Some time ago we wrote about the subject of conditions in the light of our Confessions.
Then we discovered that, although our confessions are very elaborate and cover every phase of the truth, there is no trace of “conditions” in them. Our Reformed fathers, evidently, had no need of the term conditions. In spite of that fact that the term was well known, and that several Reformed writers were rather free in using it, they did not give it a place in the symbols of the Reformed Churches, the Three Forms of Unity.
It does, indeed, occur in the Canons of Dordrecht, but only in the negative part, in which the doctrines of the Arminians are condemned. The Arminians needed the term, and made frequent use of it.
It certainly may be said, therefore, that it is not a confessionally Reformed term.
Now, however, we wish to devote some attention to the subject of the promise and conditions in the light of holy writ.
Before we do this, however, it may not seem superfluous to define the term condition.
This is all the more imperative because, even as the term is not confessionally Reformed, so it is neither a Scriptural term. In the whole of Holy Writ, one looks in vain for the use of the word “condition.” This does not mean that we may not use the term. Fact is that we use many terms in our system of doctrine as well as in our confessions that are not at all employed in holy writ, such as holy trinity, providence, attributes, sacraments, means of grace, etc. Nevertheless, the fact that the term is not found in Scripture at the same time makes Scriptural exegesis of it also impossible. Hence, we have to go elsewhere to define the meaning of the word in order to discover whether or not it may be, ought to be, or is at all advisable to be given a place in the expression of our Reformed system of doctrine.
First of all, we may remark that the etymology of the word “condition” cannot help us. Etymology is the science that treats of the history, origin, and primitive significance of words. It is often helpful to determine the present meaning of words. But this can hardly be said about the term condition. The word is composed of two parts, con, with, together with, and ditio or dicio, which probably means to point out, to declare. Thus the term “condition” would mean a pointing out together with. And this hardly seems to throw any light upon our modern use of the term.
If we consult the dictionary we find that the very first meaning of the word is mode or state of being. Further, it signifies: mental or physical strength, disposition, character, essential property, attribute.
We see at once, however, that all these different connotations have no bearing upon the term under discussion at present. In this sense we all use the term, also in theological terminology. Who is not acquainted with the distinction we already learned in catechism between “state” and “condition”? Christ entered into the state, not in the condition of sin. State, in this case refers to one’s legal position, condition to one’s actual mode of existence or nature. But this has nothing to do with the term as it is discussed so frequently among us today. In this sense, it is properly translated by the Dutch term “toestand”, while the term in discussion among us may be translated by the Dutch “voorwaarde.”
Another definition we find in the dictionary is that condition is something which must exist as a concomitant of something else. By concomitant is meant something which exists alongside of something else, with or without any causal connection. Wind is a concomitant of an electric storm. Reproach is a concomitant of confessing Christ in the world.
However, also this is not the meaning of the term “condition” as we are discussing it at present and as it is used in theological parlance. Wind may or may not be a concomitant of a thunderstorm, but it can hardly be said that, if we understand the term as it is used in theology, the thunderstorm is a condition for the wind; there may be wind without a thunderstorm.
The definition of Schilder we already discussed some time ago.
He wants to discard the dictionary and its definitions, and invent one of his own, or, at least, rather consult theological works to arrive at a definition of the term.
This is rather dangerous and arbitrary. Words certainly have meaning. Not only so, but they also are currently used in everyday language. The latter is i known by the Latin term usus loquendi. Now, the definitions of a word offered in the dictionary give the meaning of a word according to its original significance, its denotation and its current use. The danger is that if we invent a definition of our own, the people will forget all about our definition, and use the term in its current meaning. And as far as the use
of the term in theological works is concerned, the danger is that we will arrive at an Arminian definition, and, by using the term, fall into the Arminian error.
Besides, the definition which Schilder offers is altogether too indefinite and ambiguous, as I have pointed out before. Cf. Standard Bearer, Vol. 28, p. 390.
