Dear brother:—I am glad to receive another reply from you to my open letters. I will reproduce your article paragraph by paragraph and add my remarks as I go along.
You write, “Before we consider some of the Bible passages that speak of conditions. …”
Remark. I am glad that you are going to consider some of the Bible passages that speak of conditions. However, the term condition does not appear at all in the Bible passages to which you have reference. Fact is that the term appears once in the whole of the English version of the Scriptures, to wit, at, “And Nahash the Ammonite answered and said, On this condition will I make a covenant with you . . .” But even here the term is written in italics, which indicates that it was added by the translators. How then is it going to be possible for you “to consider some of the Bible passages that speak of conditions?” The word that does appear in the Bible passages to which you have reference is the conjunctive “if”, Hebrew im and ki, Greek ei. But as we have seen the particle “if” may have one of half a dozen meanings. And this also holds for its Hebrew and Greek equivalents. You therefore should have made your statement to read, “Before we consider some of the Bible passages containing the particle “if”. Here, too, your manner of speech shows that you approach these “if” clauses of the type with which we are occupied with the fixed idea that the conjunctive “if” always means condition. What we therefore are going to get from you, I am afraid, is not exegesis but your very own notions read by you into the text. It shows that you still are failing to face the real issue, which is: Just what, precisely, is the meaning of that “if”.
You write, “Some one has suggested to me that it might be better to use the term ‘order’, because of the odium and arminian flavor that attaches to the term ‘condition’. On the other hand I can understand the concern, but I also believe that a living church does not live by empty words but also understands and remembers the content of them. And the actual content and denotation of the word is not odius.”
Reply. You conceal the issue. The term is indeed odius not, of course, as standing alone, but—and this is the issue—as a sentence-element of the doctrinal tenet of the liberated to the effect that God saves men—the covenant members, elect and non-elect—on the condition of (op voorwaarde van) faith and repentance. As a sentence-element of that tenet (of the Liberated and Christian Reformed) the term stands for an abominable heresy.
You write, “In the second place, we must not act as if the word does not have for us a rather definite usage. We must not in the midst of a theological discussion act as if the word has never been heard before except in the mouths of unbelievers. We must not act as if the fathers, who were the equal of any scholars of their days, have not for us poured a definite and legitimate meaning into it for over three hundred years.”
Reply. What you write here is folly. I mean your telling us that the fathers poured meanings into words, definitely into the word condition. That is not true. Here is the proof. As we saw (see my previous article) in the first period the Reformed freely spoke of conditions in the covenant. But when the nature of the covenant was more deeply thought into and when the covenant had to be defended against Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Remonstrants, many felt the phraseology in question to be objectionable and avoided it. And Bavinck’s personal stand was that actually there are no conditions in the covenant. It shows that the fathers used words according to their current and accepted meanings. They did not pour meanings into words. What a thing to say about the fathers!
You write. “John Stuart Mill may be able to think only of capricious contingency, but his word is certainly not law for the Christian who believes in the all pervading power and purpose of God.
Reply. You misrepresent Mill. The teaching is not his. Mill is the best known advocate of the doctrine of the plurality of causes—a doctrine that the same kind of effect can be produced in different cases by different causes; otherwise stated, that any one of several separate causes can produce the same kind of effect as another. (See J. S. Mill, System of Logic, 1875 etc). Besides, how can contingency—the fact that the expected result does not always follow when all the necessary conditions appear to be operative—exclude belief in the providence of God. According to the latter, God rules and governs all things according to His holy will, so that nothing happens in this world without His appointment. Both are facts, aren’t they? If so, how, as you intimate, must belief in the one exclude belief in the other.
You write, And finally, I want to say that I do not believe that because in Logic a condition is often a cause, that therefore in physics and metaphysics it is also that.”
