The next passage to which the Rev. Petter appeals as proof that faith is a condition which man must fulfill before God will give him salvation is taken from Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost,: “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Now also of this text the Rev. Petter offers no exegesis whatever. He merely makes the following remarks: “Though the future form often expresses also certainty, yet here it follows upon the calling upon the name of the Lord, and is future with respect to that calling action.”
Now let us note:
- That according to Rev. Petter not only faith but also calling upon the name of the Lord is a condition unto salvation. In other words, the order according to him is: faith—calling on the name of the Lord—salvation. Mark you well, according to Petter faith and that activity of faith which consists in calling upon the name of the Lord is not the way in which the Lord leads His people unto salvation, but is a condition which man must fulfill before God will ever save him. The fulfillment of this condition is, of course, before salvation. Before a man is saved at all he is able to call upon the name of the Lord. I get the impression that the Rev. Petter means by calling upon the name of the Lord simply the act of prayer. This must mean, if words mean anything at all, that before God regenerates a man, before God works grace in his heart, he is able to pray. I say again: if words are not empty, but mean anything at all, this must be the meaning of Petter’s explanation. And this is simply Arminianism.
- That Peter in his sermon on the day of Pentecost quotes from : “And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.” Now we may remark that both in the sermon of Peter and in the context in which the passage occurs in Joel, the idea is entirely eschatological. It places us in “the day of the Lord”. Hence, it does not refer to the work which God performs in the heart of man in time and, as Petter would have it, immediately upon man’s calling upon the name of the Lord, but to future salvation, that is, to salvation in the end of time, in the parousia, in the coming of the Lord in the final kingdom of glory. That is the meaning of the future tense, connected with which is, of course, also the notion of certainty. That according to the context the entire new dispensation is included in the day of the Lord does not alter the fact that salvation here refers to the final and future deliverance in the Messianic kingdom of glory. In other words, it does not mean salvation in the dogmatic sense, salvation in the sense that, we are already saved through faith by grace. On the contrary, the future means, if I may paraphrase the text: “they that are saved by grace and through faith and call upon the name of the Lord shall surely be saved in the final day of the Lord.” Hence, the text has nothing to do with faith as a condition.
- That “to call upon the name of the Lord” certainly is not simply the same as prayer in its narrower sense, but refers to the entire act of public confession and worship which believers offer to God in the midst of the world and whereby they reveal themselves as of His party. It “signifies not only the public worship of God, but inward worship also, in which the confession of the mouth is also the expression of the heart.” (Keil, in loco). It is, therefore, a very conscious and emphatic act of faith, of that faith which by grace God works in the hearts of the elect. And therefore, to say that faith is a condition unto calling on the name of the Lord, and that, in turn calling on the name of the Lord is a condition unto salvation is pure nonsense. They that call upon the name of the Lord already are saved and are consciously saved. Before they can ever call upon the name of the Lord, they are regenerated, they are called by the efficacious call of God through the gospel, and have come to the conscious act of believing.
- That “the calling upon the name of the Lord” is the fruit of the calling of God according to the text in Joel. For we read: “That whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.” The remnant here is undoubtedly the remnant according to the election of grace. And the calling is the efficacious calling of God which is rooted in and based upon that gracious election. Thus Calvin understands the text correctly: “But it is not enough to hold, that the church of God is only in the remnant; it must be also added, that the remnant abide in God’s church for no other reason but that the Lord has called them. Whence then is it that there is a portion in the church which shall remain safe, while the whole world seems to be doomed to destruction? It is from the calling of God. And there is no doubt but that the prophet means by the word, call, gratuitous election. The Lord is indeed often said to call men, when He invites them by the voice of His gospel; but there is what surpasses that, a hidden call, when God destines for Himself those whom He purposes to save. There is then an inward call, which dwells in the secret counsel of God; and that follows the call, by which he makes us really the partakers of His adoption. Now the prophet means, that those who will be the remnant shall not stand by their own power, but because they have been called from above, that is, elected. But that the election of God is not to be separated from the outward call I allow; and yet this order ought to be maintained, that God, before He testifies His election to men, adopts them first to Himself in His own secret counsel. The meaning is, that calling is here opposed to all human merits, and also to virtue and human efforts; as though he said, ‘Men attain not to this for themselves, that they continue a remnant and are safe, when God visits the sins of the world; but they are preserved by His grace alone, because they have been chosen.’ Paul also speaks of the remnant in Romans 11, and wisely considers that passage, ‘I have kept for myself seven thousand.’” I conclude, therefore, that also in this passage there is no ground or proof for the proposition which the Rev. Petter tries to defend, that faith is a condition.
