In my previous editorial on this subject I continued to demonstrate that the new method spoken of by Dr. Henry Stob in his comments on the Dekker Case just prior to the 1967 Synod is not the method of our confessions. And because the Canons are so very plainly an example of the method Dr. Stob does not want to follow, I pointed especially to them. I also did so because among our Reformed creeds it is the Canons which address themselves specifically to the very same issues at stake in the Dekker Case and under discussion in Dr. Stob’s comments. We have seen that our confessions are not afraid to address themselves to questions of fact, to what Dr. Stob calls scientific questions concerning an objective state of affairs, questions such as, “Did Christ die for everybody?” On the contrary, our confessions are replete with objective doctrinal statements concerning an objective state of affairs, to use again Dr. Stob’s terminology.
Before I continue my critique of this new method, I want to point out briefly and by way of a few examples that even as Dr. Stob’s method does not pass the test of the confessions and is not patterned after their method, so his method will not pass the ultimate test, the test of Scripture. I want to do this not because this should be necessary for Reformed men, who claim allegiance to the confessions. For the confessions and an appeal to the confessions should be sufficient. No Reformed man may propose or teach, either publicly or privately, anything contrary to the confessions, according to the Formula of Subscription. If he finds fault with the confessions, finds that they are not according to Scripture, then he must follow the method of gravamen first. But until the confessions are ecclesiastically found wanting, an appeal to the confessions should be sufficient proof for anyone bound by the Formula of Subscription. But I make this direct appeal to Scripture because I want to demonstrate that the method followed by our confessions is the style of Holy Scripture.
The question is: does Scripture make objective statements concerning an objective state of affairs? The question is: can we in the practice of the science, or discipline, of theology, of dogmatics, turn to Scripture with a “scientific question concerning an objective state of affairs” and expect to receive from Scripture through the process of exegesis a direct and objective answer, so that we may formulate an objective theological proposition and so that the church officially may lay down a dogma and say, “This is the truth concerning that objective state of affairs, and that is the lie concerning it ?” Or will Scripture say to us, in effect: “You ask the wrong kind of questions. You have an insoluble question on your hands?” This is the issue with which we must now turn to Scripture.
And to make the above issue more concrete and pertinent, let us use exactly the example question which Dr. Stob proposes. His basic question is: For whom did Christ die? And that question may be subdivided into two further questions: 1) Did Christ die for everybody? 2) Or did Christ die only for some men, namely, the elect?
Now Scripture is no dogmatics textbook, and no one expects to find in Scripture the systematic development of dogmas. But the question is: can these scientific questions concerning an objective state of affairs be answered through the process of exegesis?
My answer is Yes.
As textual proofs I will cite four passages, all of which are either quoted or referred to by the Canons in the Second Head of Doctrine, and all of which refer to the beneficiaries of the death of Christ in objective terminology in such a way that the answer to the scientific question concerning an objective state of affairs, “Did Christ die for everybody?” is: No, He died only for the elect.
The first passage is John 10:15, 27: “I lay down my life for the sheep, and I know them.” I submit: 1) That this is a Biblical statement concerning an objective state of affairs, namely, Christ’s death and its beneficiaries. 2) That those beneficiaries are described in objective language: the sheep. 3) That according to the context “sheep” is an exclusive concept: it does not and cannot mean “everybody” since Christ also speaks of those who are not His sheep: “But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.” (vs. 26) 4) That the ultimate limitation of the objective concept “the sheep” is in the fact that they are those whom the Father gave to Christ, vs. 29, that is, therefore, the elect. This is the exegesis of the Canons (II, B, l), and this was the exegesis of the theological professors at the Synod of Dordrecht, who almost snorted at the idea that “sheep” was not an exclusive and limited concept and could possibly mean all men.
A second example is Isaiah 53:10, also quoted in Canons II, B, 1: “When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of Jehovah shall prosper in his hand.” The term seed denotes in objective language a certain group of men who are the beneficiaries of the sin-offering mentioned in this text. And further exegesis of the term in the light of Scripture will show that “seed” is not all men, but the elect. Even apart, however, from any possible interpretation of the term “seed,” the fact remains that here you have (in predictive form) an objective statement concerning an objective state of affairs.
A third example is Romans 8:33, 34: “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died. . .” This passage also is cited by the Canons (II, B, 7). And they draw a quick exegetical stroke when they add the words to this quotation: “viz., for them,” referring to the elect. Again, an objective statement concerning an objective state of affairs. And a very simple process of exegesis leads to the answer: Christ died for the elect, not for all men.
The fourth passage is Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” This passage is referred to in Canons II, A, 9: “. . .who as a bridegroom for his bride, laid down his life for them upon the cross.” Again, exegesis must supply the content to the concept of the church as Christ’s bride. But that this is an objective statement cannot be doubted. And that the concept of the “church as bride” is an exclusive concept, a limited one, cannot be doubted. And that the limitation is sovereign election cannot, in then light of Scripture, be doubted.
Objective statements of this kind could be multiplied. Even when Scripture uses a term like “world” in connection with the love of God and the death of Christ, you have an objective Scriptural statement concerning an objective state of affairs. The term must be given its proper content through exegesis. And probably Dr. Stob and I would differ as to whether that content is general or particular; but that a statement like “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself” (II Cor. 5:19) is an objective statement concerning an objective state of affairs is as plain as the sun in the heavens.
The method of our confessions, therefore, is a thoroughly Scriptural method. Dr. Stob’s method is neither confessional nor Scriptural, but, as I hope to show, rationalistic. Mark you well, I did not call Dr. Stob a rationalist; I said that his method is rationalistic.