In the second point “concerning the covenant of grace”, the Netherland Synod of 1942 came very close to expressing the truth, due, no doubt, to the fact that they adhered closely to the language of Scripture. For there it declares:
“That in the promise of the covenant the Lord undoubtedly pledges to be the God, not only of believers, but also of their seed (Gen. 17:7); but that He reveals no less in His Word that they are not all Israel that are of Israel.”
It would seem that, in virtue of the “but” that connects the two parts of this sentence, the meaning of this declaration is that the promise of the covenant is only for the “seed of the promise,” the spiritual, the elect seed.
However, in the third point under this head, Synod contradicts this position, or, at least, draws a conclusion that would seem to be entirely unwarranted:
“that therefore—in accord with the declarations of the Synod of Utrecht 1905 (Acts of Synod 1905)—‘in virtue of the promise of God, the seed of the covenant must be considered regenerated and sanctified in Christ, until as they grow up, the opposite appears’;—although the Synod rightly added that this does not at all mean to say that, therefore, each child is truly regenerated.’”
That this statement, considered as a conclusion from the second point, is illogical and wholly unwarranted, is obvious. Yet, as such a conclusion it presents itself, as is evident from the conjunction “therefore”. That the reasoning here is confused and illogical is evident from the following:
Logically, the statement should have read as follows: “Since the promise of the covenant is only for the spiritual seed, and not for all the children of believers, therefore, we can express no judgment concerning the individual children of believers, neither concerning their election, nor concerning their regeneration, until, as they grow up, they reveal themselves in confession and walk.”
It is clear, then, that the Synod of 1942 did not mean strictly to maintain and to apply the truth expressed in the second point, that the promise is only for the spiritual seed; but that there was, on its part, a tendency, to say the least, to establish that all the children of believers are true, spiritual seed, regenerated and sanctified. Mark you well, literally they do not declare this. On the contrary, in the last statement of point 3 they deny this. But, nevertheless, the tendency is clearly there to ignore or belittle the presence of the carnal seed in the Church, to consider that all the children of believers are regenerated, and thus to establish the Kuyperian theory that children are baptized on the basis of their supposed regeneration.
This is the objection that is voiced unanimously by the spokesmen for the “liberated churches” against the third point. They claim:
These are the objections of the “aggrieved’,” the “bezwaarden”.
Are they well founded?
Synodical spokesmen deny this. Unanimously they claim that 1942 adopted nothing more than what was agreed in 1905. Prof. Dr. Aalders, in his letter which appeared in the Missionary Monthly, made the same claim.
And in this way, they picture the “bezwaarden” as very unreasonable people, who now vehemently oppose what they always accepted.
Yet, I believe that the matter is not quite so simple. Although I cannot possibly agree with the covenant conception of the spokesmen for the liberated churches (about which later), I believe that their objections against the decisions of 1942 are not without grounds. Let us consider the following:
1. The Synod of 1942 did not simply and verbally adopt the Conclusions of Utrecht on this point. The latter declare (I translate) :
“And, finally, as to the fourth point, that which concerns “supposed regeneration,” the synod declares that, in accord with the Confession of our Churches, the seed of the covenant, in virtue of the promise of God, are to be considered as regenerated and sanctified in Christ, until, as they grow up, the opposite appears from their walk or confession (doctrine) ; that, however, it is less correct to say that baptism is administered to children on the ground of their supposed regeneration, because the ground of baptism is the command and the promise of God; 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 for that reason each child is truly regenerated, because the Word of God teaches that they are not all Israel that are of Israel. . . .”
Notice the following points of difference:
a. The Conclusions of Utrecht contain a statement which virtually condemns the theory of “supposed regeneration” as a ground of baptism. The decisions of 1942 do not contain this statement.
b. The Conclusions of Utrecht characterize the consideration of the seed of the covenant as regenerated as a 44judgment of love”; the decisions of 1942 omit this statement also.
c. The Conclusions of Utrecht definitely state that the command and promise of God are the ground of (baptism; 1942 does not mention this.
d. The decisions of 1942 give all the prominence and emphasis to the one statement of the Conclusions of Utrecht that “in virtue of the promise of God, the seed of the covenant must be considered regenerated and sanctified in Christ, until, as they grow up,, the opposite appears.” It presents what follows (that this in no wise means to say that, therefore, each child is truly regenerated)—as something “added” and, therefore, subordinate. But this is not honest. Especially, if one remembers that the Conclusions of Utrecht were meant to be a compromise; between two opposing factions, a compromise in which each opposing faction (headed by Kuyper and Lindeboom) meant to express its own view, and which, for that very reason, is full of contradictions (though they are somewhat camouflaged),—it becomes all the more evident that a declaration that eliminates many essential elements from these Conclusions, and gives prominence to one, cannot lay claim to being still the same expression of doctrine, even though it quotes the Conclusions literally.
e. The decisions of 1942 evidently meant to emphasize that regeneration and sanctification in Christ must be considered as preceding baptism in the elect children of the covenant; but this was condemned by the Conclusions of Utrecht in the following words: “In the meantime the Synod is of the opinion that the proposition that every elect child would therefore be regenerated even before baptism, cannot be proved, neither on the basis of Scripture, nor on the basis of the Confession, while God fulfills His promise according to His sovereign good pleasure, whether it be before, or during, or after baptism, so that it is peremptory to express oneself circumspectly about this, and not to be wise above that which God has revealed unto us.”
