In our discussion of the question whether all that is called Israel is also truly Israel in the spiritual sense of the word, we arrived at the conclusion that we must maintain the organic view of God’s covenant people as they become manifest in this world. The people of God in this world, as they concretely exist and develop in the line of successive generations, may not be viewed and treated as a mixed multitude. Neither may the view be tolerated that we may presuppose that all in the church are elect and regenerated. The only possibility left is that we hold fast to the organic idea, which Holy Scripture presents again and again.
God’s people in this world are pictured to us in nature as a plant, of which some of the branches bear fruit and others do not. You are acquainted with such plants. Think, for example, of our well-known tomato plant. You have there an organism, growing out of one root. The entire organism is called by the name of the fruit-bearing plant. As such it is fertilized; as such it receives rain and sunshine. But when presently the organism of that plant has developed, then you discover that there are nevertheless two kinds of branches shooting forth on that one plant. There are the fruit-bearing branches; but there, between them, you also find suckers, which indeed draw their life-sap out of the plant, but which never bear any fruit. Such shoots and suckers are then also cut out, in order that the good branches may bear more fruit. Thus it is with many plants. Thus it is also, for example with the cucumber or with the grapevine. And in this you have the Scriptural figure of the people of God as they exist in this world. God forms His covenant people in the line of believers and their seed. As such they manifest the figure of such an organic whole. He, then, who would refuse to call that people by the name of the people of God, he who would refuse to address them as God’s people, he who would refuse to assure them as God’s people of the riches of God’s promises in Christ, he who would refuse to point them as God’s people to their calling as those who are of the party of the living God in the midst of the world, but who would rather treat them as a mixed multitude, without any spiritual character or stamp—that man would surely err sorely. Yet, on the other hand, he who would think that he may presuppose that there are absolutely no unregenerate and reprobate individuals among that people, and who therefore would refuse to proclaim woe as well as weal to them if they do not walk in the paths of God’s covenant,—that man would err just as sorely. No, that entire people must be addressed, treated, comforted, and admonished as the Israel of God. And yet, at the same time, you may never forget that not all is Israel that is called Israel. There are branches which never bear fruit, which bring forth wild fruit, and which are presently cut off.
This conception of God’s covenant people as it develops in the world in the line of generations, as believers with their seed, is everywhere supported by Holy Writ.
You find it already in the word which the Lord addresses to Abraham. “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.” It is very plain from history, and especially from Romans 9, that not all the seed of Abraham, but only the spiritual seed are actually children of the promise. Yet Scripture makes no distinction in this word to Abraham, but all the seed of the father of believers are here called according to the spiritual kernel. Thus you find it also in the eightieth Psalm. There the poet complains: “Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it. Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. The hills were covered with the shadow of it, and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedars. She sent out her boughs unto the sea, and the sea, and her branches unto the river. Why hast thou then broken down her hedge, so that all they which pass by the way do pluck her? The boar out of the wood doth waste it, and the wild beast of the field doth devour it. Return, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine; And the vineyard which thy right hand hath planted, and the branch that thou madest strong for thyself. It is burned with fire, it is cut down: they perish at the rebuke of they countenance” (vss. 8-16). Also here the people are conceived of as one organism. It is the object of the infinite love of God. God has delivered it and transplanted it from Egypt to the promised land. He has blessed it and made it great. And yet that people is also the object of God’s wrath and complains about the destruction which God Himself has wrought in their midst. The vine of that people is plucked by “all them which pass by the way.” It is devoured. It is rooted up by wild swine. It is burned with fire and cut down. And yet it is plain that that vine is still there, and that presently the tender mercies of the heavenly Husbandman will be spread abroad over it. All of this can only be understood if we cling to the organic idea, and idea which is also implied in the very figure of the vine. It is one vine. And that vine is, according to its proper essence, or core, the object of God’s grace and favor. But that same vine is, from the viewpoint of the branches which bring forth no fruit or which bring forth wild fruit, corrupt fruit, the object of God’s fierce anger and wrath. That vine, then, is also saved; but some branches are pruned out.
The same phenomenon is found in Isaiah 5:1-7: “Now will I sing to my well-beloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill: And he fenced it, and gathered out the stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein: and he looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it brought forth wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge, I pray you, betwixt me andand my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? And now go to; I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard: I will take away the hedge thereof, and it shall be eaten up; and break down the wall thereof, and it shall be trodden down: And I will lay it waste: it shall not be pruned, nor digged; but there shall come up briers and thorns: I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah his pleasant plant: and he looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.” If you do not hold fast to the organic presentation which you find throughout Scripture, you have here in this one passage a firm basis for all the errors of Arminianism. You have here then, first of all, a clear proof for the assertion that grace is resistible and that it is in last instance dependent upon the free will of those to whom it is offered. God says here that He has done all that He could do to His vineyard. There is nothing more to be done. But His grace is simply rejected by the free will of men. You have here then the presentation that God is disappointed in His own work. He expected good fruits; wild grapes are brought forth. You have here the presentation that God’s people fall away, and that God Himself is changeable. For the same people which He once loved He will reject and destroy. In a word, you have here then all the dreadful errors of Arminianism together. And do not say now that here we have the one line and that the other line is that of eternal election and irresistible grace. For those two lines are simply mutually exclusive. To wish to maintain both is impossible. That is the juggling which the Christian Reformed Churches attempt.
(to be continued)