In our last editorial on the above mentioned subject we stated that it is not the Declaration of Principles that was the cause of the schism in our churches and the reason why the schismatics left us, but the fact that the latter did not want to maintain the Protestant Reformed truth.
For that declaration is the truth.
And that truth the schismatics rejected.
They, principally, rejected it because they want to maintain their conditional theology.
This the Declaration strongly condemns. It emphasizes throughout that salvation is God’s work from beginning to end and that, therefore, it is and must be unconditional.
What is meant by the term “condition” or “conditional”? Let us consult Webster’s dictionary. Webster defines condition as “that which must exist as the occasion or concomitant of something else; that which is requisite in order that something else should take effect; an essential qualification; stipulation; terms specified.” And the adjective “conditional” he defines “containing, implying, or depending on, a condition or conditions; not absolute; made or granted on certain terms; as, a conditional promise.”
This idea of condition is applied to salvation by many and also by the schismatics. It is applied by them particularly to the promise of God so the meaning of the promise is that God says to the sinner: I promise unto thee salvation, eternal life and glory on condition that thou repentest and believest in Christ.
If this were true, if the terms of the promise of God were such that repentance and faith were required as conditions which man must fulfill in order that God may fulfill or realize His promise, the promise of God would be exactly and entirely out of reach of the sinner. He cannot, will not, and cannot will to repent and to believe. He is wholly dead in sin. Hence, if the promise of God unto salvation depends in any measure upon a condition which that sinner must fulfill, the case is hopeless and the promise of God is absolutely impossible.
I realize, of course, that these, who maintain and preach this conditional theology often add that God Himself fulfills all the conditions. This, however, is merely done in order to give the fundamentally Arminian doctrine of conditions an appearance of being Reformed. Usually, you will discover that those who believe in conditions also preach the Arminian doctrine of free will. The statement, moreover, that God fulfills all the conditions is sheer nonsense. Either there are conditions which the sinner must fulfill to obtain the promise of salvation or the promise is absolutely unconditional.
The latter is the truth of Scripture, of the Confessions, and also of the Declaration of Principles.
Let us consider for a moment what is implied in the promise of God unto salvation, in order to see whether any part of this promise is or can possibly be conditional.
There is first of all the fact that the promise of God is eternal in God and is rooted in election. God determined, sovereignly, from before the foundation of the world who should receive the promise of salvation. Is this election conditional? In other words, did God merely, in His eternal counsel, determine that they who would fulfill the condition of faith and repentance would receive the promise of salvation? No Reformed man would dare or would be willing to maintain this. Every one knows that this is contrary to Scripture and the Reformed confessions. Election is absolutely sovereign and unconditional. But if we confess this truth, the matter of conditions is already determined at the same time. Salvation is the realization of the counsel of election in time, and if that counsel is unconditional salvation, the application of the promise in time is also unconditional.
But there is more.
Perhaps, someone will object that, after all the counsel of God is a deep mystery and that we may not, in determining the character of salvation and the realization of the promise, proceed from the counsel of election. Now, personally I deny this. Scripture everywhere gives us to understand that salvation has its source in God’s eternal counsel of election, and, therefore, there can be nothing wrong in following its teaching.
Be that as it may.
Let us turn to the realization of the promise in time.
We may distinguish salvation or the realization of the promise as objective and subjective salvation. To the former belongs all the work of Christ for us or in our behalf, to the latter all the work of Christ within us. To the former belong the coming of the Son of God in the flesh, His sojourn and public ministry among us, His suffering and atoning death on the cross, His resurrection on the third day, His ascension into heaven, His sitting at the right hand of God, His reception of the Holy Spirit of grace, and His coming again in the last day. To the latter belong such works of grace as regeneration, the effectual calling, the work of faith, the grace of repentance and justification, the grace of sanctification, of preservation unto the end and of final glorification.
Is any of this work of God conditionally determined, that is, so determined that it depends in any respect on man, on the sinner, whether it shall be realized or not?
