The Story of an Ass and A Bridge
The editor of De Wachter (who does not relish unsolicited advice, but who nevertheless receives it occasionally) does a rather clever take-off on a Dutch word for which there is no exact English equivalent, but which is a picturesque term for our word mnemonic.A mnemonic is a device to assist the memory. And the Dutch term referred to is ezelsbrug, —literally, “ass’s bridge.” The editor points out that this Dutch term derives its significance from the fact that an ass is proverbially a stupid and a lazy beast, the idea being that when these same attributes are found in a human being, then a mnemonic (ezelsbrug, ass’s bridge) is necessary to get across the memory gap.
The esteemed editor of the De Wachter then goes on to inform his readers that, he has in mind a Reformed ass’s bridge, or mnemonic. This Reformed mnemonic is the well-known T-U-L-I-P, which is, of course, peculiar to the English language in the very nature of the case, and which is designed to assist one in remembering the Five Points of Calvinism. However, the editor of De Wachter tells his readers that they need not bemoan the absence of this mnemonic in the Holland language because it would be better if we would do away with it in the English language also.
Do not misunderstand.
The objection of the editor is not to the Five Points of Calvinism, but it is to the letter L. Moreover, he objects not to the doctrine of limited atonement, but to that word limited. And his objection is that the term limited is really a less fortunate term to express the truth that it is intended to express, and that the preference should be given to particular or definit. This, of course, is a point which has frequently been made in the current discussion about Christ’s atonement. As I see it, the editor of De Wachter has especially two reasons in this connection for discarding this letter L, and thus discarding the entire mnemonic(ezelbrug, ass’s bridge). The fact is that the term limited is not used by the Canons. Hence, he says, we would do better to avoid this word and to employ the more accurate terms definite and particular. And he suggests that it would be too bad to hold fast to a word which gives a less accurate expression to the doctrine we wish to confess merely for the sake of memory. The second is that the terms particular and definite are positive, while the word limited is negative in tendency and emphasizes the idea not for all. The Canons, according to the esteemed editor, are positive, and speak of “those and those only.”
And thus the editor concludes with the admonition to discard this little mnemonic (ezelsbruggetje) because “even if we give it the more exalted (Latin) name ofpons assinorum, it remains only a means to assist the memory. The doctrinal thinking of the church must employ language which gives expression to the truth of Scripture in the most clear manner. Discarding of that mnemonic has nothing, but then nothing to do with letting loose of a doctrine.”
Now when I read this little article in the April 4 issue ofDe Wachter, I was first inclined to think within myself, “Editor Haverkamp can write a rather ‘cute’ editorial and make a rather clever application of a picturesque Dutch term and a definition from Van Dale’s Woordenboek.” In fact, my first reaction, I must confess, was to say, “Fully agreed!”
But then I began to think into this little story of the ass and the bridge; and I came to the conclusion that the editor of De Wachter is in need of some advice after all, — even though he does not solicit it. And after all, is it not rather proverbial that advice is to be given, but not received?
Do not misunderstand.
As far as the proposition as such is concerned, that the terms particular and definite are more accurate, I am, indeed, fully agreed.
Nevertheless, there is something amiss, first of all, Editor Haverkamp’s reasoning.
In the first place, it must be remembered that the termsparticular and definite also do not occur in the Canons, — no more than the term limited. For that matter, not even the term atonement occurs. Hence, the absence of the term limited from the Canons is no indication that it is less accurate.
In the second place, it simply is not true that the termlimited has any negative tendency and emphasizes the idea of not for all, in distinction from the termspavticular and definite as being positive. Limited is a positive term; unlimited would be a negative term. The truth of the matter is that the term limited expresses the idea of “those, and those only” as well as the termsparticular and definite. This is precisely the good side of the term limited. All three terms mean to express the idea that the atonement is exclusive, that is, for the elect only. From this point of view the term limited is a perfectly good term. In fact, there actually is very little misunderstanding of the term, especially not in Reformed circles. We all know that it means to express that the atonement is for the elect exclusively, not for all men.
