From Mr. Jack Arens, Holland, Mich., I received the following questions:
1. What do you think of the “kantteekeningen” in the “Staten Bijbel”?
2. Do you agree with the views expressed in Brakel’s “Redelijke Godsdienst”?
I have enjoyed reading these, especially Brakel’s work. For example, this is what I find in Brakel’s “Redelijke Godsdienst”:
“Als wij den wil Gods aldus onderscheiden (den verborgen en den geopenbaarden wil), zoo stellen we geen twee willen in God; de daad des willens is een en enkel in God, maar de voorwerpen zijn verscheiden. Veel minder stellen wij tegenstrijdige willen in God, als of God met zijnen geopenbaarden wil eene zaak Wilde, en dezelfde zaak met den verborgen wil niet wilde; want de aanmerking van den wil Gods, in die verscheidene opzichten als verborgenen sf geopenbaarden, geschiedt ten opzichte .van de verscheidene zaken, die sommigen geopenbaard, anderen niet geopenbaard zijn, en niet ten opzichte van dezelfde zaak en in hetzelfde opzicht.”
Thus far the questions.
The first concerns the so-called “Staten-Bijbel,” that is, the Bible that was published by the injunction of the States of Holland in 1619-1637, and the “kantteekeningen” are the marginal notes composed by various theologians and published together with the “Staten-Bijbel.”
Now, as to the contents of these marginal notes, they are a brief commentary of the whole Bible, and it stands to reason that they are not all of equal value. Hence, my answer to Mr. Arens’ first question must be: read the marginal notes with discretion and with a critical eye.
As to the second question, that concerning Brakel’s “Redelijke Godsdienst” (Reasonable Service of and Instruction in the Knowledge of God), I would make the following remarks:
1. Brakel, at the time when he wrote this work, was minister of the Word of God in Rotterdam during the latter part of the seventeenth century and the first part of the eighteenth century.
2. The second volume has a rather elaborate interpretation of the book of Revelation. In the interpretation Brakel follows the historical order, with which we do not agree. And, of course, the Pope is the antichrist.
3. In the quotation which Arens makes from Brakel’s work the latter speaks of the will of God and distinguishes between the will of God’s decree and the will of command, or the secret and revealed will of God. In regard to this, and, in fact, in regard to the contents of the “Redelijke Godsdienst” in general, we can recommend it to whoever can still read the Dutch language. This does not mean that we would subscribe to all that Brakel writes. Thus, for instance, we would have liked an adequate definition of election and also of reprobation. The last-mentioned doctrine the author only mentions once or twice without further definition or explanation.
Well, I hope I answered Mr. Arens’ questions. If I did not, he better come again.
In “Torch and Trumpet” there appeared an article of the Rev. Alexander C. De Jong under the caption: “The Sermon . . . the Sender . . . the Sinner.” Just about the same time, Professor Harold Dekker had an article in “The Reformed Journal” on the subject: “Redemptive Love and the Gospel Offer.”
Both of these writers take the position that in regard to the preaching of gospel to all that hear it there are contradictions in Scripture. De Jong calls them “apparent contradictions,” and Dekker uses the term “paradoxes”; but substantially they mean the same thing.
Let me quote a few sentences.
De Jong writes as follows (Torch ad Trumpet, Feb., 1964, p. 8):
“In the preaching situation God displays a love of his heart which is of a kind or character that corresponds to the salvation offered. In describing this love of God we can make use of the same theological distinctions which we employ when we speak of God’s will. Reformed scholars consistently teach that there is a will of God, his revealed will, which displays a will toward the realization of something, which he has not decretively willed. Since we must not abstract Gods love from his will (God is One-simplicitas Dei) why can we not adoratively face the same kind of apparent contradiction when we speak of God’s love? In the legitimate and necessary interest of maintaining the sovereignty and unique and free love of God to the elect as revealed in the definite particularity of the atonement we must not tone down, render suspect or questionable the genuine redemptive character of God’s love revealed in the preaching situation. Both aspects of this apparent contradiction must receive their accent if we are to do full justice to the adorable greatness of God’s love to sinners.”
