We are busy considering the question whether the new theological method alluded to by Dr. Henry Stob in his comments on the Dekker Case (Reformed Journal, May-June 1967) is a method which can meet the test of Scripture and the confessions. One of the characteristics of this self-professed new method, as we saw, is that it claims to be anti-abstract and also appears to equate anti-abstractness with anti-objectiveness. Dr. Stob himself gives us an example. In our theology we must not consider as an abstract question of fact, as a scientific question concerning an objective state of affairs such a question as, “Did Christ die for everybody?” This, according to him, is an insoluble question. If you say Yes, you run stuck with the problem: how is it that all men are not saved? If you say No, you run stuck with the objective, abstract doctrine of the general, well-meant offer.
Incidentally, before I proceed to the question at hand, I must say that I am happy at-least to see the implicit admission that the objective doctrine of definite atonement and the objective doctrine of the well-meant offer, according to Dr. Stob, are at loggerheads, create an impasse, a cul-de-sac. This is what we Protestant Reformed have been maintaining for years. And this is confessional too.
But to return to the main subject, we began last time to illustrate how our confessions make what to Dr. Stob must be abstract statements concerning an objective state of affairs, and how therefore his method is surely a departure from the method of the confessions. Purposely we turned to the Canons: for here you have some of the clearest illustrations of the method of our confessions. And intentionally we began with Canons I, 6, because this is one of the articles which very objectively and abstractly (you understand I am using Dr. Stob’s terminology) answers a question of the same type as, “Did Christ die for everybody?”
Now our Canons are replete with such objective statements. They repeatedly face what Dr. Stob terms “abstract questions of fact” and “scientific questions concerning an objective state of affairs.” I will not weary the reader by quoting in full all the articles which illustrate this point, for then, I would be quoting almost every article. Rather I will make a few references.
The First Head of Doctrine, “Of Divine Predestination,” again and again furnishes examples. Take, for example, Article 7: “Election is the unchangeable purpose of God whereby, before the foundation of the world, he hath out of mere grace, according to the sovereign good pleasure of his own will, chosen. . .a certain number of persons to redemption in Christ. . .” And again this article gives us an objective statement when it says: “This elect number (an abstraction? HCH). . .God hath decreed to give to Christ. . .”
Canons I, 8 answers the “abstract” question concerning the objective state of affairs, “How many decrees of election are there?” Canons I, 9 answers a similar question concerning the relation between election and the benefits of salvation: “This election was not founded upon foreseen faith. . .as the prerequisite, cause or condition on which it depended; but men are chosen to faith, holiness, etc. . .” Canons I, 10 deals with a question concerning an objective state of affairs: “What is the sole cause of this gracious election?” Canons I, 11 deals with the same type of question. In this case, the question is, “Can election be interrupted or changed, recalled or annulled?” It might seem that in Canons I, 12, when the subject of the assurance of election is treated, at last the Canons are making a non-abstract statement, one “within the context of belief and unbelief.” But the fact is that this article makes some very objective observations about the manner in which the assurance of election is attained. Not to mention every article, note that Canon? I, 15 again makes objective statements of doctrine concerning sovereign reprobation. And let me add in parentheses that this article leaves no doubt whatsoever on the subject of the sovereignty of reprobation even though the language is the milder language of infralapsarianism!
As might be expected, the Rejection of Errors produces more of the same kind of objective statement of fact, or truth, but the statements are negative. The various paragraphs of the Rejection of Errors are simply the No of the Yes found in the positive part. You see, the Canons do not take the position with respect to “scientific questions concerning an objective state of affairs” that we can say neither Yes nor No to them. The reader may look up the articles of the Rejection of Errors for himself and judge how objective and “abstract” they are.
But now let us turn to Canons II. And let us take up exactly the question which Dr. Stob uses as an illustration of an abstract question of the type which we may not ask and which we cannot answer. Is this the method of Canons II? There has been a great deal of quibbling about the question whether Canons II, 8 teaches limited, or definite, atonement or not. This question has been confused by injecting an altogether unnecessary argument into the recent controversy, whether in speaking of efficacy the Canons are speaking stereological language (that is, language dealing with the personal applicationof the benefits of salvation by the Spirit and gospel) or whether the Canons here speak Christological language (that is, language concerning the efficacy, the power, of the atoning death of Christ itself). I say this is an altogether unnecessary question. The subject in this Head of Doctrine is the death of Christ, not the application of the benefits of salvation. The subject is the objective accomplishment of redemption, not the subjective realization of it. And, by the way, it has always been a favorite ploy of Arminianism to play hocus-pocus with the difference between meriting and appropriating. This very chapter calls attention to this in the Rejection of Errors, Article 6.
But the eighth article of Canons II, which was written, remember, exactly over against the Arminian doctrine which answered Yes to Dr. Stob’s question, “Did Christ die for everybody?”—I say, this article speaks for itself and gives a very clear No to Dr. Stob’s question. It has been quoted often in the course of these discussions. But read it once more:
For this was the sovereign counsel, and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of his Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation: that is, it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to him by the Father; that he should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, he purchased for them by his death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory in his own presence forever.
In the light of this article it is perfectly obvious that the answer of our Canons to Dr. Stob’s question is a resounding No. Or could you imagine what the reaction of a Franciscus Gomarus, who spat on the ground in disgust about Martinius’ “flick-flaying” with the Arminians,—what his reaction would be to the claim that we cannot answer the question, “Did Christ die for everybody?” Or would you hazard a guess as to what Johannes Bogerman would say to that claim? Or even is there any doubt what the Arminians themselves would say if they were living, or what they would say about Canons II, 8 and about the claim that you can be loyal to this article and nevertheless claim that Christ died for all men?
Talk about plainly objective statements about an objective state of affairs!
Or for a negative type of “abstract” and objective statement, take the example of Canons II, B, 1, where the Synod rejects the errors of those:
Who teach: That God the Father has ordained his Son to the death of the cross without a certain and definite decree to save any, so that the necessity, profitableness and worth of what Christ merited by his death might have existed, and might remain in all its parts complete, perfect and intact, even if the merited redemption had never in fact been applied to any person. For this doctrine tends to the deposing of the merits of Jesus Christ, and is contrary to Scripture. For thus saith our Savior: “I lay down my life for the sheep, and I know them,”
And the prophet Isaiah saith concerning the Savior: “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,”
Finally, this contradicts the article of faith according to which we believe the catholic Christian church.
This, therefore, is the method of the confessions. It is not the neither Yes nor No method proposed by Dr. Stob and whereby crucial questions of the faith are avoided.
Nor must a false antithesis be created between “kerugma” and objective doctrinal truth. Doing this, we will destroy the kerugma altogether by robbing it of its content.