Again the Rev. Petter refers to a passage from the same chapter in Acts. And I quote him: “It is to be noticed also how Peter in this same connection speaks to these people. They ask, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’ Upon their question Peter tells them to act. He says, ‘Repent and be baptized. . . .for the remission of sin and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.’ It is remarkable that first is a question of the hearers; secondly, an arousing to response; and thirdly, thereupon the gift of the Holy Spirit. Now howsoever we understand this ‘gift of the Holy Spirit’, whether as a power-sign, such as the apostles were themselves using in their speaking of tongues, or whether we understand it as we use it today, the Spirit working regeneration and faith and love, it makes essentially no difference. It certainly is the Spirit of salvation revealing Himself in some of its stages. And the Spirit as so seen comes upon, after, related to repentance.”
Now if words have their proper meaning, in the vocabulary of the Rev. Petter as well as in mine, as they should have, the above paragraph is Arminianism of the worst kind. Mark you well, I do not say that the Rev. Petter is Arminian. But I do emphatically state that his interpretation of the text is Arminian through and through. And it certainly cannot be deduced from the text itself. Consider what the Rev. Petter teaches here:
- He begins very arbitrarily, without any regard to the context, with a question of the hearers. That, of course, leaves room for the false impression that salvation and its application begins with man. The question referred to is: “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
- Then Peter tells them to act and arouses them to repentance. Also here the divine factor is entirely left out of view. That it is not Peter, but the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the gospel that arouses the hearers to act and repent is entirely forgotten.
- After this response, according to the Rev. Petter, not according to the text, the hearers receive the Holy Spirit of salvation. It makes no difference to the Rev. Petter whether this is the Spirit of regeneration and sanctification or not. In other words, even the Spirit of regeneration is, according to the implication of Petter’s reasoning, given on condition of faith and repentance. If you will believe, the Spirit will regenerate you. And this is exactly the stuff one may hear from many an Arminian preacher over the radio.
But all this is sheer dogmatism on the part of Rev. Petter and ignores all sound exegesis. Let us therefore carefully attend to the words of the text in its context.
The text does not begin with a question of the hearers, but with the announcement of the effect of the preaching of Peter upon them. Not to begin with this announcement is a very important omission on the part of Rev. Petter. For this announcement clearly shows that God’s salvation and the application of that salvation is first and efficacious and absolutely unconditional. What is this important announcement? It is this: “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart.”
What did these men hear? A word of man? The word of Peter? Not at all. They heard the preaching of the Word of God, the preaching of the gospel. And therefore they heard Christ Himself. The preaching of the gospel is a means of grace, that is, it is a means whereby the Holy Spirit works grace and faith in our hearts. Thus it is according to the Heidelberg Catechism: “Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all his benefits by faith only, whence doth this faith proceed? From the Holy Ghost, who works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel, and confirms it by the use of the sacraments.” Lord’s Day XXV, qu. and ans. 65. And the same truth is taught in Scripture in Romans 10:13-15: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in him of whom (whom) they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach except they be sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” Now here on the day of Pentecost there was a preacher that was sent, in the person of Peter, through whom it pleased Christ to speak His own efficacious Word to the hearers, and through whose words the hearers could hear Christ Himself speaking to them. That, therefore, was first. And that did not depend on any condition of man whatsoever. With this, and not with the question of the hearers, the Rev. Petter ought to have begun his exegesis. For that is very important.
Now, what was the immediate effect upon the hearers of the Word that was spoken by the apostle Peter? We read that they were pricked in their hearts. The heart is the very center of our life from a spiritual, ethical viewpoint. From the heart are the issues of life. All our thoughts and desires and longings and aspirations are centered in the heart and are given ethical, spiritual direction by that heart. We read that the hearers were pricked in their hearts. Who was the author of this pricking? The answer is evidently: Christ, by His Spirit, through the preaching of Peter? And what does it mean that they were pricked in their hearts? It evidently means that the Spirit had already efficaciously regenerated them and called them to repentance principally: for the Spirit gives the grace of repentance, and the fruit of this grace is that we repent. That is also the interpretation of Calvin in his commentary on the book of Acts. And we quote:
“They were pricked in their heart. Luke doth now declare the fruit of the sermon, to the end we may know that the power of the Holy Ghost was not only showed forth in the diversity of tongues, but also in their hearts which heard. And he noteth a double fruit; first, that they were touched with the feeling of sorrow; and secondly, that they were obedient to Peter’s counsel. This is the beginning of repentance, this is the entrance unto godliness, to be sorry for our sins, and to be wounded with the feeling of our miseries.”
