For a while we intend to write as complete a report as possible on the transactions of our last Synod, especially on those sessions of Synod that were held from September 26 to October 3. In these sessions the Declaration of Principles was discussed as to its contents and as to its purpose, and was finally adopted.
I do not have in my possession a stenographic report, but I do have a rather lengthy and accurate report written in longhand. And since, of course, most of our people could not be present at the sessions of Synod, and since I am certain that they will nevertheless be interested to know not only the formal decisions, which can be found in the Acta, but also to read about the discussions and the debates that were carried on at Synod, so that they can have a complete picture, I will write as accurately and as objectively as possible on the basis of the written report I have in my possession.
The Synod reconvened on September 26. After it was opened, the delegates of Class’s West were asked to report as to what they had done in regard to the contents of the Declaration. The report was that they had referred several of the protests against the Declaration that already appeared on the Agenda to the consistories, and that seeing that their position was that the Declaration was not legally before Synod, they had not entered into the contents of it.
Soon after this the Rev. H. Hoeksema made the following motion: “I make a motion that Synod declares that the Declaration of Principles is the expression of the Confessions with regard to some fundamental principles, as these Confessions have always been maintained and interpreted by the Protestant Reformed Churches.”
The Rev. L. Vermeer asked: ‘”‘Does that motion, include the amendments suggested by Classis East?” This question was answered in the affirmative.
Thereupon the Rev. J. Howerzyl aked: “What is the purpose of this motion? Is it not begging the question? Is it preliminary to something else? What relation, for instance, is there between this motion and the advice of Committee I, B?”
Here I must needs inform the reader about this report of Committee I, B. A committee of pre-advice had been appointed by Synod to present its advice concerning the Declaration of Principles. It was a committee of four, consisting of two members from the delegates of Classis West and two members from the delegates of Classis East. This committee could not agree, and therefore presented a split report. The report of Committee I A, which consisted of the delegates from Classis West, advised Synod not to adopt the Declaration on the basis that it was not legally before Synod. This was the thrust of the overture to Synod from the Consistory of our congregation in Bellflower, California. However, the Synod in June had already declared that the Declaration was legal, or rather, had rejected the stand of Bellflower’s overture that it was illegal by a vote of nine to seven. This really eliminated the necessity of discussing the report of Committee I, B, that is, the report of the other half of the same committee of pre-advice, to which the Rev. Howerzyl refers in his question, because that part of the report defended the legality of the Declaration of Principles. But for the sake of completeness, I will quote that report. Here it follows.
Two of the members of our committee having agreed that Synod ought to be advised to adopt the Overture of Bellflower, the undersigned members of the committee, wish to state that it is their opinion that Synod should rather be advised to adopt the Declaration on the basis of the six grounds included in Fuller Ave’s advice and including all the amendments and the Preamble suggested by Classis East’s overture.
We cannot agree with the statement in Bellflower’s overture that the Declaration is an interpretation of the Confessions and that it came into being in an improper way. Concerning these two statements we have the following to say:
1. The Declaraton is not an interpretation of the Confessions or a Fourth Form but simply a Declaration of the principles according to which our Mission Committee is instructed to labor in organizing new congregations. See the Preamble suggested by Classis East on page 42 (bottom).
a. To draw up a document and in it refer to the Confessions does not necessarily brand it as an official interpretation which must be signed together with confessions as belonging to Our Confessions.
(1) A professor of Theology, for example, might be suspended from his office for teaching false doctrine. The committee which advises Synod to do so might quote freely from the Confessions to show that he has departed from them in his teachings. When Synod adopts this advice and makes it her own, that does not make this document an official interpretation of the Confessions on the level with our Confessions.
(2) Since 1924 we have been interpreting the Confessions in a very definite way, and in 1950 our Mission Committee was not rebuked by Synod for writing to an individual: “We do not hesitate to express that the Word of God and the Three Forms of Unity, as interpreted by us over against the theory of Common Grace and also the theory of General Grace as expressed in the Three Points of 1924 are binding in our Churches.” See Acts of Synod page 115. This statement by the Mission Committee was not an official Declaration of interpretation of the Confessions. And we would remind Synod that the Mission Committee came with its request for a form because it was struggling with this problem of dealing with those who also claim to have and to maintain the Three Forms of Unity and who desired to join our churches.
(3) We must not therefore hasten to call every document that deals with doctrinal matters and which quotes the Confessions as an official Interpretation which Synod has no right to compose.
b. The very form of the Declaration indicates that it is nothing more than a document in which we state the principles according to which our churches always organized congregations in the past and according to which we propose to do so in the future as we approach those from other denominations than those amongst whom we labored in the past. Therefore the document begins historically with the principles according to which we organized congregations in the past of those who came to us from the Christian Reformed Churches.
2. The Declaration is legally before Synod.
a. The Mission Committee had the right to come to the last Synod with its request.
(1) It, and it alone, functions in the organization of new congregations.
(2) Considering the Declaration as no fourth Form or Interpretation (as above) we must maintain that the Mission Committee is the only body that could come with the request which it presented to the last Synod. It could not come to Synod from a local consistory.
b. It certainly is now legally before this present Synod.
(1) Several consistories have overtured Synod to adopt it for the Mission Committee’s use.
(2) It has now come into being not only as requested by the only body that e:uld request it of the Synod, but now from the very bottom, consistory, Classis to Synod—local congregations are urging Synod to adopt It and to heed to the request of the Mission Committee.
From this it is evident that Committee I, B, advised Synod to adopt the Declaration on the basis of the six grounds adduced by the First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan, and including all the amendments and the preamble suggested by Classis East. The rest of the report all concerns the legality of the Declaration of Principles, which had already been decided by Synod. It would be a mistake, therefore, to enter into that matter once more.
