Not Anabaptist but Reformed* (4): II. Superficial Judgment and Rash Accusation

* Not Anabaptist, But Reformed was a pamphlet written by Danhof and Hoeksema in 1923 as a “Provisional Response to Rev. Jan Karel Van Baalen Concerning the Denial of Common Grace.” Translated here from the Dutch by seminarian Daniel Holstege. Previous article in this series: November 15, 2007, p. 92.

We now turn to chapter four of Rev. Jan Karel Van Baalen’s pamphlet.¹

We can pass by the third chapter in silence except for this one observation: Rev. Van Baalen surely could have gathered his facts and material a bit better and could have studied a bit more thoroughly. That is the first requirement, and that the brother has not done. Rev. Van Baalen constructs his view of the theology of these brethren out of a single paragraph from the hand of Rev. H. Danhof and a few fragments from the pen of Rev. H. Hoeksema. But the weakness of this method comes to light even more in chapter four, where Van Baalen makes his accusation and presents his objections to our view. We will now briefly follow him and demonstrate how hastily and superficially the brother has written.

Rev. Van Baalen begins this chapter by devoting a few pages to Rev. Hoeksema’s dispute with Dr. R. Janssen in the Banner. We will not get into that, but not because we could not. Rev. Van Baalen, who so loosely accuses us of transgressing Christian morals, is himself guilty of the same by penning this and other accusations without really knowing the issue or having thoroughly examined it. But getting into that would divert us too far from our subject. If Rev. Van Baalen wants to defend Dr. Janssen, let him try. But a few sidelong remarks are of no use to us here.

Really then, it is not until page 36 of his pamphlet that Rev. Van Baalen finally arrives at his subject and presents his objections concerning our view.

The very first criticism is that we have taken the dangerous path of rationalism. We make ourselves guilty of the dreadful error of rationalism. Certainly, according to Rev. Van Baalen, there is no evil intent involved here—we do this in our ignorance—but nevertheless the sad fact is that our pamphlet fosters that error.

We do not say that Rev. Hoeksema intentionally makes himself guilty of this dreadful error. Rather, we believe just the opposite. Therefore, we endeavor to show him the dangerous path on which he finds himself.

Brother Van Baalen has good intentions, and we can appreciate that. He is concerned about us and wants to correct erring brethren. That becomes evident here as well as in the ever-repeated call to repentance and confession of guilt. We appreciate these good intentions in the brother. However, if one wants to correct erring brethren by way of a pamphlet instead of speaking and corresponding with those brethren; if one should take the very public way of issuing forth at the top of his voice the call to repentance to two erring brethren, then he should be doubly certain of his objection. And the brother was not. He has viewed us wrongly. He has judged superficially. He has accused rashly.

So it is, first of all, with the accusation of rationalism. If the brother had just thought about it, he would never have written that severe accusation. Let the reader judge.

Rationalism is, in short, the school of thought that places the principle of reason above the Holy Scriptures. If there is anything in Scripture that is not in line with reason or comprehended by reason, then rationalism either rejects or contorts that portion of Holy Scripture. What had we written? This: “Now it must be said that such an attitude of God is simply inconceivable in the light of Scripture and our Reformed doctrine.” Rev. Van Baalen responds thus: “Right there you have it. Pure rationalism” (p. 37). But let the reader judge. Do we place reason above the Scriptures there? Or do we contort the Scriptures in one way or another? For us, “in the light of Scripture” means to say, “if you let your thinking be controlled by the light of Scripture.” Here you have just the opposite of rationalism, which says, “in the light of reason this or that in Scripture is inconceivable.” We maintained that “in the light of Scripture this or that position is inconceivable.” No further argument is necessary here. Even Rev. Van Baalen will realize this. He called for repentance unnecessarily here.

