The last issue of the Concordia brought to us your 27th installment on the subject of the covenant. I am a faithful reader of your articles. I find them interesting and thought-provoking. You write in a fresh style. You have your own way of putting things. This does not mean that I can always agree with you. Such is not the case. I find myself at odds, for example, with your last few articles. It is especially these articles that cause me to take up my pen to write you this open letter. I would like to discuss with you the content of these articles. They gave rise in my mind to questions, which I have need of revealing and herewith do so as trusting that you will be willing to entertain them and give reply. You must have realized when you penned those articles that from certain quarters there would be some reaction to what you wrote. However, what you have from my pen in this article is not to be taken as criticism. All I desire is discussion for the sake of the truth, which, I take it, is as dear to you as it is to me and to us all.
Let us turn first to your last article (XXVII). You write,
“And then it seems to me that if we remain strictly Reformed, without any Pelagianizing supposition of the natural man in some way being able to meet the conditions of the covenant, then we need not be afraid of speaking of conditions. (Italics supplied).
“I cannot see a great importance in the question, except as it leads us back to the question, “What do we mean by the covenant?’
“On the one hand the Scriptures plainly teach that there are conditions in connection with the covenant.”
So you write; and then you go on to quote three texts in support of your contention that there are conditions in connection with the covenant. And you add that, to cite your own words, “We need not quote more passages for there are of course many more.”
Can it be that these texts or any other text in the whole Bible teach what you say they do?—teach, namely, that God lets it be known to men that He will save His people on the condition that they believe? From the sequel of your article it appears that this is what you mean. You write, “”The power to believe is wrought by the Lord. And so is the power to walk in sanctification and perseverance. But in these the creature partakes and acts consciously so that it becomes his act. He believes, he sanctifies himself (which, of course, is very true and is being denied by no one in our circles. G.M.O.) “Dr. Schilder” you go on to say, “expressed this in his speeches among us by saying: There are no condition for the covenant but there are conditions in the covenant. God does not give the enjoyment of life to His people except under condition of faith and conversion’, (italics supplied). So Dr. Schilder. And so, too, you. For you quote Schilder here with approval. But is this teaching of Dr. Schilder—a teaching that you subscribe—true? I mean, of course, the teaching that God saves His people on the condition that they believe? I am persuaded that it is not true.
Allow me to set forth what I believe to be the truth of God’s word on this point. And then the first question that confronts us is: What meaning does the dictionary give to the term condition when occurring in such conditional sentences as: the Lord saves His people on the condition that they believe. What is the idea of the concept condition in that connection? Let us turn to my dictionary. I have a good one here at my elbow; it’s The Century Dictionary, an Encyclopedia Lexicon of the English language, a work of ten volumes of microscopic print with each volume measuring 10-12-21/2 inches and weighing seven pounds and two ounces. Not that it’s good just because of its size and weight and bulk. But it’s a good dictionary. It was prepared under the superintendence of William Dwight Whitney, Ph. D., LL. D., professor of comparative philology and Sanskrit in Yale University.
Someone may say: Why go to the English dictionary for the meaning of the term condition. Why not go to the Bible for the meaning of that term and consult our Hebrew and Greek lexicons. Here is my reply. What I am here confronted with in the first instance is not the Scriptures but a doctrinal statement of Rev. A. Petter made in the English language. So my first task is to concentrate on that proposition of Rev. Peter with a view to ascertaining its meaning. And this places me under the necessity of investigating the sense and meaning of the English words of his proposition, definitely of the English word condition. For the definition of this word I must turn not the Bible nor to the Hebrew and the Greek lexicons but to the English dictionary. That stands to reason. Having learned the meaning of Rev. Petter’s proposition, I go with it to the Scriptures to determine whether the doctrine is contained in Holy Writ. This is the correct order, don’t you think?