To the (question of the Rev. Howerzyl, what was the purpose of the motion presented by the Rev. H. Hoeksema, the latter answered as follows:
The matter of the motion is certainly preliminary to something else, namely, to the adoption of the Declaration of Principles as a form for the organization of churches, to be used by the Mission Committee and the Missionary. But before we adopt this, it is certainly necessary that we declare as Synod that the Declaration of Principles is the expression of the Confession with regard to some fundamental principles, as these Confessions have always been maintained and interpreted by the Protestant Reformed Churches. If this motion, is not adopted, then the adoption of the Declaration as a form for the Mission Committee is not necessary any more. Besides, this motion has the same substance as the first point of the grounds of Classis East’s overture. This ground reads as follows: ‘The Declaration of Principles is based foursquarely on our Three Forms of Unity and ion the Baptism Form. It has been alleged by some, without any proof, that the Declaration represents a private theological opinion. But nothing could be farther from the truth. It consists almost exclusively of quotations from the Confessions. Essentially it is nothing else than the Three Forms of Unity as they have always been read and understood by the Protestant Reformed Churches. The Declaration offers nothing new.’ The motion therefore certainly is not begging the question. The question of the truth as confessed by our churches on the basis of the Three Forms of Unity is certainly most important. And therefore the question whether this Synod will express agreement with the Declaration as an expression of the Confession is paramount. It is to me more important than the adoption of the Declaration of Principles as a form for the Mission Committee. And in answer to the question of the Rev. Vermeer, whether my motion includes the amendments suggested by Olassis East, I would say that this forenoon a motion was adopted to read the whole Declaration, including the amendments. And since it has been read with these amendments this morning, it stands to reason that my motion includes them.
And now I will quote the discussion on this matter conducted on the floor of the Synod from the written report as I have it before me.
The Rev. L. Vermeer: Rev. H. Hoekema says that if this motion is passed, then we have adopted the first ground of Chassis East’s overture. But if this is true, it seems to me that in that case we have adopted the whole thing. Then he Declaration itself has been adopted.
Rev. H. Hoeksema: The remark of the Rev. L. Vermeer is not quite correct. This motion simply means that we as Synod agree on the truth of the Declaration, that is, we express that the Declaration is the expression of the Confessions with regard to some fundamental principles, as these Confessions have always been maintained and interpreted by the Protestant Reformed Churches. The question is now simply, whether this is true, or not. If this motion is passed, another motion will still be needed for its adoption as a form for the Mission Committee and for the Missionary.
Rev. L. Vermeer: That is a part of the truth. But it is also true that when we have adopted this first point of Classis East’s overture, we will have to adopt the rest of it also, and we will have to say that ‘it will safeguard our churches against the influence of those who claim that they adhere to the Reformed Confessions but do not.’ The question is whether this applies to the people of our churches also. Classis West said that we agree with the main thrust of the Declaration. But we did not go into the contents of the Declaration of determine whether it is really the expression of the Confessions.
Rev. J. Howerzyl: Does not this motion broaden the scope of the whole matter? It seems to me that the Declaration is presented as a form for the organization of congregations. Doesn’t this motion rather make it a Fourth Form of a confessional nature?
Rev. G.M. Ophoff: I cannot understand the objections of some against this motion. Even if we do express in this motion that we adopt the contents of the Declaration, what of it? The simple question is whether the Declaration is the expression of the truth of the Confessions. And if it is, do we not dare to adopt this? If we all agree that the Declaration is in agreement with the Confessions, and that it is the expression, of the Confessions as we have always taught it in our churches, what can possibly be the objection against this motion?
Rev. H.H.: In answer to the Rev. J. Howerzyl I would say that it would probably be true that if this motion is passed, we adopt a certain form of a confessional nature for our churches, if this motion stood alone. But as soon as we adopt the main thing, that is, if we adopt the motion that this is to be used for the Mission Committee and the Missionary in the organization of churches, this whole objection falls away. If we adopt the preamble suggested by Classis East, this Declaration can never be used instead of the Confession or even alongside of the Confessions. The Confessions remain the only basis on which we as churches stand. For instance, the Declaration, if we adopt it as a form for the organization of churches, can never be used to depose ministers, elders, or deacons.
Rev. J. Howerzyl: If this motion is passed in its present form, then regardless of subsequent action, this statement stands that this motion declares. It means that we say that this Declaration says nothing more than the Confession. And that implies too, to my mind, that in the future the Three Forms of Unity will nevertheless have to be interpreted in the light of this Declaration.
The Rev. G.M. Ophoff: What the Rev. Howerzyl just said is undoubtedly correct. But what of it? If this Declaration is nothing but the express on of the truth of our Confessions, what can possibly be the objection? The question before us is exactly this: is the Declaration the truth of the Confessions, yes or no? If it is not, let us prove it. But if it is, don’t we want that truth?
The Rev. M. Gritters: If this motion is a part of a series of other motions that are to follow, then we should certainly reject it. We do not know what else is coming. If we are to be of any service to the church in the future, we must make things very plain. Also, if we are to be of any service to others, for instance, to the Liberated, we should emphasize which fundamental principles, are meant. That faith is the hand of the soul is a fundamental principle. Another fundamental principle is: ‘Whosoever believeth shall have everlasting life.’ We must therefore definitely state what fundamental principles are meant.
Rev. R. Veldman: I can see what the Rev. J. Howerzyl meant. And perhaps we want to avoid this, that is, to make of the Declaration a certain Fourth Form of a confessional nature. Is it not possible though, that together we say that this is the truth, regardless of the question whether we want to adopt it for the use of the Mission Committee. If we can agree that this is the truth, then we do not have to talk about that anymore. If we cannot agree on this, it is no use to talk any further. But if we do, we can simply discuss whether we want the Declaration to be adopted as a form for the organization of churches, to be used by the Mission Committee.
The Rev. G.M. Ophoff: In reply to the Rev. M. Gritters, I want to state that the Declaration plainly states what matters this motion treats. There can be no question about the principles involved. (That the promise is unconditional and only for the elect—those are the chief fundamental principles which are mentioned in the Declaration. And exactly these principles must be enunciated. There are, of course, still other truths besides those which are mentioned by the Rev. Gritters. Such a principle, for instance, is the truth of the Trinity. But was it necessary to say something about this for the Mission Committee? The Declaration is certainly not vague, but very specific and clear. Everybody can understand it. Let the Rev. Gritters make dear where it is ambiguous or vague.
