We received: the following article from the Rev. L. Doekes:
Here follows the translation:
WHAT IS THE PROMISE?
(Reply to the Rev. Hoeksema)
Here, then, comes the promised continuation of my reply to the Rev. (Hoeksema.
For weeks this was postponed. A hasty writer already complained that we, evidently, did not intend to go into the matter any further. And also the “Geref. Weekblad” (Reformed Weekly) revealed some inquisitiveness concerning the remaining part of our articles.
Let me set the hearts of the writers and readers at rest: a grateful task it is to me to continue the discussion. This gratitude entered upon a new stage through the questions of the Rev. Hoeksema which, in the meantime, I received. The receipt of these questions did, indeed, cause me to request the return of part of the copy I had already sent in. For I had just been able to lay my hand on a series of brochures further investigation appeared to be so important to me, that I had already begun to incorporate them into a more elaborate discussion of the questions, raised both here and in America, in their proper connection. To mention, for instance, only one point: the striking agreement between the method followed by synod, in America, in the adoption of the “Three Points” in 1924, to expel some officebearers while leaving others unmolested! But this must wait now for the time being in order to concentrate all our attention upon the concrete questions of the Rev. Hoeksema. However, this alteration in the set-up, in connection with all other cares in our liberated church-life, became necessarily the cause of new delay. And our hasty critics may well know that we ministers, if we take our work seriously, have something else to do besides writing articles for the press.
But to come to the point. At the close of his letter, which I appreciate, (c.f. “De Reformatie of April 12) the questions may be found to the which he desires a clear answer from us.
The first question is this: “What distinction do you make between promise (belofte) and pledge (toezegging)?
This question can, probably, best be answered by quoting a part of the well-known declaration of Sentiment,” presented in Nov. 1943, by the aggrieved ministers S. O. Los, H. Meulink, Joh. H. Rietberg, R. Schippers, M. B. Van ’t Veer and F. De Vries. There we read on the first page:
“With all our heart we believe and confess that God is faithful in His pledges (toezeggingen) also to and about the seed of the covenant, and in the keeping of the same.
“With all our heart we believe and confess that God’s promise (belofte) is unconditional in this sense, that God does not require of those unto whom is the promise the performance of a certain work, or the entering into a certain disposition, as a condition which they first must fulfill before God begins to realize to them the word of His promise.
“But while we believe and confess all this, with all our heart, and before all things, we believe and confess no less, that God’s covenant-promise of which Christ is the content, is spoken, and, therefore, is not only a pledge, but also definitely a declaration.”
(Here we may well interrupt our translation to add a word of explanation. The Dutch here makes a play upon the word toe-zegging for which I know no exact equivalent in English, surely no equivalent that would lend itself to the same play. It is a compound verb, the first part of which, “toe”, rather emphasizes that a pledge or promise is given to someone, the second, “zegging” that it is spoken, and must be heard and received. It is evident that the authors intended to emphasize the fact that the covenant promise is spoken to all, but that only those that hear it and receive it or accept it, are heirs of the promise. Let us now continue our translation:
From this passage, the Rev. Hoeksema will see how a group of leading men among the aggrieved on this point, use the terms promise and pledge promiscuously without further distinction. Also in that which has been further published on our part I do not recall any such distinction. It is possible that the Rev. Hoeksema met with it in some writing from our side; if so, we will be glad to have him suggest where.
I do, indeed, recall that the non-liberated Rev. J. G. Woelderink once pointed out the distinction between promise and prophecy, between pledging to and prediction. Following this example, the liberated, too, sometimes brought this distinction to the fore, in order to indicate that the synodical theory corrupted the covenant promise into a divine communication or prediction of salvation to this or that elect; a simple communication of “an irrevocably sure salvation”, “of the fruit of which they cannot be deprived” (Pre-advice, p. 55): or, as it is argued on p. 53 of the Pre-advice: “in covenant and sacrament God declares to the elect or believers: I am thy God (i.e. the God of thy salvation) for ever.’ Here it is established that the addressee shall receive salvation, yea, in principle (simultaneously with the Word of God) has already received it; and that this is no longer contingent upon any condition, concerning which the Word of God would leave it uncertain whether or not it is to be fulfilled. In this sense, therefore, in contrast with the general offer of salvation, the Elucidation spoke of the unconditional promise of salvation to the elect.”
With respect to the first question of the Rev. Hoeksema, therefore, the answer is easy: according to my knowledge no essential distinction is seen, on our part, between “promise” and “pledge”.
The second question concerns directly the important point about which the fire of controversy was started here so furiously, and which also dominates the difference in view between the Rev. Hoeksema and us. Because all depends here on conciseness, we here repeat the question verbally:
“Is it your view that the promise of the covenant:
a. Is for all that are baptized unconditionally? If so, does this promise also include that the Holy Ghost “will dwell in us, and sanctify us to be members of Christ, applying unto us that which we have in Christ, namely the washing away of our sins, and the daily renewing of our lives, till we shall finally be presented without spot or wrinkle among the assembly of the elect in life eternal.”? If it does, and God makes this promise to all the children that are baptized, why does He not fulfill His promise to all?
b. Is it for all conditionally? If so, must the baptized child fulfill and live up to this condition before God will fulfill His promise, and apply “that which we have in Christ” to it? If so, how can that child, who is by nature “born in sin, and therefore a child of wrath”, and who “cannot enter the kingdom of God except it be born again”, fulfill any condition whatever?
c. Or only for “the children of the promise” who are counted for the seed, and that, too, both by God and us? (Rom. 9). In my conviction, sound exegesis of the entire context in Rom. 9 can only lead to the conclusion, that by “children of the promise” the spiritual or elect seed is meant. I am still ready to defend this position, also after I have read what has been written on your part about this passage recently.”
