Previous article in this series: February 1, 2006, p. 196.


DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES, to be used only by the Mission Committee and the missionaries for the organization of prospective churches on the basis of Scripture and the confessions as these have always been maintained in the Protestant Reformed Churches and as these are now further explained in regard to certain principles.¹

The preamble of the Declaration of Principles serves to remind us of the history behind the document, which history was reviewed in the previous editorial. The Declaration was drawn up to help the mission committee and the missionaries working with the Dutch immigrants after the Second World War. These immigrants asked, What is binding in the Protestant Reformed Churches? The answer in a word was: What is confessional is binding.

Yet it is not always enough simply to state that. In 1924, the synod of the Christian Reformed Church said that common grace is confessional. The Protestant Reformed Churches not only rejected that notion, they insisted that the confessions condemned the three points of common grace.

The Liberated Churches withdrew from the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN) after those churches adopted binding statements on specific doctrines, principally on the covenant. The Liberated refused to be bound by the adopted statements. The immigrants from the Liberated Churches were understandably concerned about how the Protestant Reformed Churches understood the confessions on the matter of the covenant. Thus the question of what is binding in the Protestant Reformed Churches had specific reference to the doctrine of the covenant.

In order that there be no misunderstanding, the synod of the PRC adopted the Declaration of Principles. It set forth the convictions of the PRC on certain areas of doctrine that were being debated in that day, specifically common grace, the well-meant offer, and the covenant. However, the conviction remained that in a Reformed denomination, what is confessional is binding. Therefore, the Declaration of Principles expresses the convictions of the PRC only insofar as the confessions would allow a binding to be made. In other words, the Declaration sets forth what the confessions have to say on these doctrines. That is binding.

In harmony with that purpose, the Declaration begins: “The Protestant Reformed Churches stand on the basis of Scripture as the infallible Word of God and of the Three Forms of Unity. Moreover, they accept the liturgical forms used in the public worship of our churches” (and then the eleven adopted forms are listed).² Immediately, the PRC made known what is the foundation of the churches—the inspired Scriptures, and the Reformed confessions.

The listing of the liturgical forms is noteworthy. The purpose is not merely to report what forms are adopted, though this information does indicate something of the worship of the churches. Rather, the inclusion of these forms serves notice that the PRC consider them to be binding. In fact, they are sometimes referred to as “minor creeds” in distinction from the “major creeds”—the Heidelberg Catechism, the (Belgic) Confession of faith, and the Canons of Dordt. These forms are called minor because they are limited in scope. Each form contains instruction on the particular doctrine connected with the form—the form for the administration of baptism gives instruction on baptism, and the marriage form instructs concerning marriage, etc. The listing of these forms indicates that the PRC are bound by the doctrines as developed in the forms.

The intent of the Declaration of Principles is to express what is binding, that is, confessional, concerning grace (common or not), the well-meant offer (and the promise of the gospel), and the covenant. Some have criticized the Declaration, maintaining it contains not a summary of the confessions, but merely the opinions of the PRC. Thus we take “another look” at the Declaration in order to demonstrate that it accurately sets forth what the confessions teach.

Common Grace Rejected

The Declaration states:

On the basis of this Word of God and these confessions: 

I. They repudiate the errors of the Three Points adopted by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church of Kalamazoo, 1924.

The “Three Points” are the points of common grace. The Declaration summarizes the main elements of these three points as follows:

A. That there is a grace of God to all men, including the reprobate, manifest in the common gifts to all men. 

B. That the preaching of the gospel is a gracious offer of salvation on the part of God to all that externally hear the gospel. 

C. That the natural man through the influence of common grace can do good in this world.

Over against these, the Declaration sets forth the positive teaching of the PRC (in three points), which we will examine individually.

In opposition to the third point (C) above, the Declaration insists “that the unregenerate man is totally incapable of doing any good, wholly depraved, and therefore can only sin.” Is this statement the teaching of the confessions?