What then is the flaw in this term? The flaw lies the possibility that it might be interpreted as saying something about the value of Christ’s atoning death, which is infinite, and therefore, unlimited. Or the termlimited might possibly be interpreted, — but not among those who know the T-U-L-I-P, — as meaning that Christ did not atone fully, but only partially, for our sins.
Hence, it would have been far more proper that Editor Haverkamp had emphasized that the term limited isbasically a good term, especially in these days when the tendency to forget the doctrine of particular atonement is very strong, and when apparently even more than an ezelsbrug, or mnemonic, necessary.
In the third place, volens nolens the editor of De Wachter tends to leave the impression, especially upon one less fully acquainted with the current situation, that the entire controversy centers upon such an insignificant thing as a “precious little mnemonic” (dat geliefhoosde ezelsbrmggetje) and the mere termlimited. And this surely is not the case.
Besides, I rather like that TULIP. True, it is not particularly a Scriptural figure; nor is it a confessional term. But mnemonics have their advantages, especially when they are correctly used, and especially for children and youths, and more especially in this day when the tendency to forget the Five Points of Calvinism is very strong. There is more than one advantage to this mnemonic, — call it an ass’s bridge, you will. For one thing, the flower-idea is very useful: pull off one of the petals, represented in these letters, and you spoil the flower. For another thing, seeing that the TULIP is especially associated with the Netherlands, this mnemonic serves to remind us that the Five Points of Calvinism are our heritage from our Dutch Reformed forefathers at the Synod of Dordrecht. But for another, in spite of the minor flaw connected with the letter L, this is basically a good device to aid one in remembering the Five Points. And after all, as Koenen’s Woordenboek has it: “een ezelsbrug wordt vooral niet versmaad door een minder snuggeren knaap.” That is: a mnemonic (ass’s bridge) is especially not disdained by a less intelligent youth.
Hence, the editor might have done better than to advise the discarding of this pons assinorum.
And that brings me to my main advice.
That is that the editor of De Wachter could do far better than to write editorials about ezelsbruggetjes. In fact, even if he wished to write a parable about an ass, he could write about the proverbial halsstarrigheid, stubbornness, of this creature, and apply it to those who stubbornly refuse (and that includes both Dekker and his associates and the Doctrinal Committee) to accept the doctrine of particular atonement.
He might also stop forevermore saying, “Voorzichtig” — something which in effect means, “Don’t rock the boat,” and something which he does in his very next editorial in the same issue of De Wachter. He might far better sound the alarm and answer his inquirer in that next editorial that Prof. Dekker should have been called to account under the Formula of Subscription long ago on the ground, not that he attacked the late Prof. Berkhof’s view of limited atonement, nor on the ground that he literally came right out and said he did not agree with the confessions (who ever does that?), but on the ground that he in truth and in fact denied in his writings about the love of God and the atonement what the confessions teach.
And if he still wished to write a story about an ass, he might in all seriousness have applied the proverb about the ass which he himself quotes in his editorial: “Een ezel stotit zich in ‘t gemeen geen twee keer aan dezelfde steen.” That is: “An ass does not usually stumble twice over the same stone.” And he might warn the Christian Reformed Church that they have already in principle stumbled once, — in 1924, — over the doctrine of particular atonement, and that they must by all means not do so again, lest they be worse than that dumb beast, the ass.
“Report of the Doctrinal Committee”
A Critical Study
The Committee and the “Offer”
The Committee Strives To Avoid The Issue
We have seen previously that the Doctrinal Committee apparently discerned rather clearly that the First Point of 1924 and especially its well-meant offer of salvation to all are at stake in the so-called Dekker Case. Does not 1924 lead inevitably to a doctrine of general atonement if its consequences are traced to the end? The Doctrinal Committee apparently, — but only apparently, — does not want to accept this consequence 1924. Prof. Dekker, cum sociis, critical of 1924 to extent, but agreed with its fundamental principle, insist upon it that the general, well-meant offer of the gospel demands that God loves all men with one and the same love (redemptively) and that Christ died for all men.
