It enables us to understand more clearly the doctrines of our Church.

The reader will recall that we were calling atten­tion in our previous article to the benefits which we derive from a study of the history of doctrine. And we concluded our article with the observation that one of these benefits is that it unites us with the Church of the past. Another benefit which we derive from this study is that it enables us to understand more clearly the doctrines of our Church or Churches.

This truth is illustrated in natural life. The his­tory of our country enables us to understand our country as it is today. We cannot discuss this now, of course, in detail—to do so would lead us too far as­tray from our present subject. The desire, for ex­ample, for personal freedom and liberty is inseparably linked up with the past. Our country’s decision to have a democratic form of government can be under­stood better if we examine conditions in Europe at the time of the founding of our country. Our country would not exist as it does today were it not for its pe­culiar history. The history of the French Revolution certainly affected the content of our country’s constitution—the two can never be divorced.

This truth is also illustrated in the histories of various churches. The past, also in this respect, vit­ally affects the present. There are, for example, any number of churches who lead an anemic spiritual life and existence because their origin was not rooted in a desire and longing for the truth and the things of God’s Kingdom and covenant. Is it not true that the California of today stands in the sign of the “gold rush” in the middle of the nineteenth century? And has this also affected the spiritual life of that state today? Is it not true, to quote another example, that the existence of the Liberated Churches in the Neth­erlands of today must be viewed and appraised in connection with the doctrinal controversy in the Neth­erlands some fifty years ago? The undersigned was told repeatedly that the rejection of “Common Grace” by these brethren must be viewed historically as re­volving about the person of the late Dr. A. Kuyper, noted for his systematic setting forth of this doctrine which champions the synthesis: that the church and the world can live together in cooperation and fellow­ship in the things of this present life. And this also applies to our Protestant Reformed Churches. The existence and life of a church or a group of churches is unquestionably affected by their place in history and in the light of the past.

Hence, a study of this history of doctrine will en­able us to understand more readily and more clearly the doctrines of our Church or Churches. Fundamen­tal truths such as the Trinity, Absolute and Uncondi­tional Predestination, Total Depravity, Particular Atonement, Irresistible Grace, Perseverance of the Saints, the Promise, Infant Baptism, can be more clearly understood when studied in the light of the past. This lies in the nature of the case and needs very little elucidation. In fact, the possibility cer­tainly exists that words and terms change in mean­ing, and that certain terms as they appear in our Confessions today may have had another meaning when these Confessions were composed. A striking example to illustrate this truth is the use of the word “offer”. We know that the meaning of this word to­day certainly varies from its meaning at the time our Confessions were drawn up. The word today de­notes a general inclination on the part of God to save all those who hear the gospel, whereas in the past it simply meant: to exhibit, show forth. Hence, a study of the history of doctrine will certainly enable us to understand more readily and clearly the doctrines of the Church of God today.

It enables us to discern the true from the false.

This, too, is a matter of vital and fundamental significance. It is not always easy to discern the true from the false. To be sure, we can readily recog­nize error when the so-called cardinal truths of Chris­tendom are brutally attacked and lived. It is not dif­ficult to recognize error when the enemy boldly denies that Jesus is God in the flesh or brutally asserts that our Lord Jesus Christ never arose from the dead. How­ever, the devil can be very subtle in his attack upon the truths of the Holy Scriptures. It is characteris­tic of him to appear as an angel of light, to be garbed in the garments of the truth, and to camouflage his at­tacks upon the Word of God. One of his most effective weapons is to borrow the language and terminology of Reformed truth and use it to “cover up” and spread his distortion of the Word of God. This is also true of the modernist. He speaks of the Son of God, of the death and resurrection and ascension of the Lord and His return upon the clouds of heaven to judge the quick and the dead. The trouble is that, although he uses the same terms we do, he gives them an entire­ly different connotation. We certainly need not quote examples to substantiate this observation. It is well to bear in mind that we, also in our termin­ology, emit a clear and no uncertain sound. People should have no difficulty understanding us and know­ing exactly what we mean and proclaim.

A study of the history of doctrine will prove to be helpful and very beneficial also in this respect. It is extremely helpful, in our attempt to discern the true from the false, to be able to recognize the modern voice of heresy because we have learned to know them in the light of the past. Doctrines have a history, but this is also true of heresies. One may well begin to wonder when he recognizes in the voice and speech of some the same speech of those who were condemned in the past. It is also extremely beneficial when the same truths are attacked which were attacked by those who were condemned as heretics in the past. To use an illustration, we could point to the truth of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. When, for ex­ample, we are accused of laying undue stress upon the sovereignty of God and insufficient emphasis upon man’s responsibility, we should not feel alarmed be­cause, judged in the light of the past, we find our­selves in exceedingly good company. Or, when we are told that, because of our emphasis upon election, we do not have anything for the wicked, we again recognize this speech as having been uttered in the past by those who were known enemies of the truth of the particular gospel. Again, when we are told that our emphasis upon God’s election and irresistible grace makes men careless and profane, we are able to recognize that the apostle, Paul, already was com­pelled to contend with this same opposition. Romans 6 is a striking illustration in support of this obser­vation. And thus we could continue. I am sure that we understand the importance and benefit of a study of the history of doctrine also from this point of view. It is extremely important that we are not merely able to discern the truth but also the lie; the two are in­separable. And the struggle of the Church of the liv­ing God in the past has been recorded for our benefit

It helps us in further development of the truth.

The truth must be developed. This lies in the very nature of the case. On the one hand, the enemy will afford the Church of God plenty opportunity to be busy alone this line. Life becomes more complex and the position and calling of the Church and Christian more difficult in the midst of the world. And as these attacks upon the Church and the truth become more varied and complex it lies in the very nature of the case that the Church is called upon to sharpen its weapons to resist and ward off these attacks. Be­sides, on the other hand, the truth itself is so tremendous in its content and scope. Stagnant pools must ultimately dry up. The purpose of our Confess­ions and creeds was certainly never to say the final word as far as the development of the truth is concerned, so that there would no longer be any develop­ment of doctrine. Our fathers did not compose these wonderful and beautiful documents to stifle and render impossible all advance, but rather to encourage and stimulate the study of the Scriptures. We may never rest upon our laurels. To do so is tragic, inasmuch as the enemy is never satisfied with past accomplish­ments. That enemy is ever on the alert to undermine the Word of God, and we must certainly be ever on the alert to study the Scriptures which alone can make us wise unto salvation. The Confessions must, therefore, never be studied as an end in themselves, but to help us in our understanding and study of the Bible. If we study and regard the Confessions as an end in them­selves the invariable result will be an attitude of smug complacency and this will ultimately have for its re­sult that we place these Confessions upon our shelves and simply pride ourselves in their possession with­out concerning ourselves with their content. To love our creeds, however, because they lead us to a richer study of the Word of the Lord will safeguard us against this error and danger.

How important, therefore, is also in this respect a study of the history of doctrine! It enables us to be busy in the further development of the truth along its positive historical line. It points out to us the direc­tion in which we must go. These doctrines are as many sign-posts which direct us in the further devel­opment of the truth. A study of the past will disclose to us that we must not travel in a direction which will nullify or weaken the doctrines of God’s eternal and sovereign election and reprobation, that the grace of the God of our salvation is sovereignly particular. We must never fall victim to a conception of the promise which fails to consider the fundamental truth that the Lord generally realizes His promise in His children during their infancy—to do so would imply that we have departed from the “tried, beaten path.” A study of the past will help us to understand the road we must travel in the future. That must be our purpose and resolve.

—H. Veldman