Principles of Primitive Baptists
Recently I received a few copies of the Banner-Herald, a paper that is published by Primitive Baptists. It is evident that they believe quite strongly in the doctrine of eternal and unconditional election. In the very first article of the copy I read this is already emphasized. I will quote only a few lines to make this plain:
“We believe that eternal salvation proceeds from God’s decree of election and is brought to pass by that which He has predestinated. Before the creation of the world, God (who has perfect foreknowledge) saw the result of Adam’s sin, the sinful condition of all mankind,Psalm 14:2, 3. Before the creation of the world God. chose to Himself some out of Adam’s race to be saved, Eph. 1:4. Those whom He chose for salvation, He predestinated to this end (Rom. 8:28-30). Before the foundation of the world, He entered their names in the Lamb’s book of Life (Rev. 17:8). We further believe that ONLY those whom God chose will be saved (Rev. 20:15); and that ALL of those whom God chose will be saved (John 6:37). See also II Thess. 2:13; II Tim. 1:9.
“There are many today who state they believe in election; but view election as only a possibility of salvation for all . . . But the Bible plainly declares that Gods election is particular, eternal, and unconditional.”
There is more in this article, but let this be sufficient.
Of course, all this is thoroughly infralapsarian. Reprobation is not even mentioned. Nevertheless, that the Primitive Baptists hold fast the doctrine of election is very evident.
What the author of the above quoted article really does is that he explains the declaration of principles which is found on page 2 of the same publication. They are the following:
“We believe in the only true and living God, and that there are three persons in the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and that these three agree in one, are co-equal, co-eternal and co-existent.
“We believe in the total depravity of the entire human family, and that man is unable to recover himself from his lost and ruined estate.
“We believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, the only Saviour and Redeemer, and that salvation is by His grace and that alone.
“We believe in particular, eternal and unconditional election, the effectual calling of the elect, and the final preservation of the saints.”
So far so good. But now comes an article which, though one may expect it in a Baptist Confession of Faith, in part, at least, nevertheless, does not agree with the strong emphasis on the doctrine of election. The article reads as follows:
“We believe that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are ordinances of the church of Jesus Christ, and that washing of the saints’ feet is an example to be kept, and that tie believers, born of the Holy Spirit, are the only fit subjects of these ordinances. And that the only water baptism taught and recognized in the Bible is immersion or dipping.”
On this article I must needs make a few remarks. We may disregard now, for the time being, the question why the Primitive Baptists speak of ordinances instead of sacraments, why they, instead of saying that these sacraments are instituted in the church by Christ, simply speak of “ordinances, of the church of Jesus Christ,” and why they claim the foot washing to stand on a par with the other “ordinances.” It would be nice if they would themselves answer these questions.
But I wish to refer especially to the statement that “true believers, born of the Holy Spirit, are the only fit subjects of these ordinances.”
By this they deny, of course, although they do not say so in so many words, the doctrine of infant baptism. Moreover, I am afraid that they create a sickly condition in the church, such as exists also in many of the free Reformed Churches. For many in those churches, I know, do not dare to come to the Lord’s Supper because, even though they made confession of faith, they feel that they are not true believers and are not born of the Holy Spirit.
I do not know, of course, whether or not such a condition exists in the Primitive Baptist Churches. But certain it is that they withhold both the sacraments, Baptism and the Lords Supper, from their members until they are sure that they are born again believers.
Now, as far as infant baptism is concerned, I said before in this article that their denial of this truth does not agree with their strong emphasis on the doctrine of election. Why may not infants be baptized? They would answer: because we do not know that they are elect, or we do not know that they are believers, born again by the Holy Spirit. But how will they ever know this? The only possible answer is: by their own testimony. But may not this testimony be false? Of course, it often is, as is evident from the fact that many fall away after they first confessed that they were elect and born again by the Holy Spirit.
Hence, instead of trying to base the truth of baptism on the subjective testimony of men, we must base it on the Word of God as it is expressed in our beautiful Baptism Form, in the following words:
“And although our young children do not understand these things, we may not therefore exclude them from baptism, for as they are without their knowledge, partakers of the condemnation in Adam, so are they again received unto grace in Christ; as God speaketh unto Abraham, the father of all the faithful, and therefore unto us and our children (Gen. 17:7) saying; ‘I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and thy seed after thee.’ This also the Apostle Peter testifieth with these words (Acts 2:39), ‘For the promise is unto you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.'”
