New Place for Announcements:
Hereafter, all announcements, obituaries, anniversary notices, etc., will be found on the next to the last page of each issue, and not scattered throughout the magazine. The only exception to this will be an occasional announcement immediately below the masthead on the inside front cover. We believe this change will be advantageous for the reader, who can now make a habit of looking for announcements in a fixed place in each issue; and we also believe that this will improve the appearance of the magazine.
In order to make this change, however, there must be a change in the deadline for announcements. All announcements for the issue of the 1st of the month must be in the hands of the business manager (not the editor) no later than the 20th of the preceding month; and all announcements for the issue of the 15th must be in by the 5th of the month. Any tardy announcements will automatically be postponed to the next issue. If this rule is not observed, we cannot meet our publication deadlines.
Incidentally, — speaking of publication deadlines, — there was more than one report to your editor of lack of delivery or tardy delivery on the issue of September 15. Checking into this, I learned that this can only be the fault of the Post Office Department. But if you do fail to get your copy of any issue, please write to the business manager, who, I am sure, will gladly help you if he only knows of your problem.
Important Publication News
The Permanent Committee for the Publication of Protestant Reformed Literature made a decision recently which, I am sure, will be welcome news to many readers. The decision is to undertake the publication of two books. One of these is the late Rev. H. Hoeksema’s exposition of the book of Revelation, which will be published under the title, “Behold, He Cometh!” The other will be a new edition of “The Triple Knowledge, An Exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism.” The Eerdmans Company has agreed to assign to us the copyright on the latter work, which originally appeared in ten volumes, four of which are now out of print. The new edition will be in one volume. Tentative plans are to publish these works within the coming year, D.V.; but no definite publication date can be fixed at this time.
In part, the publication date will depend on the response to our first huge project, “Reformed Dogmatics.” For in order to proceed with new projects we must recover our capital investment in that first project. And the recovery of that investment is dependent on one thing sales!
Right there is where you, the reader, come into the picture.
For one thing, have you sent in your $12.95 and your pre-publication order? This sale price will be in effect until November 15. After that the price will go up to $14.95. A return order envelope was enclosed with the September 15 issue of the Standard Bearer. Look it up, and use it. Or, if you have lost it, mail your order (and your check) to: Reformed Free Publishing Association, (Permanent Committee for the Publication of Prot. Ref. Literature), Post Office Box 2006, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49501.
On second thought, why not order two copies, — one for yourself, and one for your friend’s Christmas present?
Annual R.F.P.A. Meeting
Elsewhere in this issue you will find the secretary’s and treasurer’s reports which were presented at the annual meeting of the R.F.P.A., the parent organization of ourStandard Bearer. It is not my intention to rehash those reports, nor to report on that meeting. There is one item of note to which I wish to call attention. Our secretary reported that there was a net increase of 78 subscriptions in the past year. This is encouraging. You say, perhaps, that is not a large number. No, but it nevertheless represents about a 200% increase over the net gain in subscriptions in recent previous years. Last year, for example, the net gain was 26 subscriptions. Moreover, I know that a good many of these new subscriptions came from people outside our Protestant Reformed Churches. This, too, is encouraging; for it is one of the chief aims of ourStandard Bearer to bear the standard of the truth to others in the Reformed community, and we are glad when our voice is heard.
Particularly the Board of the R.F.P.A. may be encouraged by this trend. Let us hope that the trend continues. Perhaps a concerted campaign of some kind could be made with a view to increasing the number of subscribers and readers. The Board could explore that possibility. Would it not be wonderful if next year the secretary could report another 200% increase, for example, in the net gain in subscriptions?
Meanwhile, let all of us face this question: what are YOU doing to increase the number of subscriptions?
Winds of Doctrine from the Netherlands
From time to time one reads disturbing reports and claims about the ecclesiastical situation in the Netherlands, particularly in the Gereformeerde Kerken. As is well known, the decisions in the Geelkerken Case of 1926 have been under official review by the Synod of those churches; and the outcome of that matter remains to be seen. But there have been disturbing things written on that matter. Recently the Contributions column of De Wachter (Sept. 20, 1966) carried an article signed “Vander Werff” in which the finger of accusation is pointed at several Dutch scholars and in which the author allegedly cites chapter and verse, that is, points to the occasion and the speech or writing in which the alleged doctrinal errors were set forth.
