We have seen that the article under discussion does not even teach that the preaching of the gospel is general in the sense that it comes to every individual of the human race, but rather recognizes the fact that also this proclamation of the gospel is limited and follows a well-defined course all through history, and that too, according to the divine good pleasure. It follows already, therefore, that the gospel itself is also certainly not general in the sense that it is for every individual of the human race, but rather is at least limited to those to whom it is proclaimed. 

The question now is: does the article teach, or does it deny, any further limitation of that gospel? Is the gospel, in so far as it is proclaimed to many nations and many individuals, general, that is, intended as to its contents, its “good news,” for all to whom it is proclaimed? Is it good news for them all? Or is it limited and particular? Is it intended for elect and reprobate alike, Or is it meant only for the elect? Is it, according to this article, an offer or a promise of God to all to whom it is proclaimed, conditioned by the demand of faith and repentance? Or is it an unconditional promise to the elect alone? 

There are other questions connected. Why, if that gospel is general, is it proclaimed only to some reprobate, not to all? That gospel surely reaches all the elect. But if it is general, why does it not reach all the reprobate? In the second place, what is the basis of such a general gospel? If God makes a general offer or a general, conditional promise, does He offer or promise something which He actually has and which He can actually supply in case the condition should be fulfilled? The Arminian is consistent enough to answer this question in the affirmative; for he teaches that Christ died for all and for every man. His solution to this question, though erroneous, is therefore reasonable and sinful. The “double-track theologians” of the Reformed family, though Arminian in their conception of the gospel offer, are restrained by their Reformed sense from the sin of teaching general atonement. But for that reason they can furnish no answer to the foregoing question, and involve themselves in the greater foolishness of accusing God of pretense, of fraud when He offers or promises salvation to all who hear the preaching. Their entire position is absurd because of its impossible double track, but I suppose that under their view, if a reprobate should ever appear before the Almighty with the condition of faith and repentance fulfilled, the Lord God would be compelled to admit to him: “Sorry, but I fooled you. I cannot fulfill my divine part of the contract. I offered something which I did not really have for you. My beloved Son died only for the elect.” You reply that such is both unthinkable and blasphemous in regard to the Lord Jehovah? I agree. 

On the other hand, if the gospel is limited and particular, for the elect alone, there is this question: why is that gospel proclaimed to reprobate as well as to elect? Why must the reprobate hear the preaching of the gospel? Besides, there is the question: why must the gospel be preached “together with the demand of faith and repentance?” And: why, and upon what basis, does that demand of faith and repentance come to elect and reprobate alike? 

These questions we must bear in mind as we turn to the subject of the contents of the preaching, and particularly, first of all, to the promise of the gospelthat ought to be declared and published promiscuously and without distinction. 

Take note of the statement of the promise here: “The promise of the gospel is, that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified, shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” 

The very first fact that draws the attention in this statement; and in the entire fifth article, is that there is nothing that even hints at a condition. There is no literal mention of a “condition” to this promise in the statement of the promise just quoted. And there is no such mention of a condition in the remainder of the article. To be sure, mention is made of the “command to repent and believe.” But this command is far from a condition. A command has nothing in common with a condition. One could never substitute the words “condition of faith and repentance” for “command to repent and believe,” and retain the same meaning in the article. This would change the article radically. Characteristic of a command,—and this is above all true of a command of God—is that it is exactly unconditional and absolute. It must be obeyed without any question. A command is a matter of authority; a condition is a matter of bargaining, or of contract. A command must be obeyed, whether or not there is punishment connected with disobedience thereto and reward connected with obedience to it. It must be obeyed, not out of any ulterior motives, but out of complete and unreserved respect for authority and justice. Furthermore, let us note that even the form of the statement of the promise in Article 5 is not conditional. It has sometimes been claimed that the promise is conditional in form as it is here stated. But this is not true. Even grammatically speaking this is not a conditional promise whatsoever. The words, “whosoever believeth in Christ crucified,” are not a conditional clause in grammar, but a general relative clause. 

Now the above is important. The idea that the gospel is a general offer or a general promise is absolutely inseparable from the idea that the gospel is aconditional offer or promise. The one idea cannot be maintained without the other. If, therefore, Canons II, 5 intended to teach that the gospel is a general offer or promise, one would expect to find the twin teaching that the gospel is conditional. But this is not the case, for the article does not with a single word teach a conditional gospel. Hence, we may conclude from this fact alone that the fathers do not intend to teach a general, well-meant offer of salvation or a general promise of salvation. 

But what of the content of the promise as it is here stated? 