The Rev. L. Vermeer: The Rev. Ophoff states that it is one of the ma n principles of the Declaration that the promise is unconditional. But according to the Rev. Ophoff, we may also speak of conditional promises. I can quote him in regard to this from the Standard Bearer. This certainly is one instance of vagueness and ambiguity. Let the Rev. Ophoff explain.
Rev. G.M. Ophoff: I would ask the Rev. Vermeer whether he really reads the Standard Bearer. If he does, he certainly must be acquainted with the fact that I used the expression conditional promises twenty-five years ago. At that time I was just out of the Christian Reformed Churches. Besides, at that time the question was an entirely different one, which must not be forgotten. Moreover, he must not overlook the fact, or forget to mention, that I publicly confessed my error in the same Standard Bearer. What right, then, does he have, after I confessed my error, to throw this up at me? Besides, although it is true that the question concerning the promise has been accentuated since we came into contact with the Liberated, the Liberated have nothing to do with this motion. The question before us is simply whether the Declaration is the truth as expressed in the Confessions. If it is not, let those that oppose the Declaration show it.
The Rev. J. Howerzyl: I read in this motion, ‘that the Declaration of Principles is the expression of the Confessions with regard to some fundamental principles, as these Confessions have always been maintained and interpreted by the Protestant Reformed Churches.’ Now, after 1924 it was still possible for Ophoff to write as he did, and speak of conditional promises. How then can he say these Confessions were always interpreted as in this Declaration?
The Rev. G.M. Ophoff: Principally twenty-five years ago I taught nothing else than what I teach today. Even then I did not defend a general promise to all. I was defending the truth of a particular promise, that is only for the elect. Only, we were accused of preaching only to the elect. And therefore I showed that we can present the gospel of a particular promise to all. I never said that God promised all men something. It is true that I used the term conditional promise, but only in the sense that the promise is particular, while the preaching of the gospel is general. The essence of what I then wrote is the same as what I teach today.
The Rev. G. Vos: I can easily defend the fact that the Rev. G.M. Ophoff and the Rev. H.H. used this terminology of a conditional promise, while at the same time they were teaching and advocating what this Declaration expresses. Even when they spoke of conditional promises, they were certainly not defending the Heynsian or Liberated theology, terminology. They defended what we defend today, even though they used this terminology. In our school they taught us exactly the truth which the Declaration states, even though they used this term, conditional promise, and in a later connection admitted that it was a blunder which they committed in quoting Calvin. The content of the word condition with them never had the content the Liberated give to it today. ‘All the benefits of the covenant are unconditionally bestowed,’ is what we had to memorize even when we were in school.
The Rev. R. Veldman: I do not like the way this discussion is going. We do not have to determine or define what the Rev. H.H. and the Rev. Ophoff said. Let us discuss the motion. Let the brethren that oppose the Declaration show that it is not the truth of the Confessions. Let them point out exact statements of what is and what was not always taught in our churches. What is wrong with the Declaration? That is the question. Show us that it is not the truth. Let us discuss what are the contents of the Declaration, and not what is in the Standard Bearer.
The Rev. J. Howerzyl: This is nevertheless a new approach, and begging the question. The question is whether we will declare this, not whether it is the truth.
The Rev. G.M. Ophoff: How can we possibly adopt a thing without talking about it, without discussing it? Can we talk about adopting it before we say whether we agree with its contents?
The Rev. L. Vermeer: We always believed and confessed that all our salvation is only from God. And on this point we are just as strong as ever. But there were other statements made, especially since Dr. Schilder was here, when conditional promises were mentioned. I maintain that this Declaration is not what we have always expressed and confessed.
The Rev. J. Howerzyl: The Rev. G.M. Ophoff suggests that I mean to vote on the thing without discussing it. My point is that you have first of all the question concerning the first ground of Fuller Avenue’s overture, and again the question of declaring that the Declaration of Principles is the expression of the Confessions as these have always been maintained and interpreted by the Protestant Reformed Churches. The question is whether we shall declare this. And the necessity of this Declaration has not been proved to me yet. If this Declaration is the same as the Confessions, it is not necessary. In this motion we express more than that this is a form for the organization of churches, to be used by the Mission Committee. This motion goes farther than the advice of Committee I, B.
Rev. H.H.: Mr. Chairman, in the first place, I publicly repudiate the insinuation as if in the last twenty-seven years I wrote or taught anything contrary to that which is expressed in the Declaration. I wrote volumes. And I dare say that principally I never changed. I always taught and preached the very same thing I preach today. It is true that when the subject of conditions was not pressing, I used the term. But I can prove to you by quotations from the Standard Bearer that in the same breath and in the same connection I emphasized that the promise is unconditional. In the second place, I maintain that if we do not dare to adopt this Declaration, then we certainly should go back to the Christian Reformed Churches and apologize for what we did in 1924, when we rejected the First Point of the three. The Rev. Howerzyl’s contention is not correct. If we adopt the Declaration, there must be grounds upon which we adopt it. Therefore we must discuss the contents of this Declaration before we ever adopt it. We must discuss the question whether this Declaration is really the truth as contained in the Confessions. I can also move that we adopt the first ground of Fuller Avenue’s Consistory, and you really have the same thing. Let us therefore enter into the discussion of the contents of the Declaration. We cannot discuss it by walking around it, as we do now. But we must talk about it.
The Rev. G.M. Ophoff: The Rev. Howerzyl says that if we adopt this Declaration, we have a Fourth Form. Now that is absolutely impossible if the Declaration is the Confessions, or is the expression of the Confessions. And I maintain that it is. It does not set forth one truth of which the Confessions do not speak. Nor can you find one statement in the Declaration that is in conflict with the Confessions. And therefore, it is impossible that it can be a Fourth Form.
The Rev. M. Gritters: I still say that I cannot vote for this without knowing what is to follow when it is passed. I know that when we say that we always confessed this, that nevertheless we had a different idea of the promise and a different approach to it. I beg Synod that if we are to be of any service to our churches, that we should define Heynsianism and these fundamental principles that are referred to in the motion. It is true that our Confessions condemn the term conditions. But they speak of conditions only with relation to election, and not in relation to the promise.