The meaning is rather plain. In what De Jong calls “the preaching situation,” God, in his revealed will, loves all men in as far, at least, as they come under the preaching of the gospel. And, of course, we must preach too. I will come back to this presently.
Dekker writes as follows:
“It has also been urged that because God’s love is sovereign it is inconsistent to speak of it as a redemptive love which does not always redeem. But need such inconsistency bother us? That is but another aspect of the great paradox of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The paradox is just as great for those who hold that the sovereign God sincerely offers a salvation which is sufficient for all and which he desires all to have but which not all receive. But the decisive question is not the size or difficulty of the paradox. That matters little. The decisive question is where do the Scriptures posit the paradox? The Scriptures testify to a divine love for all men in the atonement of Christ and in the universal invitation of the gospel. The biblical paradox is that of a redemptive love which does not always redeem.”
Now, a paradox is virtually the same as an “apparent contradiction”; for it is a proposition that is seemingly contradictory. It is, therefore, as I wrote in the heading above this paragraph: Yes—No.
About this I make the following remarks:
1. As to the article by De Jong, he really camouflages the matter. For he writes: “If Christ Jesus truly offers salvation in the preaching situation, is salvation truly available to the hearer?” Here he should have written: is salvation truly available to all the hearers? This is what he means to say anyway. Besides, who denies that salvation is available to the hearer of the gospel? No one.
A little farther on he appears to limit these “hearers” to which salvation is available. Writes he: “Salvation is available to gospel hearers in the way of repentance and faith.” And again he writes: “In love Christ Jesus offers himself to all those who will repent and believe.” And once more, he writes: “. . . our Savior earnestly and lovingly reveals his intention to save all who will believe.” Again, I say: De Jong camouflages the matter. For the clause, “all who will repent and believe,” may be taken in a sound sense; for, after all, only those that believe and repent shall be saved. But I am afraid that De Jong intends to use this limitation of the hearers in the Arminian sense, in the sense, namely, that in the preaching of the gospel Christ Himself says to all the hearers: “I intend to save you and give you eternal life, if only you will repent and believe; but if you do not want to repent and believe, I can do nothing about it.” For this reason De Jong can iinally write, without any limitation, that “salvation, eternal life, the realities of saving grace Christ himself, are present, truly offered to all.” How otherwise could there be a contradiction?
Of course, this element in the preaching of the gospel is pure Arminianism.
In fact, in the first article of the Remonstrance of 1610, the Arminians do better than De Jong, for there they emphasize that salvation is all through the grace of the Holy Ghost. Only, in the fourth article they show their true colors when they say: “But as respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible.” But this is true also of the first part of the preaching of the gospel as De Jong has it in the above expressed view. The realities of saving grace, according to him, are truly and sincerely offered to all. Hence, this offer of saving grace is certainly not irresistible.
The other side of this contradiction we have already partly quoted above.
However, he also expresses in the following words (on the same page of “Torch and Trumpet” quoted above) the other side of this contradiction:
“But, and this also needs saying, every sinner needs the sovereign initiative of God’s grace before he can appropriate this available salvation to himself. If by the phrase ‘salvation is available’ one means ‘anyone can take it to himself because he has the ability to appropriate it,’ one must object strongly. The sinner is by nature totally unable to take to himself the salvation offered by Christ. But if one means by the phrase ‘salvation is available’ that ‘salvation is truly present to those who hear on condition of repentance and faith,’ I can see no reason why this phrase cannot be used. True, the phrase can readily be misconstrued, but that does not necessarily disallow its use, providing it is accompanied by careful explanation. The reality of the gospel offer—which no one in the Christian Reformed communion would dispute—underscores the availability of redemption in the preaching situation. Christ is present offering himself in his own unique and sovereign manner, which underscores human responsibility, displays genuine love and is efficacious according to his sovereign will. The unique dynamics of the preaching situation, it seems to me, precludes a simple statement like this: ‘Christ did not secure salvation for all by his work. Therefore salvation is not available for all.'”