This issue the committee strives to avoid.
The first hint that the committee wants to avoid the issue is by the preliminary observation (p. 440) that in connection with the matters touched upon by Prof. Dekker “we meet with great difficulties.” And here we have the perennial appeal to the mystery and the paradox, on the basis of which appeal they assert that “no one is able to give, a completely satisfactory solution of the problems which they raise.” Yet, according to the committee, extremes on both sides must be avoided; and so there will have to be some affirmations made. No one will quarrel with the committee’s assertion that we cannot fully comprehend the relation between God’s eternal counsel and man’s moral responsibility. But the committee thoroughly misrepresents matters when it writes as follows:
And so, too, we should recognize that it is not easy to harmonize the doctrine of a definite atonement with the equally important truth, enunciated in the Canons of Dort, namely, that “as many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly called,” (III & IV, 8) and that “the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have eternal life;” and furthermore, that “this promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.”(II, 5)
It should be noted, first of all, that the committee does not really mean that there is difficulty in harmonizing the doctrine of definite atonement and the doctrines stated in the above statements quoted from the Canons. There is absolutely no lack of harmony between these doctrines, nor any seeming lack of harmony, nor any difficulty in seeing the harmony. But the committee already has in mind the well-meant offer and the First Point. And the general, wellmeant offer of salvation flagrantly contradicts the doctrine of definite atonement: it demands the doctrine of general atonement. But in order to cover this up, and in its zeal to defend the First Point at all costs and yet not to go over into Dekker’s camp completely, the committee begins to make things vague and hazy by first acting as though it is a question of harmony between the doctrine of definite atonement (Canons II, 8) and the doctrines of the seriousness of the gospel call and of the general proclamation of a particular promise (Canons II, 5; Canons III & IV, S), and then proceeding to state that it “is not easy to harmonize” these doctrines. This is camouflage. But it is precisely this camouflage that must serve as a general cover-up for all the devious meanderings of the committee as it desperately tries to prolong the First Point’s contradiction of the Reformed faith and at the same time tries to avoid the consequence which Prof. Dekker insists must be drawn from a general offer of salvation, namely, general atonement.
Next, the committee tries desperately to rescue the First Point and its general offer by divorcing it from the whole context of questions concerning saving grace, concerning general salvation, and concerning Arminianism. Mind you, they are troubled by Dr. Daane’s question, “How can such a non-saving grace come to expression in the preaching of the gospel that preaches only saving grace?” To avoid this question, the committee strives to take the general, well-meant offer of salvation out of the realm of saving grace altogether and to put it in the context of common, non-saving grace. They can do this with a semblance of validity, of course, because the well-meant offer was supposed to be proof of a common, non-saving grace. But it is only a semblance. Fact is, that everyone who ever brought his preaching into line with the First Point of 1924 fell into the error of Arminianism and forgot all about so-called common, non-saving grace as soon as he began to talk about the well-meant offer element of the First Point. But this we shall see presently.
The question is now: how does the committee try to get away from this problem? They do this by attempting to deny that the First Point of 1924 teaches or intends to teach that the preaching of the gospel is a general offer of grace to all who hear. For after conceding that the “little point of the first point” is again the point that is calling forth shades of 1924 in their present controversy, they write as follows:
Needless to say that the debate which followed on this matter was characterized by much misunderstanding (hardly true, HCH) and confusion (very much so, because men were trying to be Arminian and Reformed at the same time, HCH). This confusion was compounded by the use of the term “offer of grace” (“aanbod der genade”) which became the bone of contention to both sides in the dispute. The question was poised: in the preaching of the gospel what kind of grace is supposed to be offered to the non-elect? Rev. Hoeksema vehemently contended that God’s grace (and by this he meant, of course, the one grace of God which is always particular) can never be common, or something that is offered to all men indiscriminately. And certainly he was on solid ground, when he argued that the confessions, and particularly the Canons of Dort, never did speak of a grace of God that is offered to all men, except when they referred to the so-called “common grace” of Arminian vintage. (And at this point the committee makes references to the Canons but does not refer to the one place, Canons III & IV, B 5, which literally speaks of common grace, HCH).