I also wrote a pamphlet on the Baptism of Infants, which I will be glad to send to any of the members of the Primitive Baptist Churches, and which I would like to see them discuss in the “Banner-Herald.”
In my opinion the denial of infant baptism is a very serious error, and is a cause of the destruction of the church.
From Roger J. Faber, Professor at Calvin, I received a letter which, although it does not indicate whether or not it is meant for publication in the Standard Bearer, I publish here because it implies a criticism of one of my articles.
The letter here follows:
“Dear Reverend Hoeksema:
“This is to call your attention to a small, though significant error which appeared in your recent article on the sacraments in the Standard Bearer, Jan. 1, 1964, page 153. In quoting from Article 33 of the Belgic Confession, the phrase ‘by means whereof God worketh in us by the power of the Holy Ghost,’ you apparently take the word ‘whereof’ as referring to the inward and invisible thing which the sacrament represent. However, it is evident from the original French that ‘whereof’ (lesquels) refers to the signs and seals themselves. Thus it seems that you were misled by the ambiguity of the English translation to ascribe, in this particular instance, less importance to the sacraments than the Confession intends. (God works, according to the Confession, not merely by that which the sacraments signify and seal; He works by means of the sacraments themselves.”
1. Thanks for your remarks and criticism, Prof. Faber.
2. I was not misled by an ambiguous translation. In fact, the translation, to my mind, is quite correct and I cannot see any ambiguity in it. The French reads: “moyennant lesquels” (plural), i.e., “by means of which.” Our English translation has it: “by means whereof.” The Dutch version reads more clearly: “door het middel derwelke”; derwelke in the plural. It is true that our English might leave the impression that the phrase “by means whereof” refers to “an inward and invisible thing” rather than to “visible signs and seals.” In this respect the French “lesquels” and also the Dutch “derwelke” is more clear than our English version. However, it is self-evident that the phrase “by means whereof” refers to “visible signs and seals” and not to “an inward and invisible thing.” How could the invisible “thing” be a sign and seal? A sign is in its very nature visible. Besides, the article concludes this particular sentence by saying: “by means whereof God worketh in us by the power of the Holy Ghost.” Can this possibly mean that God works by the invisible and inward thing the power of the Holy Ghost in our hearts? Evidently, this would make no sense whatsoever.
3. The meaning, therefore, is that by the means of the visible signs and. seals God works the invisible reality in our hearts by the power of the Holy Ghost.
4. The question is, however, how can Faber draw the conclusion from what I wrote in this connection, that I “ascribe, in this particular instance, less importance to the sacraments than the Confession intends?”
In answer to this question, I refer to the last paragraph of my article on the sacraments on page 153. There I summarize briefly what the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession teach concerning the sacraments, and I find the following elements:
“1. Sacraments are instituted to strengthen the faith of the believer, and therefore they presuppose faith.”
“2. They are visible signs and seals of an inward and invisible thing; and God hath joined them to the Word, that is, to the preaching of the gospel, ‘the better to present to our senses both that which he signifies to us by his Word, and that which he works inwardly in our hearts, thereby assuring and confirming in us the salvation which he imparts to us.'”
“3. They are ordained and instituted by God. . .”
“4. That which the sacraments signify and seal unto us is the promise of the gospel, namely, that he grants us freely the remission of sin and life eternal, etc. . . .”
So far it can hardly be said that I ascribe less importance to the sacraments than the Confession intends. But I think that Faber has in mind especially the last part of this paragraph where I write: “The new element which is evidently expressed in the article of the Netherland Confession, in distinction from the Heidelberg Catechism, is that the sacraments not only signify and seal the objective promise of God, but also ‘an invisible thing, by means of which God worketh in us by the power of the Holy Ghost.'”
As I said before, the words “by means whereof” ought to be connected, not with “an inward and invisible thing,” but with “visible signs and seals.”
And as far as the rest of the sentence is concerned, it seems to me that the preposition “of” is left out by mistake, so that the sentence ought to read as follows: “The sacraments not only signify and are seals of the objective promises of God, but also of ‘an invisible thing'” etc.
But I still cannot see how I attach less importance to the, sacraments than the Confession intends. That God works by means of the sacraments, always in connection with the Word, we all believe, and I would be the last to deny this.