I was disappointed in the articles of the Rev. Zwier under the general caption “Gods Algemeene Goedheid.”
I am disappointed in the contents of the articles. From the Rev. Zwier one might expect wholesome, consistent exposition. Instead, the exegesis on the passages in dispute is decidedly superficial and arbitrary. This is written despite the fact that the author of the articles is very confident that his explanations are irrefutable while the exegesis of his opponents is largely prejudicial and frequently “inlegkunde van de eerste sort.” The adversaries of the doctrine of common grace do not exegete honestly, implies the Rev. Zwier. They do not submit to the Word of God as they should but permit their exegesis to be dominated by their dogmatics. A serious offence for any one posing as an expositor of Scripture! They have certain pet doctrines which they will maintain even at the expense of very lucid Scripture passages to the contrary. Instead of respectfully believing what God’s Word says, they make the latter say what they believe. The Reverend’s exegesis, however, is irrefutable, unadulterated, faithful to the text of Scripture, so lucid that even the enemies of common grace would acquiesce if only they were not so bent on maintaining their own notions. To my mind the very opposite is true, and I do not hesitate to lay some of the Rev. Zwier’s many charges at his own door. The exegesis in “De Wachter” is superficial, biased, and the arguments presented in behalf of the common goodness of God can only be classified as weak and weaker. This is no reflection on the writer of “Dogmatische Onderwerpen.” The Rev. Zwier is an able defender of the truth, if only he has the Reformed truth to defend. To defend common grace is simply a hopeless task.
I am disappointed, too, in the style of these articles. There is an arrogant attitude manifested time and again. There is a superiority expressed that is all but palatable. Such expressions as “Ja, geachte lezer, met dat bewijs (our proof for our interpretation of Psalm 145:9—R. V.) staat het er zoo zwakjes voor, dat het mij nu al jaren lang een raadsel is geweest, hoe iemand met een half of een kwart onsje exegetisch begrip zich daardoor heeft kunnen laten overtuigen,” are not pleasant to the taste. The same is true of a statement made by the Rev. Zwier in his article on Luke 6:35, 36: “Ook deze Scriftuurplaats is zoo duidelijk, dat we het eigenlijk een klein beetje jammer vinden, aan de verMaring hiervan tijd en papier en inkt te moeten best eden. Een eenvoudige aanhaling van dit woord uit de Bergrede, zooals ook de Synode van 1924 deed, moest waarlijk zonder verdere uitlegging voldoende zijn.” This is unsavory,—and dangerous, too. The Reverend should know that many Scripture passages have an entirely different explanation when exegeted properly than they seem to have when simply quoted superficially.
For these reasons the articles in “De Wachter” have done nothing to convince me of the error of our doctrine. I feel, that if “De Wachter” is now giving the best possible defense of common grace (and I surmise it is. This important rubric has not been given the Rev. Zwier without consideration of merit) our churches must be right. I would urge all our people to read these articles in “De Wachter” if at all possible.
I have before me at this time “De Wachter” of May 10. The Rev. Zwier, in this article, is commenting on Acts 14:16, 17, “Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness,” a passage cited to prove that God’s common goodness also embraces in its scope the heathen world. I hope that I will not be encroaching too seriously on the domain of our editor-in-chief when I reflect the contents of this article.
While perusing this issue of “De Wachter” I imagined myself attending a service in the church of the Rev. Zwier.
The pastor was explaining Psalm 73 and Psalm 92 to the congregation. These are strong psalms and the pastor’s sermon was accordingly. One could easily imagine being in a Protestant Reformed instead of in a Christian Reformed Church.
The Reverend spoke as follows: (Cf. “De Wachter,” May 10)
“Scripture teaches us very plainly in these psalms, that all the good gifts which the non-elect receive are so many means, whereby the Lord executes His eternal decree of reprobation.
“In Psalm 73 Asaph at first is blinded by the fact, that the wicked prosper and the righteous have adversity in the world. He cannot understand why the wicked have rest and increase in riches, while he is plagued all the day long and is chastened every morning.