Reply. On the basis of what authority do you reject the idea that also in physics conditions are causes? On the basis of the authority of the “I don’t believe,” that is, on the basis of the “I, Rev. Petter have said”. But who is Rev. Petter as an authority in logic and physics and metaphysics? Like Rev. G. M. Ophoff, he is a zero as authority in logic and physics. Aware of this, Rev. Ophoff turned to the specialists, the authorities, in those fields. He consulted his dictionaries and encyclopedias. And he learned from the specialists that in physics, too, as well as in logic, the term condition is but another word for cause. But Rev. Petter says, “I don’t believe”. May I ask this question: How can anyone carry on a discussion with you, brother, if you won’t allow the specialist to tell you the meaning of words in use in his own field; if you allow yourself to dispense with his instruction merely by apposing to it the “I don’t believe” of Rev. Petter. In the sequel of your article you, too, use the term condition in the sense of cause, as for example when you state that a harvest is conditioned upon the fact that man plows and seeds. Certainly, there is a causal connection, isn’t there? between plowing and seeding on the one hand and the harvesting on the other. To deny this is to be compelled to embrace the view that the ever-changing phenomenon of nature is a mere sequence of new happenings in which each successive stage is in no sense the outcome of the preceding stage, but strictly a new creation. But this is not your view, is it? If not, you are saying with me that conditions are causes. So your dictionary and my dictionary define them.
You write, “I believe we just get into deep water in this field (the fields of logic and physics, Rev. Petter means) and had better leave it to the specialists of the field.”
Reply. That, precisely, is what I have done, brother—leave it to the specialists of the field. But you refuse to receive their expert testimony. You won’t believe, and on that account you do indeed get yourself into deep water. The only voice to which you will hearken in the matter of definitions of words is the voice of Rev. Petter. And here is the proof.
You next write, “The simple dictionary definition is perfectly valid, namely, an event, fact, or the like that is necessary to the occurrance of some other, though not its cause; a prerequisite.”
Reply. Does the philologist whose definition you quote mean to deny that a condition is a cause absolutely? He does not: but this is what he means: A condition is not a cause only in the sense that alone it is inadequate to the production of the effect. But it is a cause nevertheless as to its idea and working. The only reason of its impotency as an effect-producing circumstance is the absence of the other conditions indispensible to the production of the effect. This is what the philologist you quoted means. And here is the proof. Speaking of causes, he has this to say: “All true, that is, necessary conditions, are causes; but for the purpose of experience, or by reason of special interests, we distinguish a prime condition, or direct cause, from the secondary conditions or indirect cause.”
You will find your definition and the exposition last quoted in Funk and Wagnall’s Standard Dictionary of the English Language and in Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language. So you see, brother, how it is. Conditions are causes indeed according to any good dictionary that you may want to consult. You should therefore have refrained from letting the dictionary tell your readers that a condition is not a cause absolutely. A condition then is:
1) an event or fact that is necessary to the occurance of another.
2) not a cause, that is, not a primary cause but a cause nevertheless.
3) A limiting or restricting circumstance.
You call the definition under 1) “the simple dictionary definition, perfectly valid. But the definitions under 2) and 3) are likewise simple dictionary definitions and just as valid certainly. Why then do you insist on disregarding the definitions under 2) and 3)? True, a condition is an event or fact that is necessary to the occurrance of another. But a condition is more than that; it is all that the definitions under 2) and 3) say that it is. Hence, to say that God saves men on the condition that they believe, is to say more than that faith is necessary to salvation; it is to say in addition that men’s faith must induce God to save them; it is to say that faith is of man and therefore limits God. It is thus to give expression to an abominable heresy. You say that our Reformed fathers spake of conditions in the covenant. Indeed. But we saw that they stopped speaking of conditions in the covenant as soon as they would realize what they were saying.
You write: “This proper usage of the term may be illustrated by a few different instances.”
Remark. “This proper usage of the term,” you say. Your reference here is solely to the definition under 1). The implication of this statement from your pen is that the definition under 2) and 3) are not proper and thus fail to set forth the proper usages of the term. But what you say here is not true. What you say here again illustrates your arbitrary manner of dealing with definitions of words.
You give two illustrations of what you wrongfully insist is the only proper usage of the term.
Your first illustration reads, “We may say that the possession of a house depends on the condition of the timely payments.”
