Not Anabaptist, But Reformed*, I. Once Again: The Covenant with Noah (2)

* Not Anabaptist, But Reformed was a pamphlet written by Danhof and Hoseksema 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: September 1, 2007, p. 465.

The second argument we raised against the idea that the covenant with Noah was a covenant of common grace established with all men without distinction,¹ was that the expression “thee and thy seed” in Scripture is always understood in an organic sense and never pertains to every person among that seed. The Scripture speaks not only in Genesis 9, but commonly, about an establishing of the covenant with “thee and thy seed.” However, this “seed” by no means refers to every individual of that seed head for head. Thus inGenesis 3:15 we have a designation of the seed of the woman in the most general sense. And yet it is clear that not every seed of the woman according to the flesh is meant. The same is true in Genesis 17:7. God says to Abraham, “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” In the case of Abraham it goes so far that even all those born in his house and all bought with money must receive the sign of the covenant.

This “thee and thy seed” may never be explained in any other way than the organic sense. The organic line of the covenant in history does not do away with the lines of election and reprobation. See especially Romans 9. Hence the expression “thee and thy seed” never refers to all descendants without distinction with regard to having the essential part in the blessings of the covenant. Ishmael and Esau fall away. Later, even entire multitudes fall away from Israel, so much that it seems justified to ask, “Has God disowned His people?” But all of this is explained by the fact that within the sphere of the historic-organic development of the covenant, it is always the remnant according to the election of grace that is meant.

Well then, we have applied this entirely scriptural idea to Genesis 9:9 as well. When we read there, “And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you,” we have no business immediately drawing the conclusion that this will soon pertain to all men head for head. Now this sentiment does include the entire human race, for God is speaking to Noah and his sons. But the organic meaning of “you and your seed” must not be lost sight of here either.

Rev. Van Baalen thinks he has to criticize that too. However, his criticism is quite deficient. He first says, “But it does not now follow from that fact that this notion [i.e., the organic meaning of ‘thee and thy seed’—DJH] must come into play in the Noahitic covenant as well.” From this he concludes that we knock down our own position. And how? We had shown that God first establishes His covenant of grace with Abraham in the line of Abraham’s seed in general, but that this covenant is subsequently limited to the line of Isaac and Jacob, so that Ishmael and Esau immediately fall away from this “seed.” Rev. Van Baalen says, “That is exactly the point.” With Abraham, the Lord Himself limited the seed. “But in the covenant with Noah there is no mention of such limitation. That indicates that this is a completely different covenant.”

Now it offends us that one of our ministers will appear in public with such an argument. And on top of that, he writes in a tone which clearly shows his firm conviction that he has refuted someone’s positions so that there can no longer be any doubt that the striving brethren have grossly erred and that a call for repentance is in order! For what does this argument mean? In the first place, even if it were true that no limitation was given with respect to the covenant with Noah, this would neither settle nor conclude anything. Do we read anywhere of the limitation that runs through all history? Does not Israel soon fall in the wilderness without our ever reading of such a limitation in the establishment of the covenant?² And when the ten tribes, and even a great part of Judah, soon fall away, so that there remains only a small fraction according to the election of grace, was that announced beforehand in the establishment of the covenant? No, Van Baalen, this whole way of reasoning is unbecoming of you. “Thee and thy seed” in Scripture never means every person head for head. That is certain. We have never knocked that down, and you still less.

But moreover, is there truth in the assertion that in the establishment of the Noahitic covenant we do not right away read of a limitation? No. In fact, already in the same chapter of Genesis (9:25-27) we read of such further limitation. There one of the sons of Ham is cursed, while it is remarked that the Lord is the God of Shem, and Japheth is given the blessing that he will soon dwell in the tents of Shem. Thus, only if we remove Genesis 9:9– 17 from its context and go on to explain it entirely by itself, without paying attention to what precedes and follows it, can we come to the conclusion of Rev. Van Baalen.