This, then, is the second question of the Rev. Hoeksema. Too bad that I must break off my article at this point. But now we can prepare ourselves all the better for the answer.
Thus far the translation.
There is one point in the article of the Rev. Doekes on which I must reflect at once. It concerns the question whether anything in the writings of the liberated occasioned my question concerning the alleged distinction between promise and pledge, belofte and toezegging.
I am sorry that, for the present, I lack the time to peruse once again the abundant material that was sent me after the close of the war, and that is related to this question. I am writing this in a great hurry, because I am about to leave Grand Rapids for the far West, and I like to publish this article of the Rev. Doekes in the earliest possible issue of our paper.
Let me say this about it, that I sometimes received the impression from the writings of the liberated that they prefer the term “toezegging” the spoken pledge to the term “belofte” or promise, because it more readily lends itself to express the idea of a conditional promise. And the quotation which the Rev. Doekes makes above from the “Declaration of Sentiment” rather strengthens me in that conviction.
I believe that I can even now, more or less offhand, explain how I received this impression.
I refer to De Reformatie, Vol. 22, No. 12, where Dr. Schilder criticizes the following synodical declaration:
“In the promise, He witnesses not only that whosoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but He also pledges the Holy Spirit (zegt Hij ook den Heiligen Geest toe), Who works faith whereby He makes us partakers of Christ and all His benefits.”
Prof. Schilder complains that the synod failed to make sharp and correct distinctions, especially with respect to the meaning of the term promise.
And then he writes (I translate);
“Here, the contents of the promise is supposed to be indicated in the words: whosoever believeth in the Son hath eternal life.
“But is this a promise?
“O, if there were no debate and no learned or seemingly learned reports were handed in, and the air were still pure, and the relation were still honest, we should probably call this sentence a promise, with the greatest of pleasure.
“But now things are being debated, now there is expulsion and things are sharply accentuated, now we say: against the background of all this God and men grieving misery, we can only note that the problem of the promise is here being avoided, even though the word ‘promise’ is mentioned.
“For, strictly speaking, the citation is no promise, but a dogmatic truth”. . . .
“The difference is felt at once when the beginning of the quoted expression is compared with the rest. The latter declares that the Lord pledges the Holy Ghost (“toe-zegt”). To whom? To him who already believes? I say: yes, for such a one needs the Spirit, every day, to remain stedfast, and to be reborn through faith (art. 24 Confession). But that is supposedly not the meaning here. We all think, in this connection, of the children (Lord’s Day 27, Q. 74). To the children, i.e. to John and Mary, and to every N.N., each time one by one, it is said: ‘to you, N.N., the Holy Ghost that works faith is pledged (toegezegd). There, not the general ‘whosoever’, but the individual: you, N.N. is used.”
Prof. Schilder then calls attention to a distinction which the fathers, made between promise and pollicitatien. Now, a pollicitation is a promise without mutuality, i.e. a promise that has not been accepted by the party to whom it is made. It is, therefore, an unconditional promise. And Prof. Schilder himself writes in this connection: “The whole question of conditional or unconditional promise of salvation is connected with this.”
From all this, and also from other passages in the writings of the liberated, in connection, too, with the distinction they make between “bequest” (schenking) and “giving in possession” (in bezit stellen), I received the impression that they made a distinction between “promise” and “pledge”, belofte and toezegging. The promise (belofte) is a general statement, addressed to no one in particular: “Whosoever believeth in the Son hath eternal life”; the pledge (toezegging) is the promise as addressed to particular individuals. The promise is limited to believers, the elect; the pledge (toezegging) is for all that are baptized. Accordingly, the promise is unconditional, the pledge (toezegging) is conditional.
This impression is strengthened by what I read in De Reformatie, Vol. 22, No. 15: “In other words, to ALL legally baptized children regeneration is PLEDGED (TOEGEZEGD) and the Holy Ghost is PLEDGED (TOEGEZEGD). And justification PLEDGED (TOEGEZEGD). Just as it is PLEDGED (TOEGEZEGD) to them that the Father will provide them with every good thing, and will avert all evil, or turn it to their profit. But these pledges are conditional.”
In view of all this, I must repeat my question to the Rev. Doekes, but now in this form:
Although you use promise and pledge (belofte and toezegging) promiscuously often, yet, when a distinction must be made, that distinction is as follows:
a. The promise is the unconditional, general statement to the believers or the elect: they that believe in the Son have life, and similar statements in Scripture.
b. The pledge (toezegging) is the conditional promise addressed to all baptized children.
Is this my impression correct?
And, secondly, when the liberated use the terms promise and pledge, belofte and toezegging, promiscuously, do they not always ascribe to promise (belofte) the meaning of the spoken pledge addressed to concrete individuals?
Finally, does not the Bible ever speak of the promise of God as the unconditional assurance of salvation to the elect?