(Translated from the Holland by Rev. H. Veldman)
Is it demanded, possible, desirable?
The immediate occasion of this meeting of certain leaders of the Christian and Protestant Reformed Churches has undoubtedly been the visit of Dr. K. Schilder among us. Now and then, also before the coming of the professor at Kampen, the sentiment was expressed that the difference between both churches was not sufficiently important or fundamental to justify their separate existence. Never, however, did this lead to any definite action. It was Dr. Schilder who in his lectures among us not only expressed the sentiment, but also urged, that both groups should seek one another anew, should try to arrange a conference at which the points which had caused their division would be discussed, so that they, if possible, could once more live together under one ecclesiastical roof. At the conference which we, as Protestant Reformed ministers, held with the professor, one of the first questions which he laid before us was whether we would be found willing and prepared to attend such a colloquy. And as I wrote in the Standard Bearer, the hope was expressed in more than one quarter in the Netherlands that one of the fruits of Dr. Schilder’s trip might be that such a reunion would be effected. Therefore, I think the conclusion wholly justifiable that it was especially upon his urging that certain of the Christian Reformed brethren ventured the attempt to call a meeting as this together. And personally I desire to express my appreciation and gratefulness for the invitation which we received to attend this gathering.
Meanwhile, I deem it of the greatest importance for the success of such an attempt that we understand one another correctly, and that some preparative for our discussion of the various questions, which now or later will be discussed, cannot be considered undesirable. Even generally this is true. I am an enemy of all compromise. No blessing can be expected from a superficial discussion of the issues and a subsequent reconciliation and reunion. A thorough discussion of the differences is therefore demanded. But I believe that especially the circumstances under which this meeting was called together prompt us to carefulness. In the first place I believe that the coming of and association with Dr. Schilder here and there has aroused a certain enthusiasm which has beclouded the judgment of some. When presently the esteemed professor will have returned to the Netherlands, both he and we will reflect more calmly and soberly upon these matters, which is an indispensable requisite for a clear and sound understanding of them. I am of the opinion that it must not be considered impossible that there is also at present strange fire upon the altar. Matters, especially now, must not be hastened. In the second place, I deem it not impossible that our esteemed guest from the Netherlands views the matters which separate us, I would say, in a different light than we. It is his judgment, if I am not mistaken, that we in 1924 fought a too severe battle relative to the question of common grace, and that our differences are not sufficiently serious as to warrant our separate existence. To such a judgment I could agree only if it should be based upon a thorough discussion. And in this view of the matter I do not stand alone. In one of the last numbers of De (Christian Reformed) Wachter one may read that we, according to the judgment of the writer, are walking a deeply sinful way, are, to be sure, not to be viewed as heathens and publicans, but must nevertheless be treated as objects of admonition, that we may repent of our evil way. I certainly need not assure the brethren present here that my presence here must be viewed as a proof of my readiness to submit myself to a brotherly admonition. I do not say this because of a lack of brotherly spirit. To the contrary I declare myself ready, for the success of this meeting, to lay aside for the present the grievances which I think to have and to forget them insofar as possible, and to adopt an attitude of friendship. However, in order to express at the very outset my opinion, I do maintain that a meeting of this nature is justifiable and can be a blessing only then when it purposes to discuss thoroughly the issue, which now separates us. This essay may be viewed as an introduction to such a discussion and as an explanation of our viewpoint.
And then I would begin with that concerning which we undoubtedly all agree. Firstly, we certainly all agree on this, that the Church of Christ is one. It is one body, one in its Head, Christ Jesus our Lord, one in the Spirit, united in the bond of peace through the one faith, even as there is one God and Father, Who is above all and in all. That unity must also be realized and manifested as much as possible in the Church upon earth. Therefore it is the holy and solemn calling of all believers to seek that true unity with all that is in them. That which as Church of Christ belongs together must not be separated, much less live in a relation of enmity. All division must be avoided. And whoever causes that, that which is truly one and belongs together is torn asunder, shall bear the judgment. We agree with Calvin who teaches us that the Church is therefore called general or Catholic, “because one cannot contrive two or three churches without dividing Christ, which is not possible.” (Inst. IV, chap. 1, 2). And we would subscribe to the word of Bavinck: “As Christians we cannot humble ourselves enough because of the schism and discord which has existed in the church of Christ through the ages; it is a sin against God, in conflict with the prayer of Christ, and caused by the darkness of our mind and the uncharitableness of our heart,” (Dogm. IV, 344).
Yet it will not do to urge a union of all which upon earth calls itself with the name of church. Although it is understandable that men, prompted by a fervent desire for an erroneously conceived unity of the Church oftentimes permitted themselves to be misled to seek the realization of such a unity by power or artificial means, or by syncretism and denial of principle, yet we may not cooperate with such movements. The division within the Church upon earth is simply a fact. That which calls itself church upon earth may certainly in the first place be distinguished as true and false church. With the latter group we must certainly number those so-called churches, who no longer reckon with the Word of God and proclaim human wisdom instead of the gospel of Christ, who have broken with the broad fundamentals of Christianity, such as the Godhead of Christ, the atonement through His blood, the resurrection, and the return of the Savior. But also that which in a broad sense of the word must be considered as belonging to the true Church, because the Word of God is known and proclaimed there in a greater or lesser degree, is characterized by various degrees of pureness. There is difference in pureness of confession, difference with respect to the administration of the sacraments, difference in church-government and in the form of Divine worship. Irrespective even of the false church it will not do to bring under one ecclesiastical roof whatever may have any claim to the name of Church. This must be considered impossible already because of practical considerations. But of far weightier importance is the fact that the chief calling of the church upon earth is to preserve and proclaim the Word purely, and that by such an attempt unto fusion the truth would not only be beclouded and more and more adulterated but erelong be wholly lost. Especially for this reason the Church is called unto progressive reformation, in order that it may continue to keep and maintain the truth over against evil influences from within and without, as well as to seek its (the truth) further development. Also because of this a church can have the calling, under specific circumstances, when it has become impossible within a certain church-connection to maintain the truth purely, that it return and separate. And, finally, because of this very reason it is the calling of every believer to affiliate himself with that church which according to the conviction of his heart is the purest revelation of the body of Christ. “There is,” writes Bavinck, “great difference in the pureness of the confessions and the churches. And we must abide by and strive for the purest. Who therefore becomes convinced that the Protestant Church is better than the Roman Catholic, and the Reformed is purer than the Lutheran or Remonstrant or the Baptist, must, without necessarily condemning his church as false, leave the one and affiliate himself with the other. And to remain in one’s own church, notwithstanding much unpureness in doctrine and life, is duty as long as we are not hindered in being faithful to our own confession, and, be it indirectly, are not forced to obey men rather than God,” (Dogm. IV, 347). And to this we add that whoever does otherwise simply aids the false church. And this also signifies that, when one is hindered within his own church in confessing and in walking according to the pureness of the truth, and there is no other church in the vicinity with which he would be able to affiliate himself, he is called upon to strive for a new and purer revelation of the church upon earth.
