Recently, I read an article in “Torch and Trumpet” written by Martin LaMaire, elder of a Christian Reformed Church in Chicago, Ill., in which he attempts to criticize Professor Harold Dekker in regard to the latter’s view on the love of God to all men. As far as the article itself is concerned, I cannot find anything in it that has not been written in the (Christian Reformed papers repeatedly.
However, I cannot help to call attention to the very first paragraph of the article which reads as follows:
“Forty years ago the Christian Reformed Church deemed it necessary to exercise discipline against two of its ministers whose public writings denied the teaching of Scripture that God displays a favorable attitude, or non-redemptive grace, toward all of mankind. Today it is wrestling with the theological pronouncements of a Calvin Seminary professor who has gone to the opposite extreme by denying that God’s love is qualitatively differentiated . . .”
On this I wish to make a few remarks:
1. First of all, I must explain the title which you find above this article, “O, 1924!” Is it not striking that, especially in regard to the “Dekker case,” and the present controversy in the Christian Reformed Church, the “Three Points” and the Synod of 1924 always somehow enter into the discussion? There must be something wrong with the “Three Points.” This is not the case with any other controversy in the Christian Reformed Church as far as I can remember. The Bultema case was settled in 1918 and was never mentioned again. The same is true of the Jansen case. But in regard to Synod of lb24 and the notorious “Three Points” this is quite different. It seems to me that the Christian Reformed Church would like to get rid of those obnoxious “Three Points” and cannot, do not know how. I would advise the Christian Reformed Church to retract those miserable “Three Points” and confess that in 1924-25 they did wrong by casting us out of the Church. Then, and then only, they will be able properly to handle the “Dekker case.” I do, of course, not expect that they will take my advice, but, nevertheless I give it to them.
2. Why it is that the Christian Reformed Church cannot properly solve the “Dekker case?” Why will Professor Dekker be justified (as is my prediction), as he virtually was already justified by the Synod of 1963? The answer is very simple: his doctrine that “God Loves—All Men” is quite in harmony with the “Three Points.” This is, especially true of the “First Point.” To put it very briefly, the “First Point” teaches that God is gracious in the preaching of the Gospel to all men or, at least, to all the hearers. Now what, pray, is the difference between this proposition and that of Dekker? There is none. Dekker teaches that God’s redemptive love is for all men; the Christian Reformed Church, in the First Point” teaches that God is gracious to (or loves) all men in the preaching of the Gospel (redemptive love). The trouble is, of course, that the Synod of 1924, not being able to find anything in Scripture on the Kuyperian theory of “common grace” inadvertently quoted texts that refer to saving grace, and thus became Arminian.
Such is my brief comment on the first paragraph of the article by Martin LaMaire in “Torch and Trumpet.”
Once more, however, I emphasize that the Christian Reformed Synod retract the “Three Points” before they treat the Dekker case.
Dekker also quotes, to prove his contention that “all Biblical statements of the general offer of the gospel express availability,” from John 7:37: “If any man thirsts, let him come unto me and drink.” And he offers a brief comment on this text as follows: “He was saying, it appears, that the water of life is available to all on condition of coming and drinking.”
But on this passage, as on the text from Matt. 11, we have the following remarks:
1. Jesus here calls unto Him those that thirst. It goes without saying that the Lord speaks of spiritual, not of natural thirst. Now spiritual thirst is an intense longing for spiritual water. And spiritual water is the fulness of all the grace of God in Christ Jesus our Lord; or, in other words, it consists in all the blessings of the kingdom of heaven, such as the forgiveness of sin, righteousness, holiness, and eternal life. It is also evident from all Scripture that no natural man ever thirsts for this spiritual water. Unless a man is born again by the Spirit of God, he cannot even see the kingdom of God.
2. Now, Dekker explains the text in John 7:37 in such a way that the water of life is available to all the hearers, but on condition that they come and drink. On this I have the following remarks:
a. First of all about this “condition.” A condition is something which man must fulfill. We must not say, as I have said before, that God Himself fulfills the condition, and that, therefore, we can still maintain sovereign grace while speaking of conditions. No one understands the term “condition” in that sense in the sentence: “the water of life is available to all on condition of coming and drinking.” The meaning is rather that if the hearers fulfill the condition of coming and drinking, then, and then only, will Christ give unto them the water of life. This is surely the meaning which Dekker gives to the word. How otherwise could he write that the water is available to all?