Rev. H.H.: Mr. Chairman, this last remark of the Rev. Gritters evidently enters into the contents of the motion. Of that I am glad. And I will show the Rev. Gritters that he is mistaken when he says that according to the Confessions the promise can also be conditional and when he denies that the Confessions say anything about conditions in relation to the promise or about conditional promises. I will take time to show this particular principle that the promise is unconditional from the Confessions.
I first of all refer you to the Baptism Form. In the Baptism Form we read of the promise in the strongest possible language. For there we read repeatedly that baptism witnesseth and sealeth. It witnesseth and sealeth unto us the washing away of our sins through Jesus Christ. God the Father witnesseth and sealeth unto us that He doth make an eternal covenant of grace with us. The Son sealeth unto us that He doth wash us in His blood from all our sins. And the Holy Ghost assures us that He will dwell in us. This, therefore, is the sealed promise of God. Now the question is: to whom in this Baptism Form does the personal pronoun us refer? Does it refer to all the baptized children, head for head, and soul for soul? Does God witness and seal and assure with an oath to everyone baptized that He washes away his sins, etc.? Or must we consider the church elect as speaking here, and that the us refers to believers and their spiritual seed, as found in the line of continued generations? I claim that this is the only way in which you can possibly read the Baptism Form intelligently. The question in the first part of the Baptism Form is: what does God do? and not: what do we do? God the Father witnesseth and sealeth unto us that He establishes an eternal covenant of grace with us, that He adopts us for His children and heirs, that He will provide us with every good things, and avert all evil or turn it to our profit. Would you say that God the Father witnesseth and seals this promise to all the baptized children. Then, and then only, can you say that the promise is for all that are baptized. But this is impossible. For what God promises, what He witnesses and seals, He certainly does perform. And He does not perform this upon every baptized child. God the Son in baptism witnesses and seals that He doth wash us in His blood, that He incorporates us into the fellowship of His death and resurrection, so that we are freed from all our sins and accounted righteous before God. Again I ask: does He seal this promise unto every baptized child? And again I remind you that what God promises He fulfills. Through baptism the Holy Ghost assures us that He will dwell in us. This is important. There is no possibility of the realization of the promise except through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, therefore, belongs to the promise of God. Without the Holy Spirit there is no promise. If God promises us His Spirit, He promises us all the blessings of salvation. If He does not promise the Spirit, He promises us nothing. And now will anyone of us maintain that the promise of the Holy Spirit is conditional? You all remember that when Dr. Schilder was here, in our conferences with him I defended thirteen propositions on the covenant and on the promise. They can still be found in the Standard Bearer. At that time Dr. Schilder presented his view and attempted to prove that fundamentally we agreed. The difference between us was rather a difference of terminology, not of principle. You all remember that as far as the term condition is concerned, he made the illustration of a man that certainly must fulfill the condition of sowing, if he is to expect a harvest, with this illustration we can, of course, all agree. But in the matter of salvation a man can do absolutely nothing. He cannot sow to expect a harvest. He can only do worse than nothing. For he can only refuse, reject salvation. It is only the grace of the Spirit that can possibly change him. And therefore I claim that if the promise does not include the Spirit, it includes nothing. But according to the Baptism Form, the promise of God includes the Spirit. The Spirit will dwell in us and apply all that we have in Christ to us, The washing away of our sins, and the daily renewing of our lives, till we shall finally be presented without spot or wrinkle among the assembly of the elect in life eternal.’ And since the promise of the Holy Spirit is an essential element, and since the gift of the Holy Spirit is not conditioned upon anything man can do, the promise is necessarily unconditional.
In the second place, I want to call attention to the statement of the Rev. Gritters that the Confessions speak of conditions only with a view to election. Election is unconditional. But the promise may be conditional. Now this certainly is not correct. Our fathers clearly maintained that the application of salvation is just as divine and unconditional as election itself. For this I refer you to Canons II, 8, an article of the confession which is also quoted in the Declaration. There we read: Tor this was the sovereign counsel, and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of his S:n should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation: that is, it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to him by the Father; that he should confer upon them faith, which together with all the ether saving gifts of the Holy Spirit he purchased for them by his death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory in his own presence forever.’ New does this article of the confession speak only of election? The main subject of this chapter of the Canons is ‘The Death of Christ, and the Redemption of Men Thereby.’ The subject cf election, pure and simple, was treated in the first chapter. But in Canons II, 8 we have the presentation of the counsel of God in its execution, that is, the application of the blessings of salvation. And this application of salvation, that is, of the promise, is, according to this article, only for the elect. Only upon them is bestowed the gift of justifying faith, in order to bring them infallibly to salvation. Only the elect are actually redeemed, according to the purpose of God. Only upon them are bestowed all the gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to the same purpose,—the gifts which Christ purchased for them by His death. Only them He purges from all sin. Only them He preserves faithfully to the end, and leads them to the enjoyment of glory in God’s presence forever. Surely, according to the Canons, election is unconditional. But the unconditionality of salvation does not refer only to election, but also to the application of all the blessings of salvation to the elect only. And therefore also in this article of the confession the promise of God is sure, and for the elect, and unconditional.”
In the middle of my speech we had recess. And after recess I continued as follows:
Before recess I was showing that the promises of God are always, unconditional and only for the elect, according to the Confessions. The subject with which the Declaration deals is only the question concerning the unconditionality of the promise, which the Rev. Gritters disputes. We must remember that we are dealing here with the Confessions, and with nothing else. Our Confessions certainly are not, and cannot be, in dispute among us. I certainly may proceed from the assumption that the Confessions are Scriptural. This I do not have to prove. Anyone that has an objection against the Confessions must present a gravamen in the regular way. Nor need we have a discussion here of conditions in general. That is indeed a very interesting subject, and a matter which we can certainly discuss sometime. But that is not the question here, and at present, before this Synod. Here the question is simply whether the promise is ever conditional, and is ever for anyone but the elect. And that the promise is absolutely unconditional and for the elect alone I was showing, and now will continue to show from our Three Forms of Unity.
