“Esteemed Rev. Hoeksema:
May I kindly request you to receive the following article in the Standard Bearer? My hearty thanks.
“Much against my wish I was implicated in the polemics which at the present moment disturbs the Protestant Reformed Churches, as was evident from the issue of the Standard Bearer which I just received. If I had known that something like this would have been the result of the reception of my letter in your paper, then I certainly would have bethought myself thrice, or rather, in this case my wife would have bethought herself three times before she would have given consent for the publication of my hastily composed epistle, which was written from my heart.—Not that I would be afraid of polemics: when this was necessary, I have never withdrawn myself from it. But I am indeed afraid to allow myself to become involved in a polemics which is being carried on among brethren in a far country and in a situation which is strange to me.
“However, now I became implicated nolens volens in the polemics which broke loose about the brethren De Jong and Kok, I will gladly speak a word in the interest of the matter. I certainly would very much rejoice if the question that is raised were solved in the style of the church and according to the standard for the communion of saints.
“First of all, I will say something yet about the publication of the letter of colleague Holwerda by the Rev. Ophoff. Even after reading his article, I must still maintain in all their force my objections against the publication of that piece. Omitting all incidentals, I can express my objection in the best way perhaps as follows: the Rev. Ophoff argues that he did not accuse and condemn the brethren Kok and De Jong, but that he repeated three times, IF the allegations of Prof. Holwerda are true, THEN. … Indeed, this “if” did not escape my attention. But in this consists exactly my main objection. In my opinion the Rev. Ophoff was not allowed to put one letter on paper about this case before he had spoken about this matter with his fellow brethren, De Jong and Kok, who were directly implicated in it. As long as he could say no more than if, if, if, . . . all writing about this case was primarily a mistake. If a minister in a congregation or an editor of a paper would go to work in this way, on the basis of information or letters received, and would to begin with say if, if, if, . . . they would have created in a moment confusion in their congregation or in the circle of their readers, and would have torn them apart. Besides, and this is much more important, we must, according to the will of God not only refrain from attacking the honor and the good character of the neighbor, but we must also defend and promote them as much as in us is.
“Just imagine that the Rev. Ophoff, after he had read the letter of colleague Holwerda, had saved it, and after his colleagues had returned from their trip to the Netherlands had talked with them about it, and thereupon if it had appeared necessary, had asked Prof. Holwerda for consent to publish his letter. Would in that case not the entire question have come to appear in a totally different light? And must not every Christian, when he compares what the Rev. Ophoff has done with what he had been able and obliged to do, emphatically admit that the latter is much more, yea, only according to the Spirit of Christ?
“Further, I remain of the opinion that it is the demand of truly Christian courtesy that a letter which the sender himself did not emphatically offer for publication, and which besides, was meant for third parties, may never be published without the consent of the writer.
“This is what I meant to say in the first place.
You know by this time, esteemed brother, my own opinion about the publication of the letter of Prof. Holwerda. I do not have to repeat this.
But I wish, brother, instead of for evermore harping on this aspect of the question, you would attempt at least to see my viewpoint of the matter, and go into the thing itself.
This, to me, is far more important and far more serious than all the talk about the question of the publication of the letter, which after all was certainly not a private letter after its contents had been discussed by the immigrants in Canada and copies were made of it for the brethren there. Nor,—I say it again,—did Prof. Holwerda intend the contents of the letter to remain private and secret: for it was an advice to the immigrants.
But let that be. And let us look at the matter itself, squarely. And let me ask you, brother, please, to make an attempt to see and understand my view of the matter.
Now, no matter how you may look at the question, and regardless of the question who is to blame, fact is that the letter of Prof. Holwerda contained slander and backbiting about the Rev. Ophoff and myself, about some of our other ministers, and about all our churches. Moreover, if Prof. Holwerda did not write the truth, it also contained slander about the Revs. De Jong and Kok at the same time.
But the matter is more serious still.
The letter of Prof. Holwerda was an evident attempt to drive a wedge into the ranks of our small denomination, to set one against the other, and thus to cause a split. Mark you, I do not say that Prof. Holwerda or the Revs. De Jong and Kok made such a deliberate attempt, but I do maintain that the letter itself had that tendency. Just consider what he wrote: the conception of the Rev. Hoeksema regarding election, etc., is not the church doctrine; some are emitting a totally different sound; most of the Prot. Ref. people do not think as the Rev. Hoeksema and Ophoff; sympathy for the Liberated was great also in the matter of their doctrine of the covenant. And Prof. Holwerda’s advice to the immigrants in Canada was: if Rev. Hoeksema’s doctrine were binding, never join.
