BASICALLY, A QUESTION OF EXEGETICAL METHOD
But about this presently. I want to refer to a few quotations from Dr. A. Kuyper and Dr. H. Bavinck.
The latter writes in his Dogmatics, I, 644-666:
“Scripture is the principle of theology. But Scripture is no statute book; it is an organic unity. The subject-matter for theology, more especially for dogmatics, is scattered through the whole of Scripture. Even as gold out of a mine, so the truth of faith must be delved out of the Scriptures with the exertion of all spiritual power.With a few loca probantia (with a few proof texts, H.H.)one can do nothing. (I underscore, H. H.). Not on the basis of a few separate texts, but on that of the Bible in its entirety a dogma must be built; it must evolve organically out of the principles which are everywhere present in Scripture. For, the doctrine of God, of man, of sin, of Christ, etc., is not to be found merely in a few expressions, but is spread throughout the entire Bible and that not only in a few proof-texts, but also in sundry figures of speech and parables, ceremonies and historical narratives. No part of Scripture may be neglected. The whole of Scripture must prove the whole of the system. Also in theology separatism must be avoided. It is a distinguishing mark of many sects, that they proceed from a small part of Scripture and for the rest leave it severely alone. (I underscore, H.H.).”
This is exactly what the Rev. Zwier does with the proof-texts for the so-called general goodness of God. He cannot find a place for it in the Reformed system. The texts which he quotes are a few aphoristic loca probantia, which are in conflict not only with a few other texts, but with numerous passages from Holy Writ, and which he cannot harmonize with such fundamental doctrines as God’s righteousness holiness, wrath over sin, predestination, particular grace, the cross of Christ, etc. Nowhere do those passages which the Rev. Zwier interprets as teaching God’s lovingkindness over the reprobate ungodly fit into the current teaching of Scripture. And while, according to Bavinck, Reformed theology refuses to acknowledge a few individual texts as a basis for dogma, and would elicit from Scripture the truth of faith with exertion of all spiritual powers, the Rev. Zwier finds his strength exactly in these separate texts, understanding full well that His entire theory of common grace must fall, as soon as he will take pains to compare Scripture with Scripture.
Reformed theology has: always considered the doctrine of particular grace as being the current doctrine of Scripture and never did Reformed theologians hesitate to interpret other texts, that apparently tech general grace, in the light of that current doctrine.
But the Rev. Zwier refuses emphatically to do this. He condemns this method of interpretation as rationalistic. And thereby this method is branded as un-Reformed.
Let me quote one more passage from Bavinck’sDogmatics:
“The theologian must bestow some mental tabor upon the material he thus obtained. The dogmas are nottotidem verbis, kata rheeton but kata dianoian (not literally but in principle and according to their idea, H.H.) in Scripture; but they are conclusions fidei(conclusions of faith, H.H.). The doctrine of the trinity, of the two natures of Christ, of the atonement, of the sacraments, etc., is not based upon a single declaration in Scripture, but is construed from many data, which are scattered throughout Scripture. Dogmas are a brief compendium in our language of all the Scriptures teach about the subjects concerned. Romish as well as Protestant theologians, therefore, have always maintained over against various tendencies, that insisted upon literal expressions of Scripture, the right of dogmatic theology. (I underscore, H.H.). Complete justice, according to them, was done to Scripture, not by quoting one single text literally, but by reflecting the entire truth comprised in many texts.” I, 665, 666.
Anyone that is acquainted with Kuyper’sEncyclopaedie and that is at home in his Dictaten Dogmatiek, knows that it would not be difficult to quote similar passages from his pen. But I would rather show how he himself applied these principles of Scriptural interpretation. For this purpose I refer to the well-known fourth volume of the series Uit het Woord, which bears the title: Dat De Genade Particulier Is.