2. That the decisions of 1942 meant to favor the idea of “supposed regeneration” is also suggested by various expressions in the “Pre-advice of Committee I” and the “Explanation” (Toelichting) which, indeed, are not a part of the official decisions, but which the Synod decided to send to all the churches as an explanation of those decisions. The spokesmen for the liberated churches repeatedly call attention to this fact, and, I think, correctly so.
3. Attention is also called by these men, again and again, to the fact that candidate H. J. Schilder (a nephew of Dr. K. Schilder) was asked to subscribe to the statement that the sacraments seal actually present grace (aanwezige genade) in those that partake of them. If this is applied to baptism it evidently means “supposed regeneration.” And this is certainly contrary to the conclusions of Utrecht.
4. That the Conclusions of Utrecht were a mere compromise statement, and never considered as belonging to the binding Confessions of the Church, is evident, not only from the introductory statements to these Conclusions, in which the Synod of 1905 plainly stated that it was not proper to make any doctrinal declarations concerning the matters in dispute, but also from the fact that officebearers were never required to subscribe to them, as well as from the fact that they were always freely criticized and even contradicted, which is not difficult because they contradict themselves. Think of the Rev. Diermanse’s continued agitation on this point. Spokesmen for the liberated churches, however, repeatedly complain that now the decisions of 1942, which are, besides, a one-sided version of the Conclusions of Utrecht are made binding. No one may teach anything contrary to them. And Cand. H. J. Schilder was not admitted to the ministry, because he refused to be bound by these decisions.
I conclude, therefore, . . . that the Synod of 1942 plainly moved in the direction of establishing the Kuyperian theory of “supposed regeneration” as a church dogma; and that the spokesmen for the liberated churches protest against this on reasonable grounds.
And Prof. Dr. Aalders, though he did not lie literally in his letter in the Missionary Monthly, nevertheless, gave a false presentation of the position of the liberated churches, and of the real situation in The Netherlands.
How about it Dr. Beets? Would it be too much to ask that you, of whom it is reported that you had a printed copy of “Pre-advice I” in your pocket ever since 1939, would-, merely for the sake of truth, give the above material a place in your widely read paper?
If you would do so, you would rise still higher in my esteem.surrection of Christ must wait until the parousia, the second advent, for “the moment” of which the Word of God speaks in I Cor. 15:52, when: “the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”
And although the more comprehensive sense is not excluded from the words of the Catechism, yet, it is the intention of our instructor to emphasize the truth that Christ overcame death in Himself, that thus He is the living Head of His body, the Church, and that, as the living Lord, He is able to make us partakers of the blessings of salvation.
We must remember that Christ is not only the mediator of our redemption, in the juridical sense of the word, but also the mediator of our deliverance, through whom righteousness and life actually are be- stowed upon and realized in us.
As the mediator of our redemption He “purchased” all things for us. He represented us in all His suffering and death. He took our place in the judgment of God. Our sins He took upon Himself. He assumed responsibility for our guilt. In that capacity, He became obedient unto death, yea, unto the death of the cross. And by His perfect obedience, He, the Son of God in the flesh, blotted out the guilt of our sin, and merited for us eternal righteousness and life. This part of the work of salvation is finished. All that are in Him have redemption in His blood, the forgiveness of sins, the right to eternal life, to all the blessings of salvation.
But how do we obtain this salvation?
Does the finished sacrifice and obedience of Christ mean that all His work is accomplished? Does God bestow the blessings of salvation upon His people without Christ’s mediation?
Indeed not. Christ is the mediator through whom God accomplishes His whole (purpose and counsel of salvation, not only with respect to our redemption, but also as regards our actual deliverance from all the power of sin and death, and our ultimate perfection. Just as, within the Holy Trinity, God’s eternal covenant life of friendship is of the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Ghost; and just as the work of creation is likewise of the triune God, but so that it is of the Father, through the Son as the eternal Logos, and in the Spirit; so the whole work of salvation is of the triune God, but again so that it is through the Son in the flesh, and in the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ. All the benefits of salvation are in Christ. From Him we must receive them. He must impart Himself to us, incorporate us into Himself, quicken us, make us partakers of His death and resurrection, bestow upon us His righteousness and life, preserve us unto the final redemption, and receive us into His glory.
