We were addressed to the task of treating the “if” sentences in the Bible of the type, “If the wicked turn from their evil way, they shall live.” In one of my previous articles or letters I dealt with the “if” sentences of that type as contained in the 18th chap, of Ezekiel’s prophecies. We found that, to quote from my former article, “the Hebrew equivalents for the English “if” are nowhere to be found in that discourse (of chapter 18).” And then I made this statement, “It shows how far the mind of the prophet and thus also the mind of God was removed from any such notion as “God saves His people on the condition that they believe. . . .” This statement from my pen must be made to read differently, namely as follows, “Though the Hebrew equivalent for the English “if” (this Hebrew equivalent is properly im) did appear in the sentences that we examined, it would still be true that the mind of the prophet and thus also the mind of God was far removed from any such notion as “God saves His people on the condition that they believe.” For the fact is, of course, that we do find in the Bible sentences of the type in which we are now interested in which the Hebrew im appears in the original. The parting addresses of Moses contain sentences of that kind. Let us now get them before us and ascertain the force and purpose of that Hebrew word im as a sentence-element of these declarations.
A sentence of the kind we are now to examine is contained in the discourse of Moses at. The passage reads, “And it shall come to pass, if—Hebrew im—thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God shall set thee on high above all nations of the earth: and all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if (here the text must be rendered when and not if; for the Hebrew has ki and not im) thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God.” The correlate of this declaration is found at verse 15, “But it shall come to pass, if (Hebrew im) thou wilt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses, shall come upon thee: . . . .”
Before I go into these verses, I must make a remark. It is this. What we now again deal with in the first instance is the Scriptures in Hebrew, and thus not with the Scriptures in the English language. Hence, rightly considered, the question here confronting us is the following: What is the meaning, force, and purpose of the two Hebrew words im and ki as sentence-elements of these verses. This, certainly, can only be determined by the context. And by context we all mean, must mean, first the very verses in which these words appear; second, the entire discourse; and third, the whole of the Scriptures.
And now the meaning of that Hebrew word im in the sentence, “And it shall come to pass, if—Hebrew im—thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God …. that …. all these blessings shall come upon thee.” What now is the meaning of the Hebrew word im (rendered “if” in our versions)? Could we translate here, “All these blessings shall come upon thee on the condition that thou hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord?” Let us try it and see what we get. It is verily this: “My people (it is, of course, the Lord speaking here), whether all these blessings will come upon you, I know not. They may or may not. For however eager I am to do thee well my blessing thee is contingent on thy arbitrary and capricious willingness to originate faith and obedience in thee. Thy will is sovereign. Before it I must bow.” This is again a terrible theology, isn’t it? Well, then, is it necessary to show that the verse as thus construed is in conflict with its near and far surroundings, that, in other words, such ideas are not anywhere to be found in the whole of the Scriptures? Does the Bible teach atheism? The Hebrew im, it is plain, cannot mean on condition that. It cannot have that meaning in this connection.
What, then, may be the function and purpose of the Hebrew word im in the verse under consideration, and in its correlate, “But it shall come to pass if thou wilt hearken unto the voice of the Lord …. that all these curses shall come upon thee.” The sole function and purpose of im in these connections is to establish conceptionally before the minds of the people of Israel the certain connection between obedience and blessing on the one hand, and disobedience and cursing, destruction on the other. That this is the sole function of im in these connections is as plain as can be from the whole context. Verse 3 reads, “Blessed shalt thou be in the city,” implying, “if thou hearken to the Lord’s voice. This idea is repeated with variations over and over as interspersed with “if” clauses such as, “If thou shalt keep the commandments of the Lord thy God and walk in his ways,” and, “If thou hearken unto the commandments of the Lord thy God. . . .” And so, too, the correlate of the idea, “Cursed shalt thou be in the city,” implying, “If thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God.” This idea, too, is repeated with variations over and over (verses 15-68).