Therefore the reformed have always emphasized the knowledge of the earmarks of the true Church. Generally three, at times two, such characteristics are mentioned. They are: the pure preaching of the Word of God, the proper administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of church discipline. These three, however, do not exist independent of each other, and in the final analysis, can all be reduced to the first: the pure preaching of the Word of God. Where the pureness of God’s Word is maintained, there the sacraments will also be administered according to that Word, and there church discipline will also be enforced. Moreover, as we have already declared, it is the chief calling of the Church to preserve and proclaim the Word of God and to confess it in the midst of the world. Where God’s Word is, there is the church; where the church is, there God’s Word is kept, believed, confessed, proclaimed, and practiced. Where God’s word is preserved, believed, confessed, and proclaimed most purely, there you have the purest revelation of the body of Christ. With that church we must affiliate ourselves. In behalf of the pureness of that church we must watch. The unity of that church we must preserve. And that church must be kept pure from whatever reveals itself as not belonging to it.
The purest revelation of the church upon earth is for us, beyond any doubt, the reformed. This we must express without any hesitation. The pure maintaining of the Word of God signifies, according to our sincere conviction, the maintaining of the reformed truth, as expressed by the Three Forms of Unity. According as a church maintains the reformed truth it is purer; according as it departs from that confession it is in that measure less pure. Whoever is not willing to maintain this has never considered his own confession seriously. And whoever does not dare to express this publicly, especially in our day, is unfaithful to the truth of God. With respect therefore to our meeting and colloquy the situation is this: whatever stands upon the basis of that reformed confession, maintains and practices that confession, belongs together. They, who embrace that confession, should either live under one ecclesiastical roof, or, when language and distance render this impossible, enter as sister churches into correspondence with each other. But it is also equally true that whatever departs from this confession, be it in doctrine or life or both, must remain separate, or be compelled to separate from the reformed churches.
With this, I believe, we all agree.
Since 1924 two church groups exist among us, the possible reunion whereof is the subject of our discussion. Before 1924 these church groups were one. Both confess to stand on the basis of the Reformed Confession, as expressed in the Three Forms of Unity. However, mutually they accuse one another of departing from that confession. I will attempt to describe as objectively as possible the cause of this separate existence. About 1920 a difference of opinion arose with respect to the issues of common grace. Two brethren, being compelled by an ever-increasing spirit of worldly-mindedness which revealed itself in more than one way in the churches, as well as by the striving of some within the churches for a broader interpretation of the reformed truth, revealing itself in what was known at that time as a “new mentality,” and by the fact that this “new mentality,” although rejecting the Kuyper of the antithesis, was very enthusiastic, fanatic, about Kuyper’s “common grace,” busied themselves with this “doctrine,” compared it with Scripture and confession, and came to the conclusion, not only that the name common grace or general grace was not proper, nor that we were in need of a better presentation or further development of that doctrine, but that the doctrine itself was principally not in harmony with the reformed world- and life-view, and therefore must be rejected. Already in 1924 the undersigned, as coeditor of The Banner, in connection with his description and evaluation of the covenant with Noah, revealed his sentiments with respect to this doctrine in unmistakable terms. At that time nobody opposed his presentation. In connection with the Janssen case, however, in which the undersigned took an active part, the opposition broke loose; struggle broke forth. From both sides brochures were written. Protests were lodged at the respective consistories. Shortly before the synod of Kalamazoo, 1924, the matter came before the classes. From the classes the case went to the synod. The synod of Kalamazoo confirmed the issue of common grace in the known three points. These taught, that, besides the saving grace of God, which concerns only the elect, there is also a non-saving grace, “gracious disposition” in God, which is general, in which also the reprobates share, which also appears from the preaching of the gospel to all men; that there is an operation of the Holy Spirit, besides regeneration, whereby sin in the natural man and in the community is restrained; and that by an influence of God upon him the natural man is enabled to perform civil good. Subsequently the synod declared that the accused brethren are reformed with respect to the fundamental truths, as formulated in the confession; that, however, various expressions in the writings of the accused brethren could not be harmonized with the above-named three points; it decided further to admonish the brethren, as well as the churches in general, to guard themselves against one-sidedness, and also that there was cause for warning against worldly-mindedness and the misuse of the doctrine of common grace. The synod took no further action. It did not admonish the brethren personally at the meeting; it did not demand of them a declaration or promise of agreement with the adopted points, and it did not make the case pending at the respective consistories, which did take place, e.g., in the Bultema case, 1918. And all this the synod neglected to do, notwithstanding the fact, that the committee of pre-advice ad hoc had advised such an admonition and the demand of a promise by the brethren at the very meeting of synod; also, that the accused brethren had declared at the meeting of synod, by word and in writing, unequivocally that they could not submit themselves to the decisions of synod. The conclusion of the protest presented by Rev. H. Danhof at the very same synod reads as follows:
“Altogether I readily agree that various expressions in the writings of the brethren Danhof and Hoeksema cannot very well be harmonized with that which the synod sets forth in points A, B, and C, yet it is my holy conviction that their expressions, if but left in their proper context, are not essentially in conflict with the Confession and Scripture. Irrespective then also of the fact that each particular work concerning any definite point, just because it is special and concerns a definite point, must lead in a certain definite direction; I contend that the brethren earnestly strive for a rich and complete presentation of God’s revealed truth; and that such is also clear from their writings. Although they then may differ from the present three Synodical declarations, yet I deem it necessary to maintain emphatically over against Synod that their sentiments are in harmony with Confession and Scripture.
“Whereas this is my earnest conviction, the Synod will certainly understand me when I hereby declare that I deem it my calling before God and the churches, not only to protest formally against these Synodical decisions, but also to adopt practical measures over against them, both as delegate of Classis Grand Rapids West and as one of the two brethren condemned with respect to the above-named three points. I believe that for the sake of honesty it was necessary for me to say this.”
Although the synod took no further action, both classes, where the accused brethren resorted, did, especially when a beginning was made in the Standard Bearer to fulfill the promise which both brethren had expressed at the meeting of Synod, and they began to submit the synodical declarations to a thorough criticism. They demanded of the involved consistories that they place their pastors before the question whether they would agree with the adopted three points, and if they would promise, with the right of appeal, never to teach anything, privately or publicly, which conflicted with those points. In short, the consistories refused to heed this demand of the classes, and appealed to the synod of 1926. And the pastors were in agreement with the consistories. Thereupon the ministers were suspended from office because of insubordination to the “proper ecclesiastical authorities.” Upon the same ground the consistories were deposed. True, there was formally a slight difference between the action of Classis Grand Rapids East and that of Classis Grand Rapids West. The first declared the consistory of Eastern Ave., outside of the church connection, the latter simply deposed the consistory of Kalamazoo I. But essentially there was no difference also in this respect, inasmuch as also Classis East advanced as the ground for its action that the consistory of Eastern Ave., was guilty of insubordination to the “proper ecclesiastical authorities.” The ministers were deposed from office by a later classis.
