(Let me now elucidate the statement to which, according to his article in Concordia, the Rev. Kok also subscribes, namely, that the gospel preaching is “a general proclamation of a particular or conditional promise”.
The Rev. Kok writes in that article: “Let me give just one quotation of the Rev. H.H. taken from the Standard Bearer, Vol. 21, Page 434, ‘When he explains that in such passages asGod promises conditional life (underscored by the Rev. H.H.) to all, he evidently means that through the gospel God declares that He will give life to all that repent. And since it is God who must give repentance, in reality He promises life only to the elect and none other.’ ‘And surely, the complainants will have to admit that this differs radically from their view, that God sincerely seeks the salvation of all men, the reprobate as well as the elect.’
“‘What the reformer here teaches is that although the preaching of the gospel by men is general and promiscuous, the content is always particular. God saves those that fly to Him for pity and redemption, that come to Him, that forsake their wicked ways, repent and believe. And this ‘condition’ of salvation not one man is able to fulfill of himself. God fulfills His own condition. He gives grace to repent, to believe, to come to Him.’
That is Reformed, to say that God sincerely seeks the salvation of all that hear the gospel, as the complainants would have the preacher of the gospel proclaim, is Arminian pure and simple.’”
The reader must remember that when Rev. Kok quotes me as writing “When he explains that in such passages as, etc.”, I refer to Calvin and to a quotation from Calvin’s Calvinism. And when therefore I underscored “conditional life”, the underscoring is really not mine, but Calvin’s. It was Calvin that underscored the phrase.
Now we must certainly understand that this writing of mine, and my mentioning of conditions and conditional life, has nothing to do with our present controversy. Even this I wrote in answer to a complaint made against Dr. Clark by some of the brethren in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, in which they sought to prove the contention that according to Calvin God seeks the salvation of all, reprobate as well as elect. To prove that Calvin taught no such thing I made this quotation from him.
Still more. The same quotation from Calvin was already made in my brochure, “Calvin, Berkhof, and H.J. Kuiper, A Comparison”. And also in that brochure I did not mean to emphasize or to defend conditional theology, nor a conditional promise for all. But I agitated against the First Point of 1924, and opposed the teachings of Berkhof and Kuiper that the preaching of the gospel is a well-meant offer of salvation on the part of God to all men. It is in this connection that I quoted Calvin, and agreed with him, that the preaching of the gospel is a general proclamation of a particular or conditional promise. All this is quite different from our present controversy with the Liberated and with the views of the Liberated as they are strongly recommended even by the Rev. Kok.
That Calvin did not believe that the promise of God was promiscuous to all, but was only to the elect, is very evident from the work I quoted, Calvin’s Calvinism. Let me make just one quotation: “For notwithstanding all your vain talk about it, the truth is that a heart of flesh and a new heart are not promised to all men promiscuously, but to the elect peculiarly, that they might walk after the commandments of God.” p. 315.
And that also I do not, and never did, teach a conditional promise for all, but always maintained that the promise of God is unconditionally for the elect alone, may be evident from the following quotation from the brochure, “Calvin, Berkhof, and H.J. Kuiper”, from which also I quoted Calvin in the Standard Bearer, Vol. 21, p. 434. In that brochure I wrote:
“Does not the gospel contain much more than the preaching of what the Lord did for us?
“And does it not imply the preaching of the riches of His grace, whereby He applies this salvation to all His elect? Does this grace of the Lord Jesus Christ not belong to the promise of the gospel? I am now thinking of the grace of regeneration, whereby we become partakers of the life of the risen Lord in principle; of the grace of effectual calling, whereby we are translated from darkness into light; of the grace of faith, whereby we know that we are justified before God and have peace with Him through our Lord Jesus Christ; of the grace of conversion and sanctification, the mortification of the old man and the quickening of the new man; of the grace of perseverance, so that no one can pluck us out of Christ’s hand. I say, do not all these blessings of grace belong to the promise of the gospel? Surely, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ does not come with a mere message that He will save us (of what avail would it be for us poor, dead, miserable sinners?), but with the very positive glad tiding, that He did save us and does save us even unto the end.”
A little further I discuss the contention of Berkhof and Kuiper that the gospel they preach is a gospel for all sinners. And I write as follows:
“The gospel they preach is a gospel for all sinners. On this they both agree.
“But this implies, that they preach, that God promises new hearts, repentance, faith, adoption, forgiveness, justification, conversion, sanctification and perseverance to all that hear the gospel! For all this is surely implied in the gospel.
