The question now is whether they that departed from us still deny the doctrine of the Three Points of 1924 or agree with it.
On this hinges the question whether they are or are not still Protestant Reformed.
We are well aware that most of them claim that they still are and that they have never departed from the Protestant Reformed truth. But this does not mean anything whatsoever. History shows that heretics always make the same claim. They always like to remain in the church as long as possible in order to exert their corrupting influence from within. And in order to maintain their position in the church, they do not introduce their false doctrines openly and boldly and all at once so that every one may know what they really teach. On the contrary, they rather try to camouflage their heretical tendencies as longs as possible, hide them under a semblance of truth, and gradually introduce them into the church.
This certainly is evident from the history of the Arminian controversy during the latter part of the sixteenth and the first part of the seventeenth century. Arminius himself, first as minister in the Reformed church in Amsterdam, and later as professor in Leyden, aroused suspicion occasionally; but up to his death in 1609 nevertheless remained a minister in good standing in the Reformed Churches. He was never deposed. When he was professor he did not openly introduce his false doctrine in the class room, but preferred to do so under cover in private talks with his students and lectures at his home. Even when in 1610 the well-known “Remonstrance” was composed in Gouda and first published in the Netherlands it was clothed in such language that most of the people and many ministers could not see anything wrong with it.
The first article of that document reads as follows:
“That God, by an eternal, unchangeable purpose in Jesus Christ, His Son, before the foundation of the world, hath determined, out of the fallen, sinful race of men, to save in Christ, for Christ’s sake, and through Christ, those who, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, shall believe on his Son Jesus, and shall persevere in this faith and obedience of faith, through this grace, even to the end; and, on the other hand, to leave the incorrigible and unbelieving and under wrath, and to condemn them as alienate from Christ, according to the word of the gospel in John 3:36: ‘He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him, and according to other passages of Scripture also.”
Now, what is wrong with this? the Reformed people of the Netherlands asked at the time when the Remonstrance was first published. Must we have so much trouble and controversy in the church about this? To be sure, this is the infra view of election and men like Gomarus are supralapsarians, but does not infralapsarianism have a rightful place in the church? Do not the Arminians, after all, speak of an eternal and unchangeable decree of God unto salvation and unto damnation? It is true, thus some argued, that this first article makes the objects of this decree of God, not the elect and reprobate, but the believers and unbelievers, but does it not plainly and emphatically state that men can believe and persevere to the end only through the grace of God and through the Holy Spirit?
Thus the Reformed people in the Netherlands judged when first this Remonstrance appeared.
Nor can you blame them.
Remember that we read this first article in the light of later history and in the light of the Canons of Dordrecht, but the people at that time did pot have this further light as yet.
And, even today, how many in the Reformed churches, do you think, would find nothing wrong with this first article, and even would prefer it to the definite doctrine of election and reprobation?
Yet, in this first article there is announced nothing else than the false doctrine of election and reprobation on the basis of foreseen faith and unbelief: God from eternity chose those that would believe and rejected those that would refuse to believe in this Son, Jesus Christ.
In other words, the Remonstrants plainly teach in this article the error of conditional election and reprobation.
Fundamentally, this is the same as the doctrine of the First Point of 1924 which teaches that God, in the preaching of the gospel is gracious to all that hear the gospel and which teaches that the gospel is a well-meant offer of salvation, on the part of God, to all men. For also such an offer is conditional, the condition being faith. And since the offer of the gospel is of God and is well meaning on his part, which implies that He is willing to save all, the condition must be fulfilled by man.
Again, fundamentally, this is the same as the doctrine of the apostates that departed from us, and who teach that the promise of God, in the preaching of the gospel, is for all that hear, if they believe.
To this we must refer presently.
The second point of the Remonstrance of 1610 ought to have warned the Reformed people in the Netherlands that the doctrine of the Arminians was by no means pure Reformed and Scriptural gold. It reads as follows:
“That, agreeably thereto, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, died for all men and for every man, so that he has obtained for them all, by his death on the cross, redemption, and the forgiveness of sins; yet that no one actually enjoys this forgiveness of sins, except the believer, according to the word of the Gospel of John 3:16: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life,’ and in I John 2:2: ‘And he is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.'”
Yes, indeed, this article teaches the doctrine of universal atonement: Christ died for all men and for every man.
It is rather difficult to understand how the Reformed people in the Netherlands could possibly accept this statement even at the time. Perhaps, some of them looked as it and shrugged their shoulders for a moment.
But, after all, do you not know that there are many preachers in the Reformed Churches today that would and do preach on texts like John 3:16 and I John 2:2 in the same way as the downright Arminians preach on them?
Besides, what is the difference between this and the teaching that the gospel is a well-meant offer of salvation, on the part of God, to all men? Or, again, what is the fundamental difference between this article of the Remonstrants and the teaching that God promises salvation to all if they only believe?
Can God offer what does not even exist? Can God promise salvation to all, unless that salvation is objectively accomplished?
Your answer is, of course: emphatically not!
Very well; but if this is true, then it is either or: God never offers of promises salvation to all, or Christ must have died for all men and for every one of them.
Then, too, the people in the Netherlands, at the time, continued reading and, as they did so, their doubts and fears that may have arisen in their hearts were put to rest and sleep again. For in the third article of the Remonstrance, the Arminians seem to stress the absolutely sovereign grace of God in the following words:
“That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his freewill, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do anything that is truly good (such as saving faith eminently is); but that it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding, inclination, or will, and his powers, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will, and his powers, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will, and effect what is truly good, according to the word of Christ, John 15:5: ‘Without me ye can do nothing.'”
Surely, no Reformed man can have any obligation against this article.
Moreover, it would seem that by an article of this nature, the whole of the Reformed faith is really safeguarded. For, if anyone subscribes to the truth that faith is not the work or act of man at all, but it is the fruit of the sovereign grace of God alone, he can never, it would seem, go far astray from the Reformed truth.
Yet, this may still be Arminianism. The question is, after all: how absolutely sovereign do you conceive this a grace of God to be? Is it, perhaps, after all, something which God offers and which man can refuse to receive?
That this is the notion of the Arminians is plain from the next article of the Remonstrance:
“That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of all good, even to this extent that the regenerate man himself, without prevenient, assisting, awakening, following, and cooperative grace, can neither think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements that can be conceived must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. But, as respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible, inasmuch as it is written concerning many that they have resisted the Holy Ghost,—Acts 7 and elsewhere in many places.”
There you have it again.
It is all of grace.
But . . . . . . . .
Election is on the basis of foreseen faith.
Atonement is universal: Christ died for every man.
Faith is not the work or act of the natural man. It is, on the contrary, only through the grace of the Holy Spirit that man can possibly believe.
But . . . . .
But this grace of God whereby man is regenerated and believes in Christ man may resist so that, after all, it is, ultimately left in the power of his own will whether or not he shall be regenerated and believe in Christ.
Fundamentally, this, too, is implied in the teaching of the First Point of 1924.
And it is also implied in the doctrine of the apostates of 1953 that the promise of God is general and conditional.
About this next time, D.V.