Finally, the sacrament seals the promise of the gospel and the truth that righteousness is by faith. The sacraments and faith belong inseparably together. How must this expression be understood? That the sacrament seals this righteousness by faith is objectively true. The sacrament itself is a seal of this. This is not difficult to understand. Fact is, the sacraments (also applicable to the sacrament of baptism) speak of two fundamental truths: man’s utter hopelessness and the fulness of all our salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ. This is plain, is it not? We are conceived and born dead in sins and in trespasses. Christ alone is the Bread and the Water of Life. The sacraments themselves seal to us the promise of the gospel as fulfilled in Christ. They speak of our sin and guilt, of our utter inability to do ought in our own behalf; they speak, do they not, of the water as symbol of the blood of Christ, of the broken bread and poured wine as Christ’s broken body and shed blood. Hence, the sacraments themselves pledge and seal the gospel; they are ‘God’s signs and seals, bestowed upon His church and God’s pledge to us, lost sinners, that the sacrifice of Christ belongs to us, that He is our righteousness and justification forever. So, the sacraments are seals of the righteousness which is by faith. Fact is, we are lost in sins and misery; and in Christ is all our salvation. Hence, this righteousness must be a righteousness which is ours only by faith, because we are one plant with Christ, united with Him, belong to Him, as members of a body belong to its head.
However, that the sacraments seal the righteousness which is by faith is also true subjectively. How does this seal become this seal for us, operate as such in us? Do they seal (as, for example, in baptism) and pledge to everybody that God loves him, promises to save him, if only he believe? This, we know, is the Liberated view of the covenant and of the promise of the gospel which is set forth in the sacraments. They believe that the sacrament of baptism is a seal of the Lord upon and for every child that is baptized, sealing unto that child that the Lord loves it, is desirous to save it, but that his salvation is dependent upon faith This conception of the promise of the sacrament has also been taught in the seminary of the Christian Reformed Churches for several years; and it is also embodied in the Three Points of 1924, particularly in Point One. And this conception has reached its ultimate and certain fruit in the recent Dekker controversy in the Christian Reformed Church. The teaching and position of Prof. Dekker that Christ died for all men, head for head, must follow from the position that God loves all men, wishes to save all men, and offers salvation to all the hearers of the gospel. And is it not an amazing phenomenon that the Christian Reformed Synod of 1964 has placed this matter (the teaching of Prof. Dekker) into the hands of a committee to report at some future synod? Was not the matter of the scope of the death of Christ settled at the Synod of Dordrecht of 1618-1619? Did not that synod declare that Christ died only for the elect? And now this matter is placed in the hands of a committee? This surely means, does it not, that the question of the scope of the death of Christ must still be settled in the Christian Reformed Church, and that that church now entertains the possibility that Christ did die for all men. And, in the meantime, Prof. Dekker continues to teach his ‘heretical views in the seminary of the Christian Reformed Church. The fact that he is permitted to teach in the seminary surely means that his Arminian view of unlimited atonement is being condoned in that church. But, we repeat the question: do the sacraments seal and pledge to everybody that the Lord loves him, promises to save him, if only he believe? And the answer is: Of course not! And this for the simple reason that they are signs and seals of the one sacrifice of Christ, and Christ did not die for all men, but only for the elect. But they are seals only for the believers. And the believers, we understand, are the elect. And the believers are only the elect, not because their election is based upon their faith, but because their faith is dependent upon their election; and the Lord gives faith, sovereignly, only to those whom He has known and loved from before the foundation of the world. This is clearly set forth in the Scriptures and also in our confessions, which teach that the Lord does not will to give faith to anyone whom He has not elected from before the foundations of the world, That way of faith is the only way we receive this assurance. That is the only way we can receive it from God. Fact is, when the Lord gives us this assurance He cannot deny Himself, must give it to us in harmony with His own justice and righteousness, as realized for us in Christ Jesus. And so God gives us faith, unites us with Christ, and causes us to see our salvation as realized in Christ Jesus. And, in this way the divine line of our salvation is surely complete: we are saved by grace and justified only for Christ’s sake; God is merciful to us, sinners, not because of anything in us, but only because of His sovereign love in Christ Jesus. In that love He knew me before I knew Him, redeemed me while I was yet a sinner, and I know that He will save me to the uttermost. And the sacraments are signs and seals, not of a universal and changeable, conditional love of God, but of a particular, unconditional and unchangeable love of God in Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Having concluded our series of articles on the Church and the Sacraments, we will now, the Lord willing, proceed to discuss the history of several aspects of the doctrine of Holy Writ in the development and realization of God’s covenant throughout the ages. This, we understand, is a tremendously broad field. And it is and should be a subject of tremendous interest for the church of God to follow the historical development of all these doctrines of the Word of God. However, before we call attention to these several doctrines, we would first of all call attention to the canon of the sacred scriptures and the truth of divine inspiration which gave us the infallible Word of God. First, then, we call attention to the Canon of the Sawed Scriptures.
