My publishing the letter of Prof. Holwerda in the Standard Bearer of August 1, drew from the pen of Prof. K. Schilder of Kampen, Netherlands, a brief series of articles. They may be found in De Reformatie for Aug. 20, 27, and Sept. 3. I have need of replying especially to the statements of the second instalment of the series.
The professor sets out with the statement (I translate), “In his article, already brought up for discussion last week, Rev. Ophoff wants to make plain that the ministers De Jong and Kok, who have just been in our country, and there knew how to awaken for the Protestant Reformed Churches a sympathy so warm, really grievously offended nevertheless, when they knew how to make a clear distinction between the dogmatical construction of Prof. Hoeksema and the official doctrine of the Prot. Reformed churches.”
Reply. What the professor here states is not true. Allow me to make this plain. I am supposed to take it ill of the brethren that they differentiated between the dogmatical construction of Rev. Hoeksema and the official doctrine of the Protestant Reformed. The term “dogmatical construction” does not appear in my article. The term I use is “covenant-theology” (of Rev. Hoeksema). In the sequel of his article the professor uses still other terms as substitutes for the one I use, namely the following: 1) opinion (meening) in the sentence from his pen, “Rightly considered, Rev. Ophoff and Prof. Hoeksema and no matter whom would be done an injustice, should it dare be maintained that their opinion (meening) was binding.”
2) coherent opinion (samenhangende meening) in the sentence, “Theology is a heavy word; in this connection (in connection with the word covenant, the professor means) it denotes at least a coherent view”.
3) thetical view about everything and still something (thetische beschouwing over alles en nog wat) in the sentence, “I suspect that he, himself (Prof. Hoeksema) would say, what I (Prof. Schilder) too, would declare: I have refused to subscribe the three points, because I did not find them reformed; but it was not necessary that my thetical view about everything and still something become implicated. . . . (maar mijn thetische beschouwing over alles en nog wat behoefde daarbij niet in geding te komeri).”
These, then, are the various terms that the professor uses as substitutes for “covenant-theology””, the term that I used. It tells us what the term “covenant-theology” means in the vocabulary of the professor. It means: 1) dogmatical structure; 2) opinion; 3) coherent opinion; 4) thetical view about everything and still something. And all these meanings the professor imposes upon the term “covenant-theology” as a sentence-element in my writing. It means that what the professor tells his readers in the above-cited paragraph from his pen is that I take it ill of the brethren De Jong and Kok that they differentiate between the official doctrine of the Protestant Reformed and the covenant-theology, the dogmatical construction, the coherent opinions, the thetical view about everything and still something of Prof. Hoeksema. In other words, according to the professor my stand as revealed in that article from my pen is that all Rev. Hoeksema’s dogmatical constructions, opinions, coherent opinions, thetical views about everything and yet something are official doctrine in the communion of Protestant Reformed churches, just because Rev. Hoeksema holds them.
That, to be sure, is absurd. The professor cannot point to a single statement in my articles that can justify his telling his readers there in the Netherlands that such is my stand. Here is what I wrote, “According to the report of the professor (Holwerda), the Revs. De Jong and Kok had the habit of speaking of the covenant-theology of the Protestant Reformed as the theology of Rev. Hoeksema, as if it were his private conception and personal possession and therefore not binding on the churches. . . . But that is not true. It is the covenant-theology of the Protestant Reformed, their unwritten creed, officially adopted, and therefore binding indeed.”
Here in this statement of mine appears the term “covenant-theology” (of Rev. Hoeksema). How was I using that expression? Simply as the signification of the proposition that the promises of God are given only to the elect. Of course, the proposition does not stand alone. It is surrounded by and related to a number of other propositions with which it stands or falls, and in union with which it stands out in the minds of the Protestant Reformed as the only true covenant-theology of the Scriptures. That I was using the term in the sense just explained is overly plain from my articles.