b. However, there is, indeed, a grammatically conditional clause in this text. But this is not found in the last part of the text where it speaks of coming and Ng, but in the very first clause: “If any man thirsts.” And this makes the text very particular, for, as we already explained, not every man thirsts, but only those that are born again by the Holy Spirit and that are efficaciously called by the powerful Word of God. Just as not every man is laboring and heavy laden, but only the elect, so every man is not longing or thirsty for the water of life, but only those that are caused to be longing for the water of life, that is, those that are regenerated by the Spirit of God through the Word; and that is, therefore, the elect.
c. Besides, we must not overlook the fact that Christ is speaking here and calling unto Him those that are thirsty for the water of life. To be sure, also the preacher of the Word of God calls the thirsty, in fact, calls all the hearers to come and drink of the water of life. But, in the first place, he must be careful that he does not corrupt the text and say: “you are all thirsty, the water of life is available to you all; all you have to do is to come and drink, for that is the only condition you have to fulfill; if you do so, Christ will surely give unto you the water of life freely.” For then you preach the lie. Christ would never say this. Always He proclaims: “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” John 6:37. And, in the second place, this external calling is worse than of no avail to the hearer that does not come and drink. But, I say once more, it is Christ that is here calling the thirsty to come unto Him and drink, and when He calls, the thirsty will surely come and drink.
Before Prof. Dekker describes the third “universal factor, the divine desire that all men shall be saved,” he attempts to explain the term “availability”; and at the same time he seems to express agreement with the Reformed truth that God only can give repentance and faith. But I rather quote him literally lest I should be liable to the accusation that I put words into his pen that he did not write or mean to write. He writes as follows:
“Some of those who have written on this matter apparently insist that salvation is available only to those whom God graciously enables to repent and. believe, since ultimately they are only able actually to avail themselves of it. With the premise underlying such a statement I am in full agreement. (As I stated in my original article of a year ago: ‘When it comes to the efficacy of the atonement, there can be no doubt that its existential limitation is to be explained ultimately in terms of the sovereign disposition of divine grace. On this score the Scriptures, explicated by the Canons of Dordt, are decisive and convincing.’) However, to use the word available in this way is to use the word in a sense different from its ordinary and proper meaning. Availability has nothing to do with the ability or inability to obtain. To say that something is available only to those who actually meet the conditions for obtaining it arbitrarily alters the meaning of a plain English word.
“I am using the word availability in its generally accepted meaning, fully aware of the fact that the condition for obtaining salvation is to repent and believe and that He does not give this ability to all. So understood, I affirm that the universal availability of salvation is included in the design of the atonement and is an essential factor in our witness of the gospel.”
In the above paragraphs, Dekker writes that available is a plain English word. To me this is not the case. In my first article on this subject I wrote as follows:
“Then he (De Jong, H.H.) refers to the idea of availability. Now availability is itself a very ambiguous term. In the transitive sense it may mean that something is of advantage to someone, to benefit, to profit. In the intransitive sense it means about the same thing: to be of advantage, to be capable or efficacious, sufficient to accomplish the object. It seems that De Jong (and also Dekker) uses the term in the latter sense, so that it means that the preaching of the gospel is in itself capable to save all the hearers. One can also say that the outward calling is sufficient to bring all the hearers to salvation.”
I understand very well that Dekker does not want this. In fact, in the above quoted paragraphs, he denies this and maintains that God only can give the grace of repentance and faith. Nevertheless, on my part, I maintain what I wrote in the above description of availability, and. Dekker’s use of the term. I cannot help that Prof. Dekker (and De Jong, too) write in contradictory or paradoxical language. I do not believe in contradictions. I believe that Scripture always teaches the same truth. I believe that when there are passages in the Bible that appear to contradict the general teaching of the Scriptures, such passages ought to be explained in the light of the current teaching of the Bible. The Scriptures certainly do not teach Reformed truth and Arminianism at the same time. And, therefore, when Dekker writes that “the universal availability of salvation is included in the design of the atonement and is an essential factor in our witness of the gospel,” I must maintain, as I wrote above, that he teaches that the external calling is sufficient to bring all men to faith and salvation.
In fact, this is evident from the texts he quoted and is also evident from the texts he quotes further in his article and which presently I hope to explain.
And why should Dekker invent (for an invention it is, as far as Reformed doctrine is concerned) an ambiguous term (for ambiguous it certainly is) like available and availability?
I am confident that the general run of our Reformed people, and the majority of our catechumens do not understand what it means.
Are there not sufficient terms in our Reformed doctrine to express the relation between the Gospel and the hearers, such as the external and internal calling?
