A Word to Our Churches¹
The conflict in our churches is gradually focusing on the subject of grace, and especially on what bears the name “common grace” among us.
This has been expected for a long time already.
The controversy in our midst has actually focused on this point already for a long time, and we do not hesitate now to add that, in principle, the struggle of the last few years has always concerned this matter. On the one hand, there was a group which more and more emphasized the importance of the doctrine of common grace. They were very enthusiastic about it. They called it one of the most important doctrines of the Reformed faith. For them this doctrine was a Boaz [pillar] in God’s temple. And for them the discussion of common grace is the order of the day. It has become quite common to discuss it.
The history of this struggle spans years.
Rev. J. Groen² wanted emphatically to place this doctrine on the foreground for the defense of unionism and the right of women to vote. It was in the name of common grace that our men were advised to join the [labor] unions. And it was in the name of this same doctrine that our women were urged to go to the polls and to help improve the world. The group that wrote in the formerChristian Journal under the leadership of Prof. Van Andel³ emphasized common grace to maintain a broad worldview, to give entrance into the world and allow freer movement in it. Whoever questioned this was quickly branded an Anabaptist. Thus a way of thinking has gradually crept into our circles that is enthusiastic about common grace and that either forgets or denies the antithesis, the opposition between God’s people and the world. That way of thinking is really bent, though perhaps unconsciously, on making us identify ourselves with the world and go into the world.
We have warned against this from the beginning. We have protested against this application of common grace with word and pen. We have also examined this doctrine, especially as it was developed by Dr. A. Kuyper. We have come to the conclusion that, not only is conformity with the world due to a wrong application of the doctrine, but the doctrine itself is contrary to our Reformed confessions and Scripture, and therefore it must be rejected. And we have spoken out with all boldness concerning this.
It is then no wonder that the conflict among us broke out over this point.
This disagreement over common grace, however, did not immediately show itself when the battle over the instruction of Dr. Janssen started.4 When the doctor was attacked because of his instruction, he insisted that his attackers had to contend with the matter of common grace. He accused everyone who opposed him of not standing correctly on the subject of common grace. He vowed, too, to show the connection that existed, according to him, between his instruction and common grace, but up until now Dr. Janssen has failed to show this connection. It has gradually become our conviction that this connection most certainly exists. At first we really thought that Dr. Janssen’s shifting of the main point was nothing more than an attempt to distract attention from the real issue and to fix it on something else. But we changed our minds and concluded that Dr. Janssen’s view of Scripture can in principle be defended from the point of view of common grace. We therefore agree with the contention of the brethren who attack us and who defend Janssen that the controversy among us concerns the doctrine of common grace.
Therefore, we also want to fight this to the very end.
The Janssen affair as such has been settled. The fact that his teaching was not in agreement with the view of the churches, with the confessions, or with Scripture became sufficiently clear at Synod.
The Synod came to a unanimous verdict.
Not easily will one persuade our churches again to give a place at our school to Dr. Janssen, who not even once took the opportunity to defend his own view.
But concerning the principle itself, we are still not certain [that it will not cause trouble].
It is our firm conviction that if our churches do not examine the subject of common grace as developed by Dr. Kuyper; if they remain under the impression that this view is at bottom Reformed and in agreement with our confessions, then the few have won. The teaching that has now been condemned in Dr. Janssen, and that is most certainly connected with the view of common grace, shall yet again lift up its head and assert itself.
Principles work through.
That is how the doctrine of common grace worked through [in the Netherlands]. At first a strong maintenance of the antithesis kept the balance more or less in equilibrium. But as soon as Kuyper died, and the younger generation in the Netherlands lifted up their heads and cried for something new, something different, something that could allow them to live more freely in the world and adapt themselves to the existing forms of society, the antithesis was forgotten, and they embraced the notion of common grace in order to build an entire worldview on it. The result is world conformity in almost every respect.
They want culture! They want art! They want cooperation with the world. They want to go to the dance, opera, and theatre. They no longer desire anything sound. Doctrinal preaching must make way for topical preaching. In a word, they have gone out into the world.
As it is in the Netherlands, so also it is here.
There are those in the Netherlands and also here who say: This conformity to the world comes from a wrong view of common grace. Dr. Grosheide spoke that way a couple years ago in Leeuwarden. There are more like him in the Netherlands. There are also those like him among us. There are those among us who say that they do not agree with Kuyper’s view of common grace, but nevertheless do believe in common grace. These brethren are still obligated to tell us what actually is their view of common grace.
There are also those among us who, in spite of the troublesome fruits which this doctrine is already beginning to produce, still promote common grace to the utmost of their power. These include Rev. Groen, who for several years already has been pushing God’s people into the world that they might identify themselves with that world, as for example in the [labor] unions; the editors of Religion and Culture, with Prof. Van Andel leading, who calls this doctrine a Boaz of the Reformed view; and Dr. Janssen, who defends his modern view of Scripture with this doctrine and labels all those who attack him Anabaptists, even in his latest brochure. These include also our “cultured people,” which really only means that they bathe themselves as they should, look after their teeth, and start the day decently clothed!