In connection with the above, the committee notes the following in a footnote: “It is noteworthy that neither the advisory committee of the Synod of 1924, nor the Synod itself in its official declarations ever used this term. The committee spoke of a ‘well-meant offer of salvation’ and the Synod referred to ‘the general offer of the gospel.’ Nevertheless, both sides began to argue about the meaning of the phrase ‘offer of grace.’ ”
Then the committee goes on, as follows:
From the side of our church, however, there were also those who, in spite of contrary evidence from the confessions, did try to maintain that God offers grace to all men indiscriminately. (At this point the committee inserts a footnote in which they put Dr. Daane in this class. They almost sound Reformed, in fact, when they upbraid Dr. Daane for holding it “as axiomatic that grace is offered in the preaching of the gospel.” And to refute Daane they appeal to Dr. Roger Nicole, who, if we judge from the quotations the committee makes from him, has no understanding of the whole issue of the “well-meant offer.” HCH) By doing this they allowed Rev. Hoeksema to put them in the uncomfortable position of having to explain what kind of grace then was supposed to be offered in the so-called offer of grace. Was it common grace, as some thought was implied by the Synod of 19247 Or was it special grace that was offered to all men? Or again, was it some kind of grace in between? This was the problem that plagued all those who tried to defend the doctrinal declarations of 1924 on the basis of some kind of grace which was supposed to be offered by God to all in the preaching of the gospel. Unfortunately, however, none seemed to realize that Synod had never spoken of an “offer of grace;” but rather of “the offer of salvation,” or “the offer of the gospel.” If this had only been realized, much misunderstanding and needless debate might have been avoided, and the controversy with our Protestant Reformed brethren would have been much more pointed and profitable. For, while the Canons do not speak about an offer of grace, they do plainly state that in the preaching of the gospel there is a sincere and well-meant offer of salvation made to all men indiscriminately. More than that, the Canons do not hesitate to aver that Christ Himself is offered in the gospel preaching. Again, they state that the gospel contains a promise of “salvation, rest of soul, and eternal life” to all men who are called by that gospel to come to Christ and to believe in Him. (II, 5; III & IV, 8, 9).
All of the above is one grand piece of falsification.
It is false on the following counts: 1. It utterly falsifies the Canons. I challenge the committee, or anyone else for that matter, to show that the Canons “plainly state that in the preaching of the gospel there is a sincere and well-meant offer of salvation made to all men indiscriminately.” The Canons nowhere state this; to say that they do is blatant falsification of the Canons. I challenge anyone to show that “the Canons do not hesitate to aver that Christ Himself is offered in the gospel preaching.” The Canons nowhere make this statement. And most of all, I challenge anyone to show where the Canons “state that the gospel contains a promise of ‘salvation, rest of soul, and eternal life’ to all men who are called by that gospel to come to Christ and to believe in Him.” The Canons surely never state this; in fact, they attribute this heresy to the Arminians.
2. It is utterly false historically. Did the committee never consider the fact that it was the very fathers of the First Point who themselves spoke of an “offer of grace” (aanbod der genade)? Do they not know that a man like Prof. Heyns, who instructed a whole generation of Christian Reformed ministers, uses and explains and defends this expression repeatedly, and always in the Arminian sense? Do they not know that the late Prof. Berkhof followed this same line? Do they not know that the Rev. Keegstra in De Wachterdesperately tried to defend the First Point and fell into the same error? What historical right does the committee have to say that the issue was not one of an “offer of grace?” Does the committee think itself more capable of explaining the First Point of 1924 than the men of 1924 themselves? Does the committee think that the polemics of that period was about a totally imaginary issue? Such nonsense!
