I—G.M.O.—will reproduce Rev. Petter’s article, paragraph by paragraph, and write down my remarks as I go along. Rev. Petter writes:
“In the Standard Bearer of May 1 there appears an open letter addressed to me by the Rev. Ophoff upon which I will make a few remarks before I continue with the discussion that I had begun about Dr. Schilder’s view. And although we may look for the continuation of this open letter in a further issue, yet I believe the general nature of the remarks that I shall make do not demand that we wait until the Rev. Ophoff is finished. The Editor tells me that if I make haste I can still have it in time for printing.”
Remark. I deduce from these words of yours that what I have just received from your pen in the way of reply to my letter is all that I can expect. You speak of the few remarks that you will make before you continue with the discussion that you had begun about Dr. Schilder’s view. So that is your method of dealing with the issue that I set before you—the method of evasion. Your few remarks are of a negative character even. Certainly, what we have in your reply is not the fruit of study and reflection. You admit that much by the statement that you made haste in order that you could still have “it in time for printing”. Evidently, you don’t want discussion for some reason. It is plain from your whole article that your sole purpose was to neutralize as soon as possible the effect that my writing may have had on our people.
Your next paragraph. The first sentence of it reads, “My first remark is that I wish the writer had paid more attention to the connection in which I brought up the discussion of conditions.”
Reply: I did pay strict attention to that connection and to every other connection in your articles. Fact is that I have devoted many hours of solid thought to your theology which is that of Schilder; and it has become my settled conviction that this theology—the teaching that there are conditions in the covenant—the teaching that “Cod does not give the enjoyment of life to His people except under condition of faith and conversion,”—is thoroughly heretical. And until you or anyone else can show me that I am in error I shall have to continue to oppose it publicly.
You write next, “I plainly expressed the idea that when Dr. Schilder speaks of the promise of the covenant he does not mean a positive benefit but a conditional promise.” Reply: I can’t see what bearing this has on the issue which is precisely whether or not that expression of Dr. Schilder “conditional promise” is heretical. You next write, “But this condition must again be seen in the light of the fact that for him—Schilder—the covenant is not the friendship of Jehovah with His people in Christ, but a frame of converse that is conditioned by promise and threat.” You are wrong, brother. This “condition” must be seen solely in the light of the Scriptures and the Christian creeds that we subscribed when we as office-bearers in the church signed the Formula of Subscription. And if that “condition”, if your proposition, is heretical, it will simply mean that Schilder’s conception according to which the covenant is a frame of converse that is conditioned by promise and threat is heretical. You next write, “It depends upon the question at which phase in the unfolding of the covenant the “condition” enters in.” You are wrong again, brother. What difference does it make where the “condition” enters in if the whole idea is heretical?
Your next paragraph:
“And, secondly, that we need not condemn the use of conditions per se I base on the fact that Scripture itself speaks of conditions. The texts that may be considered in this connection are the following: Lev. 26:3ff, 21; Deut. 28:15, 58; I Chron. 28:9-10; Ps. 71:10; Isa. 1:19-20; 7:9; 55:3; Jer. 29:13; Matt. 6:12, 14, 15; 7:7; 17:19-21; 18:35; 21:22; Mark 9:23; 11;23; Luke 10:6-12; 13:9; John 5:40; 9:31; 11:40; 14:12-14; 15;4; Rom. 4:24-25; 10:9; Hebr. 4:23; 11:6; 1 John 1:7, 9; 2:24-25, 28; 3:22; 4:15; 5:5, 14; Rev. 2:5, 7, 16, 25-29; 3:5, 11, 19-22.
Again I may end this list by saying that we need not quote more for there are more that could be gathered by a little systematic search.
Remark. Here you again take recourse to your method of simply referring your readers to texts, and telling them that there are more that could be gathered. Hasn’t it once dawned on you, brother, that to prove from the Scriptures that God saves His people on the condition that they believe, it won’t do simply to refer to scripture passages containing the word “if”? The meaning of that “if” must be ascertained by careful and painstaking exegesis. And, as I stated in my previous article, that, precisely is what you fail to do. You come with no exegesis. You simply refer us to texts, quote Dr. Schilder, dangle before my eyes imposing names of a number of Reformed theologians—in other words, make yourself strong by an appeal to tradition—and leave it go at that. You must come with exegesis, brother. Don’t you realize that if these texts actually taught—on the surface as you imagine—what you claim they teach, there wouldn’t even be any argument?
Your next paragraph.
“The Reformed fathers also were not averse to speaking of conditions. Calvin spoke of conditions in the plan of salvation. And if we may trust the statement of scholars about such historical data, then both Ursinius and Olevianus, the authors of our Heidelberg Catechism, maintain the terms: conditional promise.
