Fears have been expressed during the course of our present discussion on “conditions” that this conditional presentation of the truth is vitally necessary if our churches are to continue in the proclamation of a full and complete gospel. Not to stress this “important phase” of the Scriptures would have for its result a calamity of catastrophic proportions and impoverish our churches to the extent that we no longer would enjoy a “full-orbed” gospel.
On the other hand there are others who fear that this stress on conditions itself may be catastrophic and deprive our churches of a preaching of the gospel which has been our heritage as Protestant Reformed churches.
Undue emphasis upon the responsibility of man is dangerous. Undue emphasis upon the responsibility of man is emphasis upon man’s responsibility at the cost of the eternal and unconditional sovereignty of the living God. I am alarmed because of the voices, which have recently been heard, demanding that we have more “practical” preaching and more emphasis upon man’s responsibility. I am alarmed because I have always believed that our churches stressed and maintained this truth of holy writ. I am alarmed because I consider undue emphasis upon man’s responsibility heresy’s “backdoor.” I know of no church that has deviated from the truth because they emphasized God’s sovereignty. The number of the churches that have departed from the truth of the Word of God by emphasizing man’s responsibility is legion. I fear that a greater danger may confront us in the things that are not being said than in the things that are being said.
It is for this reason that the undersigned will attempt in this article to set forth what he believes to be our calling as Protestant Reformed churches with respect to the preaching of the Word of God.
The first truth we wish to emphasize is that a full and complete gospel must proceed from the calling to build up the elect Church of the living God. This truth is sustained by a very common example in life all around us with which we are all familiar. I refer to the example of the farmer whose concern centers in his own corn or wheat, or whatever his crop may be. If we ask a farmer what he has in yonder field he will tell you that he has corn or wheat. He is aware of the fact that there is much chaff among his corn and many tares among the wheat. Nevertheless he will not reply to your question that he has corn and chaff or wheat and tares, but corn or wheat. And he does everything for the sake of his crop. We may safely use this example because Scripture does the same.
Moreover, this truth is verified throughout holy writ. Permit us to quote a few passages. We read in: “Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God. Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He hath purchased with His own blood.” In we read: “And He gave some apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” In we read: “For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father and of Christ; In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” And in we read: “Knowing brethren beloved, your election of God.” In addition to these few passages we would call attention to the epistle of the apostle Paul to the Romans in which he develops, step by step, the tremendous truth of the righteousness of God, to the epistle of the same apostle to the Ephesians in which he dwells upon the tremendous fullness and riches of the church of God as the body of Christ (and note particularly ) and to the epistle to the Colossians in which the Lord holds before us the tremendous riches of the Christ Who is the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And we would conclude with the observation that throughout our liturgy we are admonished and exhorted to adhere to the truth and fight every heresy repugnant thereto.
What does this mean? This means that in all our labors we must proceed from the truth that we are dealing with the elect Church of the living God. This implies in the first place that the Church of God must be constantly directed to the eternal and unchangeable love and faithfulness of God as the sole cause and origin of its salvation. We must be “election minded”. We must live out of the blessed fact of election. This truth must be proclaimed in all its blessed significance.
This does not mean that we must not call attention to the calling of the church to walk in the way of sanctification. Neither, however, must the two be divorced. The calling to walk in sanctification and believe must serve to direct the people of the living God to make their election sure. Faith is not to be considered apart from election, is not a condition for election, but is itself a part of election, belongs to it, and is therefore the only way in which the child of God can know that he has been elected of God from before the foundation of the world. Hence, to preach election and not faith is simply a caricature of the truth of election; but to preach faith and repentance at the cost of election is Arminian corruption of the Word of God. We must be on our guard against any clamor for more “responsibility preaching” and less election preaching. Our election is our sole salvation and only comfort in life and in death. This implies in the second place that that elect Church of the living God must be instructed in all «the truth and the mystery of the will of God. We must remain doctrinal in our preaching. To be sure, doctrine without life is dead orthodoxy. But, to divorce the latter from the former must result in spiritual weakness and decay, and is fatal. The church of God must never weary of being led into the fullness of the truth of the living God. To know God in all the fullness of His revelation is and should be eternal life. For, even as the farmer exerts every effort to bring his crop to maturity, so also the preaching of the gospel must purpose to build up the people of God in all the fullness of the truth so that they will be able to reveal and conduct themselves as the people of the living God, who know and love Him, and are able to reveal themselves as His people and party also in the midst of a world which lies in darkness and is constantly attempting to undermine and destroy the truth of the Word of God. Hence, in our preaching we must not address the church as a group of people who must believe and repent in the sense as it is commonly understood today but as the people of the living God who must conduct themselves as such in the midst of the world.
