Purpose of this series

Since it has been some time since I have written an  article for this series, it is worthwhile to remember the  main point of these articles. (If you want to catch up  or remember more thoroughly, the series may be found  in these issues of the SB: November 15, 2020, p. 93;  December 15, 2020, p. 132; February 15, 2021, p.  236; April 1, 2021, p. 302; June 2021, p. 400.) The  main point of these articles has been to show God’s  graciousness to us in His good use of our synods in  recent years. God has used the synod to steer us clear  of two ditches.

God used Synod 2018 to keep us from  walking in a ditch that would make works part of the  instrument of salvation along with faith. When faith is  functioning as an instrument, “faith is therefore not a  work, but a relinquishment of all work, an unqualified  trust in God who gives life to the dead….”1 This faith  “constitutes a contrast to the works of the law…in the  fact that the latter [works of the law] can neither be the  material nor the instrumental cause of justification.”2  In judging the case before her, Synod 2018 said works  were being made part of the cause of our salvation along  with faith. This error the PRC is committed to avoiding.  God used Synod 2019, 2020 (and now 2021) to keep  us from falling into another ditch. This ditch denies  the order of sequence (Calvin) in which God applies the  benefits of Christ to us. It also denies any proper use of  “in the way of.” There were those who argued that if  a minister preaches that there is a God-worked activity  of a believer prior to the experience of a particular  blessing from God, then that minister necessarily makes  that activity the ground or instrument of that blessing.  In other words, if, in reference to David in Psalm 32:5,  one says that David experienced renewed forgiveness  after he confessed his sin with Bathsheba, this makes forgiveness conditional upon David’s confession and  represents salvation by man. Synod 2019/2020 and now  2021 rejected this notion. To quote Synod 2020, “The  fact that an activity of the believer may occur temporally  prior to the experience of a blessing from God does  not automatically make such an activity a condition or  prerequisite for earning, gaining, or meriting the blessing  from God.”3 And Synod 2021: “The fundamental  error that underlies the protest is that denies that  any God-worked activity of the believer can be prior to  the experience of a particular blessing from God.”4 The  PRC rejects this error also.

Recent revelations

In recent months it has become clear that Andy Lanning  is teaching this second error that has come to synod now  three years in a row. In the “Malachi 3:7 edition” of  Sword and Shield, Lanning clearly states a position in  conflict with Synod 2020 and 2021. Lanning expresses  this in the opening words of this edition of the magazine  when he states what he believes is the issue between him  and the PRC: “This special edition of Sword and Shield  takes the field to fight in the present-day controversy  over whether man’s activity of drawing near to God  precedes God’s activity of drawing near to man in man’s  conscious experience of covenant fellowship with God”  (Aug. 15, p. 3). Later in the magazine Lanning makes  clear that he denies that there is any sense in which a  God-worked activity of ours precedes an activity of  God in our experience of salvation. “It is wrong to  say that ‘there is a vitally important sense in which, in  our salvation, our drawing nigh to God precedes God’s  drawing nigh to us’” (29).5

But what does Lanning mean by “man’s activity of  drawing near to God” in the first quotation above? And  what does he mean by “our drawing nigh to God” in  the second quotation above? Does he mean man’s activity  apart from God’s working that activity in the man?  Does he mean man’s activity, the presence or absence of  which has a certain power over God to allow or deny  Him His continued work of salvation? If that is what  Lanning means, then there is no disagreement between  him and the PRC on this point. And, if this is what  he means by “man’s activity,” he is setting up a straw  man. The PRC’s teaching is that this activity of man  is God-worked through and through. That activity is  a necessary part of God’s own unchangeable order of  application of Christ’s benefits to His people, and will  come to pass according to His decree and powerful  working. Yet God works that activity in a man so that  he performs that activity consciously and willingly.