On pages 39-67 of this work Dr. Kuyper reasons from some fundamental truths of Scripture to prove that the Arminian doctrine of common grace cannot be true, and that, for this reason, all Scriptural passages that seem to teach common grace must also be interpreted in the light of these fundamental truths of Scripture. The doctrine of general grace is in conflict with what Scripture teaches us concerning the deep corruption of man and his total incapability to accept the proffered redemption; is contrary to what Holy Writ teaches us concerning the unity and veracity of our God; cannot be harmonized with the doctrine concerning the person of our Redeemer, who was ordained from eternity as the head of his own, nor with his work of redemption which was a payment for the guilt of sin and, on the basis of it, liberation from the power of sin, and therefore necessarily particular, for if it is not particular it could be no atonement for sin.
Let me offer a few quotations in this connection:
“And since it is a matter of complete indifference to us whether our confession of the truth is in harmony with what some people please to think of God; and since it is our sole purpose to see to it that our confession completely harmonizes with the living God himself (I underscore, H.H.), as He really is and exists, we can and may do nothing else than busy ourselves with Holy Writ, which alone knows and says and shows who God is and how. He actually is.”
“And if, on the contrary, there is in Holy Writ a revelation of positive truth as we confess with humble gratitude, then it is not only my privilege, but my solemn obligation to attack your presentation concerning the scope of grace so consistently and perseveringly, that it no longer encroaches upon all that is revealed to us in those holy records concerning the essence of the Supreme Being.” p. 54.
You see, according to Kuyper, the scope of grace is to be determined by what the Scriptures teach us concerning the essence of God. He compares Scripture with Scripture.
According to the Rev. Zwier this is rationalism.
In opposition to those who would prove the doctrine of general grace from the text in II Cor. 5:15; “And He died for all,” he writes as follows:
“But even this more limited allegation (that the expression in II Cor. 5:15 refers to all baptized people, H.H.) cannot be maintained. For though it be true that every one who belongs to the church of Christ, be it only externally, shall be judged by the death of the Lord and by the holiness of His atoning blood; and though the blood of the Son of God concerns such a one, if he does not repent, so truly that he can only perish an apostate and hypocrite; yet may we never draw the conclusion from this that the apostle of Christ presented the death of Jesus as being intended to be beneficial for such a one personally. The very fact that the apostle addresses the entire church as elect proves without a doubt that his epistle is directed to the congregation in its ideal character, that is, the letter is addressed exclusively to all and every one who essentially and as living members belong to the church, without figuring in the least with the counterfeit, false, and unsanctified elements, that adhere to her, wear her uniform, and present themselves as belonging to her.” p. 210, 211.
You see, Dr. Kuyper explains the apparently genera] expression of II Cor. 5:15: “And He died for all”; in the light of the particular expression in chapter I, verse 1.
A clear illustration of the application of this method of interpreting Scripture is also found in p. 214-215 of the same work where Dr. Kuyper explains the text in Romans 5:18: “By the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life,” in the light of verse 21: “That as sin bath reigned, unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness, unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord.” He writes:
“The most weighty objection against the doctrine of particular grace appears for many to be in what Paul wrote in Romans 5:18. There we read clearly in words that seem to allow only one interpretation: “Therefore as by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men unto condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” And we do not mean to deny the fact that this expression: upon all men in this passage of Scripture is sufficiently emphatic and striking, by a superficial reading; to mislead the very best and to confuse even him that is most strongly convinced.
“And yet there can be no doubt if we will but carefully study the context in which this passage of Scripture appears, that this confusion and hesitancy must gradually be replaced by the most positive conviction that sound exegesis does not permit the application of this term to all men that are born.
“To make this clear to our readers we begin by calling their attention to the closing verse of this chapter. For there sin and grace are once more contrasted from the point of view of their fruit, and there it is said of sin that its result is death, and of grace that it is the mother of life. But how is the operation of both there represented? Do we read that sin makes an attemptto bring death and that grace tries to work life?
“Not in the least.
“On the contrary, it is said of sin that it accomplishes its fatal work irresistibly, that noting can oppose it, that with authority it calls upon death to appear. And to express this emphatically and in all its horror the apostle uses the word reign, to be king (basileuein).
“Sin therefore is mistress, rules, queen. She has dominion. Her will could not be resisted. Man was subject unto her. She intended to bring death and no one could oppose this intention.