However, the consistories and ministers continued to function in their office, and paid no attention to the decisions of the classes. The overwhelming majority of their congregations, moreover, supported the consistories. They also united at the very outset and provisionally, together with the consistory of Hope, who with its pastor, Rev. G. M. Ophoff, had meanwhile become involved in the issue and also been deposed by Classis Grand Rapids West. Later also Rev. D. Jonker, after he had presented his objections against the Three Points, was deposed by Classis Zeeland. Until 1926 they called themselves the Protesting Christian Reformed Churches. But when their appeal to the synod of 1926 had been disallowed, dismissed by this gathering because they stood outside of the church-connection (Acts 1926), they organized themselves into a definite church-organization with the name of Protestant Reformed Churches. And to the present day we have remained standing and also increased in membership. I believe I may say that we all can agree on this presentation of the origin of the Protestant Reformed Churches and the historical occasion and cause of our separate existence.
Now I come to the question which faces this gathering, be it not in an official sense: Is it required that the breach be healed? Is it possible? And is it desirable?
The first question is here the most important, and, in a certain sense, the decisive question. It can and must be worded thus: Is it the will of God that the above named church-groups unite? If it is God’s will it must be done. Then we certainly face the calling to exert ourselves to the utmost, through faith, in order to realize this union. More than once Dr. Schilder has emphasized this calling, in the Netherlands and during his stay among us. And we agree with him that that which according to God’s will belongs together may not be separated by us or remain separated. And I have sufficient confidence of faith to declare that that which according to God’s will is our calling can also be carried out. If it becomes clear to me that it is truly the will of God, that the Protestant and Christian Reformed Churches heal the breach which has been made, and that they again can live together as brethren under one ecclesiastical roof, I declare myself prepared, with all that is in me, to settle accidental and personal matters and grievances in the proper way. The important question before which we stand is therefore: Does God will it?
The answer to this question depends entirely, as far as I am concerned, upon the answer of another: do we really stand upon the basis of the reformed confessions? The question of the truth must govern, dominate this discussion. And that implies that we must discuss thoroughly the issue of common grace, which also includes the three points adopted in 1924. To unite first, in the hope that we then will be able to solve the questions, would now be impossible. This could have been done before 1924. Since then we have made history, and it is impossible simply to ignore that history. The Christian Reformed Churches have adopted the three points, and later defended them; we have rejected and in every way opposed them, have in detail presented the grounds upon which we deem them unreformed. If we ever are to unite, a discussion of the truth, of the question of common grace and of the three points, is first of all demanded. And there are, in my opinion, but two possibilities which we in the abstract, may mutually agree to be possibilities. In the first place, the possibility is conceivable that the Christian Reformed brethren convince us that we erred in 1924 when we refused to subscribe to the three points; and unto that end we readily give them by means of this discussion full opportunity. On the other hand the possibility exists that we convince them that the three points are unreformed, that the synod of 1924 never should have adopted them, that they therefore must be retracted unconditionally. And unto that end they, the Christian Reformed brethren, should give us equally full opportunity. If they succeed in convincing us we will acknowledge that we erred and that we must unite with them upon the basis of the three points. If we succeed in convincing them, then they must acknowledge that they erred in 1924, then the three points will presently be recalled, and then they will stand with us upon the same confessional basis. Only in this manner may we proceed. Any other way is the way of compromise, which I will continue to refuse.
If we succeed in this way to come to an agreement, certainly the most important purpose of this colloquy has been realized. Also then yet difficulties will remain. We may not deceive ourselves into believing that they do not exist. In the first place we may not ignore the attitude of our people, namely our Protestant Reformed people. The majority of the present generation lived through the history of 1924, and ever continue to feel deeply grieved. Synodical reunion together with local division, as in the Netherlands in connection with the A and B churches, we do not deem desirable. Also our people must be convinced that reunion is our calling. They therefore must be kept fully informed concerning the course and the results of our discussions. Moreover, there are grievances which must certainly be adjusted according to the Word of God. Besides, history has been made also in the last fourteen years. We have our own churches, now twenty one in number. We have our own organization. Already for years we have met as classis and are now ready to organize into a synod. We have our own theological school, to which we are about to add a preparatory course. We have formed our own ministers. We have acquired new properties with a value of some hundreds of thousands of dollars, mostly free from debt. But also our own churches have developed in these last years, and this development, I believe, has been of that nature that we have separated from one another still farther since the separation of 1924. Not only have your churches developed in the line of the three points, whereas we have moved on in the opposite direction, but since 1924 declarations have been made which have made the breach between us more pronounced. There is the question of the relation of broader gatherings to the consistory. We have maintained the autonomy of the local church; you have declared that classis and synod are actually clothed with higher power above the consistory. Moreover, we differ in regard to unions, to divorce, to the baptism of adopted children. All these differences simply exist. And they do not render the reunion any easier. Notwithstanding I will adopt the point of procedure, that, if we actually may come to an agreement in the issue of common grace, especially the three points, we have in the main achieved the purpose of this colloquy and may cherish the hope that the reunion will be effected. Therefore all emphasis must be laid on this point. It is a question of no significance how long these discussions may continue. How often we should confer we will remain by our purpose to discuss these issues thoroughly. If we desire to hold these conferences under the leadership of Dr. Schilder we can arrange for his coming to us again. If we would also request one or more of the other Netherland professors to confer with us, there is no objection whatsoever. The world today is small and the finances are assured. If the Christian Reformed brethren prefer that Dr. Hepp should be present at our gatherings, we have no objection. But we will stand on one point: thorough discussion of common grace and of the three points in particular is the absolute requirement. These conferences may not have or conceive of any other purpose.
With regard to what I have said thus far there can be but little, if any, difference of opinion.
With regard to what I am about to say I now offer you an introduction, from our group, to the discussion of our doctrinal differences, submitting this introduction, of course, to your free discussion and criticism. I would consider it advisable if also one of the Christian Reformed brethren would present such an introduction. This enables the discussion to become definite. Besides, then we also have something black on white, so that any misunderstanding will be avoided which might arise concerning that which is discussed by us. And, finally, thereby it will be easier for our people to remain informed concerning the course and the results of our discussion. In this introduction I offer you our view of what is called common grace. I will first speak about the so-called common grace in general, then about the three points, and conclude by laying before you twenty propositions for discussion.
