Let us now discuss the objections that are being raised against the doctrine that the promise is only unto the elect.
It is said that the promise cannot very well be only to the elect for if it were it could not be preached, seeing that the human proclamator of the promise does not know who the elect are. But this objection is not valid. In the first place it is not correct to say that the human proclamator of the promise does not know who the elect are. For election is the sovereign cause and fountain of the church as a new creature in Christ Jesus and of all the blessedness that is her portion in Christ in time and eternity. What it means is that the elect are historically the believers, the poor in spirit, they that mourn, they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, they that ire persecuted for righteousness’ sake, they that are reviled and slandered and persecuted for Christ’s sake. These people are not hidden. They are as conspicuous as a light upon a candlestick, as a city upon a hill. They focus upon themselves the attention of angels, men and devils.
It is not true therefore that the human proclamator of the gospel, of the promise of the gospel, does not know who the elect are. He does know. The devil knows. The enemies of Christ know. If they didn’t know, how could they revile, slander, and persecute the elect, that is the believers. If the devil and the wicked know, why should the human proclamators of the promise not know?
True it is that the human proclamator of the promise does not know infallibly whether a man that confesses Christ is truly a believer. But neither is this necessary. For the true preacher of the gospel is Christ. It is He who by His Spirit makes room in the hearts of His people for the gospel, binds His promises on the hearts of His people and causes them to live by them. And Christ knows who His elect are. They were given Him of the father before the foundation of the world. And for them He laid down His life. This people alone, when they were dead in their sins, hath God quickened together with Christ, and hath raised up together, an made sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward this people, and this people alone the promise, assures that the promised salvation is their priceless possession. It is to the poor in spirit, to them that mourn, to the meek, to such as hunger and thirst after righteousness, to the merciful, to the pure in heart, to the peacemakers, to such as are persecuted for righteousness sake, that He declares that the kingdom is theirs, that they shall be comforted, that they shall inherit the earth, that they shall be filled, that they shall obtain mercy; that they shall see God, and that they shall be called the children of God (Matt. 5:3-9). How could it be otherwise, seeing that they alone have a right to the promise.
If Christ gives His promise only to His people, may the human proclamator of the gospel proclaim that God’s promise is unto all soul for soul? Certainly not. Nor is he placed under this necessity by the fact that he does not know infallibly who the believers are. Christ knows infallibly, and this is sufficient.
That the human proclamator of the gospel, despite the fact that he does not know infallibly who the believers are, must nevertheless assure the believers only that theirs is the promise is also the plain teaching of our Confessions. In reply to the question how the kingdom of heaven is opened and shut by the preaching of the holy gospel, the Heidelberg catechism replies, “Thus when according to the command of Christ, it is declared and publicly testified to all and every believer, that, whenever they receive the promise of the gospel by a true faith, all their sins are really forgiven them of God, for the sake of Christ’s merits . . .” Let us take notice; the human proclamator of the gospel, according to the command of Christ, declares and publicity testifies to all and every believer. Here, too, it could be objected that this is impossible for the human preacher, seeing that he does not know infallibly who the believers are. But our Reformed fathers were not confused by this Arminian reasoning, for they fully understood that the real preacher of the gospel is Christ.
It is further objected that, if it must be declared and testified unto the believers that the promise is theirs and theirs alone, there can be no proclamation of the gospel unto all soul for soul as there should be. Now it is true, of course, that the gospel must be proclaimed, published unto all creatures soul for soul. But this in no respect militates against the teaching that in the proclamation of the gospel it must be testified to the believers that theirs alone is the promise. We must consider wherein proclamation of the gospel to all men soul for soul consists. Let us hear our Confession on this point, definitely Canons of Dordt, Second Head of Doctrine, Art. 5. It reads, “Moreover the promise of the gospel is, that whosoever believeth in Christ Jesus, shall not perish but have everlasting life.” The pronoun “whosoever” means “any,” and therefore “all, every.” But there is no “if” or conditional clause concealed in this statement, as if its teaching were this, “The promise of the gospel is that any and all persons shall have everlasting life, on the condition that they believe.” Nor may the statement be taken to mean, “The promise of the gospel is, that any and all that believe shall have eternal life, irrespective of who they be, reprobate or elect.” To construe this statement in either of these two ways is to make it to teach nonsense not only but abominable heresy as well. The meaning of the statement is, that the promise of the gospel is that any and all that believe shall have life everlasting irrespective of’ rank and station and nationality.” Underlying this statement is the true universality of the New Testament Dispensation. Seeing that Christ has redeemed His people from the curse of the law, the blessings of Abraham are now come on the gentiles through Jesus Christ, Gal. 3:14, and this is fulfillment of the promise that in Abraham all the families of the earth should be blessed. Paul repeatedly gives expression to this fact and truth. To the congregation at Rome he writes, “I am a debtor both to the Greeks and to the barbarians, both to the wise and the unwise.” (Rom. 1:14). The epistle to the Colossians contains this statement, “And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him: where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all and in all.” (Col. 1:11).