3. It is materially false. Essentially it makes no difference whether one speaks of an offer of grace or of an offer of salvation. For salvation is but the implication of all the blessings of grace. To say, therefore, that salvation is offered is equivalent to saying that grace is offered. The committee, therefore, does not get away from the problem by trying to eliminate the expression “offer of grace.” And, as will become plain later in this study, the committee also literally contradicts itself on this point. In this connection it should be observed that the fundamental question which the late Rev. Hoeksema posed and which the Protestant Reformed Churches still pose over against the First Point is not: what kind– of grace is offered in the so-called offer? Our question is: what grace, — of whatever kind, —is there for the reprobate? What grace is there for the reprobate in the things of this present time, in rain and sunshine7 How are rain and sunshine grace for the reprobate7 Or what grace is there for the reprobate in the preaching of the gospel? How is the preaching of the gospel grace for the reprobate? In this same connection, it should be noted that the fundamental objection is not to the idea that the socalled offer is general and well-meant, but to the very idea of an offer. Neither grace, nor salvation, nor the gospel is an offer! But it is exactly when one begins to speak of an offer, the contents of which is salvation, or of an offer of the gospel, that one is already sailing in the Arminian waters of free-willism. Certainly, also the committee can see, — I dare say, in fact, that they saw, but chose to ignore, —that it is not the socalled natural blessings of a so-called common grace that are offered in a supposed offer of the gospel or offer of salvation. It is salvation itself that is offered, — offered not merely by the human preacher, but offered graciously, well-meaningly, to all who hear the gospel preached by God Himself! This is the meaning of the First Point “little point.” This is what all who write and preach according to that First Point always teach. This is what the father of The First Point always taught in connection with passages like Ezekiel 33:11 and Romans 2:4. This is what involved the Christian Reformed Church in 1924 and thereafter in all the hairy problems of Arminianism while they were supposed to be a confessionally Reformed denomination. This is what has led inevitably to the support of the Billy Graham crusades by so many in the Christian Reformed Church. And this is what has led inevitably to Prof. Dekker’s universal atonement.
4. It is false in the light of official decisions. The committee refers only to the language of Synod of 1924 and its committee. We should remember that in 1926, in answer to the Consistory of Middelburg, the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church made some significant declarations about the First Point. (Incidentally, the committee will find that in 1926 the Synod itself used the terminology “well-meant offer of salvation” as well as “lovely invitation of the gospel.” The committee, which does not like the term grace in “common grace,” but prefers to speak of benevolence or goodness or long-suffering, would also discover in the same decisions of 1926 that the Synod does not hesitate at all to speak of “genade” or “grace.”) But the main point I want to make is that the synod of 1926 went even more openly in the Arminian direction than did the Synod of 1924. The Consistory of Middelburg complained that the Synod of 1924 did not do justice to the distinction between “Common Grace (Gemeene Gratie)” and “Particular or Covenant Grace (Bijzondere of Verbondsgenade)” but confused the two. The Synod of 1926 denied this, and in so doing distinguished very clearly between the “little point of the First Point” and the main proposition of the First Point. For, in the first place, they declared:
(b) That the Synod did not confuse the goodness of God toward all men (Common Grace) and the goodness or grace of God in the causing to go forth of a wellmeant offer of salvation to all to whom the preaching of the Gospel comes. This appears clearly, among other things, from the fact that of the eight Scripture passages quoted (under Point I) there are six that concern the goodness of God toward all creatures, while the other two refer to the goodness of God which appears from the well-meaning character of the offer of the Gospel for everyone to whom that offer comes. These two kinds of texts are also clearly distinguished by the Synod and even separated by the transition sentence (Acts, 1924, p. 126): “Also texts which point out that God comes to all with a well-meant offer of salvation prove this.” (Acts, 1926, p. 116)
Then in point “c” of the same decision the Synod of 1926 concedes that they cited the Canons solely with reference to the goodness of God manifested in the well-meant offer of the Gospel to everyone to whom the call of the Gospel comes; and they assert that the Synod proved that “besides the saving grace which is for the elect alone, there is also a certain grace, goodness, or favorable attitude of God which is revealed toward circle of men which is broader than the group of the elect, and that this appears clearly, among more things, from the fact that God well-meaningly calls everyone to whom the lovely invitation of the Gospel comes.”
