We are discussing the five points of Calvinism in connection with missions. The question comes down to this: Can mission work be carried out on the basis of the five points of Calvinism’? In that connection we are compelled to ask: Can a missionary preach sovereign predestination, total depravity, limited atonement, efficacious grace, and the preservation of saints? This really amounts to placing ourselves before the question: Can a Calvinist preach his convictions on the mission field? And that is the same as asking: Is Calvinism the truth of Scripture, or isn’t it?
All these questions imply the answer. Christ calls us to preach “the Gospel to all nations.” That Gospel includes the whole of Scripture, the whole counsel of God. It is that Word of God which is the power unto salvation. The truth, and the truth alone, can make us free, so that freed from the bondage of sin and death includes the whole of Scripture, the whole counsel of by the power of the truth we are free indeed! That truth of Scripture we profess to be formulated in our Confessions. Ministers and missionaries sign the Formula of Subscription to declare their agreement with those Confessions as the truth of Scripture, promising to teach and defend those doctrines, rejecting all errors that militate against it.
Yet the five points of Calvinism are being challenged. And this is done particularly in connection with the preaching of the Word on the mission field. The slogan, “God loves you, Christ died for you,” is set up as the only criterion for any gospel message. And since this slogan, when applied to every individual who hears the gospel message, conflicts with the five points of Calvinism, the Five Points must be cast aside.
That this is indeed the sad case in Reformed circles today is evident from what Dr. Daane writes in the Reformed Journal of December, 1964, about the death of Christ and the love of God that must be preached to all. He asserts that the preacher must be able to say to every individual he meets that God loves him and that Christ died for him. In this connection he writes:
The assertions about the death of Christ and the love of God in the current discussion are simply another aspect of the general well-meant offer of the gospel. What is badly needed in the rarified theological atmosphere in which these matters are discussed is a down-to-earth questioning and investigation of what one actually says, or inevitably appears to be saying, in the act of preaching.
We can appreciate the fact that Dr. Daane wants a clear cut, down-to-earth discussion on the subject of the real contents of the breaching of the Word, whether that be on the mission field or from the pulpit of an established church. The Standard Bearer gladly takes part in this discussion. But obviously what Daane has in mind is this: how is it possible to preach a general well-meant offer of the gospel without saying to every individual “God loves you,” and, “Christ died for you?” He is simply reminding his readers that in 1924 the Christian Reformed Churches adopted the Three Points of Common Grace and declared in the first point that this common grace to all mankind is evident from the “general well meant offer of the gospel.” When the Synod of 1924 adopted the first point of common grace it also officially declared that the preaching of the gospel is a general well-meant offer to all who hear it.
It is in this connection that Daane comes in conflict with the doctrine of total depravity as taught in our Confessions and in the five points of Calvinism. He writes:
Moreover, if we wholly reject every possible meaning of the statement, Christ died for you, what shall we do with original sin? Christ’s death atoned for original sin, that, one sin which is the fountain of all other sins, that one sin which entered the world, and as Paul teaches, brought death upon all men, that one sin which is every man’s sin. One can, conceivably, say that Christ did not die for all the sins of every man, but one cannot say—and remain within Biblical teaching—that Christ did not die for that one sin which is every man’s sin. Not every meaning of “for” can be rejected in the statement, “Christ died for your sins.”
Here Daane argues that the original sin of Adam was imputed to every individual of the human race. Adam’s original guilt brought death to all his posterity. For that he appeals to Scripture, and with that we agree. But then he adds that Christ died for the original sin of Adam, and since the original sin of Adam is the sin of every individual, Christ died in that sense for all men, none excluded. There we certainly have a universal atonement, according to Daane. And from this he seems to conclude, even though he does not say so in so many words, that there is also a restraint of sin in the heart of the unregenerate, which enables him to accept the gospel offer and make a decision for Christ. If we are laying words in Daane’s mouth, we shall appreciate his telling us so.