We may perhaps say immediately that this cannot be true of the work of God in Christ in the objective sense of the word. God sent His Son into the world, and the Son came into our flesh unconditionally. This was the sovereign work of God alone and there were no possible conditions attached to it on our part. And the same is true of all the rest of the work of God in our Lord Jesus Christ. He was nailed to the accursed tree and on that tree He bore our sins, that is according to Scripture and as we all believe, the sins of all the elect. He atoned for them. He took them all away. They are removed for ever. This, too, is simply a fact, and an unconditional work of God in Christ. It would be absurd to say that our Lord bore our sins on the tree on condition that we would repent and believe. Nor is this any different in regard to the fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. No more than the death of the cross is the death of a mere individual, but the death of all that are in Him, whom the Father hath given Him, the death of the Head of all, the elect; no more is the resurrection of our Lord, on the third day, the resurrection of a mere man, but it is the resurrection of the representative as well as the organic Head of all the elect. And since His resurrection is the proof of our justification, we were all justified in Christ objectively on the day of His own resurrection from the dead. This is simply an indubitable fact. There are no possible conditions attached to it on our part. Christ was raised for our justification. We may say still more. Christ, as we said, is also the Head of His body in the organic sense of the word. ‘This means that, principally, when He was raised from the dead we were all raised and quickened unto everlasting life. Also this, I say, is simply a fact. It is accomplished. It is finished by God in Christ. It is a matter of absolutely sovereign grace. It is, therefore, unconditional. The same may be said of His ascension into heaven and His sitting at the right hand of God. When the Lord went to heaven, we alt ascended up into heavenly glory. According to Scripture, principally, we, that is all who are objectively in Christ, all the elect, are in heaven and we are partakers of His power and glory. Are there any possible conditions attached to this? The answer is, of course, entirely negative. In other words, the entire work of God in Christ in the objective sense of the word is entirely sovereign and absolutely unconditional.
But if this be true, as it is indeed, is it possible that there are conditions, some requirements which we must fulfill, attached to our salvation in the subjective sense of the word?
On the face of what we have written above, this appears absolutely impossible.
Nevertheless, we will examine this aspect of our subject, too.
Let us, first of all, turn to the language bf our Baptism Form, which every Reformed minister reads when an infant is baptized but which he cannot conscientiously read if he believes in conditions.
There we read that “Holy baptism witnesseth and sealeth unto us the washing away of our sins through Jesus Christ. Therefore we are baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. For when we are baptized in the name of the Father, God the Father witnesseth and sealeth unto us, that He doth make an eternal covenant of grace with us, and adopts us for his children and heirs, and therefore will provide us with every good thing, and avert all evil or turn it to our profit. And when we are baptized in the name of the Son, the Son sealeth unto us that he doth wash us in his blood from all our sins, incorporating us into the fellowship of his death and resurrection, so that we are freed from all our sins and accounted righteous before God.”
All the preceding refers, of course, to our objective salvation. Nevertheless, do not fail to notice that all this is sealed unto us unconditionally.
The following, however, refers to our salvation in the subjective sense of the word: “In like manner, when we are baptized in the name of the Holy Ghost, the Holy Ghost assures us, by this holy sacrament, that he will dwell in us, and sanctify us to be members of Christ, applying unto us that which we have in Christ, namely the washing away of our sins, and the daily renewing of our lives, till we shall finally be presented without spot or wrinkle in the assembly of the elect in life eternal.”
All this is presented as the work of God absolutely. The very idea of conditions does not even fit into this language of our Baptism Form. The Holy Ghost simply assures us that he will apply unto us all the blessings of salvation in Christ Jesus our Lord.
It is true that, according to the Baptism Form, in all covenants there are contained two parts. Mark you well, two parts, not two parties. And our part of the covenant is the fruit of God’s part. Only when and after God establishes His eternal covenant of grace with us, only when and after the Son has washed us in His blood from all our sins and engrafted us into the fellowship of His death and resurrection, and only when and after the Holy Ghost has come to dwell in us,—only then can we possibly begin to do our part of the covenant. Hence, our part of the covenant can not possibly be a condition on our part for God to fulfill His part of the everlasting covenant of grace.
Indeed, in the covenant we have a sacred obligation to love the Lord our God and to walk in a new and holy life. But this is an obligation, not as a conditionto, but as a calling in God’s covenant.