If there is any doctrine of grace that the Reformed creeds teach explicitly, it is the depravity of natural man. Even the Remonstrants dared not blatantly contradict a doctrine taught so plainly in the confessions. As part of its proof for this doctrine, the Declaration quotes the Heidelberg Catechism, Q. & A. 8. “Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness? Indeed we are; except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.” Also quoted is Q. and A. 91, which gives the Reformed definition of good works. The Catechism’s definition clearly indicates that the unregenerate cannot perform even one good work. In addition, the Declaration quotes the Belgic Confession, Article 14, and Canons III/IV, Articles 1-4, further confirming the confessional status of the doctrine of total depravity. It can only be concluded, then, that this affirmation of man’s total depravity is the teaching of the Reformed confessions.

Next, in opposition to the first statement (A, above), the Declaration maintains “[t]hat the grace of God is always particular, i.e., only for the elect, never for the reprobate.” Again, we ask, is that the teaching of the Reformed creeds?

To substantiate its contention about grace, the Declaration demonstrates, particularly from the Canons, that God’s decree of predestination makes all the difference with respect to how God deals with men. Canons I, Article 6 states, “And herein is especially displayed the profound, the merciful, and at the same time therighteous discrimination between men equally involved in ruin; or that decree of election and reprobation…” [My emphasis, RJD].

Additional quotations from the Canons I, Articles 6-8, demonstrate concretely how predestination determines whether God is gracious to an individual or not. To His elect, God gives faith and softens their hearts. In this decree of election God, “out of mere grace” has chosen some “to redemption in Christ.” God “decreed to give [His elect] to Christ, to be saved by Him, and effectually to call and draw them to His communion by His Word and Spirit, to bestow upon them true faith, justification, and sanctification, and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship of His Son, finally to glorify them for the demonstration of His mercy and for the praise of His glorious grace.” In contrast to all that gracious activity upon the elect, the Canons say of the reprobate only that God “leaves…[them] to their own wickedness.”

Sovereign election determines who receives grace. The Canons emphasize that the elect alone receive God’s grace. None of the confessions hint at a grace of God for the reprobate.

The Preaching: Offer or Command

Over against the position that the preaching contains a well-meant offer (B, above), the Declaration expresses the conviction of the PRC “that the preaching of the gospel is not a gracious offer of salvation on the part of God to all men.” In order to substantiate this, the Declaration turns to Canons I, Article 5.

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.

Concerning this, the Declaration indicates the PRC’s agreement with the teaching that the preaching of the gospel is to be promiscuous, to all who hear the preaching externally. Secondly, it is noted that the preaching is, according to this article (I, 5), a command, not an offer. The command is: “repent and believe.” Thirdly, this rejection of the well-meant offer is confessional since it is in perfect harmony with the Reformed doctrine of predestination, as has already been established. Consistent with all His dealings with men, God, also in the preaching, deals graciously with the elect, but not with the reprobate.

However, for the sake of clarity and precision, it is not enough merely to condemn the well-meant offer. It is necessary to explain the content of thepromise of the gospel.

The matter of the promise was the very issue confronting the PRC in the early 1950s that led to the Declaration of Principles. What is the content of the promise to the covenant people in the preaching, and especially, to the child of believers at baptism? The fruit of her study of the confessions was the following statement in the Declaration: “That the preaching of the gospel is not…a conditional offer to all that are born in the historical dispensation of the covenant, that is, to all that are baptized….”

On what confessional basis does this rest?

First, it is in harmony with the rejection (based on the confessions) of a gracious well-meant offer and with the truth that election determines how God deals with all men. Unless God has elected all baptized children, He cannot offer salvation to every one of them. (And that God does not elect every baptized child is evident from the fact that not all believe—God “bestow(s) upon [the elect] true faith.”) How much less would God promise salvation to every baptized child on the condition of faith?

If God were to make such a conditional promise, how foolish this would be. The Canons demonstrate that the unregenerate man can do nothing good, cannot believe, indeed, cannot fulfill any condition whatsoever. Why would God mock the unbelieving, reprobate child with such a conditional promise? It would be akin to a man walking through a cemetery, loudly promising life to every corpse that fulfilled a condition. Yet for God to promise life to every baptized child would be worse, for, though He has the power, He has no intention of giving life to the reprobate. He has determined to “leave…[them] to their own wickedness.”