Now, then, the word condition (quoting my dictionary): “either as a term of philosophy or of common life, it means that on which something is contingent, or more definitely which being given, something else can exist or take place. I promise to do something on condition that you do something else; that is, if you do this, I will do that; if not, I will do as I please,”
Let us take notice. A condition is that on which something is contingent. So says my dictionary. Applying this definition to the proposition that God saves His people on the condition that they believe, we get this: The faith of God’s people, conceived of as a condition, is that on which salvation as a work of God is contingent. The word contingent is all important for our present study. If we want to know what is characteristic of faith as a condition, we must attend to the meaning of the word contingent. Let us then turn to the dictionary once more for the definition of the word contingent.
“Contingent:—Not existing or occurring through necessity; due to chance or to a free agent; accidentally existing or true; without a known or apparent cause or reason, or caused by something which would not in every case appear; dependent upon the will of a human being, or finite free agent; dependent upon a foreseen possibility; provisionally liable to exist, happen, or take effect in the future; hence, something that may or may not occur; conditional.”
So speaks the dictionary. What now do the sum and total of the expressions that form that definition spell? They spell uncertainty, don’t they? This is self-evident. Anything that may or may not occur is uncertain. So that something—here salvation as a work of God—that is dependent on faith as a condition, contingent on the will of a human being, or finite agent. It is characterized by uncertainty. And that, too, must of necessity characterize the faith of God’s people as a condition, on which that something—salvation as a work of God—is contingent. The faith of God’s people as a condition is uncertain. It may or may not occur and if and when occurring, it may or may not abide. Just because faith as a condition is uncertain, salvation as a work of God, contingent on such faith, is uncertain. In fine the characteristic of faith as a condition is uncertainty. It may or may not occur.
And what must that needs imply? The following: 1) Whether a man believes is solely dependent on his own sovereign capricious, and arbitrary will. 2) Hence, faith is not of God; it is of man. 3) Like the creature, God is limited in His power and knowledge and stands helpless over against man’s unbelief.
It is plain that in the proposition, “God saves His people on the condition that they believe,” that is, “Salvation as a work of God is contingent on the faith of the believer,” we deal with a heresy of the first magnitude, destructive conceptionally of God and of all true religion.
Isn’t it plain, brother, that the term, condition, as a sentence-element in the proposition, “God saves His people on the condition that they believe,” is a dangerous one. It doesn’t fit in the thought-structure of the Reformed theologian. It has place only in the perverted system of theology hatched out by Pelagius and Arminius. Should not the statement, “Salvation as a work of God is contingent on a man’s faith as a condition, on his willingness to believe,” make as to consider? Why defend such a statement? For that precisely, according to the very form of the words, is the phraseology that the Arminian uses to set forth his heretical idea that faith is of man and not of God. There is no other language in which to express such an idea. Why employ such terminology in discoursing on the truth? Not certainly because of the poverty of the English language. There are other terms, certainly. The Scriptures present faith to us as a means, as God’s means, for saving His people. So Paul. He says not, “By grace are ye saved on the condition that ye believe,” but, “By grace are ye saved through faith” (Eph. 3:8). Why should we exchange God’s way of saying things for a heretical terminology? Why should we try to discourse on Reformed theology in the terminology of Pelagius and Arminius? It simply can’t be done. What is there to be gained by such a doing? Nothing at all, as far as I can see. Absolutely nothing. And there is everything to lose. We all know how Satan works. He first smuggles in the terms, as satisfied that his lies will follow. Why play with fire?
It is true. You state in your article that, quoting your piece, “If we remain strictly Reformed, without any Pelagianizing supposition of the natural man in some way being able to meet the conditions (italics supplied) of the covenant, then we need not be afraid of speaking of conditions in the covenant. . . . They, (the remonstrants) taught that in the last analysis God depended on the fulfillment of these conditions. . . (But) God Himself has set these conditions indeed, but He has also provided for the fulfillment of them. He has given to His own the power to fulfil them.”