The problem of the so-called common grace concerns the question of God’s attitude over against and influence upon the whole of created things in their mutual connection and their development in time, in connection with and in harmony with God’s counsel in general, predestination with election and reprobation, the realization of God’s eternal covenant, grace and sin, favor and wrath, nature and grace, creation and recreation, Adam and Christ, and it inquires into the place and calling of God’s people in and over against the present world. Viewed thus it is a question of great importance with respect to both doctrine and life.
And then we proceed from the Scriptural idea, that all creatures are one. God did not create in the beginning an aggregate of creatures, loose, independent of one another, but a world, a cosmos, a harmonic, organic whole. God is one. The world is also one. In the midst of the earthy creation stood man. God had formed him after His own image, so that in a creaturely sense he resembled God, in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. This man stood at the head of creation, as king over the earthy world. And he stood in God’s covenant of friendship from the beginning. And in that covenant relation God would be his sovereign Friend, cause him to taste the blessedness of the communion of His friendship, in which is life; and in that covenant-relation man stood as friend-servant of the Most High, to represent Him in the earthy creation, take up in His own heart the praise and honor of all creatures, to interpret and express that praise and honor before the face of God, love the Lord his God with all his heart, and in the name of and according to the will of God rule over all creatures. He was office-bearer, prophet, priest, and king, with the commission, the command and also the right, the power but also the authority to subject creation unto himself and to cultivate it. In his heart lay the spiritual-ethical center of God’s creation. And by means of that central point the entire creation was united in love with God Himself. Also the creatures, each according to its nature, were taken up in God’s covenant of friendship and shared in the good favor of the Lord. And also those creatures, sustained by God’s omnipresent power, stood, through man and each in its own place and according to its own nature, in the service of God. And also now, according to our confession, the Lord God sustains and governs all creatures, that they may serve man in order that man may serve His God. (Art. 12, Confession of Faith).
In this harmonic relation of all things to God a breach was struck by sin. Only, we must immediately emphasize that the breach was struck in the spiritual-ethical center of the earthy cosmos, in the heart of man. Man violated God’s covenant. The break is therefore spiritual-ethical in character. An essential change in the relation of things was not brought about by sin. Sin can never have as its result that the creation would be annihilated, neither that the mutual relation between the creatures and the relation of the creatures to man would be essentially changed, so that e.g. the creation would have been turned into a chaos, if common grace had not intervened. To be sure, the creature bears temporally in connection with man the curse, is subject to vanity, but the unity of creation was not broken, the natural, organic affinity continued unaffected. And, to be sure, fallen man became very limited in his gifts and powers and natural light, so that he has retained merely remnants of natural light, but also in his fallen state he retained his position at the head of creation. And although it cannot be said that he is yet office-bearer of God, and that he therefore has the right to serve in God’s house, he certainly continues to stand before the demand, in his position in creation and with all gifts and means to serve his God in love. However, he cannot, will not, and cannot will to serve his God in love. For a spiritual-ethical breach was made in the relation of man to God. The life of his heart was subverted into its very opposite. The working of the image of God, whereby he with mind and will and all his strength went out to God in the state of rectitude, was turned about into its reverse. Upon all this emphasis must be laid. It is not sufficient to say that man through the fall lost the image of God, far less correct is it to say that he lost that image in part. If this last thought is the result of the distinction of the image of God in narrower and broader sense, it is better to abandon this distinction. But the image of God turned about into its reverse. His light became darkness, his knowledge changed into the lie, his righteousness became unrighteousness, and his holiness became impurity and rebellion in all his willing and inclinations. His love changed into enmity against God. Sin is not merely a defeat or lack, but privatio actuosa. And the servant and covenant-friend of the Lord became a friend and covenant-ally of the devil. Also thus, however, the Lord continues to sustain and govern creation by His providential power. And the entire organic existence of things remained essentially unaffected. If now in this state of things no further change is brought about, then the final result of history will be that the completed spiritual-ethical fruit of the life of creation becomes the opposite of that which it should be according to God’s creation ordinance.
All this, although effected through the willful disobedience of the first man, took place, however, according to the counsel and the will of God. Accidents, from the viewpoint of God, never occur. God is God. He is in heaven and does all His good pleasure, not merely in spite of the attempts of Satan and sin, but also through those attempts. At all times He proceeds directly to His goal. Never is He hindered by the creature. There is with Him no change or shadow of turning. Also the fall is wholly according to the counsel of His will, and it serves Him in the realization of His purpose. And He had provided something better for us. His objective was not attained with the rest of the seventh day. That was but a figure of the eternal rest in the eternal and heavenly tabernacle, in the eternal kingdom, in which all things will be united in Christ as their Head, when all things in heaven and upon earth will eternally be concentrated in the heart of Christ. He surely is the Image of the invisible God, the First-born of all creatures, and that, to be sure, as the First-born from the dead, the Head of the body, the Beginning, in order that He in all things should be the First. And through Him all things were created, that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers; all things were created by Him and for Him. For it pleased the Father that in Him all fullness should dwell. Col. 1:15-19. This is according to God’s eternal decree. The eternal Covenant of friendship of God must be established in Christ and be realized by Him unto its final eternal and heavenly destiny, when the tabernacle of God shall be with man. Therefore, God, immediately at the fall of man, maintains His covenant, in spite of Satan and sin, but that covenant now as eternally firmly established in Christ. Through the realization of that Covenant immediately at the fall the friendship with Satan in the heart of man is brought to naught, and through the operation of grace enmity is wrought in the heart of man against Satan. Here, however, we face the decree of predestination. For not all the children of Adam have been predestined to enter into the eternal covenant of God’s friendship. Grace develops along the line of emotion. Only the kernel is affected by grace, the shell or bolster is rejected. It is exactly through this that the antithesis is realized in the midst of the world. Fact is, also now the creation in the natural sense remains in organic connection. Also grace, even as sin, does not bring about an essential change in the temporal existence of things. Out of one blood God created the entire human race. From a mere natural viewpoint all men are one. And that man ever continues to stand in organic connection with the cosmos, in the midst whereof he moves and develops. There is therefore no dualism. Nature and grace are no contrasts. And even now we may remark that grace can never become the cause for man, who becomes partaker of it, to go out of the world. To be sure, the antithesis of sin and grace is called into being by the breach of sin and the entrance of grace, the latter developing along the line of election. All things continue to exist and develop according to their own nature, sustained by God’s almighty power, in natural affinity. But amidst this temporal existence of things there arises and develops the spiritual-ethical antithesis of sin and grace, of light and darkness, of the love of God and enmity against Him, of life and death, of heaven and hell. And through all this God does all His good pleasure and He leads all things to their eternal destiny, the eternal separation of chaff and corn, the eternal realization of the Covenant of His friendship.
Grace is therefore never common.