The fact is, though, that Lanning does not mean by  “man’s activity of drawing near to God” an activity  man performs in his own strength, or an activity of man  the presence or absence of  which has a certain power  over God. Lanning’s issue  is with the order of application.  Lanning means to  say that no God-worked  activity of man may occur  in our experience of salvation  temporally prior to  any experience of God’s  activity, regardless of how  one speaks of man’s Godworked  activity. We know  this because of what he  writes as his explanation of James 4:8. James 4:8 says,  “Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you.”  Lanning’s explanation of this is that “The believer who  draws nigh to God experiences that God has already  drawn nigh to him. The believer’s drawing nigh to God  in no way (AL’s words, emphasis mine CG) precedes  God’s drawing nigh to him, but follows God’s drawing  nigh to him in the Word of the gospel.” And again,  “The believer who turns to God experiences that God  has already come to the believer” (29).

So, there is no way in which we experience God’s  forgiving grace after we draw nigh in faith. There is  no sense in which the believer experiences the light of  God’s countenance shining upon him after he confesses  his sins and lays hold on Christ. Rather, the child of  God only realizes that God has already come to Him  and pardoned him before he confessed. And the child  of God only realizes that God has already given him  the light of His countenance before he confessed. Once  more, in the words of Lanning, “The believer’s drawing  nigh to God in no way precedes God’s drawing nigh  to him, but follows God’s drawing nigh to him in the  Word of the gospel.” And, “The believer who turns  to God experiences that God has already come to the  believer” (29).

David’s experience 

David was a believer. David was a believer who turned  to God after his sin with Bathsheba. After turning  in faith, David experienced more than that God had  already come to him in the past in the mouth of Nathan  the prophet. God did come back to David in the mouth  of Nathan the prophet. What grace to David that  God came to him to confront him with the reality of  the sin he had been so long excusing! What fatherly  love to take the word like a hammer to stone and break  David’s hardened heart! There was a sense in which  God powerfully came to  David in his experience  in the mouth of Nathan  the prophet. In fact, there  was a sense in which  God never left David in  David’s experience. God  was with David in David’s  unrepentant state with His  heavy hand: “When I kept  silence, my bones waxed  old through my roaring all  the day long. For day and  night thy hand was heavy  upon me: my moisture is  turned into the drought of summer” (Ps 32:3-4). That  heavy hand was unpleasant, but it was God with David.

However, there was an altogether other, unique, and  real sense in which God truly drew nigh to David in  David’s experience after God worked David’s repentance.  David himself says so, “I acknowledged my sin  unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will  confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest  the iniquity of my sin” (Ps. 32:5 emphasis added).  David says this not as a misguided fanatic who is  incapable of reading his own experience properly. He  writes as one inspired by the Holy Spirit to describe His  God-given experience with flawless accuracy. With reference  to David’s experience of sin and repentance in  Psalms 32 and 51, and to the experience of Peter, the  Canons of Dordt interpret David’s words forthrightly, “By such enormous sins, however, they very highly offend  God, incur a deadly guilt, grieve the Holy Spirit,  interrupt the exercise of faith, very grievously wound  their consciences, and sometimes lose the sense of God’s  favor for a time, until, on their returning into the right  way of serious repentance, the light of God’s fatherly  countenance again shines upon them.”6 Though David  was in a legal state of justification throughout the  whole process, there was a real and fresh application of  that justification by faith7 to David’s conscience in regard  to this particular sin after he repented.8 This was  a distinct act of God to declare David forgiven upon his  confession. This forgiveness was accompanied with the  light of God’s countenance upon David. Before this,  David experienced terrible guilt for his sin even though  in the coming Messiah that sin was legally gone. After  David’s confession and embracing of Christ, he no longer  felt the heavy hand of God upon him.

Lanning’s teaching is that upon confession David experienced  no salvation of God actually drawing near to  Him. If there was, this would mean that David’s experience  was conditioned upon his drawing nigh to God.  It would mean man is first in salvation. Instead, after  returning to God in faith,  David only experienced  the realization that God  had already forgiven him  in the past.

Lanning will not allow  David to have the experience  David by inspiration  tells us he had. And the  sole reason Lanning will  not allow David this experience  as a real distinct act  of God upon David’s life  is that Lanning denies the  order of the application of salvation. He believes that  if this order is maintained, then automatically the activity  of man is a prerequisite and condition that makes salvation dependent upon man. There can be no other  reason. It is not because David explains his returning  as the ground for his experience. It is not because David  explains his returning as works of the law, which  works function as the ground for or instrument through  which God’s favor comes upon David. It is not because  David makes his faith by which he laid hold of Christ  in returning a work. It is solely because Lanning believes  that “the believer’s drawing nigh to God in no  way precedes God’s drawing nigh to him” (29). In no  way precedes.