Allow me to reply to this. First, that God gives unto His people the power to believe is denied by none among us. The denial of such a truth and fact is atheistic. The sole point at issue is whether the requirement of faith is a condition on which salvation as a work of God is contingent. Second, implicit in those lines of yours last quoted is the admission that the term in question—conditions, always of course as a sentence element in your proposition—is in use among the Arminians. Had you only gotten before your mind the reason of its employment by the Arminians! As has already been pointed out, the reason is that they have real need of the term. It has a place in their thought-structure. This, it seems to me, should make you want to avoid the term like a plague. But it doesn’t. “We need not be afraid of the term,” you say, “if only we cleave to the truth and fact that “God and not man fulfills the condition.” Indeed, but what are you doing? It seems to me that what you are doing is verily this: You give to the word condition, as a sentence element in the proposition, “God saves His people on the condition that they believe,” a sense and meaning that is wholly and absolutely contrary and thus diametrically opposed, to the sense and meaning that the term has in the dictionary and in the vocabulary of men. As we have seen, the dictionary defines a condition as follows:
1) That on which something is contingent; 2) hence, uncertain.
But your definition of the term (condition) reads: 1) That (here the faith of God’s people as a condition) which is fulfilled by that very something (here the will of God; salvation as a work of God) contingent on it, that is, contingent on the faith of God’s people as a condition; hence, 2) absolute certainty.
Isn’t it true, then, that in your definition the concept condition is absolutely contrary to the meaning that the term has in the dictionary? Besides, your definition of a condition is characterized by inner conflict; it is illogical, self-destructive, and on this account not true. Let us look at your definition once more. It states that God, salvation as a work of God, fulfills the condition (the faith of God’s people as a requirement) and that it is at once contingent, dependent, on faith as a condition. But that is impossible. Both cannot be true. That I have correctly stated your definition of the term condition is as plain as can be. You call faith a condition, which is equivalent to saying that faith as a condition is that on which something (the will of God) is contingent. At the same time you say that faith as a condition is fulfilled by God. So there you are.
It seems to me than, brother, that you will have to do one of two: 1) either stop saying that salvation as a work of God is contingent on the faith of God’s people, and if you do that, you deny, of course that faith is a condition, and that you do not want to deny, of course; 2) or stop saying that faith as a condition is fulfilled by God, something you don’t want to do either. So what are you going to do now, brother? Of course, I am taking the term condition according to the meaning that it has in the dictionary.
But the principal point that I am arguing is that your definition of the term condition is absolutely contrary to the meaning that it has in the dictionary.
Now it seems to me that it is very wrong and dangerous to discourse on the truth as using our words in a sense that is contrary to their fixed and accepted meanings—the meaning that they have in the dictionary. I am sure that you will agree. Allow me to put some questions in this connection.
1) Did the Holy Spirit do that in preparing for the Church the Scriptures? Can we cite one example? Does, to illustrate, the word hot mean hot in the Scriptures, in the Hebrew and Greek Bibles, but cold in these same languages as spoken by the Jews and the Greeks? How could we know what God is talking about in Holy Writ were such the case? Did God who made languages deal with words in that way in communicating to man the thoughts of His heart? If faith has God as its author how can it be a condition in the fixed and accepted sense of that term? Impossible.
2) To say, “faith is of God*and not of man,” and then to set it forth as a condition on which salvation as a work of God is contingent is like saying that there are such things as finite-infinitudes and certain-uncertainties. In a word, condition—faith—taking that word condition now in its accepted sense—is verily a contradiction in terms. There is no such thing.
3) Isn’t it true that by the employment of such a method of dealing with words, one can make the Bible say anything, absolutely anything? By the employment of such a method of dealing with words I can even make the Bible teach that Satan is a creature of virtue. All I do is to strip the words evil, sinful, corrupt, depraved of the meanings that they have in the dictionary and define them as virtue. There is nothing to it. It’s as simple as that. Don’t you see how true it is, how absolutely true, that by the employment of such a method of dealing with words I can make the Bible say anything under the sun, and smuggle into the church any heresy under heaven?
True it is that human, earthy language, as employed by the Holy Spirit in the preparation of the Scripture took on a meaning unspeakably richer than the meaning that these languages would have had had they not been thus employed. The Bible reveals the heavenly by human, earthy language. It thus forms the glass in which we behold, be it darkly, the heavenly. Here the words of our human languages are the symbols of the things above. But surely their primary meanings were not lost or changed into their direct opposite. Christ said, “I am the bread of life.” But as in every man’s dictionary, the word bread here still signifies bread, doesn’t it, and not a stone or a scorpion.