Now, note, that although the hearers on the day of Pentecost were pricked in their hearts by the Spirit of Christ through the preaching of the apostle Peter and that therefore they were already principally regenerated and had received the gift of grace that is called repentance, they must still be roused to the activity of faith and to the activity of repentance by the same Spirit of Christ and through the same preaching of the apostle Peter. Hence, when the hearers ask the question in amazement and perhaps somewhat even in despair because of the great sin which they had committed when by wicked hands they had taken the Lord of glory and crucified and slain Him, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” they receive the answers of God through the preaching of Peter: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” For, mark you well, it was not Peter that aroused them to activity and to repentance. His word could not possibly have that effect. But the Holy Spirit, Who first pricked them in their hearts, regenerated and called them, now through the same preaching of the apostle Peter rouses them into conscious activity of repentance and baptism. Mark you, in all this there is absolutely no condition. The hearers do not take the initiative whatsoever. It is the Holy Spirit, that regenerated them and called them to faith, that now unconditionally rouses them to the activity of repentance. And when they thus repent, that repentance is not a condition unto salvation and unto the remission of sins, but is the active fruit in the hearers of the grace of God that wrought in them and that was first and unconditional.
This is proper exegesis of Scripture. And this is the teaching of our Reformed confessions. Let me call your attention once more to an article of the Canons which I quoted in another connection before, Canons III, IV, 12: “And this is the regeneration so highly celebrated in Scripture, and denominated a new creation: a resurrection from the dead, a making alive, which God works in us without our aid . But this is in no wise effected merely by the external preaching of the gospel by moral suasion, or such a mode of operation, that after God has performed His part, it still remains in the power of man to be regenerated or not, to be converted, or to continue unconverted; but it is evidently a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to creation, or the resurrection from the dead, as the Scripture inspired by the author of this work declares; so that all in whose heart God works in this marvelous manner, are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe. Whereupon the will thus renewed is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence, becomes itself active. Wherefore also, man is himself rightly said to believe and repent, by virtue of that grace received.”
All this is most beautifully taught in the words of the text from Acts from which the Rev. Petter tries to deduce conditions.
From all this it ought to be perfectly evident that the gift of the Holy Ghost to which the text refers is certainly not the Spirit of regeneration and sanctification, the Spirit that applies the salvation in Christ to us, but the Spirit that bestowed special gifts, such as the gift of tongues and the gifts of healing and the gifts of prophecy upon the church in the first stages of its existence in the world. How could they possibly receive the Spirit of regeneration upon condition of faith and repentance? And, in corroboration of this interpretation, let me quote once more from the commentary of Calvin, in loco:
“Ye shall receive the gift of the Spirit. Because they were touched with wondering when they saw the apostles suddenly begin to speak with strange tongues, Peter saith that they shall be partakers of the same gift if they will pass over unto Christ. Remission of sins and newness of life were the principal things, and this was, as it were, an addition, that Christ should show forth unto them his power by some visible gift. Neither ought this place to be understood of the grace of sanctification, which is given generally to all the godly. Therefore he promiseth them the gift of the Spirit, whereof they saw a pattern in the diversity of tongues. Therefore this doth not properly appertain unto us. For because Christ meant to set forth the beginning of his kingdom with those miracles, they lasted but for a time; yet because the visible graces which the Lord did distribute to his did show, as it were in a glass, that Christ was the giver of the Spirit, therefore, that which Peter saith doth in some respect appertain unto the whole church: ye shall receive the gift of the Spirit. For although we do not receive it, that we may speak with tongues, that we may be prophets, that we may cure the sick, that we may work miracles; yet it is given us for the better use, that we may believe with the heart unto righteousness, that our tongues may be framed unto true confession, that we may pass from death to life, that we, which are poor and empty, may be made rich, that we may withstand Satan and the world stoutly. Therefore the grace of the Spirit shall always be annexed unto baptism, unless the let be in ourselves.”
But it seems that the Rev. Petter after all finds some support for his theory that faith is a condition in our confessions. He refers to Lord’s Day XLV, the first question and answer, and he writes: “Thus also the Heidelberg Catechism says, “He gives His Holy Spirit only to those who ask Him.’” All explanation of this passage from the Heidelberger is wanting. But it seems that the Rev. Petter means to say that God gives His Holy Spirit to anyone only on condition of prayer.
Now let us try to explain this question and answer of the Heidelberger a little more in detail. They read as follows:
“Why is prayer necessary for Christians?
“Because it is the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us: and also, because God will give his grace and Holy Spirit to those only, who with sincere desires continually ask them of him, and are thankful for them.”