Now, esteemed brother, you say that the present controversy is an attempt of Satan to separate your churches from ours. But I think that it is much more devilish to attempt to drive a wedge into our small churches, as is the evident tendency of Prof. Holwerda’s letter. And not only is this the tendency of that letter; but already it began to be the actual effect. Some of us began to count noses, to estimate who were on the right side and who were on the wrong side of the fence. Such is,—I say once more,—not the attempt of Prof. Holwerda, nor the attempt of the Revs. De Jong and Kok, but it is certainly the devilish tendency of the letter.
You may notice, esteemed brother, that I am not now writing about either Prof. Holwerda or about the Revs. De Jong and Kok.
That means also that I leave it, as yet, an open question whether Prof. Holwerda wrote the truth in his letter, or whether he reported falsely about the Revs. De Jong and Kok. It is a well-known fact that as early as last August the Rev. Kok had a letter read from his pulpit in which he denies most of the statements attributed to him by Prof. Holwerda and claimed that they were only conclusions drawn by the latter from what they, the Revs. De Jong and Kok, had said. I wrote about this to Prof. Holwerda several weeks ago, but he never answered me as yet. I am still expecting an answer from him.
And therefore, brother, I still insist that we must have a public statement, signed by all concerned, explaining just what was said, whether in conference or in private conversation with Prof. Holwerda.
The conferences held in the Netherlands between your Committee of Correspondence and others with the Revs. De Jong and Kok concerned important church matters. They may not remain secret. We are entitled to know all about it.
Except for the letter of Prof. Holwerda, however, we would never have known that such conferences were held, still less, what was said there. And although it is certainly unfortunate that we must learn about matters that concern all our churches from what is purported to be (but is not) a private letter of Prof. Holwerda, I am very glad that the matter was brought to light.
That is my view of the matter. And I wish you would discuss it with me openly in the Standard Bearer.
Professor Veenhof continues as follows:
“Then I have something else that urges me to speak.
“I would, namely, call to the Rev. Ophoff: Stop, for God’s sake, your annihilating criticism of the Liberated. For I tell you in all seriousness: What you attack, that on which you allow your sledge-hammer blows to come down upon, is nothing else than a caricature presentation of what the Liberated teach. The only “blessing” which you may expect on this labor is a poisoning of the spirit and the hearts of your American brethren with regard to their fellow brethren in the Netherlands, an alienation between your churches and the Liberated churches, and thus a glorious victory of Satan.
Let me assure you with all emphasis that again and again it appears that in America our struggle is not understood. I do not say this in pride, as if we propagated something so high and so deep that the Americans cannot reach it. No, but I simply state this because I notice this repeatedly. I also say this because I know from my own experience how easy it is that some such misunderstanding can lodge in the heart. Only after more than twenty years after the struggle of 1924, we began to understand a little of what happened in America and how there the different fronts were aligned.
“To prove to you that matters indeed stand thus I will mention a clear example, which I choose at random.
“For this purpose I point to the last article of the Rev. Petter, concerning the covenant, that came to my attention. I mention him, because I have great respect for the faithful and patient manner in which he attempts by serious study to live into our world of thought. If by anyone, then it is by the Rev. Petter that there is the will to understand.
“But what does the Rev. Petter write now? He treats in the above-mentioned article my opinions. And against them he has serious objections. The first is this, that I see in the promise of God indeed a special proof of God’s love, but that I ‘practically forget to remind that it also implies its correlate, namely, demand’.
“With great amazement I read these words. One must know that already for many years I have argued with all my power that a promise without an inherent calling or demand is simply a fiction, an abstraction, an absurdity; yea, that the promise of God, just because it appeals as the Word of the Lord to faith and must be accepted in faith, even always qua talis shows the character of demand or calling. Does not the Compendium ask the question: ‘What is the sum of that which God has promised in the gospel and commanded us to believe?’ And vice versa: Every command of the Lord which He directs in His covenant to His people always implies a promise. Does not God promise to give what He demands?
“To let you hear with how much seriousness and power I always taught the inseparable connection of promise and demand I may quote from my little book, ‘In den Chaos’, which appeared already in 1945. There one reads on page 39 (of the third edition): ‘And now we will place full emphasis on the truth that God never speaks this covenant promise without letting us hear in inseparable connection therewith His demand to faith, conversion, and obedience. Never does one come into contact with that covenant promise without immediately and at the same time also coming into contact with the demand of God. It is even so that the promise of the covenant implies the demand. The one is completely grown together with the other. When I place two apples on the table, I can remove one, and what is left is nevertheless a real apple. But when I tear apart or peel out the demand from the covenant promise, the latter ceases to be the covenant promise. For thus says Calvin: Seeing that the promise is connected with the demand, I say that it is so implied therein that when it is separated therefrom, it is entirely destroyed. (Institutes, IV, 14, 14). Only in this connection do we hear the promise. Hence, also in this connection only do we know it. We also receive it only in this inseparable growing together. Where, therefore, one separates this promise from the above-mentioned connection and places it by itself and views it is a promise only to the elect, which is fulfilled in principle already at the moment that it is given, we reject this construction because it is a pure abstraction of thought. Such a promise we do not know. Even as from a song sung by four voices we can probably separate one voice out of the whole that is sung, so we may probably also separate in thought a promise as one that already is principally fulfilled and applies only to the elect from the inseparable whole of the life of the covenant which God lives with His people. But that is a pure abstraction of thought. We therefore express it here emphatically that we reject entirely the theory of the “toelichting” (elucidation), which speaks of an unconditional promise of salvation for the elect, which is supposed to form the specific content of covenant and sacrament. Such a promise does not exist in the concreteness of God’s speaking, as He establishes and maintains His covenant. And therefore we throw it overboard as a pure thing of thought.’