“But it is still more interesting that the theologians who carried on the battle with the remonstrants do not hesitate themselves to teach that there are conditions in the covenant even when they were engaged in fighting the doctrine of conditions as the remonstrants held it. Prominent among these were the famous* Contra-remonstrants Gomarus, and Walaeus, co-authors of the standard “Synopsis of Purer Theology”. And even the monumental Staten Vertaling of that day has a forward to the New Testament which informs us that this New Testament means that covenant which God made with man whereby He gives him eternal life under certain conditions, (bold type Petter’s). A half century later the prominent theologian Turretin gives a long discussion on the conditions without thinking of denying them. Also from the editorial in the same Standard Bearer of May 1, in which the “open letter” is found, it appears that the Netherland Theologians, Dordrecht, 1618-19, spoke of conditions of the covenant.
“And now coming to our own day we may mention Bavinck, Geerhardt, Vos, Berkhof, whose judgments are that there are conditions in connection with the covenant even though we must be careful in our presentation of them.
“On the basis of this historical picture and on the basis of Scriptural teaching of conditions I am not at all ready to condemn anyone who holds that there are conditions in the covenant without my giving careful attention to what phase in the covenant he places them.”
Remark. I suppose you expect me to fold up and go home now as shamed into silence by that cloud of doubtful witnesses by which you encompass me about. But I am staying, brother, also for your sake. True, that paragraph of yours is representative of a masterstroke of controversial tactic. Imposing names always do make an astounding impression on a certain type of people. What type 1 am not pausing to explain. I would say that it would have been more profitable for yourself and everybody concerned had you kept that paragraph in your pen and filled the space left vacant with the fruit of some real study of the issue.
So you stand in awe at the master-minds among reformed dogmaticians of the past? Their statements that there are conditions in the covenant prevent you from condemning that proposition? I find, however, that ordinarily your attitude toward these masters and their speculations is severely critical. Bavinck, you write in one of your pieces (The Covenant XXXIII) “was a great theologian and produced a masterful dogmatic. Yet you “surely must conclude’”, quoting your own words, “that Bavinck was wrong” and that the Catechism is right respecting the matter of the covenant of Paradise. And according to your judgment, “the Fathers following the Reformation (I am again quoting your own words) suffer from the wrong approach to the question. Also in the quotations from them (you go on to say) the question is altogether too dominating, namely, what is promised to the children.” (The Covenant XVI). In this same piece one comes upon the statement from your pen, “It is here that the understanding has very often, and in a great sector of the Christian Church, gone astray. It is here that the humanitarian conception takes the place of the theological viewpoint of the Bible and the whole conception goes awry. This is even true of Reformed authors.” (italics supplied). This is a severe indictment, brother, as is also the following from your pen, “When therefore some theologians teach that the covenant is a channel through which election is realized and carried out, we believe they have turned the relation of the Scriptures exactly around (italics supplied). To these examples of devastating criticism of the Reformed Fathers, others could be added. You cut, dissect, cleave, shave, skin, flay, rind, peel the Fathers to your very heart’s content. You take them apart limb for limb. And your knife—a two-edged sword, I would say—turns every way. But, wonderful to say, your attitude toward these same Fathers, as associated in your mind with the teaching that there are conditions in the covenant, is strictly uncritical. Then your sword is in its scabbard and you are meekness, mildness, and submission personified. And in your hand is a hymn-book of praise to the Fathers. And its praise is in your heart; and it fills your mouth and also managed to find its way in your reply to me.
Now what do your contrary attitudes toward the Fathers indicate? Precisely this: Your lack of readiness to condemn anyone—including yourself, of course, and yourself first of all—who holds that there are conditions in the covenant, is not ascribable to any reverential awe on your part for the master-minds among our Reformed Fathers, but is to be explained solely from your love of that doctrine. You love the Fathers only in so far as their teachings agree with the doctrines that have the love of your own heart. It means that fundamentally you don’t care a snap of your finger about what the Fathers taught. Now this is not meant as criticism but as praise. The Fathers are no authorities for you. And it is well that they are not. You are not living by the tradition of the Fathers. Nor are we. You understand right well what would be the result. The stream of life in our communion of churches would run dry; and soon we would be comparable to a stagnant, stinking pool, as far as progress in the development of the truth is concerned. So as a good reformed man, you allow yourself to be binded in your thinking only by the Scriptures and the Christian creeds that you subscribed when as an office-bearer in the church you signed the Formula of Subscription. Being a well-read man, you well know that historical reformed theology is shot through with philosophy. Hence, your critical attitude, your habit of testing the teachings of the Fathers by the Scriptures. When the question be put: How about the teaching of the Fathers that there are conditions in the covenant? The answer also of your heart is: It doesn’t mean a thing. Such is the answer of your heart. This is proved by your critical attitude.