So, then, the fact of the matter is this: I took it ill of the brethren Kok and De Jong for their saying over there in the Netherlands—according to the report of Prof. Holwerda—that Rev. Hoeksema’s doctrine or teaching to the effect that the promises of God are given only to the elect is not the official doctrine of the Protestant Reformed. And why do I take this ill of the brethren? Because all Rev. Hoeksema’s dogmatical construction, all his opinions, all his coherent opinions, all his thetical views “over alles en nog wat”” of the past, present and future are official doctrine in the communion of the Protestant Reformed just because they are the thetical views of Rev. Hoeksema? That, according to the professor is what I am telling the people. That, according to the professor, is really the thrust of my article? Of course, I tell the people no such thing in that article. I tell them this: that Rev. Hoeksema’s covenant-theology is official doctrine in our communion because we officially adopted it some twenty six years ago now.
The professor knows this right well as appears from the sequel of his article. Yet he continues, “To my amazement (mark you, to his amazement) Rev. Ophoff takes it ill (of the brethren Kok and De Jong). To my amazement I say. . . .” Why should it so amaze the professor that I take it ill of the brethren Kok and De Jong that (according to the report of Prof. Holwerda) they said over there in the Netherlands that Rev. Hoeksema’s view, covenant-doctrine is official doctrine in our communion, seeing that we officially adopted it? I don’t understand. Certainly, the professor’s amazement is self-induced. This again is proved by what he next writes (quote), “for on my part I would take it ill were it being said in America that I were such a fool as to want to bind people to my dogmatical constructions.”
Of course, it would also be utterly impossible for the professor to bind people to his dogmatical constructions over there in the Netherlands. And the reason is simple. The professor is not an officebearer vested like the pope in the Roman communion with the power of excommunication over all the members of his communion. The professor is not the church in the eyes of his people. This being true, he could not bind people to his dogmatical constructions, though he so desired. I do, therefore, believe that the professor has excellent reasons for saying that he would take it ill were it being said in America that he was such a fool as to want to bind people to his dogmatical constructions.
But now I have a question. Who is saying here in America that Rev. Hoeksema is such a fool that he wants to bind people to his dogmatical constructions, as if such a thing were possible for him in our communion ? The professor points his accusing finger at me, doing so, however, without me having furnished him with any grounds whatever in my article. What a fool I would be should I be saying such a thing. And what an untruth I would be telling! For what are the facts? They already have been stated. Allow me to repeat them. Twenty-six years ago now our people as headed by their consistories voluntarily, by their own free choice, and certainly by the unction of the Spirit, we believe, officially rejected the Heynsian view of the covenant and thereby of necessity adopted the logical contrary of that view—the view held, proclaimed, and taught by Rev. Hoeksema. True, he was the leader in thought of that movement. But every reformation in the church had its leaders, didn’t it? They were God’s gifts to His people, weren’t they?
Such are the facts. Why then that amazement on the part of the professor? I can’t understand it. For he is well acquainted with the facts as appears also from what he next writes (quote), “Yes, but so Rev. Ophoff observes, on page 472, column 2, so matters do not stand. The covenant-theology of Rev. Hoeksema is the covenant-theology of the Protestant Reformed churches. The unwritten creed of these churches (not brought into form, thus unwritten). Nevertheless (desondanks) officially adopted, and therefore binding indeed.”
Take notice of the clause from the professor’s pen, “nevertheless officially adopted.” See how well the professor knows the facts! Yet I have fault to find with the professor here. I don’t like it the way he treats my pen. He puts statements into it that I did not make in my article. Mark the statement, “The unwritten creed of these churches (not brought into form, thus unwritten) nevertheless (desondanks) officially adopted, and therefore binding indeed.” Here the professor gives to my statement a turn that it does not have. I particularly have reference to the adverb “nevertheless” (desondanks). The adverb does not occur in my writing. Here is my statement, “It is the covenant-theology of the Protestant Reformed, their unwritten creed, officially adopted, and therefore binding indeed.” This sentence from my pen, as twisted by the professor, is calculated to cause his readers to cry out in astonishment and bewilderment: “Well! Well! Well! unwritten—that covenant-theology of Rev. Hoeksema—nevertheless officially adopted! Who ever heard of the likes of such a thing.