Now it is quite noteworthy that they who are in this corner must not expect much encouragement from our Reformed confessions. They do not speak readily about principles, unless it should be the principle of common grace. It is also noteworthy that, in connection with this matter, the doctrine of free election is pushed into the background and that of free will into the foreground. The main thrust of the Reformed confessions is forgotten and disregarded. It is weakened to such an extent that one can scarcely find it anymore. But this common grace, about which our confessions do not actually speak, and which our fathers certainly did not take into account, is exalted to a fundamental doctrine of our confessions.
Well then, it is our conviction that not a wrong view of common grace underlies all of this, but that the doctrine of common grace itself is at root false and un-Reformed.
We believe we must fight for this conviction, and we feel obliged before God and our churches to do so unto the end. In this regard we want to point out that neither Dr. Janssen nor Rev. Van Baalen started this fight. Long before these brethren wrote, we had warned against the danger of the worldview that draws on common grace.
One of us wrote about this matter almost four years ago. At that time no one had a problem with our articles. And when Dr. Janssen was confronted, and the doctor thought he had to attack us on the matter of common grace, we promised to present a series of articles. However, the Publication Committee [of the Banner] prevented this from happening. Nevertheless, we still intended forthwith to do this by way of a pamphlet, as soon as our busy labors would permit and the proper time should come.
We were busy writing when the critique of Rev. Van Baalen appeared. The brother attacks us regarding something we wrote a long time ago. His pamphlet has met with much approval. Our church papers have recommended it, even though it clearly is, in effect, a defense of Dr. Janssen. Dr. Beets5 has nothing but praise for it. Rev. Keegstra is captivated by it. Rev. K.W. Fortuin again issued a call to action, although he himself does not appear inclined to take action. Dr. Kuizenga of Holland laughs up his sleeve. Indeed, we may congratulate Rev. Van Baalen for writing a pamphlet that is received so favorably. Concerning both form and content, it is praised, and no criticism has been leveled against it.
Now at first we did not plan immediately to disrupt this flow of praise. We thought that we would, for the time being, quietly continue to work on our own pamphlet, which eventually would see the light of day. We intended to devote a few pages in it to Rev. Van Baalen’s work. However, when we examined his pamphlet a little closer, we found so much that, in our opinion, could not sustain a thorough critique. Thus we considered it best that a separate pamphlet be devoted to a review of the writing of Rev. Van Baalen.
Moreover, we thought that it was also time to put an end to the often unfair and hollow criticism that is leveled at us by word and pen. The charge of Anabaptism must not be thrown any longer. In the last few years people have been much too eager to fling this mud. And just how eagerly Rev. Van Baalen does this is evident from the almost desperate attempt which he makes in his pamphlet to prove his contention. If one needs to twist and turn that much in order to prove that two brethren are Anabaptistic, when they themselves say that they are disgusted with Anabaptism, then it almost becomes absurd. But the matter is getting serious. Therefore it is time to put an end to this superficial criticism.
Finally, we also thought that it was irresponsible to let his pamphlet enter the churches unchallenged. Our church papers have recommended the pamphlet. They have not leveled any criticism. The pamphlet is indeed a defense of Dr. Janssen and Rev. Bultema.6 It is a slap in the face of our whole Church. We just get back from Synod, where Dr. Janssen was condemned, and then, behold, our church papers recommend a work that, effectively, defends Dr. Janssen. We do not understand this attitude. Dr. Beets and Rev. Keegstra should have known better. This was another reason why we were pressed to publish this part of our work first.
Therefore, the reader must be aware that the positive development of our view is yet to come.
This pamphlet does not intend to do anything but reply to Rev. Van Baalen’s criticism. The brother has done bad work. He has evidently imagined the matter to be a bit simpler than it is. That is our judgment. And in the following pages we hope to show the grounds for this judgment.
¹ “Our churches” refers to the Christian Reformed Churches. See the editor’s note above.
² Rev. Johannes Groen was the minister in Eastern Avenue CRC prior to Herman Hoeksema.
³ Henry J. Van Andel was a professor in Calvin College teaching Dutch and literature.
4 Dr. Ralph Janssen was Professor of Old Testament in Calvin Theological Seminary 1902-1906 and 1914-1922. He was removed from office by the synod of 1922 due to his errant views on Scripture. Both Herman Hoeksema and Henry Danhof were members of the committee appointed to investigate Janssen’s views. For more information see Herman Hanko, For Thy Truth’s Sake (Grandville, Michigan: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2000), pages 30 ff.
5 Henry Beets was the editor of the Banner from 1903 to 1928.
6 Rev. Harry Bultema was condemned by the synod of 1918 and subsequently deposed for his premillennial views.