It is not my purpose to repeat and thereby to spread all the charges made in this article. Several of them matters, and most of the alleged errors are very intimately connected with the burning issue of the inspiration, infallibility, and authority of Scripture, as well as with what are called hermeneutical problems, i.e., problems pertaining to the proper method of interpretation, or exegesis. I will say that if all of these charges are true, and if the alleged errors are indeed as alleged, then the situation in the Netherlands churches is indeed very serious. If leaders and educators can promulgate such errors without ecclesiastical censure being exercised, then I do not hesitate to say that the future looks very dark, if not hopeless.
Moreover, if all of the accusations made in the article referred to are as accurate as the charges made concerning a certain Dr. J. Stellingwerff, then the report is dependable, and then there is reason for grave fears with respect to the doctrinal soundness of the Dutch churches. For “Vander Werff” charges that Dr. Stellingwerff denies that Adam was the first man, denies the universality of the flood, and (yes, this is not a printing error) denies everlasting punishment!
And these charges are true!
It so happened that about the time when this article was published in De Wachter, I was finishing the reading of a little book by Dr. Stellingwerff, “Oorsprong en Toekomst van de Creatieve Mens.” This book belongs to a series of works by Reformed scholars under the general heading “Christian Perspective.” Earlier I had become aware (through reports and reviews of others) that in this book Dr. Stellingwerff denies the truth of creation; but I could hardly believe my eyes when I came to the passage about everlasting punishment and about hell. I read and re-read the passage. I then telephoned a colleague and read the passage to him without comment, lest I was misunderstanding or reading more into the passage than the author intended. But there are no two ways about it: the author indeed denies everlasting punishment and denies the reality of hell!
It is nothing short of amazing, alarming! The more so when such stuff innocently appears under the heading of “Christian Perspective.”
In proof of the above, I will quote some pertinent statements from this book. The translation is mine.
“Primary in that which Scripture says about everlasting death and the pool of fire is that the fire and the death are everlasting and not that that which is cast into this mighty fire are everlasting. Thus it is out of the question that there should be any remnant that can escape this annihilation, this radical desolation. Never shall the enemies of God and the powers of sin and misery have any more opportunity. Their meaning (significance) is finally at an end.
“The last judgment has death, the final end, the everlasting desolation of death and the realm of the dead as its consequence.
“There shall be a punishment from which the devil, the beast, the false prophet, and their followers cannot escape and which offers them no possibility for new activity. Neither day nor night shall there be opportunity to escape. For them death, the fire, is an everlasting desolation. In that picture of hell what is primary, in my opinion, is the remnant-less perishing of all that is cast into this most powerful, everlasting fire. Just as, according to the epistle of Jude, also Sodom and Gomorrah lie under a punishment of everlasting fire, (Jude, vs. 7). (Note: Jude, 7, speaks of Sodom and Gomorrah “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” H.C.H.)
“Scripture warns against a participating in the everlasting torment of the devil, the beast, and the false prophet. Thus it is in the visions of John. We are therefore warned; but therewith we are nevertheless not called upon to append a theology about an everlasting balance (equilibrium) between a full heaven and a full hell. There will be gradation in the judgment. One must not think that one can escape the judgment and the punishment outside of the atoning blood of Jesus.
“There is no balance between hell and heaven because everlasting death is principally something other than everlasting life. One who sees a dead person next to a living man discovers this immediately. The dead man is capable of nothing, is nothing, perishes. He does not join in any more forever. On the other hand, the living person is capable of everything, certainly the everlastingly living. He always joins in forever; he can therefore never more be passed by. An everlastingly dead person is nothing; an everlastingly living one is an unavoidable partner.
“We often give to hell and to everlasting death its own place in the new creation by ascribing an active meaning to the speech of the Bible about an everlasting torture (eeuwige pijniging). By an everlasting torture (or, torment) we easily understand an always continuing feeling of pain. Now the pain-feeling appears to be very strongly dependent upon the period of culture in which one lives and the circumstances under which one must bear the pain. It appears to me to be possible that by pain in the Bible is not to be understood that which one feels with the senses, but much rather the opposite of joy, which rests upon friendship and love. And everlasting torture then means that God nevermore offers friendship that he definitively turns away from these men and will no more be concerned with them at all. The Judge of heaven and earth has definitively rejected them. He passes the death-sentence and executes it. Then the corpse is burned in everlasting fire.
“Not the pain is eternal, but the torture, and then too, not the always continuing torture, but rather the irrevocable judgment that as capital punishment comes painfully and that remains as a sentence forever passed, (het onherroepelijke oordeel dat doodstraf pijnlijk aankom t en dut eeuwig blijft geveld.) Just as the example which Jude gives in his epistle. This apostle wrote: ‘even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.’ If one looks for this eternal fire, then he finds the Dead Sea. In the same manner as this example, the last judgment also has the death of death and the realm of the dead as its consequence. Fire is not the figure of pain. God has never willed the fire-death. Indeed, after capital of the corpse and of the possessions of the condemned one.”