When you are dealing with the question of the promise of God, yon are naturally dealing with the sacraments: for these are signs and seals of the premise. We need not be surprised, therefore, that the sacraments have been in dispute throughout the ages of the church. The baptists and anabaptists reject infant baptism. What really lies back of this objection to infant baptism? Essentially this objection concerns the question of unconditional salvation. The promise of God cannot be conditional for infants, for they (cannot accept conditions. Hence, they reject infant baptism, and must limit the sacrament of baptism only to the adults. The crux of the matter therefore s whether the promise of God is conditional. In a way this is also true of the sacrament of communion. Also in regard to this sacrament the question was always and still is whether it was a sign and seal of grace.
Now let us turn once more to the Confessions, to find out whether they speak of conditions only with regard to election, and whether they also do not clearly teach that the promise of God is unconditional. I refer you to the Belgic Confession, Articles 33-35. Let us pay particular attention to the pronouns ‘we’ and ‘us’ and ‘our’. The question is whether these pronouns refer to the believing church and its spiritual seed, or whether they can possibly refer also to the carnal seed. Article 33 of the Belgic Confession speaks of the sacraments in general, and of them it is said: ‘We believe, that our gracious God, on account of our weakness and infirmities hath ordained the sacraments for us, thereby to seal unto us his promises, and to be pledges of the good will and grace of God toward us, and also to nourish and strengthen our faith; which he hath joined to the Word of the gospel, the better to present to our senses, both that which he signifies to us by his Word, and that which he works inwardly in our hearts, thereby assuring and confirming in us the salvation which he imparts to us. For they are visible signs and seals of an inward and invisible thing, by means whereof God worketh in us by the power of the Holy Ghost. It is plain from the language of this entire article that the personal pronouns refer to the believing church and its spiritual seed, as it organically appears in the line of continued generations. It is also plain that in this article the promise is not a mere objective bequest, without subjective application. This would make it an offer to all the seed, spiritual and carnal. But a seal is by no means the same as an offer. It is rather an oath of God that He will fulfill the promise to all that are under the seal. Besides, that the promise is not a mere objective bequest, but that it implies the subjective application, and therefore concerns surely only the elect, is evident from the fact that also this article includes the Holy Spirit in the promise. Always the promise includes the promise of the Holy Spirit. And certainly the Holy Spirit cannot be conditioned. That this is the meaning of the article is evident from the fact that it speaks of imparting the salvation to us. The sacraments signify ‘that which he works inwardly in our hearts, thereby assuring and confirming in us the salvation which he imparts to us’. Note: the article does not say that God offers salvation, nor that He merely objectively bequeaths salvation, but that God imparts salvation to us. Besides, that the promise of the Holy Spirit and the application of all the blessings of salvation are included in the promise of God is evident from the sentence that follows: ‘For they are visible signs and seals of an inward and invisible thing, by means whereof God worketh in us by the power of the Holy Ghost’. The Holy Ghost is included in the promise of God, and therefore it must needs be unconditional.
All these elements are also plainly expressed in Article 34, which speaks of Holy Baptism. In the first place, in this article too we have naturally the pronouns ‘we’ and ‘our’ and ‘us’, the same as in Article 33. And by these pronouns: again believers and their spiritual seed are essentially referred to as the subject: ‘We believe and confess . . . We are received into the church of God. Baptism serves as a testimony to us, that He will forever be our gracious: God and Father’. And thus it is throughout the article. It is also evident from the same article that the promise is not conceived as a mere objective bequest, but that it includes all the blessings: of salvation, as ‘applied to us by the Holy Spirit. For baptism signifies ‘to us, that as water washeth away the filth of the body, when poured upon it, and is: seen on the body of the baptized, when sprinkled upon him; so doth the blood of Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost, internally sprinkle the soul, cleanse it from its sins, and regenerate us from children of wrath, unto children of God’. Again, a little further in the same article, it is said that baptism signifies and seals to us that ‘our Lord giveth that which is signified by the sacrament, namely, the gifts and invisible grace; washing, cleansing and purging our souls from all filth and unrighteousness; renewing our hearts, and filling them with all comfort; giving us a true assurance of his Fatherly goodness; putting on us the new man, and putting off the old man with all his deeds’. It is plain from all this that according to our Confession, baptism does not merely signify an objective bequest to all the children that are born under the dispensation of the covenant, but that it includes the promise of the Holy Spirit and the application of all the blessings of salvation, subjectively, to all the spiritual seed of the covenant. And therefore again, also from this article, it is very evident that the promise is not conditional.
And once more the same is true of Article 35, which speaks of the Holy Supper of our Lord Jesus Christ. Again, the same personal pronouns are used, and in them the reference is the same as in the preceding articles, that is, to believers and their spiritual seed. It speaks of those that are already regenerated. The sacrament of holy communion is designed to seal and signify to us the nourishing of our spiritual life: ‘Christ, that he might represent unto us this spiritual and heavenly bread, hath instituted an earthly and visible bread, as a sacrament of his body, and wine as a sacrament of his blood, to testify by them unto us, that, as certainly as we receive and hold this sacrament in our hands, and eat and drink the same with our mouths, by which our life is afterwards nourished, we also do as certainly receive by faith (which is the hand and mouth of our soul) the true body and blood of Christ our only Savior in our souls, for the support of our spiritual life’. And again, that also this sacrament signs and seals unto us not only the objective bequest, but also the subjective application of all the blessings of salvation to believers is plain from the following: ‘Now, as it is certain and beyond all doubt, that Jesus Christ hath not enjoined to us the use of his sacraments in vain, so he works in us all that he represents to us by these holy signs, though the manner surpasses our understanding, and cannot be comprehended by us as the operations of the Holy Ghost are hidden and incomprehensible’. And once more, a little further in the article we read: ‘This feast is a spiritual table, at which Christ communicates himself with all his benefits to us,, and gives us there to enjoy both himself, and the merits of his sufferings and death, nourishing, strengthening and comforting our poor comfortless souls by the eating of his flesh, quickening and refreshing them by the drinking of his blood’. All this denotes far more than an objective bequest. It includes the promise of the Holy Ghost. And therefore I say once more that the promise is unconditional. In fact, that the promise is only for the elect, according to the Belgic Confession, and certainly not for the hypocrites and the carnal seed, is also evident from the following quotation: ‘Further, though the sacraments are connected with the thing signified, nevertheless both are not received by all men: the ungodly indeed receives the sacrament to his condemnation, but he doth not receive the truth of the sacrament. As Judas, and Simon the sorcerer, both indeed received the sacrament, but not Christ, who was signified by it, of whom believers only are made partakers’.