And then in point “d” the Synod tries to distinguish this grace of God in the “lovely invitation of the Gospel” which comes to thousands who are not saved and who thus appear to be not elect, from God’s particular grace, which is irresistible and saving. They assert that the former is nevertheless undeserved favor and thus rightly called “grace (genade).” And by implication they assert that this grace is resistible and, of course, not actually saving. But, mind you, they are speaking of a grace in the preaching of the gospel! They are speaking of a grace which they earlier said is clearly distinguished from the goodness of God toward all men. They are not talking now about all men, but about a circle of men broader than the elect, namely, all those to whom the gospel is preached.
And they conclude:
“Be it true that the saving or particular grace is only the portion of those who are internally and effectually called, the outward calling, which extends to a broader circle, is nevertheless also proof of a grace of God, that is, of a favorable attitude of God which comes to the sinner undeservedly.” (Acts, 1926, pp.116-117)
From all this, it is abundantly clear that the Christian Reformed Church actually adopted two graces in 1924, supposedly in addition to God’s particular grace. They adopted in essence Abraham Kuyper’s common grace theory. And in their desperate striving to prove the latter from the confessions, they adopted the General Grace theory of the Arminians. It is from this last that the committee tries to escape, at least in part of the Doctrinal Report, due to the fact that Prof. Dekker can justly appeal to this part of the First Point for his universal atonement theory also. Thus also the committee continues the paragraph quoted in part before, and tries to limit the whole matter to common grace. They even quote three of the six texts which Synod of 1924 adduced for the common grace theory of the First Point. But they do not so much as mention the two texts (from Ezekiel and from Romans 2) which the Synod used for the General Grace theory of the well-meant offer.
The Committee Fails To Avoid The Issue
At this point the committee almost seems to have thought it has gone too far in its emphasis upon the common grace aspect of the First Point; and it very ineptly tries to return to the idea of the well-meant offer by referring to Hebrews 6, the passage which Arminians so often use to teach a falling away from grace. They even speak of “special tokens of God’s mercy which they receive who are privileged to hear the gospel, and to receive in that gospel the command to repent and believe, accompanied with a promise, sincere and well-meant, that, if they do repent and believe, they will receive ‘rest of soul and eternal life,’ yea, all the blessings of salvation which Christ has merited on the cross.” Note that here the committee uses the very strong term mercy, the virtue of God according to which God wills to deliver those who are in misery and to make them blessed with Himself! They also try to distinguish these “tokens of mercy” from the “common favors which come to all men alike.” But what they fail to do utterly is to show how this has nothing to do withsalvation and to show that this is nothing but a so-called common grace. In fact, they fail to show how this grace differs from the grace of which the Arminians speak in this connection. And they fail to show howHebrews 6 speaks of grace at all, in view of the fact that the men who are the supposed the recipients of this grace nevertheless fall away and cannot be renewed unto repentance, and, in fact, are compared to soil which brings forth thorns and thistles.
At this point the committee bethinks itself once more, it seems, and gives utterance to this amazing piece of wisdom: “But there is one thing that is not common to all men, nor even to all who hear the gospel. And that is the special grace of God, that grace which the Canons of Dort refer to under various names…..” The committee seems to have some Reformed pangs of conscience at this point. They are bent on eliminating Prof. Dekker’s chances of appealing to the First Point, of course!
The mountain labored and brought forth a mouse, — the mouse in this case being a truism! Mind you, one thing is not common! That one thing that is not common is the special grace of God!