In addition, the confessions will not allow that faith could be a condition laid down by God in the promise, for the Canons teach that faith is the gift of God, and “that some receive the gift of faith from God and others do not receive it proceeds from God’s eternal decree.” The decree of sovereign, double predestination determines how God deals with each individual.

Therefore the Declaration insists that Article 5 of the Canons (I) “presents the promise, not as general, but as particular, i.e., as for believers, and, therefore, for the elect.” Not only that, but it adds that the “preaching of the particular promise is promiscuous to all that hear the gospel, with the command, not a condition, to repent and believe.”

If the preaching is neither a gracious offer of salvation to all who hear, nor a conditional offer (or promise) to all those born in the sphere of the covenant, what then is the promise of the gospel? The Declaration describes it as “an oath of God that He will infallibly lead all the elect unto salvation and eternal glory through faith.”

Promoters of a conditional covenant, maintaining that the promise is conditional, object to the word “oath.” Is it legitimate to call the promise of the gospel an “oath”? The Canons call it a “promise.” However, with God, a promise is the same as an oath, for God cannot go back on His promise. The promise of the gospel is indeed an oath.

The content of that promise, or oath, is (according to Canons I, 5) “that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” Obviously, this promise indicates who will be saved, namely, everyone that believes. And who is a believer? The Canons answer: Everyone to whom God gives faith. And, to whom does God give faith? The Canons answer: To His elect alone.

Thus, indeed, the confessions indicate that the promise of the gospel is an oath, based on His decree of election, that God will infallibly lead His chosen people to salvation.

Against this description of the promise, a clamor is raised. This is cold, it is alleged. This is impersonal. There is no comfort. There is no personal assurance of my salvation!

These objections must be answered. First, the Declaration of Principles is not giving aquotation of the promise, as if all the preacher says is: “God speaks an oath that He will infallibly lead all the elect unto salvation and eternal glory through faith.” Obviously not. Paul did not speak thus in his answer to the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:31—”Believe…and thou shalt be saved….”). Nor did Peter so respond to the question of the multitude on Pentecost (Acts 2:38-39).

However, the Declaration is not misrepresenting the confessions. For the confessions insist that election is the bedrock of the gospel. If God did not choose some unto salvation, then God is not in control of who are saved. Salvation is then up to men. The preaching will be a pleading and an offer, an entreaty made with the hope that it will move the hearts of the hearers to believe and thus be saved.

However, the confessions indicate that Reformed preaching is a command to repent and believe, and with it comes the promise, whoever believes shall be saved. Such a promise can be, even must be, made because God decreed to save His elect, and He does so by giving them faith.

Over against the objection that such a presentation is impersonal and devoid of assurance, it should be pointed out that the Holy Spirit makes the promise personal. He applies the promise to the hearts of the elect believers. And can one know that he is an elect without God addressing him by name? Most assuredly, affirm the Canons. He knows it from the presence of the fruits of election, especially sorrow for sin and faith.

The Declaration is a clear expression of the confessions on these doctrines. God’s grace is particular, only for and upon the elect. The preaching is neither a gracious offer to all men, nor a conditional promise. Rather, in it God makes an unchangeable promise (oath). That promise is particular. For, though the preaching of the promise is promiscuous, the promise is tobelievers (whosoever believeth), not to every individual who hears. God will save every one whom He has elected. What a blessed hope!

The members of the Protestant Reformed Churches say: We are convicted of these truths. We are convinced that these are the truths taught in the Reformed confessions. If you love the truth of a sovereign and particular saving grace, based firmly on the Reformed doctrine of predestination, join with us. If not, do not join the PRC. This is our Declaration of Principles.

…to be continued.

¹ The complete Declaration of Principles is available on line at

² In addition to the Formula of Subscription, the following forms are listed: Administration of Baptism, Administration of the Lord’s Supper, Excommunication, Readmitting Excommunicated Persons, Ordination of the Ministers of God’s Word, Ordination of Elders and Deacons, Installation of Professors of Theology, Ordination of Missionaries, Confirmation of Marriage Before the Church.