Hence, He must be the living Lord.
Suppose it had been possible (which, of course, it is not!) that, by His perfect obedience in suffering and death, Christ had merited for us the foulness of salvation, but that, in doing so, He Himself had been swallowed up of death, then the purchased redemption could never have become ours. There would be no channel through which the blessings of grace could reach us.
But Christ is risen!
He overcame death! The bonds of death and hell could not hold Him. He broke through the gates of hell into the glory of His resurrection life. And as the risen one, He ascended up on high, leading captivity captive, that He might bestow all the gifts of salvation upon men. And unto the end that He, the glorious Lord, might impart Himself and all the benefits of grace to His people, the Church, He received the promise of the Holy Spirit, and in that Spirit He returned unto and into His Church, to dwell in her, quicken her, and abide with her forever. “The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening Spirit/’
This is the thought the Catechism means to emphasize when it teaches us that “by his resurrection he has overcome death.”
And thus the profit of Christ’s resurrection for us, as the Catechism sees it, is threefold.
First of all, He arose “that He might make us partakers of that righteousness which he has purchased for us by his death.”
This is first because the blessing of righteousness is fundamental, basic for all the other blessings of salvation. God loves the righteous, but His face is against them that do evil. His favor is upon them that are righteous in His sight, even as His wrath is upon the wicked. Righteousness, therefore, is our great and fundamental need. For we are by nature and in ourselves, sinful, corrupt and guilty, and for that very reason, children of wrath, worthy of damnation, that is, eternal death. We have no right to be set at liberty, to be delivered from the power of corruption and death, as long as our position before the tribunal of the righteous Judge of heaven and earth is that of guilt. Before all things we must have righteousness. Our position before God’s bar of justice, our legal status in God’s judgment must be changed from that of guilt and condemnation into that of righteousness and justification.
This righteousness Christ purchased for us. By His perfect sacrifice on the cross, by all His obedience as our Lord and Head1, He merited for us the forgiveness of sins, perfect justification in God’s judgment, the right also to be delivered from the dominion and corruption of sin and to be made ethically, spiritually righteous, and the right to eternal life. Let us note that this righteousness which Christ purchased for us is not the same as the righteousness of Adam in the state of rectitude. Adam’s righteousness was his own as long as he obeyed, the righteousness Christ bestows, upon us is never our own, it is always the righteousness of Christ, a gift of grace. It is not based on our obedience, but on Christ’s perfect work. It never rests in us, but always in Christ. The righteousness of Adam was amissible, liable to be lost; the righteousness which we have in Christ, having its ground and source only in Christ, the Son of God in the flesh, is established forever: it can never be lost. Adam was created in the state and condition of righteousness, and it was sufficient to sustain him in his earthly position and life; the righteousness of Christ is light out of darkness, justification out of condemnation, life from the dead, and it makes us worthy of that higher glory which Scripture calls eternal life. For it is a righteousness which the Son of God1 merited for us by descending into deepest death and lowest hell.
Of this righteousness the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is, first of all, the divine revelation, the testimony of God.
For Christ is risen, but He is also raised.
When the Scriptures declare that He is risen, it denotes the resurrection as an act of His own, of the divine Son, Who by and through His resurrection is powerfully set forth as the Son of God, the resurrection and the life.
When, however, the Bible teaches us that Christ is raised, it considers the resurrection of our Lord as an act of God with respect to Christ in His human nature. And as such it is the Word of God concerning our justification. For “he was delivered for our offenses, and was raised again for our justification”. He had assumed the responsibility for our sins, though He was personally without sin and guilt. According to that responsibility of our Mediator, He was worthy of death, though again, as far as His personal relation to God was concerned, He was the object of God’s favor. With the load of this responsibility for our sins upon His mighty shoulders, He stood before the tribunal of God in the hour of judgment, and willingly descended into the darkest depth of death, where He suffered all the pain and agony in body and soul that is caused by the wrath of God against the workers of iniquity. Out of that depth of death there was only one way: such perfect obedience that God could declare Him, as Mediator, and, therefore, with regard to our sins, perfectly justified. For just as sin and death, so also righteousness and life are inseparably connected in the judgment of God. When, therefore. God raised Him from the dead, He thereby declared Him, and that, too, as mediator, worthy of eternal life. God set His seal upon the perfect sacrifice of Christ, and declared that He, the mediator, had perfectly satisfied for all the sins He had borne upon the cross that is for our transgressions. He was raised for, on account of our justification. The resurrection of Jesus Chris^ from the dead is the gospel of God declaring us righteous, and worthy of eternal life!