This applies also to the following. We read inGenesis 6:18, “But with thee will I establish my covenant.” And yet again in Genesis 9:9, 11, “And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you.” Now our argument was that the expression “establish my covenant” in Scripture has its eye on the one covenant of grace. Rev. Van Baalen was pleased to describe this expression as follows: “that He would go on to conclude a certain kind of covenant with him as soon as that great Flood was past.” But Van Baalen fails to supply proof that this description is correct. “Establish my covenant” is an expression that occurs again and again in the Scriptures that never gives rise to “a certain kind of covenant” (see his pamphlet, p. 20), but to the one covenant of grace that takes on a different form again and again throughout the course of history and comes to a fuller revelation. But the covenant in Paradise, and with Noah, and with Abraham, and with Israel, and soon also in the new dispensation, remains essentially the same. That is what Rev. Danhof meant when he wrote that in the covenant with Noah we have the covenant of grace in its second phase of development. And that is what Rev. Hoeksema meant as well. But Rev. Van Baalen simply does not reply to that. He simply says that things are as he writes. Up until now, proof fails to appear. And when Rev. Van Baalen writes, “The idea, though, that the covenant of particular grace, that is to say, of saving grace, should be established with all men, yea with all flesh, as we heard Rev. Hoeksema say, is truly something new to the Reformed tradition!” (p. 21), then our answer is:

a) That Rev. Van Baalen has never heard us say that. The brother surely knows that we have never taught that the covenant of grace should be established with all men. How could he then attack us later for pushing the doctrine of election too strongly if that were our view? We do contend, though, that the covenant of grace includes all races of the earth, and that this is actually promised already in the covenant with Noah.

b) That Rev. Van Baalen truly does not need to write with an indignant exclamation mark that something new has been introduced into the Reformed tradition. As a progressive Reformed man he should have been thankful for that.

c) That it is, after all, a thoroughly Reformed idea that God’s covenant of grace blesses all the generations of the earth which proceed from Noah, and includes the whole creation as well. Not of course in the sense that even the dumb creation is a conscious party in this covenant. Not even Rev. Van Baalen will want to make that claim with regard to his universal covenant of common grace. But it is true in the sense that in and through that covenant of God all flesh is upheld in time, and soon also every creature shall take part in the liberty of the glory of the children of God. See Romans 8:19-22.

Also, we pointed out that in every passage of Scripture outside of Genesis 9, where the rainbow is mentioned, this everlasting sign concerns the covenant of grace as it embraces the whole creation. Now Rev. Van Baalen makes little of this point, and then treats it as such. He readily admits that in Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4 andRevelation 10, where the rainbow is mentioned, the reference is to the covenant of grace (pamphlet, p. 22). But he sees therein the symbolic description of the unity of the Mediator of Creation and the Mediator of Redemption. Now we had eagerly looked for Rev. Van Baalen to develop this notion of unity somewhere, but this he does not do. Nowhere does he develop the idea. He simply offers criticism with ideas taken from others. But apart from this, we may certainly still expect the brother to provide proof for his contention that, in the passages mentioned, the rainbow is a sign of that notion of unity or a symbolic description of it. In the Scriptures, the rainbow is a sign of the covenant. We know of no place in Scripture that gives us the impression that it is also a symbolic description of the unity between the Mediator of Creation and the Mediator of Redemption. The brother, however, does not give proof here either. He simply says that that is the way he explains it. He forgets that this is not an explanation, but simply a contention. We have demonstrated that in every passage outside of Genesis 9 where the rainbow is mentioned, it is given as a sign of the covenant of grace. The bow is a sign of the covenant. As it bends through the clouds and stretches over every creature, so also God’s covenant encompasses and upholds all things, in order shortly to glorify all things. Therefore, let Rev. Van Baalen provide exegesis and demonstrate why ours is incorrect. Then we will believe him.

That is the extent of Rev. Van Baalen’s criticism in his second chapter. The brother himself will undoubtedly realize that his criticism nowhere holds good. We have demonstrated:

a) That nothing can be built on the use of the names God and Jehovah with regard to a universal covenant of common grace in Genesis 9:9-17.

b) That Rev. Van Baalen’s view that the name Jehovah would never have been used before the days of Moses, and that God would never have called Himself by that name, is in glaring contradiction with the Scriptures. God reveals Himself as Jehovah. The saints of those days called to Him as Jehovah. They even named places with His name.

c) The organic conception of “thee and thy seed” is thoroughly scriptural. This is not at all refuted by Rev. Van Baalen.

d) The expression “establish my covenant” appears in Scripture again and again in connection with different forms of the covenant, but always essentially the same covenant of grace. This is not refuted by Rev. Van Baalen either.

e) The rainbow appears in Ezekiel 1 and Revelation 4 and 10 as a sign of the covenant of grace in its all-inclusive meaning. Rev. Van Baalen must still explain and prove his view of these facts.