The second truth to which we would call attention is this: this elect church of the living God includes the children. We understand that not all the children born in the sphere of the covenant are elect children of God and will return to this thought later. This, however, does not alter the truth that the elect church which confronts us includes children. God generally regenerates His elect in their infancy. I consider this truth of paramount significance. It is especially on this point that we differ with the Liberated. Permit us to state the question concisely. Do we baptize our children on the basis of a general promise which is bestowed by the Lord equally to all and which, as far as its actual content is concerned, will become theirs if they believe, or do we baptize and subsequently instruct our children on the basis of a promise which has been realized for them as well as in the elect adults? Do we baptize and later instruct them on the basis of a righteousness which may become theirs or on the basis of a righteousness which has been merited for them and bestowed upon them? The Liberated say the former and we do and must emphatically maintain the latter. There is no difference between the adult and the child as far as their actual participation in the salvation of God is concerned.
This truth, too, is sustained by the reality of life about us. The farmer bestows labor upon his acre because of the seed which he has entrusted to the soil. Why should the Lord command us to bestow labor upon the children except for the fact that the seed of everlasting life is in them?
This truth is also verified by Holy Writ. Has not all scripture been given by inspiration of God for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness in order that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works? see. This instruction certainly includes the children. And we should notice that the purpose of holy writ is the perfecting of the man of God. The man of God is God’s man, the Christian, who is called the man of God because he owes his existence to the living God. And this text surely emphasizes the thought that, when instructing our children in the Scriptures, we are instructing exactly the man of God, not someone who may become a child of God but who very definitely is a man of God. In we are told that “the promise is unto you and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” We need not enter into a detailed discussion of this passage. I merely wish to call attention to the fact that no distinction is made here between the “you” and the children. Who are the “you” in this text? To be sure, they are those who have been pricked in their hearts. However, we would add to this that they are the church, the true Church of the living God, the true Church in distinction from those who had accused the apostle of being full of new wine. They had the promise. They had it in a very real and actual sense of the word. Well, the children possess that same promise in the same sense of the word.
Besides, this is also the truth of the Confessions. Concerning this there cannot be any possible doubt. We do not hesitate to assert that, according to our Reformed Confessions, the adults and the children share equally in the salvation of God. Both are loved of God from before the foundation of the world; both have been redeemed through the blood of Christ; concerning both we may say that the Holy Spirit dwells and operates in them. This is the teaching of Question and Answer 74 of our Heidelberg Catechism: “Are infants also to be baptized? Yes: for since they, as well as the adult, are included in the covenant and church of God; and since redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult, etc.” To call attention to this answer is surely not necessary at this time; this has been done repeatedly of late. But we must not fail to notice that the same thing is said here of the children as of the adult. This is also true of the teaching of Art. 34 of our Confession of Faith. It is worthwhile to read this answer once more. Having maintained in this article that the sacrament of baptism is a sign of the spiritual and internal operation of the Holy Spirit, the Fathers, in the concluding part of this article, condemn the error of the Anabaptists who condemn the baptism of the infants of the believers as follows: “And indeed Christ shed His blood no less for the washing of the children of the faithful than for adult persons; and therefore they ought to receive the sign and sacrament of that, which Christ hath done for them.” We repeat: again no distinction is made between the adult and the children. And we must all be acquainted with the language of our beautiful form for the administration of baptism which emphasizes the same truth: the child as well as the adult has been adopted by the Father to be heir of everlasting life and of His covenant, has been redeemed by the blood of the Son and presented righteous before God, is the object of the operation of the Holy Spirit and will one day be presented before God without spot or wrinkle as belonging to the assembly of the elect in life eternal
This truth is of paramount significance. It emphasizes that we baptize and subsequently instruct our children on the basis of a righteousness which they possess, that the Lord generally regenerates them in their infancy, that they belong to the elect Church of God as well as the adult. This truth emphasizes the unconditional character of the promise and of the entire work of salvation, inasmuch as children share in the salvation of the Lord. This truth must control all our instruction and preaching and constitutes the basis for the Christian School movement and the erection of Christian Schools. We do not build schools in the hope of what our children may become, but surely on the basis of what they are and have already become.
