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That the promise of the gospel is not “a gracious offer of salvation on the part of God to all men, nor a conditional offer to all that are born in the historical dispensation of the covenant, that is, to all that are baptized, but an oath of God that He will infallibly lead all the elect unto salvation and eternal glory through faith,” is by no means contradicted, but rather confirmed by what is stated in Canons II. A, 5. There we read:

“Moreover, the promise of the gospel is, that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified, shall not perish, but have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of his good pleasure sends the gospel.”

The Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, 1924, appealed to this part of the Confession to support its doctrine of common grace. According to this theory the promise of the gospel is a well-meaning offer on the part of God to all that hear, and is therefore grace to all to whom the gospel is preached.

But in this the Synod was utterly mistaken.

Note, first of all, how the promise of the gospel is here described: “…The promise of the gospel is, that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified, shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

To be sure, the viewpoint here is different from that of the quotations we made before from the Canons and from the Baptism Form. It evidently refers to the promise as preached, rather than to the promise essentially. And as such the promise is heard in a saving sense, received, and appropriated, only by faith. In the second place, do not overlook the fact that the promise is here presented not in all its contents, but only as everlasting life. It has in mind only the promise of the goal, and not that of the means to reach the goal. Hence, it is said that the promise is that they who receive it shall have eternal life and not perish, and, that it concerns only those that believe in Christ.

Now the question is: does the preaching of the promise, according to this canon, make the promise a conditional offer, dependent on any prerequisite which man must fulfill in order to obtain the promise? Or does also this canon, when read in the light of its context, present the promise as an unconditional oath of God that He will infallibly lead all the elect unto salvation in Christ through faith?

The promise might indeed be said to be a conditional offer, if it, that is, the promise, or even the preaching of the promise, did not include more than the goal of eternal life.

But this is certainly not the case.

The promise of God, and even the preaching of the promise, also includes all that is necessary to reach that goal. It includes the gift of the Holy Spirit; and therefore, it includes the application of all the benefits of salvation to the elect. The promise includes the gift of faith, That this is the meaning is plain at once if we read Canons II, A, 5 in the light of what follows in the same chapter.

In Art. 7 we read: “But as many as truly believe, and are delivered and saved from sin and destruction through the death of Christ, are indebted for this benefit solely to the grace of God, given them in Christ from everlasting, and not to any merit of their own,”

And in Art. 8: “For this was the sovereign counsel, and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation: that is, It was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to him by the Father; that he should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, he purchased for them by his death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing ; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory in his own presence forever.”

Here, too, it is evident that according to the Reformed Confessions the promise is all-inclusive. For to be sure, the promise of the gospel is a declaration of the eternal will of God to save the elect. It is, according to this article of the Canons, the declaration of the will of God that He should redeem out of every nation, tribe, and tongue all the elect, and them alone; that He should confer upon the elect the gift of saving faith, and upon them alone; that He should confer upon the elect, and upon them alone, all the saving gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ purchased for them, that He should purge them from original and actual sins, and should lead them infallibly to everlasting glory. Such is the eternal will of God, and such is the declaration of the promise in the gospel, as we have it in Scripture. It is, therefore, all-inclusive.

Hence, Canons II, A, 5, in the light of the context, cannot possibly mean that the promise of everlasting life is a conditional offer. But it teaches:

1.  That the preaching of the promise is as to its’ contents particular: the promise “of eternal life is not for all that hear the gospel. Nor is the promise for all that are baptized. But it is particular, that is, for all that believe in Christ.

2.  That God includes in the promise the gift of faith which He bestows only on the elect.

3.  That therefore the promise is an oath of God by Which He leads the elect infallibly to salvation. Only the elect believe. The promise is only for them. And them God leads infallibly to everlasting life and glory.

To this Canons II, A, 5 adds:

1.  That this particular promise must be proclaimed generally, or promiscuously, to all that hear the gospel. The gospel is proclaimed by men, and therefore it cannot be preached to the elect alone. And, even if it were possible that men could preach only to the elect, this certainly is not the will of God. According to the revelation of Scripture it is evident that it is the will of God that not only the elect, but also the reprobate, shall hear the preaching of the gospel, in order that God may be justified, and sin may become revealed as sin indeed.

2.  That it must be proclaimed together with the command to repent and believe. The expression “the command to repent and believe” is by no means the same as saying “the condition of faith and repentance”. When we speak of a condition, the implication is that God offers the sinner something which he can receive providing he first fulfills the condition of faith and repentance. But a command is unconditional. Unbelief is sin. And not to repent means to walk and continue to walk in the way of sin. The natural man has no right to live in unbelief and sin before God. Hence, God commands him to believe and to repent, unconditionally. And by the preaching of the gospel, together with the command to repent and believe, the sin of the natural man is sharply revealed and aggravated, and God is justified when He judgeth. Faith however, is a gift of grace. And by that gift of faith the believer fulfills his part of the covenant. He does believe and repent indeed. He walks in a new obedience, and by faith cleaves to the One God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and trusts in Him and loves Him with all his heart and mind and soul and strength, forsakes the world, crucifies his old nature, and walks in a new and holy life.

