As the almighty operation of God, whereby he prolongs and supports this our natural life, does not exclude, but requires the use of means, by which God Of his infinite mercy and goodness hath chosen to exert his influence, so also the before-mentioned supernatural operation of God, by which we are regenerated, in no wise excludes, or subverts the use of the gospel, which the most wise God has ordained to be the seed of regeneration, and food of the soul. Wherefore, as the apostles, and teachers who succeeded them piously instructed the people concerning this grace of God, to his glory, and the abasement of all pride, and in the meantime however, neglected not to keep them by the sacred precepts of the gospel in the exercise of the Word, sacraments and discipline; so even to this day, be it far from either instructors or instructed to presume to tempt God in the church by separating what he of his good pleasure hath most intimately joined together. For grace is conferred by means of admonitions; and the more readily we perform our duty, the more eminent usually is this blessing of God working in us, and the more readily we perform our duty, the more eminent usually is this blessing of God working in us, and the more directly is his work advanced; to whom alone all the glory both of means, and of their saving fruit and efficacy is forever due. Amen.
In the above translation of this article we offer the following corrections: 1) “whereby he prolongs and supports this our natural life,” should be: “whereby he produces and sustains this our natural life.” (2) “of his infinite mercy and goodness hath chosen to exert his influence,” should be: “of his infinite wisdom and goodness has willed to exercise this his power.” 3) “by which we are regenerated” should be the active: “by which he regenerates us.” 4) “sacred precepts of the gospel” should be “holy admonitions of the gospel.” The same term is correctly translated “admonitions” later in the article. 5) The phrase “in the church” is misplaced. It should be so placed that the sentence reads: “. . . . be it far from either instructors or instructed in the church to presume to tempt God . . .” 6) The last sentence should read: “For grace is conferred by means of admonitions; and the more readily we perform our office, in this same measure is the blessing of the God who worketh in us wont to be the more eminent, and his work then proceeds most favorably. To whom alone all the glory, both of the means and of their saving fruit and efficacy is due forever. Amen.”
It is not difficult at all to discern the false charge of the Arminians which this paragraph is designed to answer. It is a charge that is as a rule connected with the charge answered in the preceding article. The same opponents who charge that the Reformed doctrine of the effectual calling reduces men to stocks and blocks also charge that in Reformed thought there is no room left for the admonitions of Holy Writ. And not infrequently they even charge that in actual fact these admonitions are not preached, though the truth is that these admonitions are not proclaimed in the Arminian sense and with an Arminian slant. One can readily understand the connection between these two charges also. It stands to reason that if man is no more a rational, moral creature, but a stock and black, there is no point in proclaiming an admonition to him, for he is in his very nature not adapted to any process of admonition. No more than one would admonish a tree, co more would one admonish a man who is a stock and black. Neither the one nor the other is capable from a psychological point of view of being admonished. Admonition certainly presupposes intellectual and volitional capacity to be admonished. And so the Arminians actually charged that in the Reformed system of thought there was no room left for admonition.
A few preliminary observations are in place before we consider the article itself.
In the first place, it should certainly be granted that the admonitions of the Word of God are important. Even if we consider their importance only from the point of view of quantity, and do not consider the content of the admonitions, a very superficial study of Scripture will reveal at once that its admonitions, both in the Old and New Testaments, occupy a large place. How many an admonition is found in a book like Proverbs; and how frequently the people of God are solemnly admonished and warned in the prophets. The Lord Jesus Himself, according to the gospel narratives, often admonishes His people. And the various epistles of the New Testament invariably contain a goodly portion of warnings and admonitions. Hence, it may also be granted at once that the charge of the Arminians, if true, would be serious indeed. This charge alone would be sufficient reason to discredit the entire Reformed doctrine concerning man’s conversion.
In the second place, it should be seen that the admonitory words of Scripture occupy a strategic position in relation to the whole of the Word of God. If the need and importance of admonitions is denied, and if even the possibility of admonitions is excluded, the effect is necessarily that the whole of the Word of God is excluded as to its need and possibility. Then also those parts of Scripture which we would denote as “doctrinal” and those parts which contain the promises of God would be excluded. For after all, in general it may be said that always the calling admonition of the Word of God, whether expressed or implied, is: Repent and believe. Whenever the precious promises of God are proclaimed to the church, the people of God are exhorted to believe these promises and to cling to them. This factor makes the charge of the Arminians still more serious. And we may infer that the fathers had this element in mind too when they penned this article. For they speak not only of admonitions, but also of the entire gospel, of the apostles’ instruction of God’s people concerning the grace of God, and of the fact that by means of the holy admonitions of the gospel the people of God are kept in the exercise of the Word, the sacraments, and discipline.
In the third place, we may observe that especially in the light of the fact that the entire gospel, and not only its admonitions, is at stake here, the realities of life and history truly make the Arminian charge absurd on the very face of it. For who, pray, in the entire history of the Reformed churches has denied the necessity of the preaching of the Word, of the whole counsel of God, including its admonitions? Or who in the name of the Reformed truth has ever practiced this denial? The Arminians knew very well that their charge was false. They certainly knew very well that Reformed preachers preached the Word of God diligently. And they were very well aware of the fact that from Reformed pulpits the admonitions of God’s Word were not silenced. They followed willfully what is called today “the big lie technique,” namely, that if you repeat a lie often enough and vehemently enough, and din it monotonously into the ears of men, you will finally get them to accept that lie as truth.