“However, when he enters into God’s sanctuary he sees the same things in an entirely different light, the light of God’s counsel and purpose. Now he sees, that the peace and prosperity of the wicked are for them but slippery places, in which God has set them, in order soon to fall into eternal destruction.
“In Psalm 92 the same thought is expressed in still stronger language. There we read, that the wicked spring as the grass and all the workers of iniquity do flourish, in order that they shall be destroyed forever. Notice particularly the “in order that,” designating the purpose of the Lord.
“Hence, all good gifts, which God causes the nonelect to receive, He gives them in his wrath and great indignation.”
Thus the Reverend spoke. That is soundly Reformed. The Rev. Zwier gave this as the view of the Prot. Ref. Churches, but I take it as proof that also the Rev. Zwier believes this when he assures us in the article in question, “We bow as respectfully as you do for the truth, which you hold before us from Psalm 73 and 92. We too, believe, that God places the wicked in slippery places and formed them for the day of destruction.”
Again, while reading the above-mentioned issue of “De Wachter,” I pictured myself in the audience of the Rev. Zwier. This time all was different. There was no danger now that one should imagine himself in a Prot. Ref. Church. How can the same preacher preach such conflicting sermons!
The pastor was preaching this second time on Acts 14:16, 17 (see above for the wording of the text). He said: (Cf. “De Wachter.” May 10).
“Paul was preaching on this occasion to a heathen audience, a large multitude assembled by means of the miraculous healing of an impotent man by Paul. The apostle at once utilizes the occasion to bring the gospel to the heathen.
“Even as later at Athens, so also here, he seeks a point of contact in that which is known of God from nature. He proceeds from the general revelation of God to the specific revelation in Christ.
“He begins by pointing the heathen to the goodness of the only true God, Creator of heaven and earth, a goodness which also the heathen had experienced in the times of their ignorance.
“This text is so lucid, that it needs no further explanation. We have here a plain proof for the general goodness of God toward the heathen, to whom He had not given His special revelation.
“Also with respect to the heathen God did not leave Himself without witness. He revealed to them His goodness from heaven by giving rain and fruitful seasons, filling the hearts with food and gladness. The purpose of this all is that His rational creatures shall rejoice in their God with grateful hearts.
“Notice further, that also in this passage, even as everywhere in Scripture, divine sovereignty and human responsibility are placed side by side. No attempt is made to reconcile them before our minds. This Scripture never does. God suffered the heathen to walk in their own ways. Therein is emphasized the sovereignty of God. Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness. There the apostle speaks of the responsibility of man. In all the good which came to them from heaven also the heathen had sufficient knowledge of the Creator to glorify Him in His eternal power and godliness. Therefore they are without excuse. (Again that sinister attempt to leave the impression that we deny the responsibility of man—R. V.)
“This passage leaves nothing to be desired as proof for the general goodness of God. The apostle points to God’s favorable attitude (I underscore, R.V.) toward the heathen, revealed therein that He gave them many good gifts, rain and fruitful seasons, food and gladness. Hereby he shows the heathen the evil of their ingratitude toward God and attempts to move them to sorrow over sin and acceptance of the gospel.
“This is the simple and natural explanation of the text. Here is taught as definitely as possible that God’s common goodness extends itself to the heathen.”
Thus I heard the Reverend speak in my imagination, for thus he writes in “De Wachter” of May 10.
It is not surprising that the speaker met with opposition at the end of his second discourse. The man I saw opposing him in my imagination was one with Reformed conviction and knowledge. Not every one in our age of superficiality and worldlimindedness would dare to raise his voice against his pastor. We are not living in an age of study. Reformed knowledge and conviction is at a premium these days. The result is that the great majority imbibes everything it hears, whether Reformed or Arminian, whether harmonizing or constituting nothing but a maze of contradictions. In the latter case it need but be told them that they must humbly believe, which is after all easier than study and thorough investigation. This brother, however, was not satisfied and had a few questions.