This reasoning does not surprise us in the light of history. Daane refers repeatedly to 1924 to point out that his church actually took that position already in 1924 by adopting the Three Points of Common Grace. Daane considers the term “common grace” a misnomer, because the synod of 1924 spoke of the general well-meant offer of salvation as an evidence of God’s common grace to all men. Daane wonders how a certain “common grace,” or temporal blessings can include a general well-meant offer of the gospel. And he is so right. But then he concludes from this that the church even then had in mind, not a certain “common grace,” but a special or saving grace to all men. And if there is a saving grace in some sense for all men, then it also must follow that Christ died for all men, be it possibly only in the sense that Christ bore the original sin of Adam which is the sin of all men, since all men died in Adam. No one is worthy of condemnation on account of original sin, and no one shall be condemned because of it, but all are free from the guilt of original sin. And now God reveals His love to all men in the preaching. The preacher must not hesitate to approach anyone with the assurance that God loves him and that Christ died for him.
Dr. Daane must be aware of the fact that when he states that the original guilt of every individual was taken away by the cross, he is in direct conflict with the Canons. For the Canons in the Second Head of Doctrine, Article 5 of the Rejection of Errors, declare:
The true doctrine having been explained, the Synod rejects the errors of those who teach: That all men have been accepted unto the state of reconciliation and unto the grace of the covenant, so that no one is worthy of condemnation on account of original sin, and that no one shall be condemned because of it, but that all are free from the guilt of original sin. For this opinion is repugnant to Scripture which teaches that we are by nature children of wrath.
Here our Canons declare in no uncertain terms that it is the error of the Arminians to teach that Christ bore away the original guilt for all men. They call this an error repugnant to the Scriptures. And they point out that by nature we are “children of wrath,” according to the Scriptures.
But we express that same conviction in our Confession of Faith, Article 15, which deals with the subject of original sin.
We believe, that, through the disobedience of Adam, original sin is extended to all mankind; which is a corruption of the whole nature, and an hereditary disease, wherewith infants themselves are infected even in their mother’s womb, and which produceth in man all sorts of sin, being in him as a root thereof; and therefore is so vile and abominable in the sight of God, that it is sufficient to condemn all mankind. Nor is it by any means abolished or done away by baptism; since sin always issues forth from this woeful source, as water from a fountain; notwithstanding it is not imputed to the children of God unto condemnation, but by his grace and mercy is forgiven them.
This article plainly teaches that the original sin of Adam is “extended to all mankind,” and “is sufficient to condemn all mankind.” It also states that only the children of God are freed from this imputation, for this sin “is not imputed to the children of God unto condemnation, but by his (God’s) grace and mercy is forgiven them.” According to this article Christ did not die for all men. He did not remove the original guilt of Adam from all men. Nor does this article teach a restraint of sin in the heart of the wicked. But it tells us that the whole nature is corrupted, and that children are already infected with this hereditary disease when they are born. The first sin of Adam is the root of all sin, producing all sorts of sins. It is so vile and abominable in the sight of God, that it is sufficient to bring God’s just condemnation upon all.
Our Heidelberg Catechism teaches us the same truth.
Question 7. Whence then proceeds this depravity of human nature?
Answer. From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, Adam and Eve in paradise; hence our nature is become so corrupt, that we are all conceived and born in sin.
Although our Catechism does not speak of original guilt, this is certainly implied. The obvious implication is that the guilt of Adam is the guilt of all his posterity, because he is our representative head. And as the result of our fall in Adam our nature has become so corrupt that we are all conceived and born in sin. Our Catechism knows nothing of a restraint of sin in the heart of the wicked, which enables the unregenerate to bring forth fruits of good works which are pleasing to God. In fact, our Catechism teaches the very opposite by maintaining that by nature man is only depraved; nothing but regeneration can change that. This is evident from the next question and answer:
Question 8. Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of any good, and inclined to all wickedness?
Answer: Indeed we are; except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.
It is absolutely true that Scripture knows but one grace of God, and that is saving grace. But it is absolutely wrong to maintain that this grace applies to all men.
Again, it is true that Christ died for that one sin of Adam, so that the original guilt of Adam is borne away. But it is error to teach that Christ bore away the guilt of all men. Christ is the representative-Head of His people. He laid down His life for His sheep. Therefore, as in Adam, all those who are included in Adam die, so also in Christ, all those who are included in Christ are made alive again. I Cor. 15:22.
Once more, on the basis of Christ’s merit the elect are saved. God sees no sin in Jacob and no transgression in Israel. Those in Christ are made alive again. But there is no other merit of the cross. There is no basis in the accomplished work of Christ for some mere improvement in the dead sinner that takes place before regeneration. We are by nature dead in trespasses and sins. We are in ourselves totally depraved.
And no preacher may hesitate to say so.