“Thus I wrote already four years ago. And now I would like to ask whether one can reach the connection of promise and demand more strongly. To be sure, in the Appel I did not emphasize this unity so strongly; but that is merely the result of the circumstance that this little book was written for the Synodicals, and that I discussed in it more especially what must be brought to their attention. And to this did not belong that I never separated promise and demand; that was already known there very well.
“I wrote about this mistake of the Rev. Petter somewhat elaborately to make clear to you how quickly misunderstanding can arise and of what character such misunderstanding is.
“And the case which I here described may be multiplied manifold.
“Thus in the same article of the Rev. Petter he says, for instance, also that my defense over against the Synodicals on a certain point does not hold water. I emphasized, namely, over against the Synodicals the riches of the promise as it is being taught by the Liberated. But, thus the Rev. Petter, that argument of Prof. Veenhof is not valid. For no matter how Liberated and Synodicals think about the promise, for both groups it is an established fact that the promise is being spoken to faith, and that one can be assured of it and rest in it only through faith. And of course, I fully accept the thought that only through faith one can rest in and be assured of the promise. But that is not the question. The difference does not concern the way in which, the means through which, and the manner in which one can rest in and live out of the promise. No, the question concerns this, how does the promise approach us; which contents has it before and independent of faith; how does it appear, and what does it contain, and for whom is it valid, in order that it may be believed? The point of dispute, therefore, concerns what lies behind the faith in the promise, or, to express it differently, what precedes it? Is the promise as it approaches the believers and their seed according to its nature,—to speak with Calvin,—always ‘containing salvation’ and ‘efficacious’? Or, to say it differently, is it always being spoken by the Holy Spirit, so that also independently of the faith of him that is addressed it is full, genuine, reliable, efficacious’? Or, to say it differently, is it always being spoken by the Holy Spirit, so that also independently of the faith of him that is addressed it is full, genuine, reliable, efficacious, and valid?
“And when thereupon the Rev. Petter argues that the emphasis on the surety, riches, and power of the promise as it is in itself, and therefore independent of faith, in order that it may be truly a sure ground of the faith, an unshakeable foundation of hope flows forth out of the ‘humanitarian comfort motive’, then I would like to ask: does the amazing, impassioned struggle of all reformers to bring the confused and erring sheep of Jesus Christ again to the assurance of faith really flow forth from a humanitarian comfort motive? Is it possible that the Catechism, which views the entire message of God to His church from the viewpoint of the comfort motive, and is , ff. also humanitarian?
“And thus I would continue. When the Rev. Ophoff demolishes a certain opinion of the ‘condition’ of the covenant with heavy sledge-hammer blows, then I am inclined to call out: Reverend, reverend, please stop, please stop; don’t make yourself so weary. Do you really imagine that one single Liberated believes one tittle or iota of the foolishness which you attack?
“Indeed: misunderstanding on misunderstanding.
“It certainly is necessary to approach one another here carefully, patiently, and above all, in the spirit of love, and to attempt to understand one another.
“Let me for a moment point out exactly what I mean.
“You, highly esteemed Rev. Hoeksema, propose in the last number of the Standard Bearer a number of questions to the Liberated. But to answer those questions you and we would first have to speak very carefully about the ‘establish’ of the covenant and about the ‘equally’ establishing of it, over the content of ‘is equally’ in the question: Is the promise equally for all baptized? About the notions and tendencies of the ‘gives’ in the sentence: God ‘gives’ the promise to all. About the words ‘seriously’ and ‘right’ in the words: God says seriously to all the children that He gives them a right to all the blessings of the covenant, etc., etc. If this is not done carefully and painstakingly, it is certain that misunderstandings will arise with all their miseries.”
As to your criticism, esteemed brother, of the Rev. Petter’s articles, Brother Petter better reply to that himself in Concordia. And as to your comment on the term ‘condition’ which the Rev. Ophoff demolishes with heavy sledge-hammer blows, you will have noticed that I am writing on that term myself. And I find it very striking that in all our Confessions the term is never used, except to put it in the mouth of the Pelagians and Arminians.
