We stated repeatedly that we cannot agree with the covenant view generally advocated by the liberated churches, nor with the declarations on this matter by the Synod of Sneek-Utrecht; neither would we subscribe, however, to the Conclusions of Utrecht 1905.

That a compromise statement such as the latter would become the occasion of trouble, and might lead to a division in the churches, as soon as one element of the compromise statement was accentuated at the expense of the other, and the attempt was made to enforce the accentuated element and make it binding for the churches, might easily be surmised. That the Synod of Sneek-Utrecht did not foresee the inevitable consequences of their actions, but went right ahead, not only in making certain declarations on the matter of the covenant, but also in attempting rigidly to enforce them, and in deposing officebearers that refused to accept this yoke, is, in the light of the history of the Conclusions of Utrecht 1905, surprising indeed.

These Conclusions are little more than a conglomeration of statements from both sides, those that advocated presupposed regeneration, and those that opposed this view.

The result is that they are self-contradictory.

Let us examine them a little more in detail.

They begin with the statement “that in virtue of the promise of God the seed of the covenant must be considered as regenerated and sanctified in Christ, until, as they grow up, the opposite appears from their doctrine or walk.”

Now, even if this statement is considered by itself, it implies a contradiction. By “the seed of the covenant” is meant all the children of believers that are presented for baptism. Of these it is said that they “must be considered as regenerated and sanctified in Christ.” The basis for this statement is the promise of God. Now, if this promise of God can indeed serve as a basis for some statement concerning the regeneration of all the children of believers, it is evident: 1. That such a statement should not speak of considering them as regenerated, but should definitely declare that they are regenerated and sanctified in Christ. For the promise of God is sure, and what is based on the promise is equally certain. If God, therefore, promises us something, we have no right to say: “we will consider it as if it were true.” We simply have to accept God at His Word. 2. That, in that case, we have no right to add: “until the opposite appears.” If, on the basis of the promise we may declare of all the children of believing parents that they are regenerated, there is no room for the latter statement. There is no falling away of saints.

The trouble is, of course, that the statement is not true, and that those who adopted it in 1905 were very well aware of it that it is not true. “In virtue of the promise of God” we cannot say anything about, all the children of believers, nor is it possible to “consider” them as regenerated, for the simple reason that the Scriptures very emphatically teach us the opposite. Romans 9 is quite sufficient proof for this statement. All are not Israel that are of Israel. The children of the promise are counted for the seed. The authors of the “Conclusions” were so well aware of this that a little further they contradict their own statement by saying: “that further, the judgment of love, according to which the Church considers the seed of the covenant as regenerated, does not at all mean to say that each child is, on that account, truly regenerated, because the Word of God teaches us that not all are Israel that are of Israel, and of Isaac it is said that ‘in him shall thy seed be called.’”

If you combine the two statements in one brief sentence, you would put it this way: “We must consider all the children as regenerated, although we know that this is not true.”

This is a contradiction in terms.

And the presumption of which it speaks is impossible.

And the contradiction is accentuated if you combine the opening sentence of this declaration of Utrecht 1905 with the closing statement. For then the result is as follows: “In virtue of the promise of God the seed of the covenant must be considered as regenerated, but the proposition that each child is therefore regenerated before baptism cannot be proved either from Scripture or the Confession, while God fulfills His promise in His own sovereign time, before, during, or after baptism.”

It is evident, then, that, in regard to the question of the covenant, the Conclusions of Utrecht 1905 were so formulated that each of the contending parties could appeal to them in support of his own view. If, on the one hand, the supporters of the view of presumptive or presupposed regeneration claimed that their conception was the doctrine of the Church, they certainly could quote the first part of the Conclusions to substantiate their claim. If, on the other hand, the opponents of this view claimed that the Church had plainly repudiated the idea that all children of believers must be considered as regenerated from their birth, they could appeal to the last part of the same Conclusions in support of their contention.

In such a compromise there is dynamite.

And all that was necessary to set off the explosion was to accentuate one statement, attempt to enforce it, and eliminate the other.