Second, we must take notice of the ki clause contained in verse 2 of this chapter, “When thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God.” Here ki approaches in meaning im. This accounts for the rendering in our versions, “If thou shalt hearken. . . .” Yet there must be a distinction between the two particles ki and im, especially when they occur side by side in the same context as is here the case. Usually the distinction is carefully made and usually also easily discernible. It is discernible here. The sole function of im in these verses is, as was said, to set forth the certain connection between obedience and blessing on the one hand, and covenant infidelity and cursing on the other. In a word, im in this connection is a particle showing certain logical connection. So, too, ki in the verse under consideration. But this particle is here used also of time, “All these blessings shall come upon thee. . . . when thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord”. This reads like a prediction. And so it is, as is plainly evident from the tenor of the whole discourse. It is evident from the text at, “And it shall come to pass, when—ki—all these things are come upon thee, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before thee, and thou shalt call them to mind among all the nations, whither the Lord thy God hath driven thee.” Moses, being a prophet and of all the prophets the greatest, here foretells the dispersion and exile of the people of Israel and the ultimate turning of their captivity. That we understand him aright is placed beyond the shadow of a doubt by the sequel, “And shalt return unto the Lord thy God, and shalt obey his voice according to all that I command thee this day, thou and thy children, with all thine heart and with all thy soul; that then the Lord thy God will turn thy captivity, and have compassion on thee, and will return, and gather thee from all the nations of the earth, whither the Lord thy God hath scattered thee. If—Hebrew im—any of thine be driven out into the outmost parts of heaven, from thence will the Lord thy (God, gather thee, and from thence will he fetch thee. And the Lord thy God will bring thee unto the land which thy fathers possessed, and thou shalt possess it; and he will do thee good, and multiply thee above thy fathers. And the Lord will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thine seed, to love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul that thou mayest live. And the Lord thy God will put all these curses upon thine enemies, and on them that hate thee, which presented thee” ( ).
Verily, it is prediction, prophecy, with which we here deal. If so, how can the Hebrew particle im in the verses examined signify doubtful hypothesis? How can these verses be rendered, “The Lord will bless thee on the condition that thou obeyest,” and, “The Lord will curse thee on the condition that thou disobeyest,” meaning, “whether I, the Lord, will bless thee or curse thee, I know not. For my blessing thee or cursing thee is contingent on thy obedience or disobedience as a condition. Hence, all is uncertain.” But fact is that all was certainty. God knew, because He works all things according to the counsel of His will. Faith and obedience are of Him; and He hardens whom He will. Moses and the people knew because God revealed it to them. The nation will alternately forsake God and with His curses upon them, cry to Him in their distress. And He will raise them up a savior, and His blessings will be upon them for a season. But with the crisis past, they again will turn to their abominations and corrupt themselves more than their fathers in following other gods to serve them. When they will have filled their measure of iniquity, God will scatter them among the nations. But ultimately He will turn their captivity permanently. All is certainty here. Necessarily so, as with God there can be no uncertainties and hence no conditions.
Let it be repeated, the im in this discourse can only be a particle setting forth, establishing before the minds of the people of Israel certain connection between obedience on the one hand and blessing on the other and thus also certain connection between disobedience and faithlessness on the one hand and cursing and destruction on the other. And in this discourse, too, as well as in the discourse of Ezekiel 18, the obedient are the contrite of heart, the ungodly whom God justifies in Christ, and whose hearts therefore He circumcises. For, take notice of the statement, “And the Lord will circumcise thy heart and the heart of thine seed.”
But what now is the English equivalent of the Hebrew particle im as a sentence-element in the kind of sentences with which we now are occupied? The English equivalent for that Hebrew particle im is our word “if”. In the kind of sentences we are considering “if”, too, like im indicates, sets forth, establishes conceptionally a certain and unbreakable connection between faith, obedience, and righteousness on the one hand and salvation and life on the other; and thus sets forth a certain connection between disobedience and unbelief on the one hand and cursing and destruction on the other. And this is its sole function in the sentences under consideration. The attempt to give to the word “if” always as a sentence-element in the type of sentence under consideration, an additional meaning, is to carry into these sentences an element of thought that doesn’t belong in them. In dealing with “if” as a part of speech in these sentences we must go no further than to say that its function is that indicated above. Allow me to show how true this is. Let us take for our purpose that text in Rom. 9, “If (Greek ei) God be for us, who can be against us.” That pronoun “us” includes not everybody—reprobate and elect alike—but the elect only is a matter that is settled by the verses that immediately follow, “He that spared not His Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely grant us all things? Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? (Mark you, elect). It is plain that the pronoun us includes only the elect of God. It is therefore permissible to read, If God be for the elect, who can be against them?” Here, too, the sole function of the particle “if” is to set forth, establish conceptionally, certain connection between God’s being for His believing people on the one hand and all things being for them on the other. To give to that “if” the additional meaning “on condition that,” or “in case,” or “granted,” or “in the event,” is to destroy the Gospel of God contained in that scripture. Certainly it won’t do to make the verse read, “All things are fore the elect “in case,” “in the event,” or “granted,” or “on the condition that,” God is for them.” By giving that “if” any such additional meanings we make the fact of God’s being for His people and the fact of all things on that account being for them problematical indeed and thereby impose upon the text an impossible theology—a theology impossible in the light of the whole of the Scriptures.