God will surely save believers, any and all believers. Not one of them shall perish. All shall have eternal life, life in glory, a life that they already now possess in principle and of which their faith is the fruit, the expression. “For he that believeth in the Son, hath eternal life” (John 3:16). Such, according to the above-cited article of faith is the promise. Concisely stated it is this, that God will surely save the believers. And if this is the promise, then it is only to the believers and they alone may be told that they possess it. For if the promise is that God saves the believers, how can it be the possession of unbelievers, of such who are not saved of God? This is only possible, if the realization of the promise depends on man and not on God.
Rightly considered, therefore, the meaning of the above-cited article of faith is this: The promise to the believers is, “that they shall have everlasting life.” For the same idea is clearly expressed in the 8th article of the Third and Forth Heads of the Doctrine of the Canons. Here the statement occurs, “He, moreover, seriously promises eternal life and rest to as many as shall come to Him.” Here, too, the promise and its blessed content is limited to the elect, historically the believers. These articles, it is plain, contain our doctrine. Yet in 1924 we were expelled from the communion of the Christian Reformed Churches, because we refused to repudiate this doctrine, and these were some of the articles that were quoted against us. The question is now whether the fact that the promise is unto the believers, and that they alone may be told that the promise is theirs, makes impossible a proclamation of the gospel unto all nations and unto all persons soul for soul. Not according to the article of faith with which we are here occupied. For the article continues, “This promise (the promise to the believers that they shall not perish but have everlasting life) together with the command to repent and believe, shall be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God of his good pleasure sends the gospel.”
What then, according to this article of faith must be declared unto all nations, and to all persons soul for soul? Not that Christ as to His intention died for all soul for soul; not that He well-meaningly offers Himself to all; not that the promise is unto all; not that He promises all that He Will save them on the condition that they believe, and that they have everlasting life. Further, according to the article of faith under consideration, all persons soul for soul must be commanded to repent and to believe in Christ. And, finally, according to the other article of faith quoted above, the penitent ones must be told that God seriously promises eternal life and rest to as many as come unto Him; and (Heidelberg Catechism Lords Day 31) and the impenitent and unbelieving must be told that they “stand exposed to the wrath of God, and eternal condemnation, so long as they are unconverted: according to which testimony of the gospel, God will judge them, both in this, and in the life to come.”
This, according to our Confession is the full-orbed gospel preaching. And this full-orbed gospel preaching we Protestant Reformed have. And therefore the contention of our opponents that we preach only for the elect is utterly false, as well as their contention that; seeing that in our proclamation of the gospel, we limit the promise and its content to the elect, historically the believers, we can only preach to the elect. It is hard to believe that they do not know any better. We cannot but believe that they do not know better. Yet, year in and year out they continue to repeat their old accusations.
The trouble with our opponents is, that they are not satisfied with what our Confessions understand to be the full-orbed gospel preaching. They want and also do have more than this. They teach in addition that Christ well-meaningly offers Himself to all men soul for soul and that the preaching of the gospel is grace for all persons head for head, thus grace also for the reprobated, necessarily implying that Christ died for all and that the will of man is free in the Arminian sense. So it goes with one that is not satisfied with what our Confessions understand to be the full-orbed gospel preaching, and in his gospel preaching goes beyond the limits thereof. Such a one finds himself sailing in Arminian waters.
The promise is always particular, that is, it is unto the elect, the believers alone. And being God’s promise, it is from the nature of matters unconditional, that is, it is not a promise with an “if” as is the case with the promise of a mere man. For God there can be no “ifs.” For He is God. He doeth all His good pleasure. But the proclamation of this unconditional, particular, infallible and sure promise is general, that is it is and must be declared and testified to all persons soul for soul. This is the teaching of our Confessions regarding the gospel and its proclamation. And to this teaching we Protestant Reformed strictly adhere.
There is one more objection to the conception that the promise is only to the believers—the objection of the Liberated. Let me expose and analyze it in connection with the promise as we have it in the beatitude, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” Jesus is here speaking to the elect, historically the pure of heart, the believers. He pronounces them blessed and promises them that they shall see God. This is the promise as set before us in this particular beatitude of a sermon of Christ that is known as the sermon on the mount. And let us notice, too, that it is unconditional. We see then how true it is that the promise, wherever it occurs in holy writ, is always God’s unconditional oath unto the elect, historically the believers.