But we have also maintained that God cannot show any grace outside of Christ. Is this rationalism then? Absolutely not. In fact, this too means exactly the same as “in the light of Scripture.” It simply means to say that something is not in agreement with the scriptural understanding of God and must be rejected. The Scriptures maintain that God is absolutely righteous and holy. And because He is absolutely righteous, grace, mercy, goodness, etc. always reside with God as an inviolable right. And therefore, it can certainly be said that something is inconceivable because it is in conflict with our understanding of God, without thereby falling into rationalism, as long as our understanding of God is derived from Scripture. This explanation will suffice. Rev. Van Baalen will certainly understand and realize that he has publicly and rashly written dreadful accusations here.

We do not understand the argument that now follows (we refer to the argument concerning our notion of the decrees of God that starts on page 37). That is, we think we understand what the brother writes here, but it is beyond our comprehension why he writes it. What stands out the most here is that Rev. Van Baalen’s perception of us has been much too simple. To be sure, we were not surprised when he felt obliged to write that we could still profitably study Bosma’s work on the Reformed faith.2 Anyone who holds to such a view as Rev. Van Baalen thinks we hold would perhaps do better to begin with Borstius.3 For the brother writes without any warrant that we know of only one decree of God, and that is the decree of election. He does not give any proof for this, and yet he states:

And unfortunately we must now go further and express our firm conviction that the theology of Rev. Hoeksema runs along ‘the single track’ of election and reprobation. And it is not any better with Rev. Danhof. He also knows of only one decree of God, as appears in his pamphlet The Idea of the Covenant of Grace. And that is the decree of election.

Now we repeat that it is beyond us how anyone writing a pamphlet could present such things in the light of day. Do you truly think, brother, that we are as foolish as you present it here? Then demonstrate once that we ever wrote anything resembling this. As for us, we will demonstrate to you that we have written just the opposite. Just listen.

In the first place, there is the most general notion of God’s Counsel with respect to all things in its all-encompassing sense. You can call this Counsel of God His decree, purpose, will, plan, counsel, hidden will or will of decree as long as you keep before your attention that, in the general sense of the word, the Counsel of God is all-encompassing. In this Counsel of God, however, we distinguish between the Counsel of God’s Providence and the Counsel of Predestination. It is not true that these are two different Counsels or decrees of God. On the contrary, they are one, and they stand in close connection with each other. But we distinguish them as elements in the one Counsel of God (The Banner, April 8, 1920).

Therefore, it may also be said here that Rev. Van Baalen has cried “fire” too soon, accused of rationalism too carelessly, and worried about his brethren needlessly. He could have left much in the pen if he had but read our articles, or if he had at least first fully gathered his material before and prior to setting himself to writing against two brethren. Therefore, we also believe, brother Van Baalen, that you can once again profitably read what these brethren have written in the past.

But it gets even worse. The “single track” gets narrower and narrower. Earlier already Rev. Van Baalen was afraid that Rev. Hoeksema’s “mind” went along a “single track.” He is now decidedly convinced of it. Not only do the brothers Hoeksema and Danhof believe in merely one decree of God, the decree of election, they believe in nothing else. They deny man’s responsibility. Just read it on page 38, which so solemnly concludes,

But you who build your theology on merely one of the two truths of Holy Scripture, what principle enables you to rouse the impenitent sinner to repentance?

You see, our brother Rev. Van Baalen teaches that there is yet another line running through Scripture: the line of man’s responsibility! And, he maintains, we fail to appreciate that line. We have no eye for it. We move along one little line.