“Now it is plain that also in this respect they depart from Calvin. The great Genevan reformer does not agree with them. And he expresses his disagreement in the strongest terms. He does not hesitate to assert that a man must be utterly beside himself to claim, that God promises these blessings of grace to all men generally and indiscriminately.”
And on this contention of Calvin I give my own comment in the same brochure, pp. 39, 40:
“Neither is Calvin’s language too strong. The folly of maintaining that God promises a new heart to everybody, is easily discovered. For why, pray, if God offers the blessing of a new heart to all, if the promises of grace are actually for all men indiscriminately, why does He not fulfill His promise? Surely a new heart is entirely the work of God. Man can do nothing towards receiving it. He cannot make himself worthy of it. He cannot get himself into a state of receptivity for it. He cannot even make himself will to receive it. He is incapable to induce himself to even pray for it. This is true of all men by nature, of all indiscriminately. A new heart is God’s work, His gift only, absolutely. Man cannot work for it if God does not bestow the blessing on him; neither can any men resist the operation of God whereby He renews the heart, if it pleases the Almighty to give him a heart of flesh instead of the stony heart. Now, please, if the promise of the gospel concerning this new heart (not is preached to all that hear, this is self-evident) is given by God to all men without distinction, why does He not fulfill His promise?
“Because some do not will to receive it? That is Arminianism. And even then a man must be utterly beside himself to speak thus, for no one is willing to receive a new heart before he possesses it.
“More mysteries perhaps? I fear me, that Kuiper will answer thus. But we say with Calvin: Nay but more nonsense! A man must be utterly beside himself to assert that this promise of the gospel concerning a new heart is made by God to all men generally and indiscriminately!
“But again: if God promises this blessing, which He alone can bestow and bestows unconditionally (I now underscore), to all men, and does not fulfill the promise, where is God’s truth? Is the promise of God brought to naught? Has His Word become of none effect? God forbid! Nay, but the promise was never made to all by Him, but only to the elect. And Kuiper has no right and no calling to present it differently!”
It is only in this connection that Calvin may be quoted when he speaks of a promise of conditional life.
It is also in the same connection that I quoted him, and quoted him with my consent and approval.
In the above quotations of Calvin and of myself we simply have the doctrine of our Reformed Standards. Moreover, in them we have the same doctrine as was adopted by our Synod of 1951 in the Declaration of Principles.
But this is not the doctrine of the Chr. Ref. Churches of 1924, that supported the Heynsian view of common grace within the covenant, and of a conditional promise to all that are baptized. Nor is it the doctrine as is held by the Liberated Churches, which in principle agrees with the Heynsian view and with the doctrine of the First Point. And it is not the doctrine of an article by Dr. Schilder in Concordia some time ago, translated and highly recommended by the Rev. Kok. Nor is it the doctrine of the brochure of Dr. Schilder in which he attacks the Declaration of Principles, also recommended to our readers by the Rev Kok.
It will now be plain what I meant when I supported Calvin’s statement that the preaching of the gospel is a general proclamation of a particular or conditional promise.
First of all, it must be evident that I consider the terms particular and conditional in this connection as having the same connotation, the same meaning.
It is also very evident from the whole connection that. I do not mean: “God promises to all of you salvation, if you believe, that is, if you perform the act of believing.”
With such a statement any Arminian would agree.
Nor would I say that God promises salvation on condition that you fulfill the act of believing, and add the camouflage statement that God fulfills the conditions.
But I will say this: the general proclamation of a particular or conditional promise means: the proclamation of a promise to those in whose heart God works faith and repentance, the fruit of which is that by His grace they believe and repent. And that, of course, is the general proclamation of a promise which is only for the elect.
You can also put it this way: “God promises to you salvation, provided He works in you faith and repentance, the fruit of which you may discern in yourselves by believing and repenting.”
But if you preach that God promises to all of you salvation, if you believe, that is, if you perform the act of believing, you camouflage the truth and become Arminian.
O yes, God fulfills all the conditions. But remember, that after He fulfills the conditions, we fulfill conditions no more. Only, when God fulfills the conditions, His conditions, and not ours, we bear the fruit of His work of grace in our hearts, repent and believe, and walk in a new and holy life.
That is Reformed, according to our confessions. And nothing else is! If you want to speak of Reformed conditions, you speak of conditions which God fulfills, period.
