Until now we have: been discussing Articles I-V of the Rejection of Errors of the second Head of our Canons, dealing with the atonement of Christ. Article VI reads as follows:
Who use the difference between meriting and appropriating, to the end that they may instill into the minds of the imprudent and inexperienced this teaching that God, as far as He is concerned, has been minded of applying to all equally the benefits gained by the death of Christ; but that, while some obtain the pardon of sin and eternal life, and others do not, this difference depends on their own free will, which joins itself to the grace that is offered without exception, and that it is not dependent on the special gift of mercy, which powerfully works in them, that they rather than others should appropriate unto themselves this grace. For these, while they feign that they present this distinction, in a sound sense, seek to instill into the people the destructive poison of the Pelagian errors.
This is a very fundamental article, this teaching of the Remonstrants. And it is such a fundamental article exactly because it is so pertinent in our present day and age! How true it is that it is exactly this Arminian heresy which is so rampant and generally3aught today!
We understand that the word, “appropriating,” could better be translated, “applying.” We must, then, read this article this way: “Who use the difference between meriting and applying, etc.”
Notice, too, that the fathers in this article speak of those who are imprudent and inexperienced. These are the people of God who are easily led astray. And it lies in the very nature of the case that we must not be imprudent and inexperienced. And the reason why these imprudent and inexperienced people of God are easily led astray is because the Arminians feign that they present this distinction in a sound sense. O, let us never forget: those Arminian teachers are very clever and subtle!
The fathers of Dordt, in this sixth article, speak of the difference between meriting and appropriating, or, properly, applying. Notice, please, that the fathers do not condemn this distinction as such. We may certainly speak of this distinction. Salvation was merited by our Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross of Calvary. But it is applied by the living God to the hearts of all the elect people of the Lord. The Arminians, however, used this distinction to instill into the hearts and minds of the imprudent and inexperienced their own perverted ideas and conceptions of the salvation and grace of God. This is easily understood. How often this happens, also today! There are those people of the Lord who are imprudent, incautious and inexperienced. They are so naive. They are so ready to accept these heretical preachers and teachers in good faith. They are so hesitant to accuse them of bad and evil intentions. This is especially the case when these erring preachers and teachers come to them in sheep’s clothing, when, according to the conclusion of this sixth article, they feign to present this distinction in a sound sense. O, they mean so well! They have no intention of undermining and destroying the foundations of the church of God, of undermining and destroying and corrupting the truth. They certainly insist that the people of God should retain all the fundamental principles and truths of the Word of God. These Arminians are really not so bad after all. They really agree with the people of the Lord in all the fundamentals of the Scriptures. They only look at matters from a slightly different point of view.
Now it should be evident from this expression of the fathers in this sixth article that the fathers do not approve of imprudent and inexperienced people of God. This expression certainly implies that we should not be incautious and inexperienced. We should really be very cautious and careful. We should always be on our guard. We should always be ready to discern and recognize these wolves in sheep’s clothing. And this means that the preaching and teaching of the Word of God should always be sharply distinctive. The preaching of the truth in the church of God should always be of such a character as to emphasize every departure from the Word of God. Always the church of God must be warned against these heretical preachers and teachers. This is a must. Is it not true that our young people, when making public confession of faith, promise before the Lord and before His church that they will maintain the doctrine as taught in this Christian church and that they will fight every heresy repugnant hereto? Indeed, the people of God must not be imprudent and inexperienced.
We recognize this phenomenon, do we not? It is so common throughout the ages. These erring “brethren” mean so well. They do not mean to deny the fundamental truths of Holy Writ. Indeed not! They do not mean to deny the truths of Divine election, of the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Scriptural truth that the sinner is conceived and born dead in sins and in trespasses. And they certainly do not intend to deprive the people of the Lord of these wonderful truths. But, they warn, we must be careful. We must not go overboard with these doctrines. We must not lay too much emphasis upon them. We must not always preach on Divine election (as if this is done). We must not forget the Scriptural truth of man’s responsibility. We must not reduce man to a stock and block. It is well and good, they say, that the people of God are preserved unto salvation, but we must not fail also to stress the truth of man’s perseverance. It is true that the work which God has once begun shall by His grace be fully done, but it is also true that only he who perseveres unto the end shall obtain the prize, the crown. It is well to bear in mind that God has elected His people from before the foundations of the world and that Christ has died for his own, but we must not forget that the gospel must be preached to all creatures and that the sinner can hardly be held accountable and responsible if the gospel be not an offer and he be unable to accept it. We recognize these presentations, do we not? And when these heretical preachers and teachers appear in sheep’s clothing, feigning that they present all these distinctions in a sound sense, then it happens only too often that the imprudent and inexperienced are quickly led astray; in fact, it will even happen that these imprudent and inexperienced become very angry when these erring teachers are accused of evil intentions and motives. These incautious people will only too often defend those heretics.
Are not the Three Points of 1924 a very vivid example of this? The Third Point reads as follows:
Relative to then third point, which is concerned with the question of civil righteousness as performed by the unregenerate, synod declares that according to Scripture and the Confessions the unregenerate, though incapable of doing any saving good, can do civil good. This is evident from the quotations from Scripture and from the Canons of Dordrecht, III, IV, 4, and from the Netherland Confession, Art. 36, which teach that God without renewing the heart so influences man that he is able to perform civil good; while it also appears from the citations from Reformed writers of the most flourishing period of Reformed Theology, that our Reformed Fathers from ancient times were of the same opinion.
Is it not evident from the authors of this declaration of doctrine that they had only the soundest intentions? Does this statement of doctrine not declare that the unregenerate, sinner cannot do any saving good? Do they not quote from the Scriptures and the Confessions, such as the Canons of Dordrecht and the Belgic Confession? Do they not declare that this civil good as performed by the natural man was always taught by Reformed writers, yea from writers of the most flourishing period of Reformed Theology? Besides, we can speak of civil good, can we not? A baker does not have to be a Christian, does he, to be able to bake good, nourishing bread. A man certainly does not have to be a child of God to be an efficient surgeon or dentist. It is possible, is it not, from this point of view to distinguish between spiritual good and civil good. Well, this is what we have in this Third Point of 1924. Were not the authors of this Third Point motivated in a sound sense when they spoke of the distinction between saving and civil good?
And what about the First Point of 1924? It reads as follows:
Relative to the first point which concerns the favorable attitude of God towards humanity in general and not only towards the elect, synod declares it to be established according to Scripture and the Confession that, apart from the saving grace of God shown only to those that are elect unto eternal life, there is also a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to His creatures in general. This is evident from the Scriptural passages quoted and from the Canons of Dordrecht, II, 5 and III, IV, 8 and 9, which deal with the general offer of the Gospel, while it appears from the citations made from Reformed writers of the most flourishing period of Reformed Theology that our Reformed writers from the past favored this view.
In this point we read of the favorable attitude of God towards humanity in general. Is this not true in a certain sense? Is it not true that the Lord is favorably inclined towards humanity in general, towards His people as out of every tribe, nation, land and tongue? Do not the authors of this statement declare that God shows His saving grace only to the elect? And do not the authors of this declaration speak here of the elect? Is it not true, therefore, that this First Point does not intend to deny this fundamental truth of the Word of God. But, we must be careful. We must not be incautious and inexperienced when judging this statement. It also speaks of the preaching of the gospel as an offer to all the hearers of the Gospel. Let us understand one vital thing. We must never judge a preacher or teacher in the light of the good things he sets forth. We must always judge him in the light of the things he declares as in conflict with the Word of God. We must bear in mind that heretics never retract. They will tell you that they mean well, that they have no intention of departing from the Word of God, that they certainly do not intend to deny the fundamentals of the Word of God. They will also tell you that they were misunderstood, etc. But they will never retract. And, although we must show them the love of God which is in Christ Jesus, we may never compromise with the truth, and we must be very severe when judging them in the light of the Word of God. We must not be incautious and inexperienced, but very careful. This is plain, also from the First Point. The Lord willing, we will continue with this in our following article.