Now according to the Liberated this word of Christ is prediction, prophecy but not promise. So, in proclaiming this beatitude, the human preacher of the gospel is proclamating prophecy but not promise. Such is the view. The promise, it is said, is always conditional and is given to all, that is to all the baptized head for head, and as this is not the case with the word of Jesus here under consideration, it is prophecy, prediction but not promise. Let us understand the Liberated position well. Here is an infant child, born of Christian parents, whose name is Henry. If the word of Christ in question read, “Henry, I am thy God, and therefore Henry, thou shalt see me, on the condition that you believe,” it would be promise. But since it reads as it does, since it tells the pure of heart but not Henry that they shall see God, it is prophecy, prediction but not promise. Hence, it cannot be used to assure Henry that God is his God, and that he shall see God, if he believes. For that we need a promise personally for Henry, a word of God that contains the name of Henry in it and addressed not to the believers, the pure of heart in general but definitely toHenry. Is there such a word of God? Yes, say the Liberated. And that word of God is the promise, the conditional promise, the only real promise, that God by the mouth of the minister of the gospel speaks, gives to Henry in the moment of his baptism. And, according to the Liberated, that word of God is this: Henry, I declare and testify unto you that I am your God, that I love you, that I give to you the right to all the blessings of salvation, that thus thou art my heir—heir of the kingdom—and I assure you that I shall place in your actual possession all these blessings of Christ’s cross and thereby save you, on the condition that you believe.
But may not Henry be a reprobate? The Liberated agree that he may. Nevertheless this is God’s declaration and promise to Henry, and not only to Henry, of course, but to all the baptized soul for soul, elect and reprobate alike.
But, certainly, in the light of all that has been presented, such a conception of the promise raises many questions. First, where in the whole of the Scriptures is such a word, promise of God to Henry to be found? Nowhere of course. We do not find in the Scriptures the names that we received from our parents at birth. In giving his people His promises, in assuring them that He will save them, He calls them by the names—the new names—that He has given them, such as believer, new creature in Christ, pure of heart, mourners, peacemakers etc. Second, if all the baptized soul for soul receive of God the right to the blessings of salvation, which would have to, mean that all of them are justified in Christ, how is it to be explained that many of them perish in their sins? There can be but one answer: either God can’t save them or He is a liar. Third, the promised blessings must include faith. If so, we have God promising also faith on the condition that the baptized one believes. But this does not make sense. This is also realized and therefore it is said that faith is not included in the promised salvation but as unpromised is bestowed upon the elect who therefore believe and are saved. But this raises but another question. Since faith is of the very substance of salvation, how can God promise salvation without promising faith? So the questions continue to multiply here. We may be thankful therefore that those who went out from us recently did not succeed in introducing this liberated conception of the promise into our churches. For it is plainly Arminian.
But one will say, are we not confronted here with a difficulty nevertheless. Seeing that my given name, whatever that name may be, John, James, or Henry does not occur in God’s promises, seeing that He calls His people only by their new name given them of Him, how does God assure me, that is, how do I come to know that I am His child and belong to His people. In this way, With you by His grace hiding yourself in Christ as your only hope of salvation, and laying off sin and putting on Christ, He so sanctifies His unconditional gospel to your heart that the conviction is born in your heart that you are His child, a believer, a pure of heart. And then His gospel speaks to you personally. For then you know that you belong to that people that he calls by the name believer, pure of heart, etc. In. the words of Paul, the Spirit itself, always speaking through the Scriptures, beareth witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.
A word in conclusion. To repudiate this pure doctrine that the promise is God’s unconditional oath to the elect, historically the believers, is to break with the truth all the way down the line, and to take the Arminian position regarding election, reprobation, the scope of the atonement of Christ, and the moral capacities of the natural man devoid of the life of regeneration. The teaching that the conditional promise of God unto all soul for soul goes hand in hand with the Arminian doctrine that God saves men on the condition that they believe and that, being all knowing, but not sovereignly so, He chose all such men of whom He foresaw that they would fulfill that condition by supplying their own faith. It goes hand in hand with the Arminian false doctrine that God justifies a man on the condition that he believes. It goes hand in hand with the Arminian doctrine that Christ as to His intention died for the whole humanity soul for soul, and that Christ now well-meaningly offers himself to the whole of humanity head for head. It goes hand in hand with the Arminian doctrine that the will of the natural man is morally free to believe or not to believe as he chases. It goes hand in hand finally with the Arminian doctrine that grace is resistible, and that at any time .after his regeneration the true believer can fall away from grace utterly and perish in his sins after all. Let us then hold fast the truth that the promise is God’s unconditional oath to the elect, historically the believers.