The word grace has a variety of meanings in Holy Writ. We lack time to enter into these details. But allow me to present to you the line which we believe to find in Scripture relative to this concept. The word chen has in Scripture the meaning of bending, inclining, attraction, beauty, charm, favor; the derivation of the word charis is less certain, although it is plain that also in the New Testament the word has a great variety of meanings. It signifies pleasantness, favor, forfeited favor, working of grace and blessing of grace, thankfulness. In the epistles of the apostle Paul the word is often used in contrast with merit and work. A comparison of many Scriptural passages where the Word grace appears teaches us the following. God is in absolute sense the Gracious One. He is gracious irrespective of any relation to the creature. Grace is a virtue of God. He is in Himself gracious. For He is the absolute and infinite good and glorious God, the sum total of all perfections. Therefore He is also the charming, the attractive, the gracious God. At His right hand there are pleasures for evermore. And as the Triune God beholds and knows Himself perfectly, He is attracted to Himself, loves Himself, has a pleasure in Himself. But God also has a pleasure in the creature. That creature, especially man, who is formed after His image, and in the highest sense of the word His Church in Christ, He has willed as beautiful. Therefore He also has a pleasure in the creature, for His Name’s sake, and it finds grace in His eyes; He lavishes upon that creature the evidence of His favor and draws it unto Himself with cords of love into His eternal covenant of friendship. When that creature lies in guilt and sin, so that in itself it cannot be object of God’s pleasure and favor, but, to the contrary, of His wrath and aversion; and if that creature then in Christ is from eternity beheld, elected, foreordained by God’s sovereign grace to become conformed unto the image of the Son, justified and glorified, found precious in His eyes and engraved in both palms of God’s hands; and when then that eternal grace goes out to the creature, then that grace is, first of all, forfeited favor, and it stands wholly in contrast with work and merit. That grace blots out all our transgressions, justifies us in the Word of the cross, grants us the adoption unto children, the right to eternal life. But, secondly, that grace is also a power and operation within us whereby we are redeemed from the repulsiveness and domination of sin, become conformed unto the image of the Son, become pleasing to God, formed according to the image which He has engraved of us in the palms of His hands. And then finally God once more becomes for that sinner redeemed by grace, in his consciousness and experience, the alone Good, the attractive and charming God, Whose goodness is better than life and Who is alone worthy to receive all praise and adoration and thanksgiving. In adoration He falls down before God and gives Him charis.
Thus in general we would draw the lines.
We therefore are of the belief that there is essentially no distinction between such concepts as grace, love, goodness, mercy, and whatever related concepts may otherwise appear in Scripture. Men have thought that they came closer to the truth when the last word in the expression “common grace” would be retraced by another, such as favorable inclination, goodness or mercy, but essentially this makes no difference. Fundamentally all these concepts have the same meaning, and are one.
It can then be understood that, in the light of the above definition, we can never speak of common grace. The sinful and corrupt creature can qua talis never be pleasing to God, but is object of His dislike, wrath and indignation, hatred and curse. Only as that creature has been incorporated into and is eternally beheld in Christ can it be pleasing to God and object of His sovereign favor. Only from out of that eternal counsel of election can the grace of God in Christ go out to him. And this is indeed the case. There proceeds out of the eternal good pleasure of God in Christ an operation of grace upon the elect kernel of our race in connection with the organic whole of all creatures. And by that wonder of grace that elect kernel in Christ, always in connection with the whole of things, is redeemed, saved, liberated, glorified, lifted up out of darkness and guilt and sin and death and curse and vanity into the state of the heavenly glory of God’s covenant of friendship. But likewise the wrath of God abides upon the reprobate shell outside of Christ, and an operation proceeds from God’s aversion and wrath, indignation and repulsion and hardening, whereby this reprobate shell becomes ripe for destruction. In all this God proceeds directly to His goal. He never takes a detour. He never retraces His steps. His work is never frustrated. His purpose is never thwarted at any moment in history. This development and operation of God’s grace and aversion, drawing and casting off, blessing and curse, softening and hardening, continues constantly, according to His eternal good pleasure and in connection with the operation of His providence and the organic development of our race. In the actual sense of the word one can therefore never speak of a checking of this process. To be sure the end does not appear immediately at the beginning. The development or, if you will, the process of grace and sin is according to God’s good pleasure and connected by His providential management with the organic existence of all things. But that process is not restrained. It proceeds as rapidly as it possibly can. For Christ comes quickly and His reward is with Him to give unto every man according as His work shall be.
This is our conception of the attitude and operation of God with respect to the organic whole of the temporal things, in connection with the counsel and the good pleasure of God, the covenant of His friendship, sin and grace, creation and recreation, Adam and Christ, the natural and the spiritual. We have therefore, this will be understood, indeed no individualistic, particularistic conception of the tremendous work of redemption by the grace of God. Neither do we involve merely the Church as the body of Christ, as the new mankind, in the organic conception. This latter is done by Dr. Kuyper. He does have an eye for the fact that God did not elect a number of individuals, to redeem them as the severed branches of the tree of our race, but that the organism, as body of Christ, as the actual mankind, is saved and glorified by God. But he does not further apply this thought to the organic whole of all creatures. Therefore he speaks of original creation-idea. It is because of this that he always presents the matter as if a breach, an essential breach was made by Satan in the work of God, and that sin and death would actually hinder God in the realization of His original creation idea, were it not for the fact that at this juncture common grace intervened restrainingly between both. Unto this end he presents God as concluding a covenant of friendship with the godless world outside of Christ, in order that sinful man may choose God’s side against Satan. And thus he has man living a relatively good world life, from the principle of a certain righteousness which was left him by common grace, and he has made possible a conception of sinful man, who by the grace of God cultivated culture. All of history actually thereby becomes an interim. God carries out the covenant of His election, and saves the new mankind; but parallel runs a certain line of common grace, along which God realizes His original creation-idea. We, however, involve all creatures in mutual connection within the circle of the organic conception, and make the distinction between the elect kernel and the reprobate shell. And we maintain that upon the whole of created things, in organic connection with each other, an operation of God’s grace but also of His aversion, of His favor but also of His wrath, of election but also of reprobation proceeds, according to the counsel of His will and according to the nature of the creatures, each in its own place in the whole.
In that sense we understand that God loves the world, in its elect kernel, so that whosoever believeth shall be saved, but the wrath of God abideth upon whosoever believeth not. Thus we understand that Christ is the Head of the church, but also the Beginning of the creation of God and therefore also the End, the Firstborn of all creatures and the Firstborn from the dead, in whom all the fullness should dwell, and by whom and for Whom all things were created. In that sense we understand that God purposed by Himself to gather together in one in Christ all things, both which are in heaven and which are on earth. Then we can also understand the covenant with Noah, which certainly is no separate covenant with the world outside of Christ, but God’s eternal covenant of friendship, revealed to the church as recently delivered by the flood, with the elect kernel in Christ in connection with the whole of eternal created things. Noah becomes heir of the world by the grace of God. The sign thereof we have in the all-embracing rainbow, caused by the effect of the sunlight upon the clouds. Thus we also understand that an operation of God’s grace issued through the preaching of Jonah upon Nineveh, figure of the world, in which the resurrected Christ will presently celebrate His triumphs, and that Nineveh repented upon the preaching of Jonah. Fact is, there were also thousands of children, who could not discern between their right and left hands, and, besides, much cattle!