Now, first of all, we wish to point out our genuine fear that brother Van Baalen’s two lines deviate from the Reformed faith. We doubt that he stands correctly on this point concerning election. His entire reasoning does not make a very favorable impression on us, at least not from a Reformed viewpoint. And we especially fear the worst about Van Baalen when we see him quoting the text, “Who will have all men to be saved” [I Timothy 2:4]. That, writes Van Baalen, is God’s revealed will. Thus, according to Van Baalen, God’s hidden will is that all men are not saved, but according to God’s revealed will we say, “Who will have all men to be saved.” Look, brother, this is how we draw out the two lines [of your theology], which you have certainly not done. And the explanation that you give to the quoted text, as seen from the quotation itself, is certainly not Reformed. Already in Calvin’s day, brother, people quoted this text as an objection to election. And although you do not do that, you still explain the text in the same way as all Arminians, namely, that “all men” there must be understood as everyone head for head. Calvin pointed out, however, that this can never be the idea. In the first place, because the context clearly shows that the Apostle has his eye on “all classes” of men, and not on all men head for head. And secondly, because in that case this text would be in conflict with the clear doctrine of election; and that cannot be (Institutes III.24.16). And therefore it is definitely incorrect to declare that on the one hand God desires that some be preserved and others go lost, and on the other hand that God also desires that all men be saved. In this way you obscure the pure doctrine of election in a manner that really causes the simple believer to become very confused. We do believe in two lines, brother, but we are also convinced that you do not draw them correctly. The accusation that we do not believe in man’s responsibility or do not do justice to it is simply pulled out of the sky, as may become evident from the following, which was written by our hand:

Up till now we have strictly maintained the all-encompassing character of God’s decrees on the one hand and the moral freedom and responsibility of man on the other hand. 

We have firmly refused to diminish the power and sovereignty of God or to grant that man is in any way able to destroy the Counsel of God. To do this would deal the death-blow to our Reformed doctrine. God is and remains absolutely sovereign. His Counsel has never been destroyed, nor changed, nor led aside by any deed of men or devils. All of history, evil included, is an unfolding of the Counsel of the Almighty. 

On the other hand, we have just as emphatically maintained the responsibility of man. The accusation of determinism, sometimes brought against our Reformed confessions, we have cast far from us. Man is a creature that acts freely. What he does, he does consciously and willingly. He is and remains free in the formal sense of the word. 

And although these two lines of God’s Counsel on the one hand and man’s moral freedom and responsibility on the other might run parallel insofar as our eye can see, and as McCosh4 expresses it in his The Divine Government, we will still hold fast to both of these truths on the basis of Scripture without compromise or surrender. It may be freely granted that we are dealing with a mystery here. The question how God maintains His irresistible Counsel over against His moral creatures; how it is possible for God to cooperate with these moral-rational beings so that His Counsel is worked out and their responsibility still maintained, might ultimately put us in a dilemma. But this does not mean that now we simply abandon one of the two horns of the dilemma and delude ourselves into believing that we have the truth in only one of the horns. We must emphatically hold fast to both (The Banner, June 17, 1920).

We could quote more, but this language is clear enough. And it is language that Rev. Van Baalen could also have read, and which he should have read before he proceeded to the writing of a brochure in which he ascribed to us all kinds of errors which are not ours. The brother will certainly want to rejoice at the fact that he has made himself worried about us needlessly. He will certainly also feel the need to be ashamed for his superficial piece of work, which is not at all grounded on the necessary study of the sources. And as an honorable man he will certainly want to take back publicly what he wrote about us and admit that he has been grievously mistaken with respect to us.

¹ The Denial of Common Grace: Reformed or Anabaptistic? (De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie: Gereformeerd of Doopersch?).—Ed.

² Rev. M. J. Bosma, Onderwijzing in De Gereformeerde Geloofsleer (Exposition of Reformed Doctrine).—Ed.

³ Jacob Borstius wrote simple catechism books for little children widely used in the Netherlands, such as Eenige korte Vragen, Voor de kleyne Kinderen (Simple Short Questions for the Little Children) and Catechismus, Voorgestelt in korte Vragen en Antwoorden (Catechism, Set Forth in Short Questions and Answers).—Ed.

4. James McCosh (1811-1894) was a Presbyterian preacher from Scotland who was appointed the eleventh president of Princeton. He wrote The Method of Divine Government, Physical and Moral (1850) over against rationalism’s rejection of God’s control of all.