As To Being Protestant Reformed
The last time that we wrote an article under the above heading we discussed the idea of the promise and that, too, in distinction from the so-called “well-meant offer of grace.”
This time we must elaborate a little more on the distinctively Reformed truth of the covenant. First of all, I wish to point out that the deepest ground of the covenant relationship is in God Himself. This is true, of course, of all the works of God, whether in creation or salvation. But this is especially true of the covenant. We may say that God is a covenant God even apart from any relation to the creature. The covenant as a relation of perfect friendship and fellowship rests in God. This is true because the Scriptures reveal Him to us as the Triune. He is one in being. All the divine virtues such as eternity, infinity, unchangeableness, self-existence, omnipotence, love, grace, mercy and others belong to the divine essence. But He is three in persons, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. All three persons are one in mind and will, one in being and in all the divine attributes, but they differ in personal attributes. The Father is always and eternally Father: He eternally begets the Son and breathes out the Holy Ghost. The Son is eternally Son, eternally begotten of the Father and breathing but the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is eternally the Spirit, breathed out by the Father and the Son. And yet, these three are one. And because they are one, they enter into one-another’s nature, their mind and will and life. There are no secrets for them. They know one-another perfectly, each one knows the others as He is known. Besides, these three persons in the one divine essense constitute a completeness. They are a perfect whole. No other person could possibly be conceived as entering into this perfect union. They are sufficient in themselves.
Such is the truth concerning the triune God which has always been confessed by the Church.
And it is on the basis of this truth that we say that God is, in Himself, a covenant God, even apart from any relation to the creature.
For the Father knows and loves the Son in and through the Spirit; the Son knows and loves the Father in and through the Spirit; the Holy Ghost knows and loves the Father and the Son in Himself.
It is because of this absolute equality in essence while the three persons are personally distinct that God is a covenant God. For they eternally live in the most absolute covenant fellowship with one-another. And, therefore, we say that the covenant life of God is the deepest ground for the covenant relationship between God and the creature.
For the covenant relation is essentially a bond of friendship between God and man. Thus we would define the covenant relation. It is a bond of friendship. By friendship we mean such a bond of fellowship and love as can only exist between persons that are in the highest degree equal and yet are personally distinct. Friends have communion with one-another; they have no secrets from one-another. On the other hand, if there is to be fellowship with one-another on the basis of equality in being, it is also necessary that they differ in respect to personal properties, for otherwise one might as well be said to have fellowship with himself, and this is absurd. And on this basis we say that the covenant is a bond of friendship between God and man: it is essentially a bond of fellowship. In that covenant God is the Friend-Sovereign. As the Baptism-Form has it: “God the Father establishes His eternal covenant of grace with us.” He it is who reveals Himself to us and leads us into the secrets of His counsel. He opens His heart to us so that we may taste His goodness and the abundance of His goodness and grace. It is He that talks with us as a friend with His friends. And we are His friend-servants. As His friend-servants we dwell in His house. We walk with Him and talk with Him. We love Him and consecrate ourselves to Him with all that we have and are. We sing His praises and glorify His name.
Such is the Protestant Reformed idea of the covenant.
And this idea of the covenant is based on Holy Writ.
This is already from the revelation of God to Adam before the fall, in the state of righteousness. God had created him as His friend-servant. For He formed man in His own image in true knowledge of God, righteousness and holiness. He was made like God in a creaturely sense for the very purpose that he might be the friend of God. This has nothing to do, you understand with the so-called covenant of works and which is supposed to consist in condition, a promise and a penalty. The condition then is perfect obedience, the promise is eternal life, and the penalty is death.
The Protestant Reformed Churches reject this entire notion of the covenant of works. They do so for the following reasons:
1. It is neither Scriptural nor confessional.
2. Such a covenant God is supposed to have established with Adam after he was created. We believe that Adam stood in a covenant relation to God from the very moment he was created in virtue of his being created after the image of God.
3. There could be no special covenant-demand of God that Adam had to obey Him. From the moment Adam was created he was obliged to obey and to love the Lord his God with all his soul, with all his mind and with his whole heart. It is true that God tested his obedience by the command that he might not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but this negative command was not an element in the covenant: Adam stood in covenant-relation to God in the first paradise by dint of his being created in the image of God and as such he was called to obey and to consecrate himself to God with all that he had and with his whole being.
4. There is not an item of proof; either in Genesis II, III, or in all the rest of Scripture that Adam could have attained to the goal of eternal life in the way of obedience. He might have remained in paradise had he refrained from eating of the forbidden fruit. He might have kept the life with which God had endowed him when he was created. He might have lived that life everlastingly, â€• though all this is pure speculation. But he surely could not have attained to eternal life. For this is only in Jesus Christ our Lord, the Son of God in the flesh, Who died and rose again. Eternal life is resurrection life, life from death.
For all these reasons we reject the idea of the covenant of works.
More about this next time, D.V.
I received another copy of the “Presbyterian Laymen,” issued by a group of orthodox members of the Southern Presbyterian Church and describing the bad conditions in that denomination.
By the way, brethren, my address is not RANKLIF ST., as you had it, but FRANKLIN ST. Please correct.
Also in this issue the main topic of discussion is the heretical position assumed by Dr. Thompson against whom elder Glasgow protested without avail.