In the light of the preceding it will be understood that we have nothing in common with the Anabaptists who would avoid the world. To be sure we would not be of the world. We know of no synthesis whatever. We do not join Athens in wedlock with Jerusalem. We do not cultivate culture in the name of common grace in cooperation with the godless world. We will the antithesis. We do understand the natural affinity of our entire race in connection with all things. We would not go out of the world. We have all things in common. We work with the same means, gifts, talents, and powers as the world. We must deal with and make use of the same institutions, of the home, society, church, and state. Neither can it be the calling of the Christian to improve the world as such, which is impossible. But it surely is his calling to live, throughout his life, in connection with all things and with all possible means, out of the new life-principle of regeneration, and over against that life which comes up out of the principle of sin. And it is surely also his calling to represent in the midst of the world the cause of Christ, the cause of the Son of God, in word and walk. To that purpose he subjects as much as possible all things, and unto the realization of that purpose he uses all means and institutions which may be in His service. We would be in the world but not of the world. We desire the Christian home, the Christian society, the Christian government and state, Christian school, Christian science, and Christian culture in general. It lies in the nature of the case that the realization of these things in concreto does not always and everywhere take place. The world is powerful and often deprives us of our means and position. It may be possible to a certain extent in a small country as the Netherlands, with a relatively strong Christian population, e. g. to maintain Christian politics and speak of a Christian government, but in our country this is well-nigh impossible. Some periods in history are thereunto more conducive and favorable than others. God does indeed at times give unto His people the power and the means to assume control in various phases of life. Then again almost everything is denied them. Nevertheless, whether we have power or not, never may we become of the world and affiliate ourselves with that world. If we do adopt this procedure to exercise power we are lost. At all times we must represent the cause of Christ, even if we do so only by witnessing of the Word. And if then we must suffer, we will remember the Word of Scripture, that it is given us of grace, in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also with Him to suffer! And the victory is always ours. We have therefore good courage, knowing that Christ has overcome the world!
It will now not be difficult for the brethren to understand that it was impossible for us to subscribe to the three points, or also to promise that we, privately or publicly, would never teach anything which would conflict with those points. Such a promise would ever silence our mouth and cause our pen to become dry. Although it is indeed our conviction that the synod of 1924 saw the trees of the three points, but not the forest of common grace, yet it is beyond all doubt that it in those points really adopted the entire common grace view of Dr. Kuyper. Nevertheless we also desire to express our objections against those three points in particular.
The first point speaks of a favorable inclination in God towards all creatures. We have declared more than once that, if it were possible to take this expression by itself, we would have no objection against the implied proposition. We have always emphasized that God’s grace is not directed individualistically to a few elect, but to all creatures in organic connection. This, however, is not the case here. This explanation may never be given of the first point. The contrast in the first point is not “elect only or all creatures,” but “elect only or also reprobate.” It is the teaching of the first point that there is in God a gracious attitude towards all men, among whom also the reprobates are included. Apart from the saving grace of God shown only to the elect, there is also a non-saving grace of God, both as an inclination in God and as an operation proceeding upon the creature, in which also the reprobate share. That this is indeed the implication of the first point appears clearly from the discussion which preceded the adoption of this point at synod. This was the issue. This is plain from the texts which the synod quoted to substantiate the teaching of the first point. And this is especially clear from the proof which was quoted from the confession, relative to the preaching of the gospel. Moreover, this also appears from the discussion which later was carried on about the three points. But concerning this there is also no difference among us. We cannot accept this gracious inclination of God and operation of grace towards the reprobate wicked. Over against this we maintain that the grace of God goes out to the organic whole of the creatures in mutual affinity, and in connection with the elect in Christ, as the elect kernel. And we declare that at the same time a working of God’s wrath and indignation proceeds upon the reprobate shell.
However, the first point expresses more. Fact is, the synod of Kalamazoo also involved the preaching of the gospel in this gracious inclination in God and this operation of grace. Synod, in our modest opinion, did this nolens volens. Fact is, it sought proof for common grace in the Reformed Confessions, especially in the Canons. Now those confessions, in the nature of the case, do not speak of common grace in the Kuyperian sense of the word. The synod of Dordrecht busied itself with the question of salvation. A grace, which did not save, simply lay beyond the pale of its views and deliberations. The only place, where the term “common grace” is used in the sense of natural light and therefore is used in a non-saving sense, places the term upon the lips of the Remonstrants. It lay therefore in the nature of the case that synod, seeking proof for common grace in the confessions, was compelled to arrive at the general preaching of the gospel, whereof the confessions do speak, but the grace whereof it always conceives of as particular. Thus it happened that in the first point the proposition was adopted that God is gracious in the preaching of the gospel, that is, that He in that preaching is prompted by a gracious inclination, not only towards the elect, but towards all men. This was expressed by the synod of 1926 at Englewood still more clearly than by the synod of 1924. In its answer to the consistory of Middleburg, Iowa, which had protested against the declarations of 1924, that synod speaks of a “goodness or grace of God in the causing to go forth of a well-meaning offer of salvation to all to whom the preaching of the gospel comes,” as well as of a “certain grace or goodness or favorable inclination of God,” which “is revealed over against a group of men broader than the group of the elect, and that this, among other things, also is evident from the fact, that God well-meaningly calls each one to whom the lovely invitation of the Gospel comes” (Acta Synodi, 1926, p. 116). We believe that this presentation is not in harmony with Holy Writ, neither with the Reformed Confessions. And over against this we maintain that the preaching of the gospel is grace only for the elect, and at the same time a savor of death unto death for the reprobates. That the preaching of the gospel is general we understand very well. But we believe that the contents of the preaching is always particular, that it promises salvation only to those who believe, that is to the elect, and that it can never be said that it is an evidence of grace to all who hear the gospel. According to our earnest conviction the synod, with this declaration, has passed into the camp of the Remonstrants.