Reply. So then, in other words, if I buy a house my paying for it is necessary to my possession of it. This is as true as can be, of course. Only, by your not saying any more you evade and conceal the real issue in this dispute. Had you set forth the issue, you would have added: 1) My paying for the house is the cause of my possessing it; and 2) My meeting my payments is a circumstance that limits the owner of the house. That is, if I default, he can’t do anything about it except take back his house. This is the full meaning of the statement that the possession of the house depends on the condition of the timely payments.
You should have made this clear. You should have refrained from concealing the real issue.
Your next illustration reads, “We may also say that a harvest is conditioned upon the fact that the man ploughed and seeded. Here God has established the connection, and the prophet says that his God also doth instruct the farmer, and He has promised that while the earth remaineth seed time and harvest shall not fail. Here we see more clearly that the connection and the effectuation is in God’s hands. Yet no one will deny that it is a conditional instance.”
Reply. True it is, of course, that ploughing and seeding is necessary to the harvest, and that God has established the connection. No one among us denies this. But the trouble is that here, too, you evade and conceal the real issue. Had you set forth the issue you would have added: 1) the man’s ploughing and seeding must induce God to crown his labors with the gift of the harvest; 2) man’s ploughing and seeding is a circumstance that limits God; that is to say, if man refuses to plow, God can’t do anything about it, except withhold the harvest. Or, it can also be stated this way: in deciding to plow, man is sovereignly free; his plowing is not the realization of a corresponding sovereign decree of God that he plow. This is the full meaning of the statement that a harvest is conditioned upon the fact that the man plowed and seeded. What have we here? An abominable heresy!
Now your application of these illustrations. It reads:
“And now we may take a third instance, and that in the spiritual realm. A man enjoys the fellowship of God on condition that he believes in him. Here the divinely established connection and divine effectuation is of the higher order. It is performed by a wonder of grace that is wholly alien to the natural man. Yet that does not make it unconditional any more than the above instances are. Also there it was God who worked the will and the act of timely payment, of plowing and seeding.”
Remark. But that exactly is what you deny by your statement that the harvest is conditioned upon the fact that the man plowed and seeded,—deny according to the definitions of the term in question under 2), and 3). And now you may say a thousand times that you are not using the term according to its definitions under 2) and 3). It makes not a particle of difference. The meaning of your statements is determined not by what meaning you want the term in question to have, but by what meanings it has in the dictionary. Take your statement, “A man enjoys the fellowship of God on the condition that he believes in Him.” You say that all you want the statement to mean is that faith is necessary to the enjoyment of God’s fellowship. To be sure it is. But why can’t you limit yourself to that way of stating the matter? Why must you say that man enjoys the fellowship of God on the condition of faith,” if the statement means in addition to what you want it to mean that man must induce God to fellowship with him, and that belief in God through Christ is a circumstance that limits God?
You say we must not be afraid of a term. But it stands to reason that we must be afraid of a term and are in duty bound to avoid it, if in our theological dissertations it stands also for heresy. What earthly reason can there be for our wanting to employ such a term? It is exactly by the use of terms of that character that heresies are smuggled into the church unawares. You know how difficult it is for a communion of churches such as ours to hold the true foundation. Should we needlessly increase that difficulty by the deliberate use of forbidden terms? Certainly not. You say that we have need of the term condition; that we cannot do without it. But that is not true. And you should know that it is not true.
Your next paragraph reads, “That does not change the matter. Both members ofare equally true. God works in and we work out. God works faith and we believe. It is really our act but the grace of God.”
Remark. Who, in our communion, would think of denying these things? Your reiteration of these truths simply beclouds the issue, which is whether the term condition is a safe term to use in our expositions of the truth.
Your next sentence reads, “And on that action—our act of believing—our enjoyment is conditioned very really.” You mean here, “That action of ours is necessary to the enjoyment of God’s fellowship.” Of course it is. Who will want to deny it? But that is not the issue. It is this: Must our action—act of believing—induce God to cause us to enjoy Him? and, Do we originate that action? You reply: Surely not. Show then, that you mean what you say by avoiding the term condition.