All Protestants agree in teaching that the Word of God, as contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only infallible rule of faith and life. Rome contends that tradition is equal in authority to the inspired Word of God, but we maintain that the Scriptures alone are the infallible rule of faith and life. In the Smalcald Articles, Part II, 2, 15, the Lutheran Church declares itself in favor of the truth that the Scriptures are the Word of God.
The symbols of the Reformed Churches teach the same doctrine, that the Word of God, as contained in the Old and New Testaments, are the one and only infallible rule of faith and life. In the Second Helvetic Confession, Chapter 1, we read: “We believe and confess the Canonical Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles of both Testaments to be the true Word of God, and to have sufficient authority of themselves, not of men. For God himself spake to the fathers, prophets, apostles, and still speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures.
“And in this Holy Scripture, the universal Church of Christ has all’ things fully expounded which belong to a saving faith, and also to the framing of a life acceptable to God; and in this respect it is expressly commanded of God that nothing be either put to or taken from the same (Deut. 4:2; Rev. 22:18, 19).
“We judge, therefore; that from these Scriptures are to be taken true wisdom and godliness, the reformation and government of churches; as also instruction in all duties of piety; and, to be short, the confirmation of doctrines, and the confutation of all errors, with all exhortations; according to that word of the Apostle, ‘All Scripture given by inspiration of God is profitable for doctrine, for reproof,’ etc. (II Tim. 3:16, 17). Again, ‘these things write I unto thee,’ says the Apostle to Timothy, ‘that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God,’ etc. (I Tim. 3:14, 15). Again, the self-same Apostle to the Thessalonians: ‘When,’ says he, ‘ye received the word of us, ye received not the word of men, but as it was indee’d, the Word of God,’ etc. (I Thess. 2:13). For the Lord himself has said in the Gospel, ‘It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of my Father speaketh in you;’ therefore ‘he that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me’ (Matt. 10:20; Luke 10:16; John 13:20).”
In the Gallican Confession we have the following expression relative this truth:
“II. As such this God reveals himself to men; firstly, in his works, in their creation, as well as in their preservation and control. Secondly, and more clearly, in his Word, which was in the beginning revealed through oracles, and which was afterward committed to writing in the books which we call the Holy Scriptures.
“III. These Holy Scriptures are comprised in the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments, as follows: the five books of Moses, namely: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; then Joshua, Judges, Ruth, the first and second books of Samuel, the first and second books of the Kings, the first and second books of the Chronicles, otherwise called Paralipomenon, the first book of Ezra; then Nehemiah, the book of Esther, Job, and Psalms of David, the Proverbs or Maxims of Solomon; the book of Ecclesiastes, called the Preacher, the Song of Solomon; then the book of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi; then the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew, according to St. Mark, according to St. Luke, and according to St. John; then the second book of St. Luke, otherwise called the Acts of the Apostles; then the Epistles of St. Paul: one to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, one to the Galatians, one to the Ephesians, one to the Philippians, one to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, one to Titus, one to Philemon: then the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Epistle of St. James, the first and second Epistles of St. Peter, the first and second and third Epistles of St. John, the Epistle of St. Jude; and then the Apocalypse, or Revelation of St. John.
“IV. We know these books to be canonical, and the sure rule of our faith, not so much by the common accord and consent of the Church, as by the testimony and inward illumination of the Holy Spirit, which enables us to distinguish them from other ecclesiastical books upon which, however useful, we cannot found any articles of faith.
“V. We believe that the Word contained in these books has proceeded from God, and receives its authority from Him alone, and not from men.” (The Lord willing, we will continue with these quotations in our following article.)