But what is fact here? Fact is that the covenant- theology of Rev. Hoeksema was written and as written officially adopted. It was written, firstly, in our hearts and still is. This, of course, is essential. For a creed written on paper but not written in the heart is in a subjective point of view worthless, be it ever so sound objectively. Second, that covenant-theology of Rev. Hoeksema was also written on paper, thus objectivated by the written word. Consider the following. The Christian Reformed Synod of 1924 officially declared in the first of the three famous points that the preaching of the Gospel is grace for all including the reprobate, thus declared virtually that the promises of God are given to all, elect and non-elect alike. Our three original consistories officially decided to allow themselves to be deposed rather than subscribe that doctrine, and thereby certainly and this of necessity officially decided to adhere and maintain the logical contrary of that doctrine, which is, that the promises of God are given only to the elect. This decision was written in the official minutes of our three original consistories. Further, the theology in question has been spread, so to speak, over the pages of the mass of literature produced by Rev. Hoeksema through the years; and most of it has been officially adopted by our Synods for distribution. So, then, that “creed” was officially adopted not only but it was adopted as written, surely. Let, therefore, no one reproach us for having adopted an unwritten creed.
But if that is true, why, then, did I refer to this creed as unwritten? The reason is simple. As yet no one—consistories or common members through their consistories—has appeared on our Synod with a written statement to the effect that the promises of God are given only unto the elect, and overtured Synod to adopt that written creedal declaration. Hence, as yet it has not been done. Nor is this necessary, I believe. For virtually it already has been done, as I have just made plain. Second, that the promises of God are given only to the elect is, according to our firmest conviction the plain teaching of our three forms of unity, so that, as often as we subscribe the Formula of Subscription we officially subscribe the covenant-theology in question,—that written creed.
The professor continues, “These rather amazing statements (the professor simply can’t stop being amazed) cause me to ask: what have we here anyway? Theology is a heavy word; in this connection it is at least: a coherent view.” Allow me to remark that views, systems of thought, to be worth their salt, must be coherent. Our covenant-theology is coherent, perfectly so. It is not self-destructive by reason of its inner logical conflicts. It is free from all such conflicts. It hangs together logically.
The professor continues, “Whether collega Hoeksema himself could declare that his view of the present time in all its subordinate parts exactly corresponds, also as to its connecting-lines, with that which he had at the moment when with spirit and with strength he refused to subscribe the Three Points, the Three Points set before him in 1924?”
Reply. From the sequel of the professor’s article it is plain that what he means by a man’s—any man’s— view is his thetical view “over alles en nog wat;” so that the question that he here puts is really this, namely, whether collega Hoeksema would say, if asked, that his thetical view “over alles en nog wat” of the present time exactly corresponds with his thetical view “over alles en nog wat” to which he held at the moment that he with such spirit and strength refused to subscribe the three points. The professor’s implied answer is: Certainly, collega Hoeksema would maintain no such thing. Surely, the professor is correct. For “alles” already includes absolutely all things that be. Yet to this the professor adds “nog wat”. What brain, however collosal, could at any time even conceive a thetical view “over alles en nog wat”.
And so the professor then means to ask: Well, then, was collega Hoeksema in signing the three points some twenty-six years ago binding himself and the churches either temporarily or permanently or both to his thetical view over “alles en nog wat?” What would collega Hoeksema say, were the question put to him? The professor replies, “I surmise (ik vermoed) that he would say, what I, too, would declare: I have refused to subscribe the three points in that I found these points not to be reformed, but it was not necessary that my thetical view over ‘alles en nog wat’ become implicated,” that is, in signing those points I was not, either actually or as to my intention, binding myself and the churches to my thetical view over ‘alles en nog wat”. The professor surmizes, conjectures that such would be Rev. Hoeksema’s answer. But it was not necessary that he take recourse to conjecture in framing that answer. He safely could have spoken with absolute confidence. For such would be Rev. Hoeksema’s answer indeed, were that question put to him; and this for two reasons: 1) such a thing as a thetical view “over alles en nog wat” is strictly a nonentity. It does not exist conceptionally in anybody’s brain. It can’t. 2) As already has been stated, Rev. Hoeksema had no power to bind the churches to anything at all.