In your recent articles including your latest instalment, statements occur that are truly surprising and that cause one to wonder in what direction you are striving to lead our churches and our people. Allow me to explain. The covenant theology of the Liberated is Ileynsian; it is, in a word, Pelagian. I made this clear in my previous article. The principal tenets of that theology, so I wrote, are two in number: 1) The promise of the covenant is unto all the baptized, reprobate and elect alike. It can also be stated this way: All have a legal right to Christ and all His benefits. Now what have we here? The Arminian doctrine of universal atonement pure and simple, the teaching that Christ died for all men, elect and non-elect alike; thus the teaching that God called all men, elect and nonelect, His sons, and reconciled them to Himself through Christ’s cross.
This doctrine, so I continued (in my previous article), involves those addicted to it in a problem. It is this: If God calls all His sons, if all have a right to Heaven, if, in a word, the promise is unto all, as the Liberated insist, how is it to be accounted for that many perish? What is the answer of the Liberated and the Christian Reformed? It is this: (the second of the two principal tenets of their covenant-theology) 2) God places the benefits of Christ’s cross in the actual possession of man, including the reprobated, on the condition of (op voorwaarde van) faith and repentance. That can mean but one thing, of course, namely, that man’s will is free in the Pelagian sense; that God, on that account, stands powerless over against man’s corruption and unbelief and that, if he is to be saved, he must originate faith in him. This is the covenant theology of the Liberated and the Christian Reformed. As a sentence-element in this thought-structure, the term condition—voorwaarde—can indicate but one thing, to wit, an action of man whereby he originates his own faith.
Now what are you saying, brother, of that thought-structure,—saying of the covenant-theology of the Liberated and the Christian Reformed here in the States? I shall quote your own words, “Now after all this I may say that we have serious objections to this presentation of the covenant (of the Liberated, you mean). Not because it is Pelagian or Heynsian (italics supplied). Neither because it is called conditional, with the above understanding. I still believe that the fiinal glorious revelation of God’s covenant is just as sure, and the efficacy of His grace is just as sovereign, as it is in the conception toward which we incline.” Concordia for June 9, 1949, p. 3.
Here you indorse, as non-Pelagian, the thoroughly Pelagian covenant-theology of the Liberated. Here you indorse, as non-Pelagian, the term condition as a sentence-element in that thought-structure, where it certainly must indicate an action of man whereby he originates his own faith. And yet you want your readers to believe that you are using that term condition in a perfectly innocent sense; that all you mean by your statement that God saves His people on the condition that they believe is that faith is necessary to salvation. Can you blame me for wondering where you are trying to lead our people? Your latest article, too, causes me to wonder about that, especially the following statement from your pen occurring in it, “And now this their presentation may have this good element that it seeks the better to emphasize and maintain the responsibility of man away down to the roots of his relation to God in the covenant.” Concordia for July 21, p. 3.
Brother, not one good element is to be found in the covenant-theology of the Liberated. In this theology the responsibility of man is made to root in a lie—the lie that man in order to be responsible must be free as to his will—free in the Pelagian sense. Brother, if you want us to regard you as a truly Refomed man in all your thinking; if you want us to stop wondering where you are trying to lead our people, you must without any reservations pronounce that covenant-theology of the Liberated through and through heretical and ban that word condition from your theological vocabulary. You seem to be so very much in love with that covenant-theology of the Liberated that in reply to Rev. H. Veldman’s question, “What have they (the Liberated) in re the covenant that is Scriptural that we lack,” you said, “And I will add now that if we must all agree that there are no two parties in the covenant and that we may not speak of conditions in any sense whatever, then they are on that point richer than we” Concordia for May 26, p. 3.
But you say, “Did I not emphatically slate that I have serious objections to the covenant-theology of the Liberated?” You did so state more than once. A statement of that kind from your pen appears in the Concordia for June 9. There you say, “Now after all this I may say that we have serious objections to this presentation of the covenant.” And further on in this same article you declare, “But it (the covenant-theology of the Liberated) involves inconsistencies and weaknesses.” But I ask you, brother, what serious objections can you possibly have against the covenant-theology of the Liberated, if that theology is not Pelagian; if, as you state in the same article, you believe that, to quote your own words, “the final glorious revelation of God’s covenant is just as sure, and the efficacy of His grace is just as sovereign, (in the covenant-theology of the Liberated, you mean) as it is in the conception toward which we incline.” How can a covenant-theology of such virtue actually involve inconsistencies and weaknesses? Impossible!
But, of course, it is not true what you say here, namely, that the final glorious revelation of God’s covenant is just as sure, and the efficacy of His grace just as sovereign in the covenant-theology of the Liberated as it is in the conception (the covenant-theology) to which we incline. Fact is that in the covenant-theology of the Liberated the efficacy of God’s grace is not at all sovereign, if you mean thereby that this efficacy (of God’s grace) is solely dependent on God’s will. For the fact is that in the covenant-theology of the Liberated the efficacy of God’s grace is solely dependent on the will of man. And the strange thing is that you admit this, be it in language so mild that it fails to impress. Here are your words, “And in the third place I do not think that they—the Liberated—succeed in explaining and keeping clear how the promises, the rights, the claims are the right of all those within the church and that equally to them all in the same sense exactly.” Concordia for June 9. This, according to your way of thinking, is one of the three inconsistencies in which the covenant-theology of the Liberated involve those addicted to it. And your way of thinking here is entirely correct. You here touch on the crux of the whole matter. It is true as you think: The Liberated do not succeed and never will succeed for that matter in explaining how they do not involve themselves in the heresy that the will of man is free in the Pelagian sense,—involve themselves in this heresy by their teaching that all—elect and nonelect alike—have the right to Christ and all His benefits. They can’t explain it. It cannot be explained. It means that their covenant-theology is Pelagian indeed—through and through Pelagian. I said that you admit this. Yet, really you don’t. For you say, “I don’t think that they succeed.” This can be taken to imply, “But they might succeed in the future and with a little more mental effort.” You should say not “I think”, but, “Certain it is that they do not succeed and that they never will succeed. For they attempt the impossible.” That is the language you should use. But then, of course, you say contrary things: 1) The covenant-theology of the Liberated is not Pelagian; 2) The covenant-theology of the Liberated is Pelagian. As it is, you really say but one thing: The covenant-theology of the Liberated is not Pelagian. Brother, you must stop saying the latter and say instead, “The covenant-theology of the Liberated is through and through Pelagian. And it can’t be anything else if the words of the Bible have meaning and if there is such a thing as logic in the world. And you must come out with a statement that you have freed your theological vocabulary of that word condition. Then all will know exactly where you stand.
But you say, I have already made clear my stand. I have stated over and over that: 1) God fulfills the conditions in the covenant; 2) Faith is God’s gift in man; 3) God’s election and reprobation are sovereign. Consider, brother, that the Liberated are just as emphatic in their assertion of these truths. But it doesn’t mean a thing as far as the rightness or the wrongness of their covenant-theology is concerned. For as I stated in my previous article, these beliefs have no place in their covenant-theology, which is thoroughly Arminian. They are excluded, are these tenets, by the very logic of that theology. Certainly, the idea that man originates his own faith excludes the idea that faith is of God, and that election and reprobation are sovereign, doesn’t it? And, so I wrote, in their covenant-theology man does, necessarily must, appear as originating his own faith, for the simple reason that though all have the right to the blessings of the kingdom, many nevertheless perish. The Liberated hold the truths of sovereign election and reprobation etc., but at once do they hold their thoroughly Arminian covenant-theology. It simply means, sad to say, that in one breath they say “yes” to the truth and “yes” to the lie. And the same thing is being done by the leaders in the communion of Christian Reformed Churches and also by the Synodieals in the Netherlands. Let us beware that we do not fall into the same evil, if already we have not fallen into it. Because the end will be that we will be saying “yes” only to the lie in our generations.