So I have a question. Why don’t you write as your heart speaks, brother? Why do you bring the Fathers into our debate? Why in this one single instance do you pose as a man filled with awe for the Fathers.
So you do, even while your heart is telling you: The sole issue is: “What sayeth the Scriptures,” and not, “What sayeth the Fathers.” If you, yourself, care absolutely nothing about the Fathers as authorities—and you don’t as is proved by your critical attitude—stop dangling their names before my eyes, will you, please? The Roman theologians did that with Martin Luther, too, as you no doubt know. He kept on telling them, “I care nothing about the Fathers. Come to me with the Scriptures.” But they wouldn’t stop their monkeyshines.
However, the Roman theologians were consistent at least in this one respect, that they, too, were letting the Fathers do their thinking for them, that is, they were themselves, too, living by tradition. But you aren’t brother. Yet you expect it of me. That makes it all the worse. If the theory that there are conditions in the covenant did not have the love of your heart you would oppose the Fathers, and Schilder with them, on this point as vigorously as I am doing. I say again, you care nothing about the Fathers as authorities. Yet you very actually tell your readers that the reason you are not ready to repudiate your doctrine is that the Fathers held it. Here is your statement black on white, “On the basis of this historical picture and on the basis of Scripture teaching (this latter is not true. You come with no exegesis) I am not at all ready to condemn anyone who holds that there are conditions in the covenant.” You should make it possible for yourself to say this: “By a thorough study of the Scriptures and our Confessions it has become my settled conviction that there are conditions in the covenant, and therefore I shall defend with all the vigor that is mine anyone and everybody holding that doctrine.” Realize the absurdity of your statement, brother. You say, “On the basis of the teachings of the Scriptures I am not ready to condemn anyone, etc.” Your expression “on the basis of the teachings of the Scriptures,” means, should mean as uttered by you, “I am convinced that the doctrine is thoroughly Scriptural”. How can such a conviction go hand in hand with the statement, “I am not ready to condemn anyone holding that teaching without giving careful attention to what phase of the covenant he places them.” I ask you, brother, what difference can it possibly make to what phase Schilder places the “condition”, if the idea, according to your convictions, is thoroughly Scriptural? If the doctrine is thoroughly Scriptural, as you really say it is, how can your condemning or not condemning that doctrine be dependent on the phase of the covenant to which Schilder places it? If the doctrine according to your conviction is thoroughly Scriptural, how can you at all allow that it is still probable for you to condemn the doctrine? And that is what you do. Can it be that this absurd statement from you is indicative of an awareness or at any rate a strong suspicion on your part that your doctrine hasn’t a leg to stand on as far as the Scriptures are concerned, all the Fathers notwithstanding?
These Reformed fathers were excellent men, and we love them. But you agree, as your critical attitude indicates, that they were fallible men capable of the strangest intellectual blunders, as are we all. Therefore we need one another. I find examples of their capacities in that direction in your very disclosures of these men. You write, “But it is still more interesting that the theologians who carried on the battle with the Remonstrants do not hesitate themselves to teach that there are conditions in the covenant even when they were engaged in fighting the doctrine of conditions as the Remonstrants held it” (Italics supplied). This is interesting indeed. Mark you, fighting the doctrine of conditions while at the same time teaching that there are conditions in the covenant, as if it is possible to do both without violating every law of logic. You say, “Of course it is possible to do both, possible to teach that there are conditions in the covenant without falling in the error of the Remonstrants.” I deny .that, brother. Won’t you please refrain from bringing my definition of the term “condition” under a cloud and debate the issue with me? Of what are you afraid if you are so sure of your ground? My definition of that term “condition” is absolutely correct. I will return to this in the sequel.
You provide us with still another example of the fallibility of the Fathers. You write, “And now coming to our own day we may mention Bavinck (Bavinck, the great Bavinck, whom you dismiss with a mere gesture of the hand, when you don’t like what he says) Geerhardt, Vos, Berkhof, whose judgments are that there are conditions in connection with the covenant even though we must be careful in our presentation of them” (Italics supplied). The clause in italics sounds a familiar note. The leaders in the communion of Christian Reformed Churches give an identical warning with respect to the theory of common grace that they hatched out together one of their synods some years ago. The doctrine that there are conditions in the covenant must be presented with care. Such, you say, was the advice of those theologians (Bavinck, Geerhardt, Vos, etc.). Could it be that they realized, be it dimly, that the doctrine is pregnant with potential heresy? You also mention Berkhof as one of the theologians addicted to that teaching. It doesn’t surprise me a bit, seeing that he is the Father of the famous three points. The teaching is right in line with these points. I am rather astonished that you seek support for your views also with Berkhof. What weight do his pronouncements have with us? Besides, it was he who in collaboration with his colleagues ejected us from the communion of Christian Reformed Churches, Have you forgotten that?