I think for the time being I have said enough to repudiate the statement that according to our Confessions the term conditions is condemned only in regard to the doctrine of election. Always the promise is presented as unconditional, and is for the elect alone. A conditional promise is no promise, if it were only for the fact that the gift of the Holy Spirit cannot possibly be conditioned by anything that man can do. Somehow or other there is always a tendency in the church to depart from this truth. But let us remember that a conditional promise presupposes conditional election. And that is Arminian. Therefore, we must maintain our Confessions, which always maintain that the promise of God is surely fulfilled, that it is an oath of God which is: meant only for the elect, and that therefore it is unconditional.
N. Yonker: We are finally getting into the subject matter of the Declaration, and therefore are discussing the contents of the motion that is before the house. But why cannot we treat the whole Declaration on the basis of this motion, seriatim, and discuss the Declaration point by point. I make an amendment to the motion that we so do.
Rev. L. Doezema: There is a good deal of material on the Agenda which is sent in by the consistories, and which deal with the contents of the Declaration. I would like to start out with a discussion of this material.
Rev L. Vermeer: I cannot see why all this is necessary.
Let us stick to the motion of the Rev. H. Hoeksema, which is before Synod.
N. Yonker: This is undoubtedly necessary, because in the material which the Rev. Doezema mentions some objected to the contents of the Declaration. But when, my motion is adopted, we naturally also enter into the contents of those objections.
Rev. G.M. Ophoff: Mr. Chairman, I like this amendment, for it means that we enter into the discussion of the contents of the Declaration in detail. If there is something in the Declaration that is not correct or that is ambiguous, let us discuss it on the floor of the Synod, and let us go over it together.
Rev. R. Veldman: The motion which is offered by Mr. N. Yonker is really not an amendment, but it a substitute motion.
Rev. H.H.: Well, let us call it a substitute motion. It makes no difference to me. There certainly can never be any objection to a thorough discussion. And if there are any errors in the Declaration, they should be corrected. But let us have them then. We are certainly not defending any personal or private theological view is. But it is a question of the Confession. And I think it is very good that we take our time, even if it is necessary to meet all next week.
J. Faber: All this is very well, but I don’t see why it is necessary. No one has ever denied yet that the Declaration, is the truth of the Confessions. If anyone maintains that the contents of the Declaration are not in harmony with the Confessions, let him say so, and let him tell us where it departs from the Three Forms of Unity. And then we can treat these departures. To my mind that would be sufficient.
N. Yonker: Let us not rush. The Synod of 1950 has been accused of rushing the matter of the Declaration through, and passing it in one evening session. Let us not expose ourselves to any such accusation. Let us take our time, and go through it thoroughly.
Rev. H. Hoeksema: I am in favor of the motion to discuss it seriatim. And after we have discussed a point, we can make a motion to adopt that point which was under discussion.
Rev. J. Howerzyl: Does this imply that Synod will no longer decide whether it is: a Confession or a Fourth Form or not? There are many truths which I hold, but that does not mean that I want now to declare them in a certain form.
Rev. L. Doezema: I am against the original motion. I feel that we have to allow for all the doubts that have arisen about the formulation of this Declaration. I am ready to declare that the Declaration expresses the essential thrust of the Confession in regard to certain fundamental principles. But we have no need of any added statements about the Confessions which we already have. I repeat that we should go through the Agenda, to gather all the material the consistories have presented in the form of objections to the Declaration. These should be treated, and nothing more. And after such a treatment, we may be able to decide whether or not we will adopt the Declaration.
Rev. H.H.: My idea was to go through the Declaration point by point from the viewpoint of the question whether or not it is in harmony with the Confessions. This after all is the chief question. After this has been decided, we can determine whether we will adopt it or not.
De Vries: A large part of the Declaration is the Confessions. And we certainly do not have to decide or try to decide about the Confessions, do we?
Rev. L. Doezema: We have a difficulty here, because of the original motion. The Rev. Hoeksema gave a speech in which he expressed other ideas than those which are in this document. We must treat only what the consistories sent in. I am not interested in changing any formulation, because I am not in favor of formulating anything. And I cannot agree with this formulation, although I once more state that I can declare that I am in favor of the essential thrust of this Declaration.
Rev. H.H.: To my mind, if we do not agree with the formulation, then we certainly cannot agree with the contents of the Declaration. You cannot possibly separate the terminology from the contents. If this is the position of the Rev. L. Doezema, he is in duty bound to make another formulation, in which he clearly expresses what, according to his conviction, is the main thrust of the Declaration.
Finally, at the close of the Wednesday afternoon session, the motion was adopted to discuss the Declaration seriatim, to determine whether it is in harmony with the Confessions. It was also decided to put all the material of the Agenda that has reference to the Declaration in the form of objections, etc., in the hands of Committee I, to collate all that material for a better discussion. After this the Synod closed its session with prayer and thanksgiving.
After the Thursday morning session was opened with the proper devotional exercises, a discussion ensued on the floor of the Synod that interfered for a while with the order of the day. This discussion, which certainly had nothing to do with the discussion of the contents of the Declaration, but which occupied most of the morning session, ran as follows:
Rev. J. Howerzyl: Before we proceed, I wish to inform Synod that I still stand on my recorded vote against the legality of the Declaration. My stand is that the Declaration is not legally before Synod. How, then, is it possible for me now to enter into the discussion of its contents? I want the Synod to know that if I do enter into such a discussion, that does not mean that I have changed my mind about the legality of the Declaration. And, if presently a motion is made to declare that the contents of the Declaration are the expression of our Confession, I will have to vote against such a motion. I want the Synod to understand this.
Rev. H. Hoeksema: Mr. Chairman, if this is the stand of the Rev. Howerzyl, if he still insists that the Declaration is not legally before Synod, in spite of our former decision to the contrary, he should not vote at all. Just because he is of the convict on that the Declaration is not legal, he certainly cannot register a negative vote on the motion that the Declaration is the expression of the Confessions. He may not obstruct Synod. In that case he simply cannot vote at all.