Let us attend to the rest of the answer that the professor lays on Rev. Hoeksema’s tongue in reply to the above question. It reads (quote), “For I have repudiated the three points in that to my mind (the professor should have added: and according to my firm conviction) they militate against the existing CONFESSION that you can read over because that is a written creed, and with my unwritten creed neither my accusers , nor my brethren, who continue to acknowledge me as an office bearer, nor the children of these brethren and sisters, whom I still hope to baptize, have anything to do; we bind each other to written forms and not to our unwritten creeds.”
I don’t believe I ever read anything in my life with which I more thoroughly agreed than with what the professor here states, provided he means by Rev. Hoeksema’s unwritten creed his thetical view “over alles en nog wat.” But I do not agree with the professor if by Rev. Hoeksema’s unwritten creed he means his covenant-theology, the proposition that the promises of God are given only to the elect. For that creed is written, as we have already explained. And it is official doctrine in our communion. And the professor agrees. For he has Rev. Hoeksema say that he repudiated— officially repudiated, of course, he and his brethren— the three points in that to his mind they militated against the existing confession—our Three Forms of Unity—implying, of course, that the logical contrary of these points—definitely the teaching that the promises of God are given only to the elect—is the plain teaching of those Forms, and therefore just as well written, official, and binding. Of course, I take it that the professor himself believes what he has Rev. Hoeksema say here.
How well the professor is acquainted with the facts in our case, again appears from what he next writes (quote). “Indeed, but, says Rev. Ophoff, in 1924 the Synod that expelled us adopted three points. And they wanted to bind us to them, and that we refused. Excellent. Now in those three points was also implied the covenant-theology of Prof. Heyns. They were but three points, three postulates, three declarations, three propositions. But implied in them is a theology. When, therefore, the ones who were first expelled refused to subscribe the three points, they thereby repudiated the theology of Heyns and, rightly considered, also the theology of the Liberated. . . . of 1924.”
The professor’s ability to lay on my tongue a speech of that content only shows how well acquainted he is with the history of our origin as a communion of Protestant Reformed churches. And he also knows how to rightly interpret it, as his statements that in rejecting the three points we rejected the Heynsian theology and with it the theology of the Liberated, that is, of course, the covenant-theology of Heyns, the proposition that the promises of God are given to elect and non-elect alike, (not, of course, the thetical view “over alles en nog wat” of Prof Heyns and the Liberated, as the professor tells his readers in the sequel of his article). It is as the professor makes me to say: both those theologies we rejected at the time. For according to our firm conviction, they are one and the same theology, so that in rejecting the one, we rejected the other. That, indeed is our contention, so that the professor did not put anything into my mouth that I spew out. How can I, if it already was in my heart as a thing of firmest conviction.
But now the professor makes a surprising statement (quote), “Now this time I am not going to say a word about the theology of the Liberated of 1944.” (The covenant-theology of the Liberated, the professor means to say,—the teaching that the promises of God are given to baptized elect and non-elect alike). I know not that thing. (I ken dat ding niet). These are the professor’s very words. But there is more to say. Judging from what the professor next tells us, all the Liberated brethren do as he does. They know not that “thing”. Take notice of this statement from the professor’s pen, “And I opine that I do know something about what is going on among us.” What the professor means to be telling us here is that in stating that he knows not that “thing” he voices the sentiment of the Liberated brethren in general. There is this question: what does the professor, what do the Liberated mean in saying that they know not that “thing”. Is it this: that he and they deem the Liberated view—the teaching that the promises of God are given to elect and non-elect alike—unscriptural and on that account worthy of repudiation? Hardly that, certainly. The professor should have explained. That he neglects to do. But he does say, “In fact in 1924 I gave an official lecture per radio from Kampen, the Theological school (Hoogeschool), in which I argued the point that also the Liberated (Separatists) of 1834 had no theology of their own, but simply wanted to return to the Canons of Dort. That I found to be their honor. And I would not like to see that diploma of honor kept from the Liberated of 1944, who are no robbers of the liberty of others.”
