Since, however, no one has thus far discussed the contents of the Declaration of Principles, the Standard Bearer proposes to do so.
But first of all, I want to reflect upon what is in my opinion a very misleading letter by Mr. K. C. Van Spronsen, a letter which was published in Concordia.
I say that this letter is misleading because it attacks the Declaration of Principles without once referring to the Confessions. This is misleading because the Declaration of Principles does not mean to be anything at all but the Confessions themselves. But although Mr. Van Spronsen does not refer to the Confessions, nor quote them in opposition to the Declaration of Principles, he nevertheless insinuates and suggests and leaves the impression that it is not in harmony with the confessions. And insinuations and suggestions are dangerous. We must not have them, but we must have clear language, language that is to the point. But of such clear language, that shows without any ambiguity that the Declaration is not based upon the Confessions, Mr. Van Spronsen does not avail himself. Instead he writes:
“But I am willing to tell you something about the reaction of our churches in re the proposal of your synod. In general we are very sorry about this decision. We have become extremely afraid of bindings, explanations of opinions, additions, etc, We have experienced much misery with such things in the Netherlands. Finally the church was torn by it. And according to my opinion such things are not necessary at all. Our confession is clear and plain enough, and all our interpretations make matters more complicated and more difficult. None of us can say it as clearly and plainly as our fathers did say it in their time. Besides, there is a great danger of one-sidedness, because the theologian who makes formulas to further explain the confession, is always in danger to put his own dogmatical construction in these ‘further explanations’. That is what Dr. Kuyper did, that’s what they did by us in 1944, and I fear that this will also take place by you if you don’t watch out. And there is nothing more dangerous for the church than dogmatics. The Bible is not a dogmatical textbook. But it is the living Word of God, and that’s what our fathers also purposed with their confessions. When Calvin talked with a friend about the death bed of his wife he said: ‘Before she died we talked together about the doctrine’. From what follows it is clear that Calvin meant with this ‘doctrine’ nothing else but the abundant grace which a believer may have on his death bed by his unshakeable faith in the all-cleansing blood of Christ. And thus we must read the Scriptures, and also preach out of them from the pulpits. Then it becomes rich and cogent both with a view to judgment and blessing. Above all there is a danger, in spite of our best intentions, that we give the wrong contents to the words of our fathers by trying to ‘explain’ into a system what our fathers had in mind in their confessions.”
Let me clarify some of these ambiguous statements.
Mr. Van Spronsen writes: “Our confession is clear and plain enough.” With this I agree. And that means that our confession does not teach Heynsianism. Our confession does not teach that the promise of God is for all, that the promise of God is conditional, or that faith is a condition. Our confession teaches quite the contrary. And that that is true is plainly expressed in the Declaration of Principles. Hence, I agree with Mr. Van Spronsen in a different sense than he means it that our confessions are plain enough.
I can even admit to a certain extent that “none of us can say it as clearly and plainly as our fathers did say it in their time.” But then I must include in our Confessions what I would call the Confessions of a minor order, such as especially the Baptism Form. That Baptism Form teaches as plainly as anyone can wish that God establishes and maintains and realizes His covenant with His elect without fail and unconditionally, and that as a fruit of that part of God our part is that we love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength, forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a new and holy life. But our Baptism Form never speaks of a conditional covenant. Our Baptism Form asks the question whether the parents believe that the children must be baptized as members of His church that are ‘’sanctified in Christ”. And that the fathers that composed our Baptism Form did not mean by this expression a mere outward sanctification, mere outward membership in the church, mere external separation from the world, is well-known. The Liberated view of that phrase is certainly not historically Reformed. By that phrase in the Baptism Form the fathers certainly meant nothing else than real spiritual sanctification. The same is true of the thanksgiving in the Baptism Form when it puts upon the lips of the believing church the following words: “Almighty God and merciful Father, we thank and praise thee, that thou hast forgiven us, and our children, all our sins, through the blood of thy beloved Son Jesus Christ and received us through thy Holy Spirit as members of thine only begotten Son, and adopted us to be thy children, and sealed and confirmed the same unto us by holy baptism.” It is simply a distortion of the plain meaning of the words to make of all this nothing but an objective bequest that can still be accepted or rejected by those that are baptized. And therefore: I agree with Mr. Van (Spronsen, although he certainly does not agree with me, and therefore not with the Confession, when he writes that none of us can say it as clearly and plainly as our fathers did say it in their time. Nevertheless, from the pen of Mr. Van Spronsen these words are misleading.
Misleading is too what Mr. Van Spronsen writes about the danger of one-sidedness and about the theologian that makes formulas and that is always in dander to put his own dogmatical construction in these explanations. Misleading is too, for the same reason, what he writes in the last part of the words I quoted above, namely, about the danger that we give wrong contents to the words of our fathers by trying to explain into a system what our fathers had in mind in their confession. All these things are misleading because Mr. Van Spronsen really says nothing. What he has to prove is that the Declaration is guilty of one-sidedness, that it is the mere opinion of a theologian, that the Declaration of Principles is guilty of putting a wrong dogmatical construction upon what our Confessions teach. I want to call the attention of our readers emphatically to the fact that Mr. Van Spronsen says nothing, but that he does leave a certain impression that the Declaration of Principles is guilty of corrupting the Confessions.
Misleading is also the false contrast which Mr. Van Spronsen makes between the Bible and dogmatics or between true preaching of the Word of God and dogmatics. True, dogmatics, and that is what we are talking about, is nothing else than the systematic setting forth of the contents of Scripture. And although preaching is much more than dogmatics, and although I always warn our students against preaching dogmatics from the pulpit instead of the living Word of God, yet true preaching is based upon true doctrine, and true doctrine is dogmatics. And as far as the quotation that Mr. Van Spronsen makes of what Calvin said concerning the death bed of his wife is concerned, we like to have him give us the reference or make the full quotation in its context before we believe what he writes.