Promises and Prediction

To understand the article. of Dr. Schilder which the Rev. Kok translated without any criticism or com­ment in Concordia (Jan. 17, ’52), we must remember and constantly bear in mind that he writes as a Lib­erated theologian. Otherwise we can never under­stand the article, and especially why he is in such emphatic need of conditions. Strange to say, Dr. Schilder since he was here the first time, and there­fore approximately during the war, changed his en­tire conception about the covenant and the promise and now embraces the Heynsian conception, except in as far as that subjective preparatory grace of Heyns is concerned. I first was in hopes that he really did not fully agree with the Liberated theology, but gradually it has become more and more evident that he is in complete agreement with it.

This implies that there is rather a fundamental difference between him and us as Protestant Reformed people.

When he speaks of the covenant, he does not mean the same thing as we do. He definitely needs parties in the covenant, while we speak of parts, and no parties.

When he speaks of the promise, he means some­thing quite different from what we mean by it. For him the promise is for all the children of the covenant, head for head and soul for soul, elect and reprobate, Jacob and Esau. For us the promise is only for the elect. For Schilder the promise is only an objective bequest. For us it includes all the blessings of salva­tion, as they are applied to the elect by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of promise. For Schilder, therefore, the promise is necessarily conditional. For us, that is, for all truly Protestant Reformed people, it is uncon­ditional.

In the light of all this we can also understand the emphasis of Dr. Schilder on the false distinction between promise and prediction. Writes he: “But now comes the fine point of distinction: God does give us promises, but no predictions. Thus He does not say to N. N.: you shall sometime go to heaven, and to an­other N.N.: you shall forever remain without.

“Therefore He gives a promise, with a command, even as it is taught us in the Canons of Dordt: the promise comes with the command to believe and re­pent. And thus at the time of baptism He says: He that believeth in Me shall not be ashamed; for them that honour Me I will honour; unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness; them that seek Me early shall find Me. And he who would call this Arminian, does not, in my opinion, read his Bible correctly, by means of which, nevertheless, the Arminians have been defeated.”

Now as far as the last clause is concerned, it is true, of course, in a way, that the Arminians have been defeated by Scripture, but certainly not by read­ing Bible texts. In the Canons of Dordrecht they interpreted Scripture and composed very many doc­trinal and dogmatical statements. You cannot de­feat Arminians by merely quoting Bible texts.

But as far as the above quotation is concerned, let me call your attention, first of all, to the fact that Dr. Schilder makes the common error of quoting Canons II, 5 apart from the rest of the Confessions, as if in that article we have the presentation of a definition of the promise and of the whole promise of God. At the last Synod I called the attention of the brethren to the danger of committing that very common error, that is, of isolating certain parts of the Confessions and separating them from the whole. I warned that in this way one can make the Confessions themselves speak Arminian language. Recently a friend of mine called my attention to the fact that this same warning has been issued before. I quote from the explana­tion of The Netherland Confession by W. H. Gispen, 1886:

“We believe, however, that not only the offer of salvation and the urge of the Holy Spirit to receive the proffered salvation, is a gift of God and the work of His grace, but also that the will to accept it, the will to stretch out the hand to the proffered alms is the work, the gift of God. We believe that, to attain the true knowledge of this great mystery, the Holy Ghost kindleth in our hearts an upright faith. We do not deny that the death of the Son of God is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world. Nor do we deny that ‘the promise of the gospel must be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, with the command to repent and believe,’ and that the guilt of the unbelief of many does not lie in failure or insufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ, but lies entirely in themselves . . . But we would certainly fail to speak the whole truth, if we would mean to maintain that this presentation ex­presses the full, the whole truth. For this is not so. He who lays a one-sided emphasis upon these truths, runs into great danger to approach the extreme limit of Remonstrantism, and may transgress that limit more quickly perhaps than he himself wishes to do.” pp. 158-159. This indeed is almost the same senti­ment as I expressed at the last Synod.

But let us return to the quotation from Dr. Schilder.

He writes that God gives us promises, but no pre­dictions.

We must carefully analyze this brief sentence, in order to find out what the writer means.