And finally, this same canon teaches that this gospel is preached wherever and to whomever God sends it, and that, too, according to His good pleasure. Even the gospel is not preached to all men. Many there are that never hear the gospel. This is true of thousands upon thousands of heathen, that lived and still live outside of the pale of Christendom. And besides, it is true of many children that die in infancy and are nevertheless saved without hearing the preaching of the gospel, because they, as well as the adults, are included in the covenant of God.

In the meantime we have already proceeded with our discussion of the Declaration of Principles to what is found under II, B. There the Declaration states: “That Christ died only for the elect, and that the saving efficacy of the death of Christ extends to them only. This is evident from the Canons of Dordrecht, II, A, 8.” And then we quote from the confessions this same eighth article of Canons II, to which we already referred above. From this article we briefly conclude in the Declaration:

“1. That all the covenant blessings are for the elect alone.

“2. That God’s promise is unconditionally for them only: for God cannot promise what was not objectively merited by Christ.

“3. That the promise of God bestows the objective right of salvation not upon all the children that are born under the historical dispensation of the covenant, that is, not upon all that are baptized, but only upon the spiritual seed.”

Let us briefly elucidate these three items quoted from the Declaration.

As to the first of these three items, the truth of this ought to be evident to all that can read and are willing to subscribe to the Reformed Confessions. That all the covenant blessings are for the elect alone is literally stated in so many words in the article of the Canons to which we referred above. For the article states that it is the most gracious will and purpose of God the Father “that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of his Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation.” And again, the article states that “it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should; effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to him by the Father; that he should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, he purchased for them by his death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing, and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory in his presence forever.” This point, therefore, needs no further explanation.

As to “2”, this reflects upon the Heynsian view of the promise. According to Heyns, and also according to the Liberated, God’s promise is an objective bequest to all the children that are baptized. It is compared to a testament in which a father has bequeathed a certain sum of money which is deposited in the bank, and which every one of his children, head for head, may draw from the bank upon his decease. So God has written the names of all the children, head for head, that are baptized and that are born in the historical line of the covenant in His testament, sealed by the death of Christ. They, in other words, all have a check in their pocket, which they may cash in the bank of heaven. This promise God seals, that is, swears by an oath, unto all the baptized children in the sacrament of baptism. Such is the meaning of the objective promise to all the children that are born in the line of the historical dispensation of the covenant.

So far the Liberated agree with Heyns. That this is true is evident from the quotations we made in our last number of the Standard Bearer, the quotations from Dr. Bremmer in the Reformatie and from Prof. Veenhof in his Appel.

According to both Heyns and the Liberated, however, there is a condition attached to this promise. This condition is faith and obedience, or repentance’.

They differ, as we have pointed out repeatedly,—at least Dr. Schilder differs,—in regard to the question of preparatory grace. According to Heyns, all baptized children have sufficient grace either to accept or reject the promise, to bring forth good fruits of repentance or stinking fruits of unbelief. It is this preparatory grace that distinguishes the baptized children from the children of the world, according to Heyns. The Liberated, as far as we know, do not subscribe to this particular theory of Heyns.

However, they stand before the question, which has never been answered, whether or not faith is included in the promise of God. That it is, is very evident from the doctrinal part of the Baptism Form, where we read: “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 among the assembly of the elect in life eternal.” The application of all that we have in Christ certainly includes the gift of faith. It therefore is undoubtedly part of the promise of God to us. But if this is true, how is it possible that faith can be a condition unto the promise? Is the condition of faith a prerequisite unto the gift of faith? Evidently this is absurd. But if faith is not included in the promise, the question is: where does it come from? For there is no gift of God which is not promised us. Yet, the Liberated insist that faith is a gift of God, and that it is not of us. This problem, then, they have never solved. And therefore, we would like to have them answer the question: is faith as a condition, a prerequisite unto the promise of faith?

In distinction from all this the Protestant Reformed believers maintain on the basis of the Confession, including the Baptism Form:

1.  That God cannot promise what is not objectively merited by Christ. And according to Art. 8, He merited all the blessings of salvation for the elect only. Atonement is particular, limited only to the elect. There is, therefore, to use the figure of the testament or the bequest that is deposited in the bank, no capital for all the children that are baptized in the bank. God does not issue false checks. The promise, therefore, and all the blessings of salvation, are for the elect alone.

2.  This promise includes the gift of faith. This also is literally stated in the article from the Canons which we quoted above: “that he should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, he purchased for them by his death.”

3.  Faith, therefore, is not a condition, but belongs to the fulfillment of the promise, and is a God-given, means or instrument whereby the elect may lay hold on and appropriate the promise of eternal life and glory.

And therefore we conclude “that the promise of God bestows the objective right of salvation not upon all the children that are born under the historical dispensation of the covenant, that is, not upon all that are baptized, but only upon the spiritual seed.”

