The Canadian Reformed Magazine, Clarion (Jan. 27, 1979), continues to make comments on what is supposed to be my view of the covenant. This time the comments come from the Editor, Prof. Dr. J. Faber, who is also professor at the Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches.
Editor Faber writes on the subject, “Newer Studies on God’s Covenant.” But in some introductory remarks on the subject of the importance of the covenant in Reformed theology, he writes, among other things:
It would be a sign of wistful thinking on my part if I stated eat all Reformed people have always thought in this manner. There has been and there still is much debate about covenant and baptism. One is reminded of the debates in the thirties of this century, when in The Netherlands the reformational movement under the guidance of such brothers as K. Schilder and S. Grijdanus, D. van Dijk and A. Janse; again stressed the reality of God’s covenant with the believers and all their descendants. They did not want to know of an identification of God’s election and God’s covenant, as if God had established His covenant only with His elect. They asked again that attention be given to the tremendous reality of God’s blessing and His curse, to the horrendous possibility of God’s wrath in His covenant. Presently, Professor Homer C. Hoeksema still wrongly maintains in the Standard Bearer that there is no covenantal wrath under the new dispensation, and one sees the significance of the struggle that led to the liberation of the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands.
When I speak of “fiction” in the title above this editorial, I am referring, first of all, to what Dr. Faber writes about me in the above paragraph. When one writes a good deal, I suppose it is possible that he forgets some of what he has written or that he fails to write with sufficient clarity. But I can honestly say that I rubbed my eyes and then reread that sentence: “Presently, Professor Homer C. Hoeksema still wrongly maintains . . . that there is no covenantal wrath under the new dispensation. . . .” I thought to myself, “Did I actually write that? Did I suggest it? Did I write something from which that conclusion could be legitimately drawn?” But when I reviewed what I had written about covenant-breaking (the articles recently disputed by Rev. Geertsema), and when I reviewed my recent editorials in reply to Rev. Geertsema, I failed to find it. Moreover, the simple fact is that I do not deny the reality of covenantal wrath under the new dispensation, provided that idea of “covenantal wrath” is properly understood. (See the next editorial in this issue.)
Fiction Number Two is the idea that it was “reformational” on the part of K. Schilder and others t6 stress “the reality of God’s covenant with the believers and all their descendants.” (italics added) Nor is it an item at which to point with pride that “They did not want to know of an identification of God’s election and God’s covenant, as if God had established His covenant only with His elect.” Not only is it certainly not to the credit of a Reformed theologian to make the scope of God’s covenant broader than the scope of election, but there was nothing fresh and reformational about these ideas. They had long been present in the Dutch churches, and they had also long been promoted here in America especially by the late Prof. W. Heyns in the Christian Reformed Church.
But there is more fiction in the article by Prof. Faber. In an earlier paragraph he writes in part:
They certainly recall the w6rds of the Form for Baptism that in all covenants there are contained two parts: “Whereas in all covenants there are contained two parts, therefore are we by God, through baptism, admonished of and obliged unto new obedience.” One can think of two parties (God on the one side, and the believers and their seed on the other side) or of two elements or aspects (promise and demand). Whether the two parts, are meant as the two parties within the covenant, or the parts of the covenant, Reformed people have thought of the covenant as a mutua obligatio, a mutual obligation.
We will pass by the matter of that undefined “mutual obligation,” except to say that without further explanation we cannot accept it as fact rather than fiction.
The matter of “parties” in the covenant, however, we characterize as pure fiction.
In the first place, it simply is not correct that “One can think of two parties . . . or of two elements or aspects. . . .” in connection with the Form for Baptism. The Baptism Form very definitely uses the term “parts.” Not only so, but the very language of the Form makes it plain that it means “parts,” not parties. For in then third paragraph of the Form it goes on to describe not a party, but our “part” in distinction from God’s “part” which is described in the second paragraph: “Thirdly, since in all covenants there are contained two parts, therefore are we by God through baptism admonished of and obliged unto new obedience, namely, that we cleave to this one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; that we trust in him, and love him with all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our mind, and with all our strength; that we forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and walk in a new and holy life.” From this it is plain that the Form is indeed speaking of a “part,” not at all of a party.
But in a later paragraph Dr. Faber has more to say on this subject:
K. Schilder stressed time and again that God’s covenant was established by God alone. Its origin is unilateral, mono-pleuric: it comes from one side only. God’s is the initiative. But at the same time it is a real co-venant: two parties are in it; they come together. (con-venire), the Party with a capital P (God) and the party with a small p (man). God’s covenant is bilateral, di-pleuric. Covenant is the mutual relationship or agreement between God and His people, established by Himself, and maintained, through His work of grace, by Himself and His people as two “parties.” As far as God’s part is concerned, the covenant is determined by His Word (promise and demand), and by speaking His Word, God executes His decree of election and reprobation.
I remember well that Dr. Schilder used this same illustration of the capital P and the small p in his conference with us in November of 1947, I can still see in my imagination the capital P and the small p which he wrote on the blackboard in the old Theological School room in the basement of First Church. I recall, too, that he even wanted to stress in that connection the infinite difference between the capital P and the small p, God and man.
The trouble is, of course, that no matter how great you make the capital P and how small you make the small p, man remains a party in relation to the living God.
But this is fiction.
Man is never a party in relation to the Most High. The creature a party in relation to the Creator? The dust in the balance and the drop of the bucket a party in relation to the Living God? All nations before Him are as nothing; they are less than nothing, and vanity!
No, God is His own Party. And there are no parties (plural) in His covenant. But it is the privilege and high calling of His people, by His grace, to become members of His covenant of friendship, and thus to be of the party of the living God in the midst of the world.
But I suspect that the differences between us and the Canadian Reformed brethren run deeper than these matters. I suspect that they have to do with the very definition of the covenant of grace. And this suspicion is confirmed when I read in the above paragraph: “Covenant is the mutual relationship or agreement between God and His people. . . .” What is the covenant? Is it a relationship? Is it an agreement? The terms are not the same and interchangeable, you know. And what is the nature of that relationship and/or agreement? Further, does Dr. Faber now identify the covenant and the elect when he speaks of the covenant as a relationship or agreement between God and His people? To me, the expression “His people” refers to the elect.