Now it seems to me that the Rev. Petter is a little off the track. He was going to prove the proposition that faith is a condition. And now it seems that everything becomes conditional. In the preceding he spoke of repentance as a condition. And now he implies that prayer is a condition which man must fulfill in order that God may give him His grace and Spirit. But perhaps that is the inevitable tendency of conditional theology. But I insist that this is not Reformed. Reformed it is to teach that God applies His salvation to us in the way of and through the instrument of faith which He implants in our hearts and which He causes to come to conscious activity through the preaching of the gospel. Reformed it is to say that God gives His salvation to His people in the way of repentance, a grace which He by His Holy Spirit implants into our hearts, and, which again He brings into conscious activity through the preaching of the gospel. And so it is Reformed to teach that God unconditionally gives His Holy Spirit to the elect, works into their hearts by that Spirit through the preaching of the gospel the need, the hunger and thirst for His grace and Spirit, and thus causes them to acknowledge Him as the only Giver of that grace and Spirit through prayer, which is the highest expression of thankfulness. God gives His Holy Spirit and grace not on condition of prayer, but in the way of prayer, which He Himself works in their hearts.
That is Reformed.
Note, in the first place, that according to the Heidelberg Catechism prayer is the chief part of thankfulness which God requires of us. The question is: Of thankfulness for what? And the answer is, of course: For all the salvation which God has bestowed upon the one that prays. He is thankful for Christ and all His benefits, for the incarnation of the Son of God, for the cross and reconciliation in His blood, for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, for His exaltation, His intercession for His people in heaven, for the hope of His coming, for the gift of the Holy Spirit and the application of all the blessings of salvation through Him, for justification and the forgiveness of sins, for the adoption unto children and heirs, for regeneration and faith and sanctification, and for the hope of final glorification in the way of perseverance unto the end. This implies, therefore, that prayer is not a condition unto the reception of all these benefits, but that the one that prays and is thankful for them has the Holy Spirit and grace before he ever prays. Only one that possesses grace and the Holy Spirt of God in Christ Jesus can pray at all. It is the chief part of thankfulness. Now thankfulness does not imply that we can ever remunerate God. We can never do anything for Him. He does all for us. We can never add anything to the fountain of life, but only drink from it. And therefore, thankfulness is principally the act of faith whereby we acknowledge God as the Giver and as the overflowing Fountain of all good.
What does it mean, then, that according to the Catechism “God will give His grace and Holy Spirit to those only, who with desires continually ask them of him, and are thankful for them?”
It must be evident from all that we have said on prayer as the chief part of thankfulness that God is always first along the whole line of salvation and the application of salvation to us. Otherwise we could never be saved. Hence, the Catechism cannot and does not mean that God will not send His Spirit in your heart and regenerate you and call you and give you faith and justify you and sanctify and glorify you unless you first ask Him. He does not bestow His Spirit and grace upon us on condition of prayer which we must first fulfill before He will bestow His grace upon us. But He will bestow His Spirit and grace in the way of prayer. And that means that all His salvation, His Spirit and grace, are bestowed upon us as rational and moral creatures. God never deals with us as with stocks and blocks. He wants us to be conscious and to taste His grace and to glorify Him with thankfulness. You know, it sometimes happens in the hospitals that a sick person is incapable of eating and of tasting his food and that he must be fed through his veins. In this fashion God does not and will not feed the grace of His Holy Spirit, feed the Bread of Life, to His elect. Then they would never taste His glorious grace. And we would never acknowledge them with thanksgiving as the Fountain of living waters, as the over-flowing fountain of all good. And God would never be glorified. Hence, God first gives us His Holy Spirit and regenerates us unconditionally. He first brings that life of regeneration through the preaching of the gospel to conscious activity. And then we begin to feel the need of the grace and Spirit of God. We begin to hunger and thirst for righteousness. We begin to feel the need of the forgiveness of sins and justification in the blood of Christ. We begin to feel the need of being delivered from sin and of sanctification. We begin to feel the need to be preserved in the midst of the world in order that we may persevere in the faith. In other words, we begin to feel the need of the Holy Spirit and grace which God has already given to us before we ever felt the need of them. And in the profound sense of that need we pray, and in that prayer acknowledge God as the Giver of all good things, and glorify Him as the Fountain of all good. And then in the sure response of that true prayer He continually bestows His grace and Spirit upon us, we acknowledge Him once more for the very gift of prayer and are thankful to Him that we may give Him thanks.
That is the explanation of Question 116 of the Heidelberg Catechism.
That is truly Scriptural.
And that, and that only, is Reformed truth.
And in this Reformed truth there is neither room for nor need of the term condition.