Your next paragraph.
“In the third place, I cannot agree with the way the Rev. Ophoff uses a definition in his discussion of my remarks. When I read his statement that he was using a 10-volume dictionary of microscopic print and then saw the little paragraph of definition, I looked into my little desk dictionary and found almost as much material. It is evident that in comparison his great work should have at least several pages on the word. But the explanation is, of course, that Rev. Ophoff had taken only one of the separate meanings of the word and omitted all the rest. Now in some connections it might he permissible to use the mischievous device of showing what possible absurdities could be drawn out of my use of the word condition. But that was not true in the present case. For there are several elements in my writing that definitely limit the scope of the word. I repudiated the Arminian and Pelagian conception, also stating that God Himself provided for their fulfilling, working salvation Himself from beginning to end, and that these conditions enter in after God has set man on the way of salvation. This should have limited his choice of connotation.
“But this error is aggravated by the fact that in his search and choice he takes one that has the element of contingency in it. And this must be a very border-line meaning because it does not appear even in the unabridged dictionary that I was able to consult. Yet Rev. Ophoff takes the element of contingency out of this border-line meaning, finds the definition of contingency and uses that definition. But contingency introduces an altogether different element, namely that of chance, uncertainty, accident, caprice. And now he takes this new definition with all these alien implications and uses it in testing my presentation.”
Remark. So you find fault with me for not reproducing all the material that I found in my dictionary on the term condition. Your reply in the section with which we are now occupied contains some foul thrusts such as, “The Rev. Ophoff had taken only one of the separate meanings of the word and omitted all the rest. Now in some connection is might be permissible to use the mischievous device of showing what possible absurdities could be drawn out of the use of the word condition (italics supplied).” I would like to know, brother, how it can ever be permissible to use a mischievous device in any connection. Such is your contention. To my mind that is never permissible. And of this impermissible, unethical doing you accuse me. Then you go on to show that it was no small sin that I committed. You write, “But this error is aggravated by the fact that in his search and choice he takes one—one definition—that has the element of contingency in it. And this must be a very borderline meaning because it does not appear even in the unabridged dictionary that I consulted/’ You come close to accusing me, brother, of having fabricated that definition. I contacted a brother yesterday who accused me of the same thing, when he said, “you certainly have a good dictionary”. Such, then, is the sin of which you accuse me in public. And you are so polite about it, even going so far as to say that in some cases the sin may be permissible. Didn’t it dawn upon you, brother, that your thus accusing me placed you under the moral necessity of proving your charge? How easy that would have been. All you would have had to do is to publish the definitions of the terms in question contained in your dictionary. But the trouble is, that had you done so, it would have appeared that so far from the truth it is that my definition is border-lined as to its character that it would have become plain to all that it is the only truly correct definition of the term as a sentence element of your proposition in the whole universe. Your unabridged dictionary contains my definition not, it may be, as to the form of its words but as to its idea. And your dictionary as well as mine brings out that it is the only truly correct definition in the universe. That is what my dictionary shows. I shall give proof by reproducing here the entire exposition, all the definitions of which there are 9. You will see that I have nothing to hide, and that your accusations are groundless.
1. The particular mode of being of a person or thing; situation, with reference either to external or internal circumstances; existing state or case; plight, circumstance.
2. Quality, property, attribute; characteristic.
3. State of characteristic of the mind; a habit, collectively, ways, disposition, tempor.
4. Rank, state, with respect to orders or grades of society or to property; used absolutely in the sense of high rank; as a person of condition.
5. A requisite; something the non-concurrence or non-fulfilment of which would prevent a result from taking place; a prerequisite.
6. Hence—A restricting or limiting circumstance; a restriction or limitation.
7. A stipulation; a statement of terms; as an agreement or consideration demanded or offered in return for something granted or done, as in a bargain, treaty, or other engagement.
8. In law:
a) A statement that a thing is or shall be, which constitutes the essential part of the basis of a contract or grant; a future and uncertain act or event not belonging to the very nature of the transaction, on the performance or happening of which the legal consequences of the transaction are made to depend.
b) In civil law, a restriction incorporated with an act, the consequences of which is to make the effect of the violation or intention depend wholly or in part upon an external circumstance. Strictly speaking, there is a condition in the meaning of civil law only when the effect of a legal act is suspended until the accomplishment or non-accomplishment of a future and uncertain event.