There are many implications of such a novel view.9 I  am going to highlight only one. Imagine you tell your  child to go clean up his room. The child does not do it,  but instead goes outside to play with his friends. You  confront your child, and he feels the weight of the guilt  of his sin. He confesses that sin, repents of it under  your direction, and asks you to forgive him. What do  you tell this child? Apparently, you may only tell this  child, “You were already forgiven. There is no sense  in which you are forgiven  after confessing your sin.  And if I would tell you  you are forgiven now,  then it would make the  forgiveness conditioned  on your repentance  because your repentance  came first. Because my  discipline of you is to be in  line with God’s discipline  of us (Deut 8:5; Heb 12:6,  7), I must teach you that,  in our relationship to  God, God’s activity never  follows man’s activity; so I will not tell you that you are  forgiven right now by me and by God, but only that you  were forgiven in the past.”

Perhaps you do not take the position to its logical  conclusion and instead you tell the child, “I forgive you,  child, right now, and God forgives you right now, too,”  as you ought to do. The child comes in for a hug; what  do you do? You must push the child away and say,  “No.” After all, the child has drawn nigh to you and to  hug him now would be you drawing nigh to him after  he confessed. In order to teach the child that there is no  sense in which our returning to God precedes God’s returning to us, you must say instead, “I will not hug you  child. The closeness you desire was there already when I  confronted you about your sin and told you I loved you  before you confessed.”

There is no doubt that the love of God, the forgiving  grace of God in the gospel, leads us to repentance as  much as the heavy hand of God does. “Have mercy  upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according  unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot  out my transgressions” (Ps. 51:1). So too, the love of  our earthly father leads us to confess as much as does  his fatherly displeasure. And this too must be preached.  But this does not deny that there is a real, unique, actual  act of God’s love, and therefore of parents, drawing  nigh to us after we return by faith and in the way of  repentance. Anything else guts the covenant of its essence:  a relationship of fellowship and friendship with  God. And anything else, if taken to its logical conclusion,  guts our parenting of its essence: a relationship of  fellowship and friendship in the Spirit of God.


Someone once said that the God-given presence of eyes  to examine food, fingertips with sensation to touch  it, the nose to first smell it, and taste on our tongue  to judge it before it goes down the throat, is God’s  commendation of watchful criticism. More important is  the injunction, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try  the spirits whether they are of God.” For those who are  under the influence, be warned of the errors contained  in Lanning’s teaching. Examine, and do not swallow!  And for all, let us read carefully the decisions of Synod  2019, 2020, and 2021 as well as the vital decision of  Synod 2018. And for all of it, give thanks to God.

1 Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Volume 4: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008), 211.
2 Bavinck, Dogmatics, Vol. 4, 222.
3 Acts of Synod 2020, 81-82. Emphasis in the original. As the Acts states, synod here adopted the work of Classis East at her January, 2020 meeting
(see top of p. 79).
4 Acts of Synod 2021, 119.
5 The quotation within the quotation that Lanning judges to be
wrong is from Prof. D. Engelsma
6 Fifth Head, Article 5. The end of the previous article references the sins of David and Peter as the biblical proof of “such enormous
falls” that some of God’s people experience.
7 Even in repenting, which is wrapped up with faith in returning, it is only the faith that is laying hold of Christ.
8 It does not matter whether one holds the position that the act of justification is repeated throughout one’s lifetime, or the position
that the one-time act of justification is applied repeatedly throughout one’s lifetime. “I deny that the difference between
the two doctrinal positions is fundamental” (Prof. D. Engelsma, Gospel Truth of Justification, 240). The issue here is whether or
not the declaration is repeated or applied really and truly after God works a return.
9 In your own mind draw out the implications for elder work,
church discipline, and preaching to name but a few.