The Declaration continues: “This is also evident from other parts of our confession, as, for instance:

“Heidelberg Catechism, Qu. 65: ‘Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all his benefits by faith only, whence doth this faith proceed? From the Holy Ghost, who works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel, and confirms it by the use of the sacraments.’”

“And in Qu. 66: ‘What are the sacraments? The sacraments are holy visible signs and seals, appointed of God for this end, that by the use thereof, he may the more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel, viz., that he grants us freely the remission of sin, and life eternal, for the sake of that one sacrifice of Christ, accomplished on the cross.’”

“If we compare with these statements from the Heidelberger what was taught concerning the saving efficacy of the death of Christ in Canons II, A, 8, it is evident that the promise of the gospel which is sealed by the sacraments concerns only the believers, that is, the elect.”

This last statement also ought to be very evident. The point we wish to make here is that the promise is unconditionally not for all, neither for all the children that are born of believing parents, but only for believers, that is, for the elect. Now Art. 8, of Canons II, A, emphasized “that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of his Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation.” And again, in the same article we read that it was the will of God to redeem “all those, and those only who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to him by the Father; that he should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, he purchased for them by his death.” Now Qu. 66 of the Heidelberg Catechism speaks of the sacraments, and tells us that they are “appointed of God for this end, that by the use thereof, he may more fully declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel, viz., that he grants us freely the remission of sin, and life eternal.” And the question is: who are meant by the personal pronoun us in this answer of the Heidelberg Catechism? Does that refer to all that are born under the historical dispensation of the covenant, in other words, to all that are baptized? Or does it refer to believers, and therefore, to the elect? The answer is plain: the latter only can be meant. And therefore, both baptism and the Lord’s Supper are sacraments which God has appointed for the purpose of sealing unto His own people, the believers, the elect, the promise of the gospel. And therefore the promise of the gospel is only for them.

But there is more in the Declaration on this point. It continues:

“This is also evident from the Heidelberg Catechism, Qu. 74: ‘Are infants also to be baptized? Yes: for since they, as well as the adult, are included in the covenant and church of God; and since redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult; they must therefore by baptism, as a sign of the covenant, be admitted also into the Christian church: and be distinguished from the children of unbelievers, as was done in the old covenant or testament by circumcision, instead of which baptism is instituted in the new covenant/

“That in this question and answer of the Heidelberger not all the children that are baptized, but only the spiritual children, that is, the elect, are meant is evident. For:

“1. Little infants surely cannot fulfill any conditions. And if the promise of God is for them, the promise is infallible and unconditional, and therefore only for the elect.

“2. According to Canons II, A, 8, which we quoted above, the saving efficacy of the death of Christ is for the elect alone.

“3. According to this answer of the Heidelberg Catechism, the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to the little children no less than to the adult. And God surely fulfills His promise. Hence, that promise is surely only for the elect.”

I want to place all the emphasis in this connection on the element that the promise is unconditional. For if it were not, a little child, an infant, could never be said to have the promise of God.

Let us take for example an infant at the moment that it is baptized, say a child of two weeks old. The question is: does that little child have the promise that he is redeemed from sin by the blood of Christ? Does God promise to that infant that the Holy Ghost will dwell in him, and that God through the Holy Spirit will give unto that infant the true and saving faith, and therefore all the benefits of salvation ? Or, as the Baptism Form has it, does God assure to that child that the Holy Ghost will dwell in it and sanctify it to be member of Christ, and apply unto it all that which it has in Christ, namely, the washing away of sins, and the daily renewal of its life, until it shall finally be presented without spot or wrinkle among the assembly of the elect in life eternal? Moreover, let us presuppose, as certainly is very well possible, and as certainly we may assume that in the covenant it is most generally the case, that God fulfills His promise of salvation and the Holy Spirit unto that child, either before or during or immediately after baptism. Then it must be very evident that the promise which God gave to that child is absolutely unconditional. That child certainly cannot hear the gospel. It cannot hear or understand the demand of repentance and faith. Hence, to that little infant the promise of God is surely unconditional. If we don’t want to fall into the error of the Baptist, then we certainly must maintain and teach that faith and repentance are not conditions unto the promise and unto our entering into the covenant of God, but that the promise of God is unconditional. [Suppose, moreover, that that same infant dies when it is a half year old. Then God will surely realize all the benefits of salvation to that child that has never been able to fulfill any conditions whatsoever.

Nor can you possibly maintain that although the promise is unconditional for little children, it nevertheless becomes conditional when the children grow up and become adolescents and adults. To be sure, when that child grows up and comes to years of discretion and understanding, it will assume its part of the covenant of God, cleave to the one God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, love Him with all his heart and mind and soul and strength, forsake the world, crucify its old nature, and walk in a new and holy life. But that is not a condition, but is the fruit of the salvation which God according to His promise has first bestowed upon that child. There are not two different ways of salvation, an unconditional way for the child, for the little infant, and a conditional way for the adult. But there is only one way. And that one way is the way of sovereign grace which God bestows without any conditions upon all His elect. Hence, we maintain that the promise is not for all, not even for all the children that are born of believing parents, but that it is for the elect alone, for the spiritual seed, and: unconditional.