“It was not so, therefore; that she merely threateneddeath and that now, seeing that the operation of man’s will interposed, she either succeeded or failed to bring death. No, she caused death to come with power. She acted as ruler. And no one resisted her will. And it is because of this that all men died.
“But after having explained this clearly the apostle continues to declare that it is exactly like this in the case of grace, that grace just as sin has dominion, appears as ruler, and executes her will irresistibly. For thus we read in verse 21: that as sin bath reigned unto death even so might grace reign unto eternal life.
“Now, this cannot be true if we suppose that grace even as death is extended to all men that are born. For if this were the case we come to the conclusion that sin includes all men and results in the death of all; and that grace also implies all men but in such a way that in reality by no means all, but only a small part of them inherit life. In that case, sin reaches its purpose but grace fails to realize itself. And that means that sin indeed succeeded to rule, but that grace failed to reign; yea, rather that grace instead of ruling over man remained dependent upon his will. But this is absurd, for the apostle assures us directly of the very opposite since he writes tit grace also REIGNS!”
From this interpretation of verse 21 Dr. Kuyper draws the conclusion that the expression “upon all men” in verse 18 cannot refer to all men that are born.
According to Rev. Zwier this method is rationalistic. But it was always followed by Reformed theologians.
These illustrations could easily be multiplied but I believe that I have abundantly proved that the exegetical method of the Rev. Zwier is not now and never was the method of Reformed people.
Bear with me if I have rather elaborated upon this point. I am convinced that I am here touching upon the very essence of the Rev. Zwier’s argument. If only he would follow the method of Scriptural interpretation always applied by Reformed theologians and relinquish his tin corrupt method, he would have to acknowledge that his entire argumentation concerning God’s general goodness has no basis in Scripture.
Allow me to offer one illustration in proof of this last statement. In a latter connection I hope to examine all the proof-text adduced by the Rev. Zwier in support of his theory. The interpretation which the Rev. Zwier offers of Psalm 145:9, following blindly the Synod of Kalamazoo, 1924, is; “The Lord is good to all men.” Now, let us interpret the text in Psalm 145 according to the right method. Then we obtain the following:
1. All Scripture teaches always. and everywhere that God hates the reprobate ungodly, that He is angry with them, that His wrath abideth on them, that He causes the things of this present time to work unto their destruction, that he sets them upon slippery places by means of prosperity and peace, and that He casts them down in eternal desolation. This is the current teaching of Scripture and not merely deduced from a single text. Therefore, Psalm 145:9 cannot teach as soon as we understand it in the light of the whole of Scripture, that God is merciful and good to all men.
2. Bearing this current teaching of Scripture in mind, let us turn once more to Psalm 145. We notice at once that the entire Psalm speaks elf God’s grace, goodness, mercy, longsuffering, and great lovingkindness over His people. Generation upon generation (not, of course, of all men, but of His people) shall praise His works and shall declare his mighty acts. They shall abundantly utter the memory of His great goodness (again, over His people) and shall sing of His righteousness. For the Lord is gracious and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy. Vss. 4:8. The Lord upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up those that be bowed down. He is nigh unto them that call upon Him and will fulfill the desire of them that fear Him; He also will hear their cry and will save them. Vss. 14, 18, 19. And if there might be any doubt that by this grace, lovingkindness, mercy, and longsuffering of God the psalmist refers to God’s people only and not to the reprobate ungodly, note then the contrast in verse 20: “The Lord preserveth all them that love Him,but all the wicked will He destroy.” I ask in all seriousness: would it not be extremely strange if in the midst of all this praise of God’s grace over His people, we would suddenly find the sentence teaching that God is also gracious toward the ungodly, as the Rev. Zwier would have it? The answer of all sound interpretation is: that cannot be the right explanation of verse 9, as soon ins it is viewed in the light of the whole of Scripture and in the light of its own context.