First of all, then, we ask the question: what in the sentence does the pronoun us mean? It is evident from the context that Dr. Schilder does not refer to the elect, as is so often the case in the Confessions. In fact, it is very well possible to apply this pronoun us to all men, without distinction, as, for instance, is the case when Canons II, 5 states that the promise of the gospel must be declared and published to all nations and to all persons promisciously and without distinc­tion. But at any rate, we can state that particularly all the children of the covenant, head for head, soul for soul, elect and reprobate, are meant. To them all the Lord does not give predictions, but He does give his promises. Dr. Schilder would no doubt subscribe to what Prof. Veenhof writes in his Uniea Catholica:

“In His holy, glorious covenant language the Lord calls the children of the covenant not only His children, but He also gives unto them the promises of the covenant.

“He promises them also, that He will be their God.

“What these promises of the covenant are you may read in the inimitably tender language of the Baptism Form, what the covenant God has promised: the Father, that He adopts us as His children and heirs; the Son, that He washes us in His blood; the Holy Spirit, that He will sanctify us as members of Christ. Thus are the promises of the covenant. All this the Lord promises to the children of the covenant.

“And these promises are meant for all the children of the covenant.

“Here we may make no separation; we may not say that it means for the one and not for the other, God promises all the children of the covenant all the blessings of His salvation. Therefore also to them that are not regenerated. Also to them that never are regenerated.

“Also to a covenant child that will be lost these promises are given.

“But when such a one later in life wantonly breaks with the covenant and with the God of the covenant and turns his back to Him, he receives no part in the ranks of the heirs of grace.

“Through his own disobedience to the God of the covenant and of his fathers he himself despised the blessing and rejected it. In spite of the fact, that the Lord had promised him much, he closed for himself through his disobedience the gate of heaven.”

And a little later:

“Our children are children of the Lord.

“They belong to the Lord from their birth on. The Lord views them as ‘my children.’ He has a right to them. They may not live as they please!

“When they sinfully depart and turn their backs to the Lord, their sin is greater than that of one who never belonged to the covenant, for it is the sin of dis­obedience, the breaking of the covenant.

“Then finally the same stage is reached as in a family, in which a son forgets himself sometime that he is disinherited by the father.

“He made himself unworthy of the inheritance! . . .

“And when later the departing covenant child would say that God after all did not give him the benefits of the covenant, then the word must be ap­plied to him: ‘It is your own fault; you did not want it any different.’

“Also to this lost child the Lord promises His salvation, the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. He promises this and means it seriously and promises it honestly.”

That in all this there is no mention of election and there is certainly no room for reprobation is plain to all that can read. I do not say that either Veenhof or Schilder deny the sovereign counsel of election and reprobation outright. But I do maintain that in their covenant conception it is left out of view altogether. God promises to all the children of the covenant all the blessings of His salvation, forgiveness of sins and eternal life; and when they do not receive them, this is to be attributed only to the fact that they close for themselves the gate of heaven. How, with such a view, the brethren in the Old Country cart escape the indictment of Arminianism, I fail to understand.

But at any rate, this is the implication of the pronoun us when Dr. Schilder writes that God gives us promises, but no predictions.

The next question concerning this statement is: what does Schilder mean when he writes that God gives no predictions to them?

To this I would answer that God does not address them by their, natural name, N.N., John, Peter, William, etc., and thus assure them that they shall go either to heaven or to hell. This is evident from the sentence: “Thus He does not say to N.N.: you shall sometime go to heaven, and to another N.N: you shall forever remain without.” He does give N.N., John, Peter, William, promises; but He does not assure them by a sure prediction that they shall be saved, or go to heaven.

And now what is perhaps the most important ques­tion: what does Schilder mean by the promise?

Here we hit upon the element of conditional theo­logy, and, at the same time upon the most inexplicable contradiction in their entire view.