Do we feel the import of this? Think of all the labor which is bestowed upon the child! There are so many churches which stress “practical” and “subjective” preaching, where the listeners are exhorted and begged to believe in and accept Jesus, and where the draining of the child is shamefully ignored. Summer schools are organized for the spiritual instruction of the child as if they would make amends for their gross neglect of the same children from the beginning of September into the following June. We labor with our children from their infancy on, bestow upon them catechetical instruction, and send them to schools of our own. It is well to bear this in mind when the clamor is heard that we, in our preaching, should adapt ourselves more to the child. Where is more done for the child than where the covenant conception is understood?
What does all this imply? It surely implies in the first place, that in our preaching, we are addressing the eternally beloved, redeemed, and sanctified people of the living God, not merely a people who must be called to believe and repent in the current sense of the word, but who have been called out of darkness into God’s marvelous light. This truth implies, in the second place, that in our preaching we may never violate the truth that God generally regenerates His people during their infancy. O, how this truth emphasizes the unconditionality of God’s promise and the entire work of salvation! It is indeed wonderful when the Lord calls an adult out of darkness into His marvelous light. In a certain sense we may say that this is more wonderful than when this work of the Lord is performed within a child. Nevertheless, it is so unconditional when an infant is regenerated by the Lord, is united with Christ by a true and living faith. And this is not an exception but the general rule in the development of God’s kingdom and covenant. This means that the calling to walk in sanctification may never be presented except as the fruit of divine grace. To be sure, man must be commanded in the name of the Lord to repent from his evil because the Lord is God and no man has any excuse to walk in ways of evil. But, the child of God must be exhorted to repent and believe, not to become a child of God but because he is a child of God. The truth that the Lord regenerates His people generally in their infancy demands this explanation and presentation.
Does this do justice to the moral-ethical tenor of the gospel and to the truth that man is not a stock and block? Does it not? Must we not take our children aside, as early as possible, and speak to them of sin and iniquity and also of the everlasting love and mercy of God? We shall speak to them of the fact that we are conceived and born in sin, that it is impossible to save ourselves, that we must serve God, that the Lord loved a people from before the foundation of the world and that He gave His Son to be a propitiation for their sins upon the cross of Calvary. We shall tell our children that this Jesus also suffered and died for them if they may be sorrowful for their sins, not because the power of the cross will also extend to them if only they believe, but because their sorrow because of their sin and faith is the fruit of the efficacy of the cross, inasmuch as all those whom the Father gave unto Jesus shall surely come unto Him. And we shall emphasize that it behooves them to walk as children of the Lord, at home and in the school and in the world, because when the Lord opens our eyes and ears and mouths we must see and hear and speak. Always we must present our walk in holiness and sanctification as the fruit of divine grace. However, when we thus busy ourselves with our children we shall soon discover that the reaction of the children to our instruction is not always favorable. We bring forth Esaus as well as Jacobs. And we shall discover that there are those who will resent this teaching concerning sin and Jesus and the holy demand of the Lord that we love Him and serve Him alone. With them also we must labor. We shall continue to instruct them in the things of the Word of God and hold forth before them the divine command to leave their evil ways and turn unto the Lord. And this also applies to the Christian School and the preaching of the Word. The sinner must be warned in the Name of the Lord and admonished to repent because the Lord alone is God, and the child of the Lord must be exhorted to repent (every day anew) not to become a child of God but because he is a child of the Lord. God’s grace and fellowship and our walk in all the commandments of the Lord must be proclaimed as inseparably related, not in the sense that the latter is ever a condition for the former but in the sense that it is the fruit of it. Where does the Holy Spirit work? Also in the hearts of the children. And constantly we must bear in mind that we are laboring with the elect Church of the living God who must be built up in all the truth of God’s Word and the blessed mystery of His will.
May this continue to characterize the preaching in our Protestant Reformed Churches! May we remain doctrinal and emphasize our practical calling as a Church of the living God, not at the cost of doctrinal preaching but as resting upon it. May we preach election and responsibility, not as independent of each other, neither at the cost of each other, but as inseparably related, so that we may live and fight the good fight of faith as a people of the living God who are anchored in the eternal and unchangeable and wholly sovereign love of God who loved us before we loved Him, while we were sinners, and Who therefore shall love us even unto the end.