Notice, in the first place, that you have a limited description of the promise of the gospel here. It was certainly not the place in this Head of Doctrine and this paragraph to make a complete definition of the idea of the promise; nor was this the intention of the fathers. But in accord with their purpose to answer the Arminian objection that Reformed people had no room left for gospel preaching, the fathers wanted to say something about the preaching and its content. And so, when they speak of the promise in this article, they speak of the promise as preached. This is not a different promise from the promise of God, but the same promise from one of its many aspects. In close connection with this fact; we may note: 1) That it is for this reason that the promise is not presented in this article in all its contents, but only as “everlasting life.” The promise is here viewed, therefore, from the point of view of the goal, the end, salvation in its final realization. It is true that the promise of God also includes the means to reach that end; but this is here left out of view. 2) That for this same reason this promise is here presented as standing in close connection with “Christ crucified.” It is “Christ crucified” who is the content of all true gospel preaching, who is to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness, but to them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, the wisdom of God and this power of God. Without Him there is no everlasting life, but only condemnation. And therefore the promise of God in Christ crucified is everlasting life. 3) Finally, it is from the same point of view that the article speaks of faith: “. . . whosoever believeth in Christ crucified shall have everlasting life.” What is the force of this clause? Simply this: as an element in the preaching it serves to identify the elect for themselves and to separate them out of the mixed multitude of elect and reprobate that hear the preaching. “Those who believe” is equivalent to “those who shall have everlasting life.” The fact of the matter is that not only does this article as such say nothing about faith as a condition of everlasting life, but, taken by itself, the article says nothing at all about the relation between faith and everlasting life. It does not say whether faith is a condition, a ground, or a means. It merely says something about those who do believe: they shall have everlasting life. And all this is quite in harmony with what Scripture and the Confessions say about the preaching as a means of grace. Because the preaching of the Word must serve as a means whereby the Holy Spirit works true faith, in us, therefore that preaching must always be addressed to faith, must single out the believers, and must proclaim that the promise of everlasting life is for all those, and for those only, who believe in Christ crucified. And all of the above is quite in harmony with the main subject of this Second Head of Doctrine, namely: the death of Christ, and the redemption of men thereby. 

Is then the promise of the gospel general or particular? Emphatically the latter: it is for the believers alone. And the very preaching of that promise must serve to realize that particular promise, for it must in the promiscuous proclamation of the promise plainly assert that life everlasting is for those who believe in Christ crucified. But is this the only aspect in which the promise is particular? Must we, and do we, end with faith? Can nothing more be said as to the relationship which exists between faith and life eternal? Do the Canons intend to say nothing more about faith and the promise? Of course not! In fact, the moment we begin to analyze even this fifth article, we go deeper. Who is Christ crucified? Whence is Christ crucified? For whom did Christ crucified atone? Who are they that believe in Him? How is it possible for them to believe? Why do they believe, while others do not believe? Whence is that faith? But we need not argue only from the language of this article. Surely, this canon must be taken in its context. And that context is very clear as to the origin of faith, both as to its merit and as to its actual application, as we shall see in our discussion of Articles 7 and 8. And sound gospel preaching,—the preaching of the promise,—will surely not ignore these questions and neglect to emphasize that the promise of God includes all the means that are necessary to reach that goal of eternal life. 

Why, then, must there be a promiscuous proclamation of the command to repent and believe? From a positive viewpoint, the answer is simple: the elect must be brought to a true and living faith through the preaching. And since men, preachers, do not and cannot know who are the elect individuals, their preaching must be promiscuous. At the same time, the Lord has a negative purpose with the reprobate in that same preaching. Not to believe and not to repent is sin, and that too, sin of the blackest kind when it is committed in flagrant disobedience to the preaching of the gospel. By this preaching, therefore, the sin of natural man is sharply revealed and aggravated. And God is justified when He judges the ungodly! 

One more question: must the promise be general in order to serve as a basis for such a general command to repent and believe? Must the reprobate have a “chance” to have life eternal in order to despise it in unbelief and impenitence? Not at all: they need only be acquainted with it, they need only know the Christ of the cross, they need only know that there is in Him life everlasting, in order, stumbling and rejecting Him in their natural foolishness and darkness and perversity, to react against Him and His precious promise, to aggravate their sin, and to go down in the way of their own sin to destruction, according to the purpose of God. 

The conclusion of the matter therefore is this, that the Canons here teach a particular promise, for the elect alone, that must be proclaimed and set forth promiscuously and without distinction to all to whom God directs that preaching. And to maintain such a general proclamation of a sovereignly particular promise is Reformed; anything else is Arminian.