Does Schilder by promises mean the entire promise, including the application of the blessings of salvation by the Holy Spirit and the gift of faith? That is impossible. For in that case he would make God a liar. The Holy Spirit and the gift of faith are cer­tainly absolutely unconditional. To deny this is to be­come Pelagian and Arminian. To say that God promises faith on condition of faith is a contradiction in terms. And to say that God promises His Holy Spirit on condition of walking in the way of obedience is the same contradiction, if not Pelagian. That can­not be the meaning, therefore. We remember that even Heyns does not dare to say this, and for that reason makes a separation in the doctrinal part of the Baptism Form between the promise of the Father and of the Son, on the one hand, and of the Holy Spirit, on the other. The promise of the Father is that He will establish an eternal covenant of grace with us, and adopts us for His children and heirs. The promise of the Son is that He incorporates us into His death and washes us in His blood from all our sins. But the promise of the Holy Spirit is that He WILL apply the blessings of salvation to us, presup­posing, of course, that we will never receive them from the Holy Spirit unless we also will it. I do not know whether Schilder would subscribe to this view of Heyns. But certain it is, that he cannot refer to the whole promise of God when he says: “God gives us promises.” He refers evidently to the partial promise of future glory and salvation, as is also the case in Canons II, 5. Hence, in the conception of Dr. Schilder here the promise does not include, but ex­cludes the gift of faith. He would undoubtedly in­terpret Canon II, 5 in this way, that God connects the promise of salvation, the promise of eternal life in the future with the demand of faith and obedience, and therefore on condition of faith and repentance.

Thus, I think, we can understand what Schilder means when he says that God gives us promises, but no predictions.

All he has is a conditional promise to all, without any assurance that all will receive the benefits of the promise.

It makes no difference whether or not he tries to save himself by emphasizing that God fulfills Himself all the conditions (This, in the first place, is nonsense, because a condition which God fulfills can never be presented as a condition which man must fulfill. And in actual fact the common people in the church will never understand this, but always maintain that a condition is a prerequisite which they themselves must fulfill. In other words, in the light of this doctrine they always feel that they are responsible not for their sin or disobedience but for their own salvation: it is up to them to close the gate of heaven, and there­fore also to keep it open.), for this is not the question.

The question is whether the promise includes the gift of faith and of the Holy Spirit, or not.

Does God promise all the subjective blessings and application of the benefits of salvation, including the Holy Spirit and the gift of faith, to all the children of the covenant? Heyns says: No, the Holy Spirit only promises that He will, not that He does, apply all the benefits of salvation to all the children of the covenant. And I dare say: Schilder is bound to say the same thing. Faith is a condition, a condition that is de­manded of us together with repentance. And if faith and repentance are conditions of the promise, faith cannot be included in the promise.

This, it seems to me, is the chief difference be­tween Schilder’s conditional promise and the Protestant Reformed conception of the promise.

Schilder’s promise does not include the gift of faith. For if God promises faith to all, all will cer­tainly be saved. But we say: Yes, the promise in­cludes faith. But for that very reason we say: The promise is not for all, but only for the elect, and is absolutely unconditional.

Now let us turn to Scripture and to the Confessions, in order to prove that the distinction between promise and prediction is thoroughly false. In fact, it is a mystery to me how Schilder can ever maintain such a distinction. To my mind, practically all the promises in Holy Writ are at the same time predictions. And all the predictions are promises.

To prove this is almost quite unnecessary. Never­theless, I will refer to a few passages at random to corroborate my contention.

First of all, I will point to Genesis 3:15, the well-known protevangel, the mother of all promises: “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” That in these words of Scripture we have a prediction, a prediction of the battle of the ages between the seed of the wom­an and the seed of the serpent, a prediction, too, of the final victory in Christ Jesus our Lord, Who shall crush the head of the serpent, is very evident. But that at the same time we have no mere prediction, but also a promise of God is well-known and is also very evident from the words themselves, as well as from Question and Answer 19 of the Heidelberg Catechism. God here promises enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent. That enmity is positively friendship of God. And that friendship of God is certainly the realization of the promise in the hearts of the seed of the woman. And that this is also the meaning of the Heidelberg Catechism is evident from Qu. 19: “Whence knowest thou this? From the holy gospel, which God himself revealed in paradise; and afterwards published by the patriarchs and proph­ets, and represented by the sacrifices and other cere­monies of the law; and lastly, has fulfilled it by his only begotten Son.” According to the Catechism, the holy gospel is the same as the promise. And when it is said that this holy gospel, or promise, was revealed in paradise, the reference is without any question to Genesis 3:15, the mother of promises. Hence, we have in these words of Scripture both a prediction and a promise. The promise is a prediction, and the pre­diction is a promise.

