a 50-50 affair. From start to finish it is the work of God. But this does not remove human responsibility. God does not exercise faith for man or in his place. It is and remains man who reposes trust in God, but it is God who both imparts this faith to him and enables him to use it.”

One more comment. When God made the covenant with Abraham he received “… the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of faith” (Rom. 4:11). He was commanded to circumcise all his sons and all who were bought as slaves. These all received the sign and seal of the righteousness of faith. Did all these have that faith? Were all those circumcised elect? Was it impossible to break that covenant? Many people did in Israel and many do today. By unbelief they refused (and refuse) to accept the conditions of the covenant, that is, faith in the only Savior Jesus Christ.

As to Jeremiah 31:33 and Hebrews 8:8-12, the new covenant in which God would put His laws in their hearts is that of Romans 11. The Jews refused to be led by God’s hand (Heb. 8:9) and were cut off, but the Gentiles who believed were grafted in. The old covenant conditions were fulfilled in Christ and when the Holy Spirit was poured out the promises of the new covenant were fulfilled. As with the old covenant, the new is entered only by faith. But the children of all believers are declared by God to belong to that covenant. Are all of these elect? Hebrews 6:1-6 gives an answer. It spells out the condition for covenant children to remain faithful or be cut off.

(Rev.) Cecil W. Tuininga

Edmonton, AB, Canada

Response:

In the doctrine of the covenant defended by the Rev. Cecil W. Tuininga, a condition is an act of the child upon which the saving act of God in Jesus Christ toward that child depends. God promises to every baptized child that He will be the God of the child and that the child will be God’s son or daughter. Thus, God promises to every child that He will save him or her. Whether God, in fact, does become the God of the child, thus actually saving him or her, depends upon the child’s work of believing. The promise of God, given to all the children alike, is made effectual and saving to a particular child, in distinction from the other children, by that child’s work of believing.

Faith is a condition unto covenantal salvation.

This doctrine is fundamentally different from the teaching of certain older Reformed theologians that faith may be called a condition in the sense of the necessary means by which God realizes His covenant and bestows His salvation. Reformed theologian Francis Turretin points out this important distinction. Under the heading, “Is the covenant of grace conditional and what are its conditions?” he writes:

(1) Condition is used either antecedently and a priori, for that which has the force of a meritorious and impulsive cause to obtain the benefits of the covenant (the performance of which gives man a right to the reward); or concomitantly and consequently a posteriori, for that which has the relation of means and disposition in the covenanted. (2) A condition is either natural, flowing from the strength belonging to nature; or supernatural and divine, depending upon grace…. These things being laid down, we say first, if the condition is taken antecedently and a priori for the meritorious and impulsive cause and for a natural condition, the covenant of grace is rightly denied to be conditioned. It is wholly gratuitous, depending upon the sole good will (eudokia) of God and upon no merit of man. Nor can the right to life be founded upon any action of ours, but on the righteousness of Christ alone. But if it is taken consequently and a posteriori for the instrumental cause, receptive of the promises of the covenant and for the disposition of the subject, admitted into the fellowship of the covenant (which flows from grace itself), it cannot be denied that the covenant is conditional (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, P&R, vol. 2, pp. 184, 185).

In the language of Turretin, “condition” in Tuininga’s theology has the meaning of “impulsive cause and … natural condition.” Tuininga does not intend by “condition” merely a necessary “means.” For in Tuininga’s theology, the promise comes to all the baptized children alike, so that it is the condition of faith that causes the promise to become effective in some, thus saving them, in distinction from others.

Scripture’s gospel of grace condemns this doctrine of a conditional covenant and conditional salvation. The salvation of the elect child of believing parents is not by God’s grace and by the child’s work, but by God’s grace alone. The promise does not depend upon faith, but works and gives faith. Faith is not the basis of salvation (“because of faith”) but the means and instrument of salvation (“through faith”). Faith is not the condition required of the sinner in order that he be saved (really, save himself!), but God’s gift to him, saving him (see Rom. 9:16; 9:8; Eph. 2:8).

If the salvation of the children of believers in the new covenant depends upon a condition by which they make effectual in themselves the promise of God given to all, salvation in the new covenant is by works.

Jeremiah 31:33, to which Rev. Tuininga appeals, is conclusive proof of the unconditionality of the new covenant. For the obedience of faith, with the faith from which this obedience springs, is itself part of thepromise. It is not a condition upon which the promise depends. “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts….”

Does Rev. Tuininga, a Reformed minister and subscriber to the fifth head of doctrine of the Canons of Dordt, really want to appeal to Hebrews 6:1-6 in support of his covenant doctrine? Does he really want to say what he says when he writes, “But the children of all believers are declared by God to belong to that covenant. Are all of these elect? Hebrews 6:1-6 gives an answer. It spells out the condition for covenant children to remain faithful or be cut off”? What he is saying is that all the covenant children are alike in the covenant, not only by receiving the promise but also by receiving the covenantal grace and the covenantal Holy Spirit within. But because some fail to fulfill the condition for remaining in the covenant, they fall away from this covenantal grace and salvation. This is bold, bald teaching of the real possibility of the falling away of covenantal saints.