The second point speaks of a general operation of the Holy Spirit, outside of regeneration, whereby sin is restrained in the individual man and in the community. If this means anything at all, it implies that, outside of regeneration, a spiritual-ethical operation of the Holy Spirit proceeds upon sinful man, for his good, with the result that he is not as sinful and corrupt in the reality of life as he would be without that working of the Spirit. Dr. Kuyper differentiates here between mind, will, and inclinations on the one hand, and the I on the other hand; and in the I he distinguishes further between the kernel of the I and the different functions and motions of that I. Common grace now can influence, according to him, that entire man, with the exception of the kernel of the I. He writes in “De Gemeene Gratie” II, 306: “Having correctly understood this, one shall perceive immediately how only that I, as the most inner center, remains what it is, but how on the other hand those inclinations, that thinking and willing activity, by rebounding, undergoes a certain influence of common grace. Test this yourself by taking three, or four thin brass wires, which you fasten together at a certain point, spreading them out in various directions; underneath the point where these wires join you, with your left hand, will bend towards the left, and at the same time, with your right hand, at the point where the wires join, bend the upper half of the wires to the right. Then you will feel for yourselves how the pressure exercised by your right hand not only bends the ends of the wires to the right, but will exercise a certain pressure upon the lower half of the wires, which sensation you clearly feel in the fingers of your left hand. The same is true of common grace. When it, at whatever point of the line, takes hold of that line, and in its further progress bends it to the right, this will produce a tension, a pressure downwards, which will never affect the center of the I, but will have its affect upon the inclination, the consciousness and upon the will. This explains how the unconverted undergoes the influence of common grace in his inclinations, in his consciousness, and in his will.”
Thus far Dr. Kuyper.
Whatever one may think of the psychological distinction between the I and the center of the I, one thing is certain: if words have any significance, and we replace the copper wires by reality, then Dr. Kuyper teaches here a spiritual-ethical improvement effected by the influence of Divine grace upon natural man, his mind, his will, yea, even changing the deepest inclinations and motives of the heart into the proper ethical direction, changing him wholly for the good, except the kernel of his I. Dr. Kuyper permits also the Heidelberg Catechism to give this answer to the well-known eighth question: “that there is in that I inability to any good and continuously inclination to all evil. Whatever of this I is improved or does not reveal itself is not of the I, but of common grace.” He writes literally that the Catechism expresses it in that manner, De Gem. Gr. II, 307. This spiritual-ethical operation of grace for good is even similar to regeneration, differing from the latter merely in this that it does not affect the center of the I. If the same operation were to penetrate to that center it would regenerate the man.
It is this doctrine of Dr. Kuyper which the synod of Kalamazoo sought to express and exalt to an ecclesiastical dogma in the second point. This surely appears from the declaration “that God by the general operations of His Spirit, without renewing the heart of man, restrains the unimpeded breaking out of sin.” What Dr. Kuyper understands to be the center of the I the synod of Kalamazoo understands to be the heart. Only the synod improved upon the conception of Dr. Kuyper somewhat by adding thereunto: “by the general operations of His Spirit.” At any rate we do not say too much, when we allege that the second point teaches, that by a general operation of grace the natural man is wholly improved, except his heart. His mind and will and all his inclinations can be changed or inclined for the good.
We have various objections against this presentation. We do understand, as Art. 13 of our Confession of Faith teaches us, that God restrains all evil men, yea even the devil. But of a general operation of the Spirit, whereby God would improve the mind and will and inclinations of the natural man, the Confession surely does not speak. The English translation might possibly allow the presentation of synod, inasmuch as it reads: “that He so restrains the devil and all our enemies”. But the Holland translation, “hij de duivelen en al onze vijanden in den toom houdt,” is undoubtedly the more correct. We read in the French: “En quoi nous nous reposons, sachant qu’il tient les diables en bride, et tous nos enemis, qui ne nous peuvent nuire sans sa permission et bonne volente.” In answer to a protest against this declaration the synod of Englewood of 1926 observed rather simply, that this expression, it is true, does not appear in the Confessions, but that it therefore is not less correct, inasmuch as it is certain that “as God operated by His Spirit in creation so He also operates by the same Spirit in the work of providence. And whereas that operation of the Spirit did not cease after the fall of man but continues, to those general operations of God’s Spirit the restraint of sin must also be ascribed,” Acta 1926, p. 118. As if the truth, that in the works of God ad extra all three Persons of the Divine Trinity operate according to their own place in the Divine Household, would necessitate the conclusion that a spiritual-ethical operation of grace proceeds from God upon the natural man, improving him in his mind and will and inclinations. The keeping of devils and evil men under bridle (in den toom houden) is something altogether different than the restraining of the process of sin in the individual man and in mankind. Duly understanding that all the actions of devils and men are bridled by God and governed by Him, unto the realization of His counsel and the salvation of His own in Christ nevertheless deny that there is such an operation of grace by the Spirit, outside of regeneration, whereby the natural man is improved to any degree.
As stated above we have many objections against this view. Viewed psychologically it simply is absurd. It does not even hold with respect to the copper-wires, much less with respect to man. I reject with all that is in me the determinist view that the natural man would be able to perform deeds in which his I, the center of his I, or his heart would not be involved. Scripture teaches us that exactly from the heart are all the issues of life. Yet, my weightiest objection is that, according to this view, the reformed teaching, that the natural man is so corrupt that he is wholly incapable of doing any good and inclined to all evil, has become a mere abstraction. He may be ever so corrupt in the center of his I, that center is really shut off from the actual world by common grace. What the natural man actually does in this life does not come forth out of his I or heart, but out of his mind, will, and inclinations, and these have been greatly improved by the general operation of grace by the Spirit. As the natural man appears he is not wholly corrupted, but he certainly exceeds one’s expectations. We opine that this view not only conflicts with our Reformed confession but also with Holy Writ. Scripture not only knows of no such wholesome operation of the Holy Spirit, but it teaches the very opposite. It, after all, teaches us that an operation of God’s wrath is revealed from heaven, whereby He in such a way operates upon the godless deserter of the way of the Lord, causes such an operation to proceed upon his lusts and desires, that he is given up in an evil sense, to do things unseemly, proceeds from bad to worse. Whereas we readily admit that the sinner is restrained in various ways by the all-controlling providence of God according to the counsel of His will, and at the same time duly understand that the process of sin is bound to the organic development of the human race, and finally also clearly perceive that every man does not commit all the actual sins but that each, according to his own place and time, his own adaptability and character, gifts and means, develops the one root-sin of Adam unto the completed fruit, we will continue to maintain that the second point is in conflict with both Scripture and confession.
With respect to the third point we can now be brief, inasmuch as it stands or falls with the second. In this third point the synod declares that God, without renewing the heart, so influences man, that he, although incapable of performing any saving good, can perform civil good. It is evident, from the context of the expression, as well as in the light of the discussion which preceded this declaration, that with civil good the doing of good in civil life is meant. Here we meet the “doctrine of spheres” “terreinen-leer.” In the “sphere” of the first table of the law man is unable to do any good. This after all is “spiritual” good. But in the “sphere” of the second table of the law he can perform good. And by the “influence” of God, mentioned in this third point, the same is meant, of course, as the “general operations of the Spirit” in the second point.
