Now, please compare with this so-called definition of Dr. Schilder the simple definition which I always gave of condition: a condition is a prerequisite which man must fulfill in order to obtain the promise of God.
And compare too what the Declaration of Principles has on this score: “That the promise of the gospel is not a gracious offer of salvation on the part of God to all men, nor a conditional offer to all that are born in the historical dispensation of the covenant, that is, to all that are baptized, but an oath of God that He will infallibly lead all the elect unto salvation and eternal glory through faith.”
And again: “That God’s promise is unconditionally for them (elect) only: for God cannot promise what was not objectively merited by Christ.”
I am not asking now whether the one or the other is true, but only whether the one or the other is clear, so that everyone can understand what we mean. And I claim that, while the Declaration uses clear language, for everyone to understand, Dr. Schilder’s definition muddles matters up. I would pity the church that would be bound by such a formulation.
But Dr. Schilder has more to say on this point.
In paragraph 7 on pp. 16, ff., he discusses what he calls a “good condition theory”.
In that paragraph he makes the distinction between promises and predictions, to which I have already referred. God does not say to N.N., to Tom, Dick, and Harry: “You will go to heaven”; and to another N.N.: “You will remain eternally outside.”
Of the utter untenableness of this distinction between promises and predictions I have already written. All the promises of God are also predictions, and the predictions are promises. But neither the promises nor the predictions are for N.N., for Tom, Dick, and Harry, but for the elect, for the believers, for those that are hungering and thirsting after righteousness.
And then Dr. Schilder refers to the Canons of Dordrecht, II, 5, to find there evidently, as he does throughout his brochure, a definition of the promise. Always, according to him, the promise comes with the demand of faith and repentance.
This I most strenuously deny, for then you could not possibly have the promise of God in baptism to little infants. Besides, I deny that in Canons II, 5 we have a definition of the promise. And finally, I deny that Dr. Schilder in paragraph 7 gives a fair and true representation of Liberated theology in regard to the promise of God. In order to make all this clear, I will quote him literally.
“And now the conclusion: why should we establish such terms, with which no man can do anything? This entire passage concerning ‘unconditional’ is being introduced by the remark:
“a. Faith is not a preceding demand;
“b. Faith is not a condition to salvation, no preceding condition.
“But with this we all agree. At least if we well understand it. For it says: faith is not a preceding demand, but a gift of God. Every meaning put in the word condition, in the sense that by it would be meant: it is not given, but it comes of ourselves, is heartily rejected by us all! How can one think differently? Why should we then accept that word: preceding demand? As if faith were a demand the fulfillment of which must precede God’s decree? Or even must precede God’s maintained, or approximate, or subsequent decree to save us? All that is Remonstrant folly, with which we in the Netherlands will have nothing whatever to do.
“But we do say here indeed, taught by all this interpretation misery: why does one not express himself more clearly? Faith is not a preceding demand? NO, if the meaning is something as when I say: the work of a laborer must PRECEDE, before his employer gives him his wages. And again: NO, if the idea is something like this: the girl must first have pleased the young man, before he proposes to her. Faith does not precede the decree of God concerning our salvation. Nor does it precede God’s calling. Of course not. But it certainly precedes our attainment of full salvation. For it even precedes our regeneration according to Article 24 of the Confession. The A does not precede the B in the decree in order to make an alphabet. But it does precede in the life of those whom the Lord according to the common rule will lead to salvation.”
All this Dr. Schilder closes with the remark that “colleague Hoeksema will undoubtedly agree with us in all this.”
But I do not.
In the first place, I certainly do not agree with what Dr. Schilder states about Article 24 of our Confession. If he means that in that article we are taught that faith precedes regeneration in every sense of that word, I most strenuously disagree with him. But this is not my most important objection.
My most important objection is in the sentence: “Faith precedes indeed our attainment of the full salvation.”
Taken all by itself, we can certainly agree with this statement. But when we take all this in connection with the entire argument, we can not only not agree with Dr. Schilder, but we also maintain that he nevertheless here defends an Arminian conception of the promise of God, while, at the same time he does not do justice to the Liberated theology concerning that promise. Let us not forget that Dr. Schilder in the connection is combatting our position that the promise is unconditional. Instead, he proposes what he calls a good condition theory. That is his purpose. I can put his argument clearly in the following syllogism:
1. The promise of God is the final and full salvation. (This is not true: for the promise contains much more.)
2. Faith precedes that final salvation. (With this, of course, anybody can agree.)
3. Hence, faith is a condition to that promise. (Again, with this we cannot agree at all. That something precedes something else does not mean that it is a condition to something else.)
Now let us examine that syllogism.
First of all, the promise of God is the final salvation. This statement is as un-Reformed as it can possibly be. It certainly is not according to the Reformed Confessions. It is certainly true that the promise includes that final salvation. And it is also true that in Canons II, 5 that final salvation as included in the promise of God. But it is by no means true that the promise of God is limited to this final salvation.