And finally, we must not overlook the fact that the Arminians themselves were guilty of the very charge which they brought against the fathers. This, as we have said before, is characteristic of heretics. And it is true in this case: For under what system of doctrine could the preaching of the Word (again: including its admonitions) be more senseless and useless and fruitless than in a view which leaves the outcome of that preaching and exhortation to the free will of a dead sinner? How hopeless must become the outlook of a preacher under such circumstances. Is that very hopelessness, the awareness of the complete and utter uselessness and fruitlessness of the preaching, perhaps the occasion of all the wild rantings, the impassioned pleadings, the desperate begging of so many Arminian evangelists today?
As far as the content of the article itself is concerned, we may observe that it speaks of regeneration, and that too, of a mediate regeneration. In fact, the language. of this article has been used, to support the view that regeneration is always mediate, that is, takes place through means, and is in no sense immediate, that the doctrine of immediate regeneration is not Reformed. Thus, for example, the Rev. T. Bos, in his explanation of the Canons, page 175, writes in connection with this article: “Het gaat dus tegen de leer der Gereformeerden in, wanneer de wedergeboorte wordt voorgesteld als onmiddellijk, zonder het gebruik des Evangelies. Uitdrukkelijk en onwedersprekelijk wordt hier geleerd, dat het Evangelie een ‘zaad der wedergeboorte’ is. En dat juist om te bewijzÃ©n, dat God in de wedergeboorte—middellijk werkt. Eerst daarna wordt gezegd, dat het Evangelie ook middellijk dienst doet, om het leven, dat Hij voortgebracht heeft, te onderhouden. De dienst des Woords, of de prediking des Evangelies is niet alleen bij den voortgang noodig, om het geestelijke leven te onderhouden en te sterken: dus niet alleen tot heiligmaking, en om tot bewustzign des geloofs te komen, maar ook tot de wedergeboorte en tot het geloof.
“Het Evangelie, of het gebruik des Evangelies, is dus ‘zaad’ en ‘spijze.’
“God werkt in beide: in, het wekken des levens en in de onderhouding des levens. Niet den mensch de eer. God alleen. Desniettegenstaande mogen wij niet wijzer zijn dan God, die middelen wil gebruiken. Wij mogen niet scheiden wat God vereenigd heeft. Wil Hij door dÃ© vermaningen des Evangelies de genade uutededeelen, dan mogen wij niet spreken van onmiddellijke mededeeling, maar ons houden aan t het voorbeeld der Apostelen en Leeraars, ‘die hen zijn opgevolgd,’ dus die na hen werkten in de gemeenten, welke Apostelen en Leeraars de middelen hebben bediend tot mededeeling der genade en des levens, en tot opbouwing” des geloofs en tot onderhoud des levens.”
Now without entering into a lengthy discussion of the entire controversy concerning mediate or immediate regeneration, we may make a few pertinent observations here. Those who insist on mediate regeneration, the above-cited Rev. Bos among them, maintain that all grace as it is applied to the sinner by the Holy Spirit, including the grace of regeneration, is mediate, and insist that the Holy Ghost always works through the means of the preaching of the gospel. For them the very first work of God’s grace in the application of salvation to the heart of the elect sinner is the calling. And if follows that according to this view the preaching of the Word is necessarily first. Those, however, who maintain that regeneration is immediate hold to the view that the work of regeneration is the first work of God In the application of the work of salvation to the heart of the child of God, and that this first work of God takes place immediately, that is, by the direct operation of the Holy Spirit, without the means of the preaching of the Word. In the second place, while it may perhaps be granted that all Reformed theologians oppose the doctrine of the Arminians, which present the work of regeneration as the effect of the external preaching of the gospel and of moral suasion, and that all Reformed theologians emphasize that regeneration is wholly the work of God, effected irresistibly, without the will of man, it is to be regretted that the proper distinctions are not clearly made. This is also the main fault of the quotation we made above. Our Canons do not differentiate between regeneration in the narrower and in the broader sense, but simply include in the work of regeneration the entire work of God which we denote the calling as well as the very first implanting of the new life in the heart of the elect. They include, as is very plain from a study of all the articles preceding this one, the entire work of conversion under the term “regeneration.” And to be sure, if one includes all this in the term, and then views the work of regeneration as a whole, without making any distinctions, then it is certainly correct to speak of regeneration as being mediate. But then it is not at all to the point to cite the language of this 17th article in support of mediate regeneration in the controversy concerning mediate and immediate regeneration. For concerning regeneration in the sense in which the Canons speak of it, as including the entire work of conversion; there simply is no controversy as to whether that is mediate or immediate. All subscribe to the statement that this regeneration in no wise excludes or subverts the use of the gospel, which the most wise God has ordained to be the seed of regeneration and the food of the soul. But then it can not be said either that it is contrary to the doctrine of the Reformed churches to teach that regeneration is immediate in the narrower sense of the Word.