Thus far the quotation and translation.
The above presentation is all supposed to be based on Scripture, and the author makes the appearance of an attempt to base it on Scripture in the context preceding this quotation.
However, it is perfectly obvious, when one strips away all the window-dressing and devious pseudoexegesis of this presentation, that what is left is this:
1) A denial of the everlasting torment and the everlasting suffering of the wicked.
2) The simple annihilation- theory, clothed in some apparently Biblical language.
And this is supposed to be Christian perspective, and that too, out of the Reformed community of the land of our fathers?
I have not presented the author’s evolution-theory in this editorial; perhaps I will do so in the future. Nor is there transparent in the book a connection between his evolution-theory and his denial of everlasting punishment. Nevertheless, it is not difficult to see that one who begins by denying the creation record, as does Dr. Stellingwerff, will end by denying everlasting punishment, and eventually by denying still more. For at the heart of all these denials lies the matter of the authority of Holy Scripture.
One can only lament with Jeremiah: “How is the gold become dim!”
The Nature of the Atonement
It is becoming increasingly evident that the question whether the atonement is in its very nature limited is an extremely crucial one for the Reformed faith. This is evident in the Dekker Case itself, both from the writings of Prof. Dekker and of Dr. Daane. But a careful study of the Report of the Doctrinal Committee will reveal that this issue is extremely crucial with respect to the atonement aspect of their study, and that they make a crucial error when they concede this point to Dekker and Daane. In a way they attempt to hedge and to qualify their position somewhat, evidently because they themselves feel that they have conceded an important point. To this I will return at the proper time, however. I only wish to emphasize now the crucial importance of this question, and thereby to emphasize that it is important to see what the confessions have to say about it.
Once more, however, I wish to underscore the fact that we must consider the nature of the atonement as awhole. In the course of this discussion we are distinguishing various elements in that nature of the atonement. But these various elements must not be considered separately from one another. Together they all constitute the one nature of the atonement. The element of satisfaction, of substitution, of a definite and personal character, and of the infinite value of the atonement, —these all belong together, and they must be considered together. Each element is indispensable, and that, too, in relation to the others. Take one of these elements away, therefore, and essentially you destroy the whole nature of the atonement and will find it fundamentally impossible to maintain the remaining elements.
Now we turn to our confessions.
THE CONFESSIONS ON THE DEFINITE AND PERSONAL ELEMENT OF THE ATONEMENT
It is certainly a mistake to think that we must look for the doctrine of limited, definite, and personal atonement only in the Canons of Dordrecht. This is usually done. And I dare say that most of us are automatically ready to turn to the Canons and to the Second Head of Doctrine when the subject of limited atonement is brought up. Now it is certainly true that the Canons speak of this doctrine, and that too, definitively and in unequivocal language. But we must not imagine that at Dordrecht an entirely new doctrine was adopted. This, in fact, would imply that we assume the position of the Arminians at the time of the Synod of Dordrecht. The Arminians did not relish the position of accused heretics who were on trial at the Synod. They wanted to be treated as equals and as in good standing. They did not claim to militate against the confessions then held by the Reformed Churches, but rather attempted to maintain that they were in basic harmony with the creeds. They wanted rather to meet on an equal footing with the Reformed, and they wanted to subject the existent confessions (the Catechism and the Belgic Confession) to review and reformulation. Our Reformed fathers, on the other hand, considered the Arminians heretics, charged that they were not in harmony with the confessions even as they then existed, and dealt with them as such. They put the Arminians on trial. And in that connection they did not view the Canons as an altogether new statement of doctrines which were not found in the Catechism and the Belgic Confession. Rather did they consider the Canons to be an explanation of certain points of doctrine. The Canons, therefore, made more explicit certain doctrines which were already contained in the other creeds of the Reformed Churches.
This means, therefore, that we may expect to find the very same doctrines in the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession as we find in the Canons. And it means that we should be able to discover an expression of those doctrines there, and not only in the Canons.
As Reformed people, therefore, we need not and we do not pin the entire doctrine that Christ died and atoned only for the elect on Canons II, 8, for example.
I propose, therefore, to look for this same doctrine of definite and personal atonement in the Catechism and the Confession, first of all; and only thereafter shall we turn to the Canons, Second Head.