The same is true of all the passages in Scripture that speak of the establishment of the covenant. In Gen. 6:18 we read: “But with thee will I establish my covenant.” And again, in Gen. 9:9: “And I, be­hold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you.” Notice, that here too we have both a prediction and a promise. The promise is that God establishes His covenant. And the prediction is that He will continue His covenant in the line of the gen­erations of Noah. But again, there can be no separation between promise and prediction. Again, in Gen­esis 15:18 we read: “In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates.” Here too we have a promise and a prediction. And really, the promise and the prediction are essentially identical. And from the context it is also very evident that both the prediction and the promise, the establishment of the covenant and the realization of the covenant-promise, depends on God alone. There are no parties in the covenant, although there are parts. I say this is evident from the context, as is well-known. In the context God appears to Abraham in a vision. And in the vis­ion Abraham asks the Lord: “Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?” Abraham, there­fore, is eager to know how he can be sure that he shall inherit the promise. And the promise is the land of Canaan; but the land of Canaan is at the same time the final glory, according to Hebrews 11. For he looked for a better country, that is, an heavenly. And in answer to the question, God points him to the ab­solute certainty of His covenant as it is established by God alone. For he is directed (always in the vis­ion) to take an heifer of three years old and a she goat of three years old and a ram of three years old, and a turtle dove and a young pigeon. He divides them, except the doves, and puts them in juxtaposi­tion over against one another. These animals are un­doubtedly symbolic of God’s covenant, not as a con­tract, nor as a way of salvation, but as an eternal bond of friendship between God and His people in Christ. But the point to which we must call special attention in this connection is that God passes thru the pieces of the animals that are placed in juxta­position over against one another alone. When men establish a covenant between themselves, it always is an alliance between two or more parties, with mu­tual stipulations and conditions and promises. And hence, when in olden times a covenant was symbolically ratified by the divided animals, all the parties of the covenant would pass between the pieces, sig­nifying no doubt that they would be faithful to the covenant thus ratified even unto death. But this is not the case with the covenant which God establishes with Abraham. That covenant is not bipartisan, but God is His own party in the covenant. It is not bi­lateral, but unilateral. This is indicated by the fact that God alone passes thru the pieces. Abraham was no party at all in the establishment of the covenant of God. In fact, when God passed thru the pieces under the symbol of a smoking furnace and a burning lamp, Abraham was still in a deep sleep. It is true that when God established His covenant with Abra­ham, he became of the party of the living God. But man is never a party in relation to God. That Abra­ham was of the party of the living God is to my mind dearly symbolized in the text when he drove away the vultures that came down upon the carcasses to de­vour them. Thus, then, we have in this passage a beautiful revelation of the covenant and promise of God as depending not on Abraham and God, but on God alone. And thus Abraham has an answer to the question: “Lord God, whereby shall I know that I shall inherit it?” But also here you have very clearly both a promise and a prediction. The promise is the land of Canaan, and therefore the city that hath foun­dations, whose builder and maker is God, or the hea­venly country. That Abraham actually looked upon the promise in that light is very evident from Heb­rews 11:9, 10: “By faith he sojourned in the land of promise as in a strange country, dwelling in tab­ernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.” And again, this is also evident from the same chap­ter, vss. 13-16: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country. And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned. But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” Surely, Abraham had the promise. But at the same time, the promise of God was a prediction, the prediction of the final heavenly tabernacle of God with men in the New Jerusalem and in the new hea­vens and the new earth. You cannot separate pro­mise and prediction. Prediction is the promise, and the promise is prediction.