9. In a college or school: a) the requirement made of a student upon failure to reach a certain standard of scholarship, as an examination, that a new examination be passed before he can be advanced in a given course or study, or can receive a degree, as a condition in mathematics.
Examining this material, we perceive that the definitions under 1 to 4 inclusive do not apply. They are no definitions of the term condition as a sentence-element in your proposition, “God saves His people on the condition that they believe and repent.” Hence, the aforesaid definitions must be eliminated. They do not enter in here. Second, we also perceive that the definitions under 7 to 9 inclusive are but so many applications to concrete things of the definitions under 5 and 6. Hence, there are only two of the nine definitions that directly apply and on which we must concentrate. But let us take notice that these two definitions—5 and 6 are logically one, that is, they obtain to each other the relation of premise and conclusion. This is indicated by the conjunctive hence which appears before the definition under 6. The reasoning is: A requisite; something the non-concurrence or non-fulfilment of which would prevent a result from taking place; a pre-requisite; hence, a restricting or limiting circumstance. Here you have the only definition that the dictionary gives of the term condition as a sentence- element in your proposition. But you say to me, “That is not the definition that you quoted. But it is the definition that I quoted not, it is true, as to the form of the words but as to logical idea. Where did I get that definition? Right out of my dictionary. The reason that I have not yet quoted it is that it appears in small print between the definitions under 5 and 6 which are printed in large type. Between these two definitions appears the following material:
a) That a cause efficient be a cause of itself two conditions are requisite. . .if either of these are wanting the cause is said to be accident. Burgersdicius, tr. by a Gentleman, 1. XVII. 16.
b) The diffusion of a thorough scientific education is an absolutely essential condition of industrial progress. Huxly, Science and Culture.
c) According to the best notion I can form of the meaning of ‘condition’, either as a term of philosophy or of common life, it means that on which something else is contingent, or (more definitely) which being given, something else exists or takes place. I promise to do something on condition that you do something else: that is, if you do this, I will do that; if not, I will do as I please. J. S. Mill, Exam, of Hamilton, IV.
Now is this material, definitely, the definition that I quoted, border-lined as to its character? It is not, certainly. For take notice, it illustrates the definition under 5 and together with this definition serves as a logical basis for the definition under 6. The definition that I quoted forms an integral part of the whole definition constituted, as it is, of the definitions under 5 and 6 together with the material appearing between these two definitions. The word hence has reference to the definition that I quoted as well as to the definition under 5. It cannot therefore possibly be a borderline definition. To say that a condition (as a sentence- element in your proposition) is that on which something is contingent is to say all that appears under 5 and 6, the reason being that all this material is radically related logically. Together it forms the one definition.
Why did I quote the definition in fine print and not quote the one in large print? For the following reason: The definition in small print is properly a definition. It sets forth the very essence of the type of conditions of which your proposition is representative. But the material under 6 is not properly a definition; what it does is to set forth the characteristics of conditions of the type of which your proposition is representative. Therefore I used the definition in fine print.
But you don’t like that definition. You say it doesn’t apply. But it does apply. Let me give the proof by using the definition under 6. According to this definition a condition—such as those with which we are now occupied—is a restricting or limiting circumstance; it restricts; it limits. Let us apply this definition to your proposition: God saves His people on the condition of their faith and repentance. You understand, of course, that faith, actual existing faith, spells a believing saint. Hence, your proposition must be made to read, “God saves His people on the condition that they believe and repent.” Now actual faith, as you must well understand further, involves the will and the mind of the believer. To believe is to will to believe with all our heart and mind and will and strength. Hence, the idea of your proposition is, must be, verily this: God saves His people on the condition that they will to believe. The human will to believe is the condition in this case. What does it mean? Precisely this: The human will restricts and limits God. If this isn’t dualism of the purest wool, words have absolutely no meaning,—I mean, of course, words according to the meaning that they have in the dictionary. In a following article I shall enlarge on this matter. It will become as plain as the sun in the heavens that my criticism, my whole argument, is true. It will also become plain that where we come out is exactly; at the definition that I first used.
Really, brother, the definition that I now use brings out even more glaringly the corruption contained in your proposition. So I was not really hiding anything. And the definition that I here use is also contained in your dictionary, certainly. Just consult that dictionary of yours once more. It means that also the definition I first used is found in your dictionary as to its idea. And it’s not a border-line definition either.
G. M. Ophoff