According to the article of Rev. Zwier this brother, (in the article this brother is the Prot. Ref. Churches) ventured another explanation of the text in question. What follows is supposed to be the interpretation of the Prot. Ref. Churches. “What God does is always good. When He gives rain and fruitful seasons, food and gladness, these are in themselves good gifts, manifestations of His goodness, irrespective of the purpose He has with them in His eternal counsel. But we must notice the distinct purpose God has in view with the bestowal of these gifts. God does good when He grants these gifts to His elect. For them they are intended as a blessing. For them these good gifts are evidence of a favorable attitude on the part of God. God also does good when He gives these gifts to the heathen. For them, however, they are not intended as a blessing but as a curse. It is good that God reprobated them, that He suffers them to walk in their own ways, but He causes these gifts to be a curse for them and thereby ripens them for eternal destruction. God always does good. Thus we must understand Paul when he tells his heathen audience here that God did good to them, giving rain and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness.”
The Rev. Zwier waxes tart in his reply to this interpretation of the text. “You deny,” he avers, “the common goodness of God and therefore also this expression of the apostle must be explained in such a way that after all the apostle does not speak of a goodness of God toward the heathen after all. Your preconceived notion of God’s attitude toward the wicked determines your exegesis of the text. Consequently, your exegesis of Acts 14:17 is entirely faulty. There is an element of truth in your reasoning, but you present half a truth. And as exegesis of the text in question your reasoning is entirely impossible. It is no exegesis at all. It is no exegesis when one carries his own prejudgments into the text. That is “inlegkunde,” not “uitlegkunde.” When the text says, that God does good also to the heathen, we have not the right to make of this, contrary to the very intention of the word, that God does give good gifts to those heathen, but with the purpose of causing these gifts to be a curse to them. Then we corrupt the simple and natural meaning of the word, which also in other parts of Scripture is used to denote blessings, which may flow from a favorable attitude on the part of the giver.” (Cf. “De Wachter”, May 10).
The dissenting brother (the Prot. Ref. Churches) has one more objection, “Does Scripture not teach very plainly in Psalms 73 and 92, that all the good gifts, which the non-elect receive, are no many means, whereby the Lord executes His eternal counsel? Are they then not given the non-elect in His wrath? Should not expressions such as we find in Psalm 145:9 and Acts 14:16, 17 be explained in harmony with the above passages? How then can you speak of a favorable attitude on the part of God toward the wicked?”
The Reverend becomes even more tart. “Because Scripture teaches it. We do not in a rationalistic manner attempt to reconcile these two series of Scripture passages. We bow as well as you do before the truth contained in Psalm 73 and Psalm 92. But we submit just as respectfully to the truth taught in Psalm 145:9, Acts 14:16, 17 and similar passages. We also believe that God is good to all and does good to the heathen. We are convinced that the one series of passages from God’s Word give us no license to deprive other passages of their power. No, we cannot reconcile the two. To our limited intellects they are contradictory. God is the Incomprehensible One, also in the attribute of His goodness to all. Hence, never again ask us how we reconcile the two thoughts taught us in Scripture. We believe the unity of God’s thought, but we do not comprehend them. Also Paul places these two truths side by side in Acts 14:16, 17, His sovereign counsel and His general goodness (favorable attitude—R.V.). He does not attempt to reconcile them. Therefore we will not attempt it. You always come with your human logic. You will not maintain, that God is the Incomprehensible One also in His virtues. You permit the human logic to determine God’s attributes. Instead of respectfully submitting to God’s revelation, you yourself will determine who and what God must be for the wicked. Therefore your dogmatics is permitted to dominate your exegesis. Scripture must be squared with your sentiments.” (Cf. “De Wachter” of May 10 and April 10 for proof that I am not misrepresenting the Rev. Zwier.)
Indeed, a series of friendly accusations! And people are gullible enough to believe all these things?
In the next issue the following sub-topics will be treated:
Acts 14:16, 17.