Now one must understand that we, before the synod of 1924, had written also concerning this so called civil good, and that therefore that synod consciously condemned our view in this matter. To wit, in “Langs Zuivere Banen,” p. 72, 73, we wrote: “And what then is civil righteousness? In our opinion the sinner notes the God instituted relations, the given laws, means of fellowship, etc. He notes the propriety and usefulness of them. And now he makes use of them for his own sake. If he succeeds fairly well in this an action will result which formally appears to be in harmony with the laws of God. Then you have civil righteousness, regard for virtue, and an orderly external deportment. If this attempt fails, as is of course often the case, then also civil righteousness falls away; then the opposite is true. His fundamental error is, however, that also in the striving for external deportment, he does not seek or purpose God. To the contrary he purposes himself also in fellowship with other sinners and to maintain himself in his sin, with the entire “world” in whatever he does. And that is sin. This also actually has evil results for him and his fellow creatures. His action over against his neighbors and fellow creatures takes place according to the same rule and with the same results. It therefore happens that sin always develops and that corruption continues, and, yet, there remains relatively a formally just behavior according to the laws laid down and instituted by God. And yet the natural man never performs ethical good. This is our view. Who now will venture another explanation?”
This view, which completely explains the so-called “civil righteousness” as out of the totally corrupt man, who, however, has natural light, without any influence of common grace upon him, synod did not want. At any rate, it thought it necessary to put something else in its place. And that something else is then that wholesome influence of God, those general influences of the Spirit, those general operations of grace by God upon the nature of sinners, whereby these are enabled to perform civil good. And this view we deem to be in conflict with Scripture and confession both. It is not necessary at this time to quote from Scripture. The Confession, however, teaches in the Canons III, IV, 4, that man has retained certain glimmerings of natural light, that he thereby has some knowledge of God and of natural things, as well as of the difference between good and evil, but adds in that part, which the synod of 1924 forgot to quote, that he does not use that light aright even in things natural and civil, yea that he renders it wholly polluted and holds it in unrighteousness. By this latter presentation we would abide.
I would conclude by placing before you certain propositions for discussion:
- God is God and He always performs all His good pleasure. Therefore He also always proceeds directly to His goal, according to His eternal counsel, while all things, also Satan and sin and the godless world included, serve Him thereunto. At no moment in history whatsoever, from creation to the parousia, can we speak of a frustration of an original plan.
- God’s grace is not directed individualistically particularistically to the elect, but it is directed to the organic whole of the Church in Christ as its Head and that in connection with the organic whole of all creatures, of the entire cosmos. However, the godless reprobate is never object of this grace, viewed either as an inclination in God or as an operation of grace.
- Besides the operation of God’s drawing and saving and lifting up into heaven, glorifying grace, proceeding only upon the elect kernel of the created things, there is also an operation of God’s rejecting, repulsing wrath, proceeding upon the reprobate shell.
- The covenant with Noah is no friendship-covenant of common grace established with the sinful world qua talis and outside of Christ, but a revelation of the one covenant of God’s friendship in Christ, as it embraces and takes up into itself the entire cosmos. Temporally creation bears the curse, but presently also the dumb creature will share in the liberty of the glory of the children of God.
- All things of this present life, rain and sunshine, food and gladness, gift and talent, house and goods, name and position and might, are means, which God uses, but whereof also man make use as a rational moral creature. Inasmuch as God uses them, they serve Him in the fulfilment of His counsel. Inasmuch as man uses them, they are as so many obligations whereby he is placed before the demand to thank and serve God.
- The preaching of the Gospel is as such neither a blessing nor a curse. It addresses man as a rational moral being who is therefore responsible before God. God however, uses also that preaching to realize His counsel of predestination, both of election and reprobation, so that He, without nullifying the ethical nature and responsibility of man, calls the one unto salvation, and hardens the other. The preaching of the gospel is therefore never grace for the reprobate, neither is it ever intended to be such by God.
- Bound to the organic development of our race and bridled by God’s all-controlling Providence, sin develops as rapidly as possible, also through an operation of God’s wrath upon the lusts of the flesh. There is no operation of the Holy Spirit whereby the natural man without regeneration would be improved to any extent. Every man bears the fruit of the root-sin of Adam according to his time, place, circumstances, means, adaptability, and character.
- Man has some remnants of natural light, not of his original knowledge, righteousness and holiness. These latter are not only wholly lost, but have turned into their opposite. Consequently, the natural man can do nothing else than wholly pollute this natural light and hold it under in unrighteousness.
- Civil righteousness is an attempt of the sinful man whereby he, inasmuch as he perceives by his natural light the God-instituted relations and laws in the cosmos, and recognizes their usefulness, for his own benefit will adapt his life in connection with the life of his fellow-creatures to those laws of God in an external sense. If he succeeds, God, Who holds Himself to His own ordinances, grants him success. But success is not blessing. In the way of success he becomes ever greater, becomes ever more responsible, and under the wrath of God increases his own judgment.
- There is in Holy Writ no essential distinction in meaning between such terms as grace, favor, love, friendship, goodness, mercy. They all concern the relation and operation of God’s covenant of friendship towards the elect kernel.
- The idea of a common grace begins in dogmen-historical sense not with Calvin, neither can it be traced to Augustine, but its beginning must be sought in the age of the Scholastics, particularly with Thomas Aquinas. It cannot be said that this doctrine is preeminently Calvinistic.
- The Three Forms of Unity know of no common grace. The only place, where the term “common grace” appears, places it upon the lips of the Remonstrants. The “Three Points” are not explanations but additions to the confession of the Reformed Churches.
- The synod of Kalamazoo, in its “Three Points” has essentially exalted Kuyper’s “Gemeene Gratie,” Common Grace, to a dogma, and thereby rendered all further study of this question impossible.
- The Christian does not separate himself in Anabaptistic sense from the world; neither is it his calling to better the “world,” but to live, throughout his life in the world, from the principle of regeneration and according to the Word of God, and represent the cause of the Son of God as of the Party of the living God.
- Inasmuch as the distinction “image of God in broader and in narrower sense” can easily occasion misunderstanding, as if a remnant of the positive operation of the original righteousness had remained in the fallen man, it is better to speak of the image of God in formal and material sense, and say that the latter was changed into its opposite through sin.
- The so-called “covenant of works” was no covenant of works, but the first and earthy manifestation of God’s covenant of friendship. In this covenant man could not merit eternal life, neither ever attain unto it, but merely retain the earthy life which he possessed in the way of obedience.
- Government as such, irrespective of the sword power, was not instituted because of sin, but it came up out of the family. Its authority can therefore be defended by appealing to the fifth commandment.
- A godless magistrate does stand in the place of authority, wherewith he is clothed of God, but does not rule by the grace of God.
- Synod and Classes are not assemblies clothed with a power higher than the consistory, but merely larger or broader assemblies; they therefore cannot have the authority to depose office-bearers.
- History abundantly proves that the present Protestant Reformed Churches did not step out of the Christian Reformed Churches, but were barred by the latter from their fellowship, because they felt obliged to resist the declarations of the synod of Kalamazoo.
I thank you.