But make no mistake! This statement of the committee is not Reformed, even though they appeal to the Canons. The statement would have been Reformed if they had eliminated the word “special”. Then it would read: “But one thing is not common to all men.. . . And that is the grace of God!” That is our Protestant Reformed position, of course.
But the Christian Reformed Church has a confused position:
1) They teach common grace (gemeene gratie), which is a favor of God to all men in the things of this present time and which results in so-called temporal blessings.
2) They teach general grace (algemeene genade), which is the same as the Arminian position with respect to the preaching of the gospel: God wills that all who hear the gospel be saved, and He offers this salvation to all to whom the gospel is preached, well-meaning, upon condition of faith and repentance. This is a saving grace which does not actually save and which is resistible. And this is the part the committee is trying to get away from, but yet without denying the well-meant offer.
3) Confessionally they hold to particular grace (for the elect only), a grace which is irresistible and which actually saves the elect. This is what the Doctrinal Committee tries to say is special and is the one thing that is not common to all men. But this contradicts the grace under “1” and “2” above. For it is sovereigngrace, grace for the elect only. And sovereign election implies sovereign reprobation; sovereign love implies sovereign hatred; sovereign grace implies sovereign wrath.
Because of this confused, Janus-head position the committee weasels with words and twists and turns in every direction in order to escape the compelling reasoning of Dekker’s position that the well-meant offer demands a general atonement. The careful reader of the Doctrinal Report may discern several elements in this process:
1) The committee tries the sop of so-called nonsaving benefits of the death of Christ. These are supposedly involved in the general offer of the gospel. And several times in the course of the report these so-called non-saving benefits are referred to both in connection with the offer and in connection with the death of Christ. But here the committee faces more than one problem. In the first place, really neither the committee nor its opponents are satisfied with this notion of non-saving benefits. Basically, of course, they are bothered by the problem that we have always raised in this connection: what grace, what blessing, is there in these so-called benefits wherewith a man nevertheless goes lost? In the second place, they are confronted by the problem that the well-meant offer to all men is supposed to be an offer of salvation, expressive of God’s delight in the salvation of all who hear the gospel preached and of His will that no man should perish! And, in the third place, they face the problem how even so-called non-saving benefits can accrue from the death of Christ while the atoning death of Christ is nevertheless supposed to be, according to the committee, for the elect only. (To this third problem we shall return when we study the committee’s view of the atonement. For it is absolutely not true that the committee maintains the doctrine of particular atonement, though they try to leave the impression that they do. Let no one be deceived on this score!)
2) The committee steadfastly avoids throughout its report any facing up to the Reformed truth of sovereign reprobation, and its corollary of a two-fold and sovereign operation of God in connection with the gospel, namely, that of saving and that of hardening. Very little does the term reprobation appear in the report. The committee prefers, — as do many in our day, — only to speak of the non-elect, a purely negative term. But never is reprobation represented in the report as being sovereign. And never does the committee in its report face up to this truth of sovereign reprobation, though they seem at times to place a certain amount of emphasis on election.
3) Finally the committee must needs face up to it that the general, well-meant offer is after all an offer of grace and that it is a genuinely well-meant offer of grace to all who hear the gospel. Hence, the committee ends by contradicting itself and by maintaining an offer of grace though they warned that the First Point, must never be understood this way and that this led to confusion and to being placed in an uncomfortable position by Rev. Hoeksema and the Protestant Reformed Churches.
You say: does the committee actually do this?
My answer is: if words have any meaning at all, then the committee does this in the same paragraph in which they once more assert that grace is never offered!
The proof is on page 494 of the Acts of Synod, 1966:
. . . ..As we said in our introduction, grace is never offered, but always conferred or bestowed. What the gospel does offer is not grace, but full redemption from all sin and eternal life in Jesus Christ. Fact is, it is Christ Himself in all the fullness of His grace and truth who is offered therein.