Rev. G.M. Ophoff: That is exactly my stand. If such is the position of the Rev. Howerzyl, he has no moral right to vote. Not only that, but he should even keep himself out of the discussion. And this is true for all the other brethren too, if they are not willing to recognize the will of the majority of Synod that already expressed itself on the legality of the Declaration.
Rev. R. Veldman: This is a very unreasonable stand for the Rev. Howerzyl to take. The Synod has already decided on the legality of the Declaration by a majority vote. It is plainly out of order to come back on this decision. When will the brethren begin to decide that the Declaration is legal? How can they put themselves up against the decision of Synod that has been taken by a majority vote?
Rev. G.M. Ophoff: The Synod is a deliberative body. Motions are made, and votes are taken. Now it stands to reason that in regard to any decision there may be a majority and a minority. But it is according to the Church Order that the minority must submit to the majority. If it cannot agree, and if moreover it refuses to submit to the majority it shuts itself out.
D. Langeland: I can understand that the Rev. J. Howerzyl takes this stand. But I cannot understand why he cannot with us discuss the question whether the Declaration is: the truth of the Confessions. He can always appeal to the next Synod about its legality.
Rev. R. Veldman: We cannot possibly conduct Synod this way. It was in answer to an overture from Classis West that the legality was discussed and decided upon. May we now simply disregard what Synod decided?
The Rev. J. Howerzyl: I still stand on the basis of my recorded vote that the entire matter of the Declaration is illegal. If you grant me the right on that basis to discuss the contents of the Declaration with you, I am willing. But I do not want to leave the impression that I bow to the vote of the majority. I do not. I am still convinced that it is illegal.
Rev. G.M. Ophoff: Suppose it appears after discussion on the floor of the Synod that the Declaration is; the truth as expressed in the Confessions. Is it possible that the Rev. J. Howerzyl’s stand on the legality can be a reason why he votes against it being the truth of the Confessions?
Rev. J. Howerzyl: I mean, Mr. Chairman, when you decide whether it should be adopted as a form, I will have to vote against it.
Rev. H. Hoeksema: First of all, Mr. Chairman, I must state that in my opinion the stand of the Rev. J. Howerzyl is revolutionary. On the next Synod he may protest. But here he must certainly bow before the will of the majority. For what is decided by the majority vote is settled and binding in our churches. That is the Church Order. And it is certainly his obligation to submit, unless he wants to separate himself from the Synod. Either he leaves the Synod, or he promises that he abides by the majority vote and works along with us. If he wishes to leave, let his alternate take his place. And even if all the delegates that take the same stand as the Rev. Howerzyl, and their secundi, refuse to work along with us, we as a Synod will still continue. We must finish our mandate. In the second place, I wish to call the attention to Synod that the Rev. Howerzyl now says that it is possible for him to enter into the discussion of the contents of the Declaration. But a little while ago he said that if a motion was presented to express, that the Declaration is the truth of the Confessions, he would vote against it. He would have to vote No to such a motion because of his stand on the legality of this document. Now I propose to make a motion every time when a point has been discussed, to declare that that particular part of the Declaration is the expression of the Confessions. If the Rev. Howerzyl votes No on such a motion, I want the Synod to understand, that thus is impossible on the basis of his recorded vote concerning the legality.
Rev. J. Howerzyl: It is possible that I said that I would vote against a motion expressing that the Declaration is the truth of the Confessions. If so, I misspoke myself. I meant only that I would vote against adopting the Declaration as a farm for the Mission Committee. It stands to reason that when we discuss the question as to whether this is: in harmony with the Confessions, I can discuss with the Synod, if the Synod give me permission.
Rev. R. Veldman: I would like to have the Rev. J. Howerzyl see that there is nothing he can vote against as far as the contents of the Declaration is: concerned on the basis of his stand against the legality. The Rev. van Weelden was not here in June, when the legality was decided. He might think that the Declaration was illegally before Synod. But may he vote against its being the truth on that basis? Synod decided that it was legal. May he now say that it is not?
J. Faber: Mr. Chairman, this whole discussion is entirely out of order. Let us return to the order of the day.
Rev. G.M. Ophoff: The Rev. J. Howerzyl should see that his mind would be closed to all arguments because of his stand in re the legality of the Declaration. If he thinks that in spite of the decision of last June the Declaration is not legally before Synod, what right has he to vote at all, if he does not even listen to our arguments?
Rev. J. van Weelden: We may distinguish between the legality and the necessity of the Declaration. Synod decided that the Declaration was legally before Synod. It was not the Rev. de Boer that decided it, but Synod did. Now we lean bow to this decision, and debate the question nevertheless (of the necessity of the Declaration.
Rev. L. Doezema: I believe, Mr. Chairman, that this Synod has been doing things wrong from the beginning. The Rev. J. Howerzyl has the right to refuse to enter into the question of whether this is the truth of the Confessions. I want to remind Synod that it merely treated the report of Committee I, A, in part. There were many remarks and arguments in re the question of the legality of the Declaration. But Synod did not make a written report in correct ecclesiastical style, and formulate its arguments: in favor of the legality. Since Synod failed to do this, we have trouble. The trouble of not being convinced. And therefore we are afraid to discuss the contents of the Declaration. We have a right to refuse to discuss this point. Personally I am not all afraid to enter into the discussion of the contents. But nevertheless, since the Synod did not convince us in the proper ecclesiastical way about the legality of the Declaration, it is difficult for us to enter into make a discussion.
Rev. R. Veldman: I move that we proceed to the order of the day.