That this is the truth as taught in our confessions is plain throughout. But I will quote from the Canons, which are composed in order to combat the Arminians.
That faith and believing, that is, the faculty and the power of faith, as well as the act of faith, are not conditions which we must fulfill unto salvation, and unto the reception of the promise, but the work of God throughout, is plain from Canons 3, 4, 14. There we read:
“Faith is therefore to be considered as the gift of God, not on account of its being offered by God to man, to be accepted or rejected at his pleasure; but because it is in reality conferred, breathed, and infused into him; nor even because God bestows the power or ability to believe, and then expects that man should by the exercise of his own free will, consent to the terms of salvation, and actually believe in Christ; but because he who works in man both to will and to do, and indeed all things in all, produces both the will to believe, and the act of believing also.”
This is plain language. It simply means that all is of God, and none of us. It means that there are no conditions or prerequisites which man must fulfill. God absolutely fulfills them all, so that He bestows not only the power of faith and the ability to believe, but also the will to believe and the act of believing. There is nothing of man in it, and there are no conditions which man must fulfill. God fulfills them all.
The same is true of the gift of repentance and the act of repentance in man, according to the confessions.
In the same chapter of the Canons from which we quoted, we read in Art. 10:
“But that others who are called by the gospel, obey the call, and are converted, is not to be ascribed to the proper exercise of free will, whereby one distinguishes himself above others, equally furnished with grace sufficient for faith and conversion, as the proud heresy of Pelagius maintains; but it must be wholly ascribed to God, who as he has chosen his own from eternity, so he confers upon them faith and repentance, rescues them from the power of darkness, and translates them into the kingdom of his own Son, that they may show forth the praises of him, who hath called them out of darkness into his marvelous light; and may glory not in themselves, but in the Lord, according to the testimony of the apostles in various places.”
Note that here too God indeed fulfills sovereignly, and absolutely, according to His electing grace, all the conditions of salvation. They are absolutely His conditions, which He fulfills, and not our conditions, which we fulfill. Conversion is wholly the work of God, from beginning to end, the principle of conversion as well as the act of conversion, the principle of faith as well as the act of faith. And our believing and our repenting is nothing else than the fruit of God’s work within us. This is very plain from this article. He chose His own from eternity. He confers upon them faith and repentance. He rescues them from the power of darkness and translates them into the kingdom of His dear Son. It is all of God. But the fruit of that work of God in us is that we show forth the praises of Him who hath called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.
The same is taught still more clearly in Art. 11 of the same chapter of the Canons.
“But when God accomplishes his good pleasure in the elect, or works in them true conversion, he not only causes the gospel to be externally preached to them, and powerfully illuminates their minds by his Holy Spirit, that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God; but by the efficacy of the same regenerating Spirit, pervades the inmost recesses of the man; he opens the closed, and softens the hardened heart, and circumcises that which was uncircumcised, infuses new qualities into the will, which though heretofore dead, he quickens; from being evil, disobedient, and refractory, he renders it good, obedient, and pliable; actuates and strengthens it, that like a good tree, it may bring forth the fruits of good actions.”
Here too the whole work of salvation is ascribed to God alone. He alone fulfills all the conditions unto salvation, powerfully, unconditionally, and sovereignly. He so operates efficaciously by the Holy Spirit upon the sinner, that his hardened heart is softened, his closed heart is opened, his uncircumcised heart is circumcised. He infuses sovereignly and unconditionally new qualities into the will, renders it good, obedient, and pliable, instead of being evil, disobedient and refractory. And only when God has so fulfilled all the conditions, does man bear the fruit of that work of God in him, when God so actuates the will that the converted man brings forth the fruit of good actions.
Article 12 speaks of regeneration in the wider sense of the word, including conversion. And this too is entirely ascribed to God. I will not quote the entire article, but only refer to the end of this article, which is very relevant to our discussion. After the article has emphasized that the work of conversion and regeneration is such that it is not up to the choice of man to be converted or not to be converted, and after it has stated that all in whose hearts God works in this marvelous manner are certainly, infallibly, and efficaciously regenerated, and do actually believe, it closes as follows: “Whereupon the will thus renewed, is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence, becomes itself active. Wherefore also, man is himself rightly said to believe and repent, by virtue of the grace received.”
Once more: God fulfills all the conditions, in such a way that we have to fulfill conditions no more. But when God has fulfilled the conditions, then we bear and experience the fruit of that work of God in us by actually repenting and believing, and that too, “by virtue of that grace received.”