Now if words have any meaning whatsoever, here is a blatant contradiction. For, first of all, the committee says that full redemption from all sin and eternal life are offered. But what is full redemption from all sin and eternal life, except grace? But secondly, the committee goes on to say that Christ Himself is offered in the gospel. But according to the committee’s own words, Christ Himself in all the fullness of His grace! Now it is certainly true that there is a fullness of grace in Christ; He is the implication of all grace. But if this Christ is offered, then it can only mean that grace is offered.
The committee fails miserably and ends by contradicting itself!
This accounts, in the first place, for the nonsense, the cover-up statements, and the flat contradictions in the conclusions of the committee’s report. These are found not so much in the conclusions proper, but in the grounds under these conclusions. Let me cite a couple examples.
First of all, under conclusion IV, where the committee states that it is not warranted to say to every man, “Christ died for you,” we find this in “C”:
Although this statement, “Christ died for you,” might be correctly understood as referring to themany universal and undeserved benefits which accrue to all men from the death of Christ; yet in the kerygmatic situation this statement is usually understood by the hearers in an Arminian, universalistic sense.
Now apart from the repeated nonsense about the many universal benefits which accrue from the death of Christ, will anyone make plain why this same statement is not true about a general, well-meant offer of salvation and grace? Whether one says, “Christ died for you,” or whether one says, “God well-meaningly offers you salvation and grace; and God delights in your salvation and wills to save you,” to every man makes absolutely no difference! But even if the committee sees some difference, what then is the difference between the latter statement and any Arminian presentation of the gospel? How can anyone ever understand that statement in anything but an Arminian, universalistic sense?
The committee wants the Arminian doctrine when it comes to the preaching of the gospel. Prof. Dekker wants it both as to the preaching of the gospel and as to the meaning of the atonement. Both are Arminian. When the committee criticizes Dekker, it is only a case of the pot calling the kettle black!
Secondly, although one could agree that the doctrine of definite atonement (the true doctrine, not the committee’s twisted version of definite atonement) is an incentive for mission enthusiasm and endeavor, rather than a hindrance (Conclusion V), yet we find this amazing statement in the grounds, without a scintilla of Scriptural proof or confessional backing:
The universal gospel offer is grounded in the atoning work of Christ which actually merited salvation for sinners.
Is this not amazing? Remember two things which the committee tries to hide by vagueness. In the first place, the committee has tried to maintain — however inconsistently — that the atoning work of Christ isparticular, that is, for the elect only. In the second place, the committee has therefore tried to maintain that the atoning work of Christ actually merited salvation, not merely for sinners, nor, certainly, for all sinners, but only for elect sinners.
Now insert these elements in the above statement of the committee. You get a result something like this: The universal gospel offer (that is, a well-meant offer grace on the part of God to all who hear the preaching) is grounded in the atoning work of Christ which was accomplished for the elect, and for them only, and which actually merited salvation for elect sinners, and for them only.”
Will someone please explain how in the name of all that is true and sensible the latter can be the ground for the former?
This is the question Dekker and Daane have faced. They have answered: No, a universal offer must be grounded in a universal atonement!
And this makes sense, — that is, if you want to maintain a universal offer.
But the committee’s position is utterly impossible!
And this brings me to the conclusion of this part of this study. It is this: if the committee had really wanted to do the Christian Reformed Church a service, they would have come with the simple advice that it is high time for the Christian Reformed Church to review and to repudiate the well-meant offer doctrine adopted 1924. And they would have come with the warning that the alternative is full-blown Arminianism.
Editor Vander Ploeg of the Banner and the Rev. Adam Persenaire (April 7 issue) may assume the ostrich attitude and claim that the difference between the Christian Reformed Church and the Protestant Reformed Churches is not one about limited atonement. But all the facts belie this. Or else why is it that everyone who has written about the current atonement controversy has without fail been compelled to face the problem of the First Point of 1924?
When, — oh, when, —will those Christian Reformed brethren who genuinely wish to remain truly Reformed wake up to the fact that you cannot fight Arminianism the basis of 1924’s First Point?