That this is the correct approach to and view of our confessions is beyond all doubt. First of all, anyone who is acquainted with the history of the Arminian controversy and of the Synod of Dordrecht will know that the above presentation is true. It is simply a matter of history. In the second place, let me call your attention to the fact that this is the official presentation of the matter in Reformed churches. My authority for this is nothing less than the Formula of Subscription. There we find the following language: “We, the undersigned, professors of the Protestant Reformed Churches, ministers of the Gospel, elders and deacons. . . .do hereby sincerely and in good conscience before the Lord, declare by this, our subscription, that we heartily believe and are persuaded that all the articles and points of doctrine, contained in the Confession and Catechism of the Reformed Churches, together with the explanation of some points of the aforesaid doctrine, made by the National Synod of Dordrecht, 1618-’19, do fully agree with the Word of God.” (emphasis mine, H.C.H.)
This same language is found in the last paragraph of the Formula of Subscription, which speaks again of “the Confession of Faith, the Catechism, or the explanation of the National Synod.”
Notice this carefully.
The Canons are the explanation of some points of theaforesaid doctrine. They are not something new, but an explanation. An explanation of what? Of some points of the aforesaid doctrine. What is the aforesaid doctrine? It is the doctrine contained in the Confession and the Catechism. The conclusion is unavoidable, therefore: the doctrines contained in the Canons are merely explanations of what was already contained in the Confession and the Catechism. You will find the same doctrines there.
The question now is: do we indeed find the doctrine of definite and personal atonement through substitutionary satisfaction in the Heidelberg Catechism.
My answer is yes.
And the Catechism is literally full of all kinds of proof of this. I will first quote a series of passages from the Catechism which bear directly on this issue, reminding the reader that the pertinent word or words in each quotation are italicized. Thereafter I will give a brief explanation as to the significance of these quotations.
“Because he is ordained of God the Father, and anointed with the Holy Ghost.. . . . . . .to be our only High Priest, who by the one sacrifice of his body, has redeemed us. . . . .” Qu. and A. 31.
“Because he hath redeemed us, both soul and body, from all our sins, not with gold or silver, but with his precious blood, and hath delivered us from all the power of the devil; and thus hath made us his own property.” Qu. and A. 34.
“That is our Mediator; and with His innocence and perfect holiness, covers in the sight of God my sins . . . . . ” Qu. and A. 36.
“That he . . . .sustained. . . .the wrath of God against the sins of all mankind that so by his passion, as the only propitiatory sacrifice, he might redeem our body and soul from everlasting damnation, and obtain for us the favor of God, righteousness and eternal life.” Qu. and A. 37.
In answer to the question as to why He suffered under Pontius Pilate, we read: “That he. . . .might thereby free us from the severe judgment of God to which we were exposed.” Qu. and A. 38.
The 39th Answer is again very definite and personal: “. . .for thereby I am assured, that he took on him the curse which lay upon me. . . .”
The 44th Answer speaks the same language. Not only is it personal when it speaks of assurance, but also when it speaks of the objective work of Christ: “That in my greatest temptations, I may be assured, and wholly comfort myself in this, that my Lord Jesus Christ, by his inexpressible anguish, pains, terrors, and hellish agonies, in which he was plunged during all his sufferings, but especially on the cross, hath delivered me from the anguish and torments of hell.”
And, to mention no more, I quote the 52nd Answer, which concerns Christ’s coming to judge the quick and the dead, but which very appropriately connects this with His atoning work: “That in all my sorrows and persecutions, with uplifted head I look for the very same person, who before offered himself for my sake,’to the tribunal of God, and has removed all curse from me; to come as judge from heaven: who shall cast all his and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but shall translate me with all his chosen ones to himself, into heavenly joys and glory.”
There are many more such references in the Catechism. The reader can go through the Catechism himself with an eye for similar statements. But those cited above are sufficient. They are very clear. And they all make direct mention of Christ’s atoning work.
The question is now: what do these statements mean? Do they speak of an atonement which is definite and personal, and that too, in its very nature? Or are they general? Or are they, perhaps, purposely vague, leaving the identity of that “we, our, I, my, me, us” an open question? Catechism simply does not use any excluding language open question? Or do they leave us with the impression that while the atonement itself is general, the application of that atonement is particular? Or is it thus, that while the atonement is here presented as definite and personal, this definiteness does not belong to the nature of the atonement? Or is it even thus, that the Catechism simply does not use any excluding languages here, and that is it merely silent about the question whether any are not included in that atoning death of Christ?
I will let the ready ponder these questios in the light of the language of the Heidelberg Catechism until next time, D.V.