Once again, Rev. Van Baalen, acknowledge that you have erred!

However, we want to go a step further here and, just in passing, touch on the fact that our view of the covenant with Noah is actually very scriptural, and that our Reformed fathers described it thus during the time that our confessional writings were being drawn up.

Therefore, we point you to this biblical idea, that the Flood is a type of baptism. See I Peter 3:31 —”The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” The idea is clear, insofar as the text relates to our subject. It is evident from the context that the Scriptures here speak of the Flood, of which baptism is the antitype. Baptism is a picture of our going under in the blood of Christ in order then to rise up out of that blood with Him, purified to be a people unto the Lord, free from sin and guilt. Through baptism we enter into covenant fellowship with God. The Flood is a type, a picture, of it. Noah and his family go into the Flood typically in order that, cleansed of the wicked husk of the ungodly world, they might yet come out of that Flood a covenant people unto the Lord. In the Flood, God causes the human race to perish in order to preserve the new core in Christ. Now, how would you ever have a type of baptism in the Flood and a type of God’s church as it passes through baptism and arises with Christ in the ark, if you make all of this universal? Or, if you agree with all this, but insist that we must dissociate Genesis 9:9-17 from this entire context, what gives you the right to do that? In any case, Scripture is on our side if we maintain that even in the covenant with Noah God establishes His covenant of grace with His people, Noah and his seed taken in an organic sense. That which God saved out of and through the Flood was His covenant people. And the people with whom He establishes His covenant after the Flood is His covenant people, always taken in an organic sense.

Our fathers also understood it this way, as may be seen in the prayer before baptism. Nowhere in all our confessions is there mention of the all-important doctrine of a covenant of common grace. But in the prayer before baptism, the Flood and the passage through the Red Sea are put on a par. Both are, according to our baptism form, types of baptism. That which passed through the sea was the covenant people of the Lord. That which passes through baptism is also the covenant people of the Lord. That which passed through the Flood is that same covenant people once again, and unto that covenant people, always taken in the organic historic sense of the word, the Lord says, “And I, behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you.”³

One can also understand in this way Hebrews 11:7, which says, “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.” By faith he built the ark. By faith he condemned the world. By faith he was saved. By faith he became heir of the righteousness which is by faith. You must focus your attention especially on this last point. This of course cannot mean that Noah inherited righteousness, for, in the first place, this would not fit. But in the second place, he was already righteous by the faith with which he also built the ark. But the meaning is evidently that he inherited as a man who was righteous by faith. He received the inheritance by faith, and that inheritance was the second world, which came out of the Flood. The ungodly lost that world through unbelief. Noah, who lived by faith, received it as his inheritance. Thus that entire history is also a picture of the end. Just as God once caused the first world to perish, so shall He also cause this second world to pass through the fire, and cause the form of it to vanish. But then too shall the people of God be heirs of the new world in which righteousness dwells.

Therefore, brother, our thinking lies entirely in line with Scripture and the confessions. However, you find no sign of a universal human covenant in the confessions. What right do you have, then, to attack us and declare us un-scriptural, un-Reformed, and Anabaptist in this respect? And publicly to call us to repentance? Had you given a thorough treatment of the subject, or produced anything new, and then demonstrated that our view does not hold up, there may have been a basis for bold language which no other view could possibly allow. But your arguments are much too weak. We fully agree, although perhaps in a somewhat modified sense, with that which you write on page 22: “And thus our investigation into the criticism of Rev. H. Hoeksema concerning Dr. Kuyper’s conception of the covenant with Noah has ended in disappointment.” Certainly, brother, your investigation ended in a disappointment. We were bitterly disappointed by this investigation.

With that we should be able to conclude our criticism, for as a matter of fact the notion that the covenant with Noah is not the covenant of grace but a covenant of common grace must form its foundation from what follows. And if the foundation is not good, then that which is built on it will not stand firm. But we will demonstrate that this is actually so. Hence the following the chapters.

¹ Translator’s note: The first argument was “that nothing can be built on the different use of the names God and Jehovah in this connection” (paragraph 2).

² This falling away from Israel is indeed so strong that Paul says concerning Israel in the wilderness that God was not well pleased with many of them. Yet they all belonged to “thy seed” (I Cor. 10:5).

³ The close connection between type and antitype with respect to baptism, the passage through the sea, and the Flood, may be derived from I Corinthians 10:2, where the apostle literally says that the children of Israel were baptized in the sea.