3. With all this in mind we turn once more to verse 9. And then we notice at once two things. The first is that we do not read all men in the text but merely all (The Hebrew simply has: tobh Jebovah lakkol). The question, therefore, is to what does the term all refer? What is its content? May we as the Rev. Zwier does insert here individual men, righteous and ungodly, This would be in conflict: 1. With the whole of Scripture; 2. With the whole of the Psalm; and 3. With the text itself. And in the second place, we note that the second part of this text explains, according to the rule of Hebrew parallelism, the first part. The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works. We explain therefore: the Lord is good to all His works even as over all His works are His tender mercies. All, therefore, means: all creatures in the organic sense of the word, all the works of God, without haying reference to all the individuals of a certain kind of creatures, as, for instance, men; If we interpret the text thus, it is not in conflict with the last part of verse 20; “But all the wicked will He destroy.” All kinds of creatures are included in the word all of verse 9, but the ungodly are excluded.
In this wise sound exegetical method will interpret the text, And thus only we really do understand the word of God.
Lastly, I want to point out that the exegetical method of the Rev. Zwier, which was always condemned by Reformed theologians of every period, is also dangerous. In the first place, because it means death for all systematic theology. According to the method of Rev. Zwier, who employs several individual texts to support a certain theory, and refuses to explain them in the light of the whole of Scripture, all true dogmatics has simply become impossible. On this standpoint one cannot really speak of a current teaching of Scripture. That “wretched human logic” can never build up a system of truth. We must be satisfied with a concoction prepared by “Biblical theology” that does not care to proceed beyond a literal quotation of Scripture. And that would be the death of our entire Reformed faith and confession. Then there is nothing positive. All unity of view and conception is condemned as rationalistic and we have nothing left but a few separate, and mutually contradictory texts!
The result must be, and to this we call your attention in the second place, that the doctrine elf sovereign grace cannot be maintained. It was not without good reason that our Reformed fathers always demanded so emphatically that certain passages of Scripture must be interpreted in the light of the whole of the Bible, and that they did not hesitate to tell the opponents of the doctrine of predestination, that one or more separate texts mean nothing to them. The doctrine of sovereign grace stands or falls with the method you apply in the interpretation of Scripture and if you follow the method recommended by the Rev. Zwier it certainly must fall.
Take, in proof of this statement, for example the text from I Timothy 2:4: “God will that all men shall be saved.” In interpreting this text just apply the method of the Rev. Zwier. What do you obtain? The following: “The text clearly speaks of all men, and with that term you cannot tamper. I know, indeed, that Scripture also teaches that He is merciful unto whom He will be merciful, and that whom He wills He hardens. And also this I wholeheartedly accept. But I also believe just as wholeheartedly the word of Scripture, that God will that all men shall be saved. And all men certainly means everybody. You may not attempt to harmonize these two passages with each other, for this would be rationalism. I admit that these two passages are directly in conflict with each other; and I do not understand how they can be harmonized. But I accept both. God will that only the elect shall be saved; and he also will that all men shah be saved.”
The reader will admit that I am doing the Rev. Zwier no injustice. The above is the pure application of his method of Scriptural interpretation to a certain series of texts.
But the inevitable result of such an interpretation of Scripture will be that the one element of this so-called mystery is being abandoned, and that nothing remains but the doctrine of general grace and general atonement.
And, therefore, I would pray the Rev. Zwier: relinquish this un-Reformed and un-Scriptural method I Confess, for the sake of the seriousness of the truth that you departed from the true way, and that you may not so arbitrarily treat the holy Word of God! The issue at stake is not the question of “Rechthaberei,” nor is it merely a question of maintaining one’s church. It is the question of the truth, of the maintenance and development of the Reformed truth, of which it certainly cannot be said in our day, and in our country, (and I may add, in your churches, Rev. Zwier, as you and many others well know) that it flourishes. In that truth I am sincerely interested, and earnestly hope and pray that also the Christian Reformed churches in our country, though they cruelly cast us out, may again love and understand and maintain that Reformed truth.
And, therefore, let the Rev. Zwier openly return from his, dangerous ways on the which many of his readers will follow him and depart from the truth.
Then there may probably be hope for the maintenance of the Reformed truth in our country.