The Reformed confession that is binding for Rev. Tuininga expressly denies, and nowhere affirms, that faith is a condition unto salvation:

The Synod rejects the errors of those … who teach … that (God) chose out of all possible conditions … or out of the whole order of things, the act of faith which from its very nature is undeserving, as well as its incomplete obedience, as a condition of salvation … (Canons of Dordt, I, Rejection of Errors/3; cf. also I, Rejection of Errors/5; II, Rejection of Errors/3, 4; III, IV/14).

Rev. Tuininga has written before on these pages, I think, defending his conditional covenant. If he writes again, he must begin by answering these questions:

1) Does the promise that, according to Rev. Tuininga, is made by God to every child of believing parents express God’s covenantal love for every child?

2) Does this promise indicate that God sincerely desires to save every child of believing parents?

3) Does this promise rest upon and flow from Jesus Christ’s death for every child of believing parents? Did Jesus Christ shed His blood for every baptized child of believing parents?

4) Among the benefits included in the promise to every child, is faith included? Does God at baptism promise to give every child faith?

5) With regard to the second principal part of the doctrine of holy baptism in the Reformed “Form for the Administration of Baptism” that Rev. Tuininga uses, is it Rev. Tuininga’s understanding:

a) that God the Father witnesses and seals to every baptized child that He makes an eternal covenant of grace with the child and adopts him or her for His child and heir, on the condition that the child will believe;

b) that God the Son seals to every baptized child that He washes the child in His blood from all his or her sins, incorporating the child into the fellowship of His death and resurrection, on the condition that the child will believe;

c) and that God the Holy Ghost assures every baptized child that He will dwell in the child and sanctify the child to be a member of Christ, applying unto the child that which he or she has in Christ, on the condition that the child will believe?

— Ed.

An Open Letter Proposing a Book on the Gospel-Cal

Professor David J. Engelsma,

Editor

The Standard Bearer

Grandville, MI

Reverend Maurice Roberts, Editor

The Banner of Truth

Ayr, Scotland

Dear Brothers in Christ:

I have benefited immensely in my own personal knowledge of the sovereignty of God in the salvation of elect sinners by both the Banner of Truth Trust and the Reformed Free Publishing Association. During the previous year I have found numerous references to the difference these organizations sustain toward each other in both the Standard Bearer and the Banner of Truth. This difference, of course, centers on the issue of how the external call of the Gospel is to be extended by the Church. Both parties deny the validity of a “hyper-calvinism,” which refuses to obey the command to proclaim the Gospel to every creature, regardless of their election or reprobation (which God alone determines and exhaustively knows). What seems to be at issue is how we understand God’s intent in commanding us to preach the Gospel to every creature, and how we formulate our language to the unsaved in accordance with our understanding of God’s revealed intent.

In the April 15th issue of the Standard Bearer, Prof. Engelsma suggests some kind of conference to discuss this issue as Reformed believers. May I make a suggestion, which could have the potential of being used by our sovereign Lord for greater clarification and unity of mind and purpose? Perhaps a book could be written by two of the more calm and articulate exponents of both positions? Such a book would be of great value and fill a great need in the Reformed world, and would surely pay for itself because of a growing interest in this subject in many circles. The real expense would be in the time and trouble that two busy men would have to exert to prepare such a book. It would however be a real labor of love for the churches and ministers who desire to understand and follow Christ’s Word as precisely as possible.

What I have in mind is along this order. (This is, of course, only a suggestion.) Each representative of the two camps could write approximately a fifty-page presentation of their own position. This presentation would be, for the most part, “positive” in that it would primarily explain that camp’s view of what the Bible teaches in regard to the external call of the Gospel and God’s intent in commanding the church to extend that call by the preaching of the Gospel to every creature. After both of these presentations there could be a twenty-page response to the other position by each spokesman. After this there could be a five-page “final clarifications and summary” article by each writer. Whichever camp has the first presentation, the other would have the final (in accordance with formal debate procedure).

I do not believe that God’s truth should ever be debated for entertainment or out of anger or for any reason other than to help true believers come to a better understanding of that truth and, hopefully, to help them come to a greater visible unity of faith. I hope this suggestion-request is not perceived as impertinent. It is out of a sincere love for like-minded brothers that I have written. Thank you.

Sincerely in Christ’s service,

(Rev.) Allen Tomlinson

First Congregational Church

Merrimack, NH

Insights in Apologetics

When I read your review of John Frame’s book on Cornelius VanTil in the latest Protestant Reformed Theological Journal I was very impressed with your analysis of Frame’s apologetics. Then when you reprinted your review in the May 15 issue of the Standard Bearer (“John Frame on Cornelius VanTil”) I was doubly impressed! I think you have touched on some critical matters that need to be better addressed by Reformed scholars who are writing on apologetics.

Those who speak of the Bible being full of paradoxes (a polite term for contradictions) are not doing the cause of God’s truth any service. Please write more in this critical area of biblical thought. We need your insights.

(Rev.) Norman Jones

Pierre, SD