Thus it is in all the passages of Scripture that re­fer to God’s covenant. In Genesis 17:7 we read the well-known words: “And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee.” That these words are both a promise and a prediction is plain in itself. The promise is that God will establish His covenant with Abraham. The promise is, too, that of his seed. And the prediction is that God will continue His covenant in the line of Abraham’s generations, and that it will be an everlasting covenant, so that its final realization shall be in the tabernacle of God with men. But take these words in the connection with the promise to Abraham in Gen. 12:2, 3 in con­nection with Heb. 6:13-18. In the former passage we read: “And I will make thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” That also here you have both a promise and a prediction, and that, be­sides, the promise and the prediction are absolutely sure and both pertain only to the heirs of the promise that is, the elect, is evident from the reference to these words in Heb. 6:13-18: “For when God made promise to Abraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself, saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying thee I will multiply thee. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. For men verily swear by the greater: and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by aft oath: That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us.” O, to be sure, God gives no predictions to N.N. to John, Peter, and William. But neither does He give promises to N.N., but only to His people. And His people are certainly not all that live under the outward dispensation of the covenant, but only to the elect. Unto the heirs of the promise, unto whom God shows the immutability of His counsel by an oath, does He give His promises. But again, let Schilder not say that the promises are no predictions. For in Script­ure they are always identical. And always both re­fer only to the elect.

Read also in that beautiful covenant psalm, Psalm 89, that sings of the everlasting mercies of God to His covenant people, how promises and predictions are combined and inseparably connected: “For I have said, Mercy shall be built up forever: thy faith­fulness shalt thou establish in the very heavens. I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn unto David my servant, Thy seed will I establish for­ever, and build up thy throne to all generations.” vv. 2-4. And again: “Then thou spakest in vision to thy holy one, and saidst, I have laid help on one that is mighty; I have exalted one chosen out of the people. I have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him: With whom my hand shall be established: mine arm shall also strengthen him. The enemy shall not exact upon him; nor the son of wick­edness afflict him. And I will beat down his foes before his face, and plague them that hate him. But my faithfulness and my mercy shall be with him: and in my name shall his horn be exalted. I will set his hand also in the sea, and his right hand in the riv­ers. He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation. Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth. My mercy will I keep for him for ever more, and my covenant shall stand fast with him. His seed also will I make to endure for ever, and his throne as the days of heaven.” And again, after the psalmist has stated that God will visit that covenant seed with His rod if they forsake His law and walk not in His sta­tutes and judgments, he continues: “Nevertheless, my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. Once I have sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David. His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me. It shall be es­tablished for ever as the moon, and as a faithful wit­ness in heaven.” Promise? 0 yes. Prediction? To be sure. Inseparable connection between both? With­out a doubt. And both unconditional and certain, based only on the faithfulness of God? Absolutely!

Let me quote a few more passages. For the Scrip­ture is full of promises and predictions that are iden­tical and inseparable from one another.

In Isa. 43:1-7 we read: “But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, 0 Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine. When thou passest thru the waters I will be with thee; and thru the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest thru the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the holy one of Israel, the Savior: I gave Egypt for thy ransom, Ethiopia and Seba for thee. Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honorable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life. Fear not: For I am with thee: I will bring thy seed from the east, and gather thee from the west; I will say to the north, Give up; and to the south, Keep not back: bring my sons from far, and my daughters from the ends of the earth; Even every one that is called by my name: for I have created him for my glory, I have formed him; yea, I have made him.” Beautiful predictions and glorious promises! But neither are for all, but only for the elect. They were precious in God’s sight from before the foundation of the world and because they were precious in the sight of God from all eternity, they are honorable, and God has loved them and loveth them forever.

One more passage from Isaiah. In Isa. 44:1-5 we read, “Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen: Thus saith the Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee; Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and thou, Jesu-run, whom I have chosen. For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground:

I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring: And they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses One shall say, I am the Lord’s; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall sub­scribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel.” Again you have here glorious promises which are at the same time predictions. And again, both these promises and pre­dictions are not for all, not for N.N., not for John, Peter and William. But they are only for the elect of God, whom God has chosen from before the foun­dation of the world.

I must continue next time. But when once more my spirit enters into the truth of this material, I cannot help saying to Kok and Schilder and the Libera­ted: You can have all the conditional theology you want. But let me preach and embrace the truth that God’s promise is only for the elect, and absolutely un­conditional.