4) You may say: But I am using that term condition in a good sense, that is, in the sense that the term has in my own private vocabulary formed of words of my own coining. But allow me to ask: What guarantee can you give that the word condition, as you define it, that your proposition, as laid upon the lips of our people by its teachers and preachers, will continue to be used in the sense that you give it? You can give no guarantee. Then I repeat: Why employ such terminology? Why play with fire? Not that it is wrong to coin a new term. It’s because new terms are continually being coined that languages grow. But that is not the point here. The point is whether we should use terms in a sense that is diametrically opposed to their fixed, current, and accepted meanings, especially if the term, like the term condition, as a sentence element in your proposition, has an evil connotation in the dictionary. Why do this, if there is absolutely no reason, no necessity, for it?
5) But I have still other questions. Faith as a condition is provisional. It doesn’t exist as an actuality. How then can God save His people—I have reference to the actual process of His saving them—on the condition that they believe. It seems to me that to make that proposition yield some sense, we should make it read: “God saves His people through their faith on the condition that they originate and continue to originate faith in them.” No, you say, not on the condition that they originate faith in them, but on the condition that He give them power to believe. But according to the dictionary, a condition is that on which something is contingent. And a contingency, according to the dictionary, is something accidental, something that may or may not occur. What then is the contingency here? Is it God’s counsel? But is God’s counsel an accident? Something that may or may not occur or be executed? Is God then unable or unwilling to do all His good pleasure?
6) My next question. I come upon this paragraph in your article, “He (Dr. Schilder) says that God is not bound to a condition but He does bind man. To me the question remains whether it is true that God is not bound by conditions, namely, those which He set for Himself. He cannot deny Himself. He hath sworn and will not repent, etc.” According to the meaning that words have in the dictionary, what you say here, it seems to me, is this, “God must adapt Himself to the sovereign, capricious, arbitrary volitions of man’s morally free will.”
7) My next question. You also write, “This confession, this testimony, this adoration, this ascription of praise to God as a fountain of all that is good for the creature, his health’s eternal spring, is exactly brought out in the conditional nature of the promises of God’s covenant. The very nature of the goods of the covenant require this conditional manner of receiving and enjoyment.”
Can that be true? Let us see. According to the meaning that words have in the dictionary, a conditional promise of God is one that is contingent on the willingness of man to originate faith in him. How can such a promise “exactly bring out. . . . this confession, this testimony, this adoration, this ascription of praise to God.” To me it makes no sense, absolutely no sense. I do wish you would shed some light on that teaching of yours and also on the teaching contained in the following paragraph from your pen.” The appropriation of these goods of salvation are by faith as a condition. This faith is pictured to us in many ways in the Bible. It is pictured as a hungering and thirsting, as a longing and pining, as a seeking and searching, as a pleading and crying.” After who? After God? But then I have a question. How can such a conditional faith—a faith that man himself originates—pine after God if, according to the Scriptures, all that man can produce out of himself is corruption? Of course you understand that I am again using my words according to the meaning that they have in the dictionary.
8) You write, too, “How different from this are the implications of the conditions we find in the texts quoted above. In these texts we find these conditions to be in themselves great acts of spiritual life, seeking with the whole heart, calling on the name of Jehovah, confessing sin, etc.” You speak of conditions as being great acts of spiritual life. But how in the point of view of logic can a condition be an act? As soon as there is action the condition is fulfilled and is no more. And how, if the act is of man, which it is if he is saved on the condition that he believes—can it be a great act of spiritual life? All that man can produce out of himself is corruption. I repeat. I am again using my words according to the meaning that they have in the dictionary.