But in the present issue it is not so much the heresies of Dr. Thompson personally, but the effects of his instruction in the seminary that are described.
Concerning Dr. Thompson’s influence in the churches, the paper quotes the following from an address to the last General Assembly by a certain Dr. Frye. We quote a part of it:
“Indeed, it is probably true that in numbers alone he has taught more ministers than any other professor now active in our seminaries as well as almost all the graduates of the assembly’s training school. A recent count indicates that there are approximately 2200 living clergymen who studied at Union Seminary under Dr. Thompson. When we recall that there are some 3500 ministers in our church, then the figure of 2200 assumes great significance.
“And Dr. Thompson has not only taught these ministers of the church, but has exerted a profound personal influence upon them . . . . His influence has been not only on the minds but also on the total personality and character of those who have learned from him.”
It is evident that Dr. Thompson is a very capable teacher and, therefore, has had a deep influence, not only upon his students, but also in the churches in general. But the question is: what kind of influence did he exert? Of this the “Presbyterian Laymen” quotes some examples one of which is that of Rev. Charles M. Jones, minister of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Many complaints were raised against the teachings of the Rev. Jones. As a result a Judicial Committee was appointed by Orange Presbytery to investigate matters and conditions of the church in Chapel Hill. Their findings were, indeed, amazing and they also came by way of appeal, to the General Assembly. Some of these findings, published by the “Presbyterian Laymen” we briefly report here: 1. Persons that were never baptized made confession of faith without first being baptized. What is worse, some of the officers of the church did not know that the sacrament of baptism was being omitted, while others were aware of it, but considered it unimportant. Some of the elders were of the opinion that the sacrament of baptism should be administered only upon the request of those that made confession of faith, otherwise it should be omitted.
2. The questions that are asked of those that make confession of faith are quite arbitrary and not in accord with those required by the Church Order. Sometimes the question is asked whether they accept Jesus as their personal guide! The Church Order specifies the questions that are to be asked when persons make public confession of their faith. They include such questions as to whether the persons that make confession are conscious of their sins and of the need of a personal Savior, and whether they believe that Christ is the only Savior of men. But the session (consistory) ignored all this and substituted their own arbitrary questions.
3. Some of the consistory members have never been ordained or properly installed.
4. There is, according to report of the committee a general feeling that it is unimportant to be strictly Presbyterian. The committee, on the other hand, believes that Presbyterianism is taken from the Scriptures and, therefore, is based on the Word of God.
5. Most of the officebearers are not aware of the theological position of their church. Most of them could not even speak “of their religious convictions in such fashion as to include the concept of men as needing a savior, and of Christ as being a necessary Savior. A relatively large percentage, for instance, affirmed that they could not subscribe to the Apostles’ Creed, implied in our Confession of faith.”
6. Several of the officebearers declared that they did not see the necessity of administering the sacraments. Sometimes, indeed, upon request, the sacrament was administered, but then it was done, not in the public gathering of the congregation, but privately, in the gathering of the Session or Consistory.
7. For only a few of the officebearers Christ is the One that is expressed in the Confession of Faith. Some ascribe some measure of divinity to Him, but for some Christ is divine only in the sense that all men are divine. For only one or two was Christ the Son of God in the essential sense of the word. For many the resurrection from the dead had no significance. One declared that a good Confucianist or Hindu might be a better Christian than most professing Christians.
8. For most of the officebearers the Bible was an unusual book but not the inspired Word of God. For some it was the record of man’s evolution in his search for God.
9. The very idea of the sacrifice of Christ was disturbing and repelling to some of them. One declared that he could not feel at home in an atmosphere that included the necessity of sacrifice, death, and the shedding of blood in relation to salvation.
10. One of the officebearers even denied the existence of a personal God.
What was the outcome of it all?
The Judicial Committee with approval of Orange Presbytery decided that the Rev. Jones and all the Church officers should be removed from office.
The case was appealed to the Synod of North Carolina. This Synod decided that the case should be reviewed by the Orange Presbytery. The latter decided that there was no sense in reviewing the case once more since they had already thoroughly. Hence, they appealed to the General Assembly. This Assembly appointed a committee to settle the case. Of this Judicial Committee Dr. Thompson was chairman! The committee met. The chairman, Dr. Thompson, was very fair in conducting the meeting. Every member was given five minutes to express his opinion. But after all had spoken the chairman was given the privilege to speak as long as he wanted, and he spoke in favor of his former student, the Rev. Jones. He almost succeeded to justify the Rev. Jones but not quite. When the vote was taken the majority of the committee sustained the Presbytery of Orange in their decision to remove the Rev. Jones and all his officebearers from their office. But this was decided by the majority of only one vote.
This, to my mind, shows that the liberal element in the Southern Presbyterian Church is very strong.
As to the Rev. Jones, he left the Southern Presbyterian Church and established a Community Church in which they welcome those of all faiths and creeds.
Do you not agree with what I wrote above this article: “Bad Conditions”?
And again I maintain: 1. That such conditions could not possibly arise if proper discipline had been maintained and 2. That the only way for the faithful members of the Southern Presbyterian Church is to separate. They will never be able to oust the liberal element in the Church.