Also this statement from the professor’s pen is anything but explicit. The Liberated also of 1944 returned to the Confession—our three Forms of Unity. That is all they did, all they wanted to do. So the professor. But their returning to those Forms implied, certainly, a repudiation on their part of a counter creed, view, doctrine. What was that doctrine, view? Was it the “thing” that the professor says that he does not know; that teaching to the effect that the promises of God are given to elect and non-elect alike? Anyone not acquainted with the facts would have to conclude from the manner of the professor’s writing that it is precisely that “thing”. But the facts are well known. The doctrine repudiated, the “thing” that the professor actually knows not, is the teaching that the promises of God are given to the elect only. And the “thing” returned to is the teaching, the view, that the promises of God are given to elect and none-elect (born in the historical line of the covenant) alike,—the Heynsian view, the theology of the Liberated today. So the professor must not tell us that he knows not that “thing”. He and his brethren do know that “thing” indeed. They do have a theology of their own. It is that “thing”, that teaching, that the promises of God are given to elect and non-elect alike. It is not ours; it is not the Synodical’s; it is theirs; (yet it is also the Synodical’s. I think now of their doctrine of the well- meaning offer of salvation unto all). There is, then, indeed such a “thing” as a Liberated theology. And the professor and his brethren know that theology. It has the love of their hearts even to the extent that rather than sign its logical contrary—the doctrine that the promises of God are given to the elect only—they allowed themselves to be deposed in their office.
Yet the professor’s denial, his telling his readers that all he and his brethren did, meant to do, is to return to the Confession has significance nevertheless. It is most revealing. It shows that to their minds the CONFESSION and that “thing”, of theirs are one and the same. It shows that this “thing’ ’is their interpretation of the CONFESSION. This being true, how can the professor state that the Liberated of 1944 are not robbers of the freedom of others? What he means is that this “thing” is not official doctrine in his communion and therefore not binding; that anybody as a member of his communion may repudiate it, if he likes, and hold the contrary “thing”. But how can this be allowed if that “thing” of theirs and the con-CONFESSION are one and the same? Ought the repudiation of the Confession be allowed in a communion of churches? Can that be to its honor? If so, what then can be its shame?
Here follows the line of thought of the professor’s article, the second half of which I must still treat.
The professor charges me with two follies:
1. My saying that Rev. Hoeksema’s dogmatic structure, opinion, coherent view, thetical view “over alles en nog wat” is official doctrine in our communion just because it is Rev. Hoeksema’s view and through the success that he had in binding it on our people.
2. My saying that Rev. Hoeksema’s covenant-theology was unwritten and as unwritten officially adopted by the Protestant Reformed; and my saying that the Protestant Reformed in their rejection of the three points repudiated the covenant-theology of Prof. Heyns. (It is plain that I can’t very well be guilty of both follies under 1 and 2.)
The professor tells his readers that if what I say (under 2) were true, the Protestant Reformed officially adopted Rev. Hoeksema’s unwritten dogmatic structure, opinion, coherent view, “over alles en nog wat”, and rejected Prof. Heyns’ dogmatic structure, opinion, coherent view, thetical view “over alles en nog wat”.
Fact, therefore, must be, says the professor, that all that the Protestant Reformed have is the Confession, the Three Forms of Unity that can be read, and not the unwritten creed, covenant-theology, of Rev. Hoeksema; and that all they rejected is the three points and not the covenant-theology of Heyns.
Such is the line of thought of the professor’s article. It’s a rather clever argument but as untrue as it is clever. This, I trust, has already become plain. The professor knew how to make the most of my speaking of our “unwritten creed”.
I have still other questions of essential importance, which will have to wait.