Yes, indeed, you quoted three texts and referred to another without quoting it to show that it is also the teaching of the Bible that God saves His people on the condition that they believe, that, in other words, salvation as a work of God is contingent on man’s faith as a condition. But you, yourself tell your readers that these texts teach no such thing. Allow me to quote you once again, “On the one hand the Scriptures plainly teach that there are conditions in connection with the covenant. As an example I may give, ‘Ye shall seek me and find me when ye seek me with your whole heart.’ Or again, ‘Seek ye the Lord (or ‘in the way’) he may be found, call ye upon him while (in the way) he is near, let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts and let him return unto the Lord and he will have mercy and pardon.’ ). You notice that you insert in the verse which you quoted last the parenthesis ‘in the way’. What you said by that doing is verily this, “The word condition is not found in the text. And it is as you say (by your doing). For, certainly, the expression ‘in the way” is not the equivalent of the word condition, according to the meaning that this term has in the dictionary. And so it is with the other texts that you quote. So it is with that text with the conjunction if in it. ( ). That word if does not mean condition in the fixed and accepted sense of this term. Also this if means “through”, “by”, “in the way of”. So you see what you really did is to prove the very opposite from what you imagined you were proving. How could the Bible anywhere teach what you say it teaches?
Reading your article there is something that struck me as being very strange. It is this: At the beginning of your article you write, “I cannot see a great importance in the question, “—you mean the question of the use of the term condition—“except as it leads us back to the question, ‘What is the covenant?’ ” You mean then that it is not an important question by itself. Yet, at the same time you” devote your entire article to eulogizing the term and recommending the use of it to our people. At the close of your article you even write, “From this it may appear that we have no quarrel with the idea of conditions in the covenant, if they are negatively guarded against Arminian and Pelagian falsification, and positively seen in their spiritual necessity and beauty.” I have a question. If, according to your way of thinking, conditions in the covenant are necessary and beautiful, how could you write, “I cannot see a great importance in the question,” and why did you write that? Conditions in the covenant necessary and beautiful? I wonder. Fact is that as I see it conditions in the covenant are destructive of the covenant. I again repeat that I am using the term condition according to the sense that it had in the dictionary. And therefore I see great importance in the question. For me it is fundamentally a question of whether we as a communion of truly reformed churches are to be or not to be.
I am going to show you now that you fully agree with all my criticism of the term condition as a sentence element in your proposition, “God saves His people on the condition that they believe.” You write, “And then it seems to me that if we remain strictly reformed, without any Pelagianizing supposition of the natural man in some way being able to meet the conditions of the covenant, then we need not be afraid of speaking of conditions.” And again, “From this it may appear that we have no quarrel with the idea of conditions in the covenant, if they are negatively guarded against Arminian and Pelagian falsification.” What you say here really comes down to this: We need not be afraid of speaking of conditions, if only we guard against using that term according to the meaning that it has in the dictionary. But you see, brother, here exactly is where the danger comes in. People are not going to use that term condition according to the meaning that it has in your private vocabulary formed of words of your own coining, but according to the meaning that it has in the dictionary. And if they do that, we are lost.
A closing remark. I say again, What I have penned in this article is not to be taken as criticism. All I desire is discussion here in the Standard Bearer. It is true, I do express myself rather positively. But that has at least this virtue that you know now exactly what I mean and think and believe especially so because, as far as I am aware, I have been using my words according to the meaning that they have in the dictionary. I really do hope that you will thoughtfully examine my argument and give reply. You may call my argument anything you like—abject nonsense, sophistry, it makes no difference—providing you do one thing; make plain that your characterizations are true.
There is really considerable more in your recent article that I feel constrained to discuss with you. Especially your contention that we should speak of parties in the covenant instead of parts. Here, too, I radically disagree with you. Then, too, you do wrong, as I see it, in setting Dr. Schilder apart from his liberated brethren in the Netherlands as if he and they are not doctrinally one with respect to the covenant, the baptismal form and the question whether the promise is only unto the elect or unto all. Rut these are matters that can be attended to later.
But how about the “if” sentences in the Bible, declarations such as these: “And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God. . . . that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth,” Deut. 28:1, 2. There are many more such texts in the Bible. But doesn’t the “if” in all such texts plainly mean condition? They do not, certainly. The word “if” in all such passages is not just another word for condition. The Hebrew and Greek equivalents for “if” do not always mean condition. But about this in the next issue.
And so I remain fraternally yours.