But I find the way in which you answer my questions, published in the Standard Bearer of Oct. 1, somewhat strange, and also unsatisfactory.
Let me repeat those questions here. They were as follows:
1. Is it true, or is it not true, that according to your theology God establishes His covenant equally with all the children that are born of believing parents, head for head and soul for soul?
2. Is it true, or is it not true, that according to the theology of the Liberated the promise of God is equally for all that are born in the historical line of the covenant, elect and reprobate alike?
3. Is it true, or is it not true, that according to the theology of the Liberated God gives that promise to all, elect and reprobate, in His grace and in His love?
4. Is it true, or is it not true, that God seriously says to all the children that are born in the historical line of the covenant that He gives them a right to all the blessings of the covenant?
5. Is it true, or is it not true, that according to the covenant theology of the Liberated God assures all the children that are born of believing parents in the historical line of the covenant that He washes them in the blood of Christ?
6. Is it true, or is it not true, that according to the covenant theology of the Liberated God assures all the children of believers that He will give them His Holy Spirit to dwell in them and to make them partakers of all the blessings of salvation in Christ Jesus?
7. Is it true, or is it not true, that in answer to the question why many of the baptized children are not saved you say that their corrupt nature prevents the grace of God from operating in their hearts?
8. Is it true, or is it not true, that in the case of those baptized children that are lost you teach that it is their unbelief that bars the way of God’s grace?
Now, in your article you write that in order to be able to answer these questions we must very carefully define the terms and mutually agree what we mean by them. With this I can agree. It is always essential that we understand from one another just exactly what we mean by certain terms. Thus you write that we must define the term “establish”, and again that we must mutually understand what we mean when we speak of God’s “equally” establishing His covenant with all the children that are born of believing parents, etc.
But, esteemed brethren, would it not be beneficial for a good understanding of one another’s conception that you would make a start with defining these terms. You must remember that I wrote these questions in connection with the remark of Prof. Holwerda that the Rev. Ophoff had not understood even the ABC of the covenant theology of the Liberated. And I added that that means that principally I have failed to understand the same covenant theology also. Of course, you understand that it is very difficult for me to believe this. For, in the first place, I have understood the Heynsian view of the covenant rather thoroughly for the last 35 years; and according to all that the Liberated wrote the view of Prof. Heyns was hailed as thoroughly Reformed. And, in the second place, I have studied almost all that was written by the Liberated on the covenant question ever since after the war we had access to their literature. And therefore, I cannot believe that I fail to understand the principal tenets of their covenant conception. But I am willing to learn. And that is the reason why I asked those rather specific questions which I now reprint, with the request that you, or anyone else of the Liberated theologians, will reply to them. If there are any terms that need definition, define them according to the meaning which you attach to them. Or if there is any term in my questions you want me to define, just ask me, and I will be glad to comply with your request. But I think that on the whole the questions which I asked are rather clear and very specific; and they certainly are to the point. And I would like to have a very clear and definite answer to them.
I can also put my questions in a little different form, and base them on statements which you have made in your “Appel”.
In that case they would run as follows:
1. What do you mean when you write that God in baptism seals unto all the children born of believing parents, head for head, that He establishes His covenant with them? You can define your own terms.
2. What do you mean when you write that God in baptism gives to all the children born of believing parents, head for head, the glorious promise (toezegging) that He washes them all in the blood of Jesus Christ?
3. What do you mean when you write that God gives to all the children born under the covenant, head for head, the glorious assurance (promise, toezegging) that God will give them His Holy Spirit to dwell in them?
4. What do you mean when you write that to all the children born of believing parents, head for head, God gives the glorious assurance of the forgiveness of sins and all the riches of His salvation?
5. What do you mean when you write that God in grace approaches all the baptized children with the promise given them in baptism? Is there a gracious attitude of God to the reprobate in the covenant?
6. What do you mean when you write that in baptism God means to engrave into the hearts of all the baptized children, head for head, the assurance, “I am your God, and ye are my children?”
7. What do you mean when you teach that when many baptized children are not saved, it is because they bar the way to the grace of God? Is grace not efficacious, and is it not irresistible, as far as God’s operation is concerned? Besides, do not by nature also the elect “bar the way to God’s grace”? And will you please give me the reference to Calvin to which you refer?
I have more questions; but this may suffice.
These questions, esteemed brother, are all based on your own writing. You can therefore define your own terms. And they all refer rather sharply to the differences between us. For according to our convictions these teachings are not Reformed, neither Scriptural.
In conclusion, however, I would like to ask one more question. It is this: Do you by your teaching concerning baptism as a seal of the promise not assign more power and a wider scope to baptism than to the preaching of the Word?
Please answer these questions. I certainly will publish your answer together with my discussion of it in the Standard Bearer.