Rev. H. Hoeksema: Mr. Chairman, I feel that we cannot let this matter pass. This stand of not being willing to bow before the decision of the majority of the Synod is principally the beginning of a schism. Mr. Chairman, if the brethren can no longer discuss with us, and decide on such important matters by majority vote as the contents of this Declaration, I feel that there is a principal separation. Now let us not have an ecclesiastical fight. I have seen too much of that. But if the brethren feel that they cannot agree with us, let us; separate in all brotherly love, and let them leave our Protestant Reformed Churches, if they do not want to submit to the vote of the majority. I feel, Mr. Chairman, that during this entire session they have obstructed the proper progress of the work of Synod, And I do not like to be played for a fool. How can we ever labor together this way? The question is not simply whether they can discuss with us on the contents of the Declaration, but whether or not they can vote on the motion as to whether the Declaration is the expression of the Confessions. This is not only a deliberative body; it is also legislative. Synod is not a debating club, without offering and deciding upon motions. All the delegates have promised that they will discuss and decide with us on all matters that legally come before Synod, and that they will bow before the majority. It is immoral to refuse to vote. Nor is it true, what the Rev. L. Doezema said, as if we did not motivate our decision on the legality. In all our discussions, as he well knows, we based our arguments on the Church Order. Besides, in the report of Committee I, B, it is black on white, and also in the grounds of the overture of Classis East.
Rev. L. Doezema: The Rev. H. Hoeksema says that it is black on white in the report of Committee I, B, why the Declaration is considered to be legal. My point is that we never got up to this report. We treated the report of Committee I, A, up to point 2, and then voted that the Declaration is legally before Synod. I asked Synod three times to put the grounds of that decision in writing, but the Synod paid no attention to me.
Rev. J. van Weelden: I think that we have the wrong thing on the table. We ought to have the report of Committee I, B. We have no mandate to decide whether this is the truth of the Confessions.
Rev. G. Vos: There seems to be a great deal of misunderstanding in regard to procedure. The brethren forget that the point of the legality has been decided, and is now finished. We cannot discuss that matter again. It is simply out of order. When the brethren recorded their vote against the legality of the Declaration, that matter was finished. And we do not go back now to decide once again whether or not it is legal. That is, that cannot be brought up at the present Synod. The only way to discuss the question of the legality once again is to go through consistory, classis, and then to the synod of 1952. These brethren have freed their conscience by recording their negative vote. Now they must keep still about it. The Rev. J. van Weelden says that it is wrong to enter into the question as to whether this is the truth of the Confessions, because we have no mandate to do so. That, however, is plainly an error. We do have a mandate. It comes from Classis East, who mandated us to do this and to state that the Declaration is the truth as expressed in the Confessions,
Rev. G.M. Ophoff: The Reverends J. Howerzyl and L. Doezema maintain that they have nothing to reply to, since Synod failed to motivate its decision regarding the legality of the Declaration. But is that true? It emphatically is not. We argued on this question for two days. And every conceivable argument was advanced against the legality. And these arguments were plainly shown to be without grounds.
Rev. J. Howerzyl: I have to live with my conscience. And to my mind a recorded vote means that I state I do not agree with the majority and maintain my stand.
Rev. J. van Weelden: Perhaps we will get somewhere if we get to the preamble of the Declaration.
Rev. G.M. Ophoff: The argument of the Rev. J. Howerzyl is beside the point. He virtually said that because of his stand on the legality, his mind is closed. In, that case, he cannot go along with us in discussing whether this Declaration is the truth of the Confessions.
J. Faber: If we follow the method proposed by the Rev. Howerzyl, all our former decisions have no strength, and make no difference whatsoever. Then all our work is vain. Why vote then? On this ground, Mr. Chairman, we cannot proceed. It is the duty of the chair to admonish these brethren for obstructing the work of the Synod, and to declare that their position is schismatic.
N. Kunz: I cannot see that there is such a great problem here. If I had voted against the legality of the Declaration, I certainly could still discuss whether or not the Declaration is the truth expressed in the Confessions.
Rev. G. Vos: A moment ago the Rev. H. Hoeksema said that these brethren play us a fool. I must censure that remark. That may be his opinion, but he must not express it. I do not want to believe that they do that, either to him or to the Synod.
D. Langeland: I do not think that these brethren are trying to obstruct the work of the Synod, and I think that they can certainly discuss with us whether this is the truth of the Confession, whatever stand they may take on the legality of the Declaration.
Rev. R. Veldman: We cannot and we may not make our personal convictions the basis for our actions over against synodical decisions. We must always abide by the majority.
The Rev. L. Doezema: Elder J. Faber said that the chair should declare us obstructionists and schismatic. If the chair does not do that, then Mr. Faber should make a motion that Synod do so.
J. Faber: I will gladly withdraw that remark, if only they will impede the progress of Synod no longer, and we proceed to the order of the day.
Rev. L. Doezema: I did not insist upon this. As far as I am concerned, we can proceed with the order of the day. But there were some here that maintained that we did not have the right to discuss and to vote.
Rev. G.M. Ophoff: Now the brethren say: Let us proceed.
But how can they? It seems to me that they will proceed with closed minds and will not allow themselves to be convinced or influenced by any arguments that might be advanced.
W. de Vries: Would it not be better to table this until the next Synod?
Rev. G. Vos: That is impossible. That certainly would be illegal. For we have a mandate to finish the question concerning the Declaration of Principles.
A motion now prevails to proceed to the order of the day.
Point I of the Declaration is now read and discussed. Immediately a motion is made that the Synod declare that Point I of the Declaration is the expression of the Confessions with regard to some fundamental principles, as these Confessions have always been maintained and interpreted by the Protestant Reformed Churches.
An objection is read from the material collated by Committee I from the Agenda of Synod. The objection concerns the introduction to the Declaration, which reads: ‘The Protestant Reformed Churches stand on the basis of Scripture as the infallible Word of God, and the Three Forms of Unity. Moreover, they accept the liturgical forms used in the public worship of our churches, such as the Baptism Form, et alii, as confessions of a minor order. The question was raised what is meant by these confessions of a minor order, and what is meant by the expression et alii. This matter was discussed.
Rev. H.H.: These minor confessions have always; been accepted in the Reformed Churches. It is compulsory for all the ministers in the Reformed churches to use them. We may not depart from them or change them. Any objection against the contents of any of these forms, Baptism, Excommunication, etc., must appear at Synod. Hence, they are often called confessions of a minor order.
Rev. J. Howerzyl: How far does et aili go? Does that mean the Marriage Form too? I make a motion that we strike out et alii, and enumerate the specific forms.
The motion carries.
(to be continued)