This is really the crux of the whole matter. With his stands or falls our whole Protestant Reformed conception of the promise. And that Protestant Reformed conception is simply the conception that is taught in all of our Confessions concerning the promise of God. And therefore, it is very important that we see this. And I will devote a little time and space to make this clear from our Reformed Confessions.
Note: Schilder says that the promise of God is the final salvation.
The Confessions say that the promise of God includes our whole salvation, objective and subjective.
This I intend to show.
I refer, first of all, to Q. 22 of the Heid. Catechism, where we read: “What then is necessary for a Christian to believe?” And the answer is: “All things promised us in the gospel, which the particles of our catholic, undoubted Christian faith briefly teach us.” Notice, that in this answer of the Heid. Catechism mention is made of the promise of the gospel: “all things promised us in the gospel.” It is also plain from this answer that the entire contents of our faith are included in that promise of the gospel. In the succeeding Lord’s Days these contents of our faith are further exposed along the line of the well-known Apostolic Creed. In that whole creed, therefore, we find the contents of the promise of the gospel. That Creed speaks of God the Father and our creation, of God the Son and our redemption, of God the Holy Ghost and our sanctification. And the promise of the gospel is further explained in the succeeding Lord’s Days of our Heid. Catechism as it interprets and expounds the various articles of the Apostles Creed. That promise of the gospel therefore includes that the Almighty Father Creator is my God and Father for Christ’s sake. It includes that He will provide me with all things necessary for soul and body, and that He will turn all evils that befall me on this present world to my advantage. That promise of the gospel includes that Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, died on the accursed tree for our sins, and rose again on the third day for our justification. It includes that the same Christ is seated at the right hand of God to realize all the promises off God unto His people. It includes that Christ is my Redeemer and my Savior, my Prophet, Priest and King, Who redeemed me body and soul from everlasting damnation, and obtained for me the favor of God, righteousness, and eternal life. All this is included in the promise of the gospel. And not only the objective realization of salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord, Who died and rose again and is seated, at the right hand of God, is included in that promise. But in the same [promise is also included the gift of the Holy Ghost as the Spirit of promise, Who is given me in order that He may make me partaker of Christ and all His benefits, so that I am and forever shall remain a living member of the church, so that I have the forgiveness of sins and the promise of the resurrection and everlasting life by mere grace. Again, all this is included in the promise of the gospel, according to the Heid. Catechism. Certainly, this is a much broader conception than that which is presented in Canons II, 5. And Schilder certainly does not do justice to the concept of the promise of the gospel in the Heid. Catechism, when he says that the promise is the final and full salvation, a concept of the promise which he needs in order to maintain his conception that faith is a condition unto the promise of God. You will understand, however, that if we take the promise in this more comprehensive, confessional sense of the word, faith is not a condition unto the promise, but faith itself is included in the promise.
But there is more.
I also refer you to Questions 65, 66, 69 and 70 of the Heid. Catechism.
In Q. 65 we read: “Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all his benefits by faith only, whence doth this faith proceed?” And the answer is: “From the Holy Ghost, who works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the gospel, and confirms it by the use of the sacraments.” Now I want to emphasize that in this part of the Heid. Catechism the Holy Ghost is presented as the author of faith: He alone works faith in our hearts, even though it is through the preaching of the gospel. And let us remember too that according to the rest of the Heid. Catechism the Holy Ghost is included in the promise of the gospel. It is therefore very evident that not only the Holy Ghost, but also faith is included in that promise, not only; but moreover, it is also evident that the promise of the gospel, which includes faith, is absolutely unconditional, and therefore only to the elect, unless we would make the gift of the Holy Spirit, promised by God, itself conditional. And this would be Arminian indeed.
In Q. 66 we read: “What are the sacraments?” And the answer: “The sacraments are holy visible signs and seals, appointed of God for this end, that by the use thereof, he may the more fully declare and seal unto us the promise of the gospel, viz., that he grants us freely the remission of sin, and life eternal, for the sake of that one sacrifice of Christ, accomplished on the Cross.” Notice that according to this answer the promise of the gospel is sealed to us, that is, to the confessing believers; to no one else but to the believers, and therefore, to the elect, is the promise of the gospel sealed. And what is according to this answer of the Heid. Catechism the promise of the gospel? Is it according to its contents only a future boon, the attainment of the full and ultimate salvation? Or does it also include a present blessing? The answer is: The latter. Here top the promise of the gospel is presented broader in scope than is the presentation of the promise in Canons II, 5. For here not only life eternal, but also the forgiveness of sins is mentioned as included in that promise.
In Q. 69, 70 still more elements of the promise of the gospel are mentioned. There we read: “How art thou admonished and assured by holy baptism, that the one sacrifice of Christ upon the cross is of real advantage to thee?” And