But I must still briefly discuss the third “universal factor” which Prof. Dekker mentions in his article in the “Reformed Journal.” It is this:
“The third universal factor, the divine desire that all men be saved, has for a long time been accepted among us. Clear biblical teaching such as Ezekiel 18:23, 33:1, II Peter 3:9, and I Timothy 2:1-4, has established a firm consensus that God indeed desires that all shall come to salvation. This factor, too, then belongs to the universalism of the atonement and to the general offer of the gospel, and it must be included in our witness to the redemptive love of God as it extends to all mankind.”
So, God desires all men to be saved!
I would like to ask Prof. Dekker: is that desire realized? I am confident that he has to answer this question in the negative, for all men surely are not saved.
But, then, the further question arises inevitably: why are they not saved? There can be only one answer to this question: They do not want to be saved. This is the Arminian doctrine of the free will of the sinner.
And this Arminian error has been for a long time accepted in the Christian Reformed Church, according to Dekker. Yes, I believe this to be fact, i.e. it has been officially accepted by that Church since 1924 in the form of the “Three Points,” especially in the first of them. That is why I advised Dekker more than once that, if the Christian Reformed Synod ultimately would condemn him because of his erroneous doctrine that God loves all men, he ought to appeal to the “Three Points.”
I will not, at this time, try to explain the texts to which Dekker refers. This I did so often already that it becomes wearisome. Besides, Dekker himself does not attempt to offer any exegesis. He merely takes for granted that they prove his erroneous doctrine. But I rather quote a passage or two from Calvin in ‘Calvin’s Calvinism” where he refers to the same texts as those to which Dekker refers, I Timothy 2:4; Ezekiel 18:23.
In these passages he refutes that arch-Pelagian Pighius. Writes Calvin: “‘All this Pighius loudly denies, adducing that passage of the apostle (I Tim. 2:4) ‘Who will have all men to be saved; and referring also to Ezek. 18:23, he argues thus, ‘That God willeth not the death of a sinner,’ may be taken upon his own oath, where He says by that prophet, ‘As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the wicked that dieth; but rather that he should return from his ways and live.'”
To this Calvin replies: (I quote in part; the entire passage you may find in “Calvin’s Calvinism” pp. 98 ff.)
“But men untaught of God, not understanding these things, allege that we attribute to God a twofold or double will. Whereas God is so far from being variable, that no shadow of such variableness appertains to Him, even in the most remote degree. Hence Pighius, ignorant of the divine nature of these deep things, thus argues: ‘What else is this but making God a mocker of men, if God is represented as really not willing that which He professes to will, and as not having pleasure in that in which in reality He has pleasure? But if these two members of the sentence be read in conjunction, as they ever ought to be—’I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked’; and, ‘But that the wicked return from his way and live’—Read these two propositions in connection with each other, and the calumny is washed off at once. God requires of us this conversion, or turning away from our iniquity,’ and in whomsoever He finds it He disappoints not such an one of the promised reward of eternal life. . . . Now all this is in perfect harmony with His secret and eternal counsel, in which He decreed to convert none but His own elect. None but God’s own elect, therefore, ever do turn from their wickedness. . . . He brings unto eternal life those whom He willed according to His eternal purpose, regenerating by His Spirit, as an eternal Father, His own children only.”
And on I Tim. 2:4 he writes:
“The difficulty which, according to Pighius, lies in another place of Paul, where the apostle affirms that ‘God will have all men to be saved, and come unto the knowledge of the truth’ is solved in one moment, and by one question, namely, How does God wish all men to come to the knowledge of the truth? For Paul couples this salvation and this coming to the knowledge of the truth together. Now I would ask, did the same will of God stand the same from the beginning of the world or not? For if God willed, or wished (desired, according to Dekker) that His truth should be known unto all men, how was it that He did not proclaim and make known His law to the Gentiles also? Why did He confine the light of life to the narrow limits of Judea? . . . Moreover, who will be found so profanely mad as to say that God cannot convert the evil wills of men, which He pleases, when He pleases, and asp He pleases, to good? Now when He does this, He does it in mercy; and when He doeth it not, in judgment He doeth it not.”
And a little farther on, the apostle explains that the congregation is exhorted to pray for all men, even for kings and all that are in authority. And then, Calvin explains: “For (saith the apostle) God will all men to be saved. Who does not see that the apostle is here speaking of orders of men rather than of individuals? . . . The plain meaning therefore is that God willeth the salvation of all men considered generally, whom He therefore mercifully calls, or invites, unto Christ by the open preaching of the Word.”
Now, let Dekker explain these passages in the Arminiar, way if he wishes.
I have more to write next time, the Lord willing.