However, for the sake of completeness, we quote it here once again: “A condition is something which God has connected with something else, to make clear to us, that the one thing cannot come without the other, and that we cannot be sure of one thing, unless we are at the same time assured of the other.”
As we said, this definition is indefinite and ambiguous. The question is: what is this something which God has connected with something else? And what is the connection: means to an end, cause and effect? Besides, it ignores the personal element that is always present in the term “condition” as used in theological parlance. The term condition always implies that man must do something in order to receive something from God.
Hence, the term condition, also as it is used in theology, always means “that which is requisite in order that something else should take effect.” This implies that a condition is prerequisite, i.e. “something previously required, or necessary to an end or effect proposed.”
This is the meaning the term has as it occurs in the Canons, in the rejection of the Arminian errors.
We are not concerned now with the question whether or not the term is necessarily arid per se Arminian. For the present we merely wish to arrive at a proper definition of the term.
When the Arminians speak of “conditional election” no Reformed man will adopt this terminology. Nevertheless, it is evident that the fathers of Dordt who condemned the term condition with application to election, understood the term as meaning a prerequisite, something that is required of a man before he can attain unto salvation. Canons I, B, 2.
When they teach that God chose out of all possible conditions the act of faith as a condition unto salvation, the fathers of Dordt certainly do not agree with them but condemn their doctrine. The fact remains, however, that also according to them the term condition signifies a prerequisite which man must fulfill. Canons 1, B, 3.
The Arminians also understood that faith is a gift of God, and they even speak of an election unto faith. But according to them, “in the election unto faith this condition is beforehand demanded, viz., that man should use the light of nature aright, be pious, humble, meek and fit for eternal life.” On these things, as requirements beforehand, election unto faith depends, according to them. Again, I wish to emphasize that it is not the question whether any Reformed man believes in these Arminian conditions. The question is merely how our fathers understood the term. And then it is plain that they, as well as the Arminians, understood the term in the sense of a prerequisite, something that is required of man beforehand. Canons I, B, 3.
According to Canons I, B, 5 the Arminians teach “that faith, the obedience of faith, holiness, godliness and perseverance are not fruits of the unchangeable election to glory, but are conditions, which being required beforehand, were foreseen as met by those who will be fully elected, and are causes without which the unchangeable election to glory does not occur.” Our fathers condemned the term election in this connection. But the very fact that they condemned its use here shows plainly that also to them the term as such only could mean a prerequisite which man must fulfill. This, therefore, is the proper definition of the term in theological usage.
The Arminians also boldly teach that Christ neither merited salvation for anyone, nor faith, “but that he merited for the Father only the authority or the perfect will to deal again with man, and to prescribe new conditions as he might desire, obedience to which, however, depended on the free will of man, so that therefore it might have come to pass that either none or all should fulfill these conditions.” Of this doctrine our fathers must, of course, have nothing. But they understood very well the proper meaning of the term conditions. By the term as such they understood the same concept as the Arminians. Otherwise they would have fought straw men when they condemned the doctrine of the opponents of the Reformed truth. “Prescribed conditions” also to them meant stipulations required of man beforehand, i.e., prerequisites. Canons I, B, 5.
Finally, according to Canons V, B, 1, the Arminians deny that the perseverance of believers is the fruit of election, and they maintain that it is “a condition of the new covenant, which man before his decisive election must fulfill through his free will.” Here, too, our fathers have no dispute with the Arminians about the term condition as such, though they oppose and condemn its use in this connection. Also to them the term refers to something which man must fulfill beforehand.
This is also the meaning Dr. Greenway attaches to the term in “Torch and Trumpet”, March 1953, when he writes: “What I am trying to say is that when our Form for Baptism says: ‘Whereas in all covenants there are contained two parts…,’ it certainly describes the hearer of the promise as being in a position where he can claim the first part of the covenant for himself only if he assumes the obligations of the second part.” Man can claim something for himself (salvation!) on condition, prerequisite, that he fulfills certain obligations.
This definition, then, we must constantly bear in mind when we discuss conditions in the light of Scripture.