This is exactly what the Synod of Sneek-Utrecht did.

The explosion followed.

And the result is that the Reformed Churches of the Netherlands were split in two, and that, too, almost entirely along the old well-known line of A and B.

From the above it will be evident at the same time that we cannot subscribe to the decisions of Sneek- Utrecht regarding this matter.

They accentuate the doctrine of presupposed or presumptive regeneration. It is true that they do not altogether remove the contradiction of the Conclusions of 1905. They, too, remind us that “they are not all Israel that are of Israel,” and that “this does not at all mean to say that, therefore, each child is truly regenerated.” But they forgot to mention that it is “less, correct” (minder juist) to say that baptism is administered to the children of believers on the ground of their ‘supposed regeneration’.” And they do not quote the last sentence of those Conclusions in regard to this matter that repudiates the entire idea of presumptive regeneration.

And against these decisions I have the following objections:

  1. It is not the business of the Church to decree presumptions and make them binding for all its officebearers and members. That a synod has the calling finally to (decide on matters of doctrine that pertain to the confession of the churches, I do not deny; provided, however it does so in the proper way, and not without taking into consideration the churches themselves. But a presumption is no dogma, and can never become a dogma. Why should a church decree what each officebearer and member must presume?
  2. To presume of all the children of believers that they are regenerated is contrary to Scripture, as even the decisions of 1942 remind us. Only the children of the promise, the elect, are counted for the seed. And they are by no means the same as the children of believers. The error of the presumption of regeneration in all would not be so serious if the carnal, reprobate seed belonged to the great exceptions. But this is not the case. The very opposite appears to be true. Among Israel in the old dispensation, the carnal seed abounds, and the children of the promise are the “remnant according to the election of grace.” Nor does it appear different in the new dispensation if one takes a broad view of the Church in the world, and makes a comparison between nominal, baptized Christendom and true believers.
  3. The modifying clause “until the opposite appears,” is, considered is a binding dogma of the Church, quite meaningless. How could a church possibly enforce such a decree, and discipline those that differ from if? What is the age limit denoted by the “until”? At what age can a child reveal the opposite of regeneration? And what, pray, is ’“the opposite” of the manifestation of regeneration? Is a life of wanton unbelief and gross sin, that makes a confessing believer worthy of excommunication, meant by this “opposite”? Or does the opposite also appear when a child evinces no positive interest in the things of the kingdom of God, shows no positive signs of regeneration? Dr. A, Kuyper Sr. held, as is well known, that even if someone is converted in his old age, the seed of regeneration may have been in his heart from infancy. Who can tell us what the synod meant by this limiting clause? No one, not even the synod itself. Such vague and ambiguous presumptions should not be legislated into dogmas that are binding for the members and officebearers of the church.
  4. The confessions do not teach such a presumption concerning all the children of believers. It is alleged that presumptive regeneration is plainly taught in our Baptism Form. The trouble with this is, however, that the very positive language of that Form can hardly be interpreted as expressing a mere presumption. Does that Form refer to a presumption when it teaches us that “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 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. 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,” etc.? Does it speak the language of a presumption when it confesses that our young children “as they are without their knowledge partakers of the condemnation in Adam, so are they again received unto grace in Christ”? Are the parents asked to subscribe to a presumption by the question: “Whether you acknowledge that—our children—are sanctified in Christ, and therefore, as members of his church ought to be baptized?” And does the whole church give thanks and praise to God for a mere presumption in the following language: “we thank and praise thee, that Thou hast forgiven us and our children, all our sins, through the blood of thy beloved Son Jesus Christ, and received us through thy Holy Spirit as members of thine only begotten Son, and adopted us to be thy children, and sealed and confirmed the same unto us by holy baptism”? To change all this into the expression of a mere presumption is a strange distortion of the plain meaning of words.

For all these reasons we cannot subscribe to the decisions of 1942.

But how about the view of the liberated churches? Our discussion of this must wait till next time, D. V.