There are several different elements in this paragraph that are contradictory in themselves.
In the first part De Jong teaches the truth of sovereign grace as well as of the total depravity of man. No one can appropriate salvation to himself. The sinner is totally incapable of doing so.
Then he refers back 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 serve the purpose, to be capable or efficacious, sufficient to accomplish the object. It seems that De Jong (and also Dekker) use 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 su5cient to, bring all the hearers to salvation. And this is not Reformed, but Arminian. Moreover, the Scripture plainly teaches that the outward calling, without the inward calling, is not merely of no avail to all the hearers, but is for some a savor of death unto death and that, too, according to God’s intention.
De Jong writes that the sentence “salvation is available” i.e. to all the hearers, is proper in the sense that “salvation is truly present, is genuinely being extended to those who hear on condition of repentance and faith.” Also this is not Reformed. Faith is not a condition, but purely a gift of God which he works in the hearts of all the elect. And do not camouflage this truth by saying that God realizes the condition himself, for that is never the meaning of the term condition in the above quoted sentence. It refers to a condition which the hearer of the gospel must fulfill.
The last part of this paragraph I confess I do not understand. De Jong is still writing about the availability of salvation to all the hearers. If I insert in the last part of this paragraph the phrase “all the hearers,” then I get this: “Christ is present offering himself to ‘all the hearers’ in his own unique and sovereign manner which underscores human responsibility, displays genuine love to ‘all the hearers’ and is efficacious in ‘all the hearers’ according to the counsel of God’s sovereign will over all the hearers.'” The unique dynamics of the preaching situation in respect to ‘all the hearers’ precludes a simple statement like this: ‘Christ Jesus did not secure salvation for all by his work,’ (for ‘this he did, indeed, for all the hearers.’) ‘Therefore salvation is not available for all;’ (‘for it is, indeed, available for all the hearers.’)
This is a denial of God’s sovereign election. And it surely is a denial of limited atonement.
2. Now let us see what Professor Dekker writes on this particular subject.
First of all, I like to say that Dekker is very easy to understand. He does not camouflage as does De Jong. He still maintains that God loves all men with a redemptive love. For this I can quote almost at random from his article in the “Reformed Journal,” Jan. 1964, under the title “Redemptive Love and the Gospel Offer.”
However, it seems expedient that I begin at the point where Dekker explains three propositions: the sufficiency of salvation for all, the availability of salvation to all, and the divine desire that all men should be saved.
As to the sufficiency of salvation for all, Professor Dekker writes as follows:
“With respect to the sufficiency of salvation for all men, it has been observed in the current discussion that this has little to do with the redemptive love because the atonement would have had to be the same for one as for all. This understanding of sufficiency is familiar and generally accepted. It should not, however, mislead us in this connection. For the Bible goes far beyond abstractions of this kind and indicates that it precisely belonged to the divine intention that the atonement would be sufficient for all men. In other words, universal sufficiency belongs to the design of the atonement and is an essential element .in the witness of the gospel.”
Of the sufficiency of the death of Christ the Canons speak in II, 3 as follows:
“The death of the Son of God is the only and most perfect sacrifice and satisfaction for sin; and is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world.”
What does this mean?
Does it mean, as Dekker would have it, that “it belonged to the divine intention that the atonement would be sufficient for all men?”
Evidently, this cannot be the meaning. It ought to be evident that the Canons in this article simply emphasize, not that the atonement of Christ is sufficient to expiate the sins of all men, but that it is infinite, that it cannot be measured, or that its value cannot be calculated. It does not mean, to be sure, that it was the divine intention that the atonement would be efficacious for all men. The very contrary is true, according to Canons II:8 where we read: “For this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving e5cacy of the most precious death of his Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation: that is, it was the will of God, that Christ, by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those and those only, who were from eternity chosen unto salvation, and given to him by the Father; that he should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other gifts of the Holy Spirit, he purchased for them by his death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory in his own presence forever.”
Dekker makes a quotation from the commentary of the Heidelberg Catechism by Ursinus.
This I do not consider important for more than one reason. First, it is very questionable whether Ursinus ever wrote what Dekker quotes or whether he ever wrote the entire section in which the quotation is found. Second, even if Ursinus wrote it, he merely gives various opinions of other authors, not his own. Thirdly, even though he did write it, I will, for one, not be held responsible for what Ursinus wrote. Dekker writes that “Ursinus plainly puts universal sufficiency in the design of the atonement, that he uses without hesitation or equivocation the expression: Christ died for all . . . . .” This I cannot find in the quotation made by Dekker. He may show me.
But after all is said, I confess that I never liked the expression about the sufficiency of the atonement, not because Dekker seems to like it so well, for I never liked it, but because it is a mere piece of philosophy and is not found in Scripture.
The second universal factor in the design of atonement is; according to Dekker, the availability of salvation to all. On this he writes as follows:
“The second universal factor in the design of the atonement, also to be reflected in our witness to the gospel, is that of the availability of salvation to all men.Webster’s Intercollegiate Dictionary defines availableas ‘at disposal, accessible or attainable, ready, handy.’ Is this not precisely what the sincere offer of the gospel says to all men about the redemption in Christ? For if something which is offered is not available, evidently there is no genuine offer.”
Dekker then goes on to say that necessarily availability presupposes and requires a condition, if only the condition of taking. What he means is, of course, that the gospel is at the disposal, is accessible or attainable to all men or, at least, to all the hearers, but that it is up to man, to the hearer to take it. If man does not want to take it, the availability is of no avail.
But does not Dekker understand that if this is the case, the availability of salvation to all men means absolutely nothing for the simple reason that no sinner or natural man can take it and does not want to take it? Or does Dekker actually want to deny this total incapability of the natural man and teach free will? It seems to me that either of the two alternatives must be true: the salvation proclaimed in the gospel is not available or attainable to all men or to all the hearers, for the simple reason that the natural man cannot and will not fulfill the condition of taking it; or it is available to all the hearers because the natural man is able to “take” it.
Which of these two does Dekker want? I would like him to answer this question. And, please, don’t seek refuge in paradoxes or contradictions, for both of these alternatives simply cannot be true.
Dekker even attempts to prove this contradictory proposition by the following quotation from the Canons, II, 5:
“Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believes in Christ shall not perish, but have eternal life. 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.”
I ask Dekker: is this the same as saying: Salvation is available or attainable for all men because all are able and willing to “take” it.
By no means. The difference is that the promise of the gospel that whosoever believes in Christ shall have eternal life is thoroughly Scriptural and Reformed, while Dekker’s proposition about the availability of salvation to all men is Arminian.
Dekker also quotes Scripture to prove his proposition about availability of salvation for all.
“All Biblical statements of the general offer of the gospel express availability. For instance, when Jesus said Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28), He was saying that the offered rest is available to all on condition that they come.”
Is this true?
Most emphatically not!
And why not? For the following reasons:
1. First of all, because of the context. There Jesus is revealed as saying: “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast. revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight.” (In the Greek: eudokia sou, thy good pleasure). Would you say, Professor Dekker, that salvation was available also to these wise and prudent? Or were they the reprobates to whom God would not even reveal “these things,” but from whom he hid them?
2. In the second place, because the word “Come” is not a condition, as Dekker has it, but it is the calling of the gospel. Of course, if this would merely refer to the “outward calling” it would be of worse than of no avail. But you may be sure that if Jesus says, “Come unto me,” those that are so called will surely come.
3. In the third place, the Lord does not even call all men here, but he calls his people by name, i.e. by their spiritual name. And what is their name? It is “all ye that labor and are heavy laden,” i.e., those that are burdened under a load of sin. And to them the Lord promises rest, i.e., of course, spiritual rest: forgiveness, righteousness and eternal life!
O, how far remote are these words from Dekker’s proposition that salvation is available to all men!
4. Fourthly, this is exactly the teaching of all Scripture. Just let me quote the following: “All that Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” John 6:37. And again: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him.”
But I will have to continue this next lime, the Lord willing.