So, too, with the type of sentences under consideration. All there is left for us to do is to limit ourselves to saying that the sole function of “if” (im ei) in all such sentences is to establish conceptionally connection between the faith of God’s people, their obedience and contrition of heart on the one hand and their life and salvation on the other as a connection of such a character that the two—faith and salvation—always go hand in hand with God the author of both. Mark you, with God the author of both. For, certainly, the idea is not that these callers upon the name of the Lord, these seekers after God, these wicked who forsake their abominations and turn to the Lord, do so in their capacity of sinners dead in trespasses and sins; and that they live and are saved as a result of their taking these action in the sense that they originate them. To the contrary, the fact of their seeking is the evidence that they have life in them abiding and are saved; and of this life their seeking is the fruit.
And so, likewise, the sole function of that “if” in the type of sentences under consideration is to establish conceptionally connection between the disobedient, unbelief, and impenitence of the reprobated on the one hand and their eternal destruction on the other as a connection of such a character that the two invariably go hand in hand with the latter the reward of the former.
Now this use of “if” is not contrary to its use in common life, but right in line with its use in common life. In common life, too, the principal and basic use of the word “if” is to establish connection between certain types of clauses and their corresponding provisional events. To illustrate this point, we will take the sentence, “I will go, if you will go.” Here, too, the function of the particle “if” is to establish connection between my going and your going of such a character that our goings shall go hand in hand. But let us take notice of the difference. First, I am not the master of your will. Hence, I find myself under the necessity of allowing you to decide to go or not to go independent of me. In the relation that your will obtains to mine, it is free, despite the fact that there is such a thing as moral coercion. Hence, my going is indeed dependent, contingent, on your going. Second, as your heart is not in my hands for me to turn as I choose, your going or not going, as far as my knowledge reaches, is uncertain. You may or may not go. I know not. In the meantime, I may change my mind, so that, should you decide to go, you shall have to go alone. Here, therefore, everything is limited and uncertain, the reason being that the two wills involved in this bargaining are finite, human wills and minds. It is with these uncertainties and human limitations before his eye that the philologist defined for us the word condition as that on which something is contingent. And with these same uncertainties and human limitations before his mind, he defined contingent:—not existing or occurring through necessity; due to chance or a free agent; accidentally existing or true; dependent on the will of a human being or finite agent; dependent on a foreseen possibility; provisionally liable to exist, happen, or take effect in the future; hence, something that may or may not occur.
It means that the terms condition and contingent and their synonyms are words that simply cannot be used of God, cannot certainly be used of Him in sentences of the type with which we are now occupied (God saves His people on the condition that they believe) . To nevertheless use the terms in question of God is to change Him into an idol. But far be it from me, brother, to hurl accusations at you. I hurl them not at you but at your proposition. I separate in my mind you and that proposition. For of course you will repudiate it, the moment your eyes open to all its horrible implications. However, I am only a fallible man. I may therefore be in error. True, but I am admitting this only wholly in the abstract. As it is, I am thoroughly convinced that I do not err, but that I am right. But if you believe that I do err, if you think that you are justified in using the terms in question of God, please make this plain to me. I place myself at your feet. Instruct me. And I will listen. I repeat what I said: You may call my argument anything you like—abject nonsense, sophistry, it makes no difference. I like strong language—providing you do one thing: Make plain that your characterizations are true. To call my argument sophistry or nonsense and to let it go at that is something that I don’t like. I have entered deeply into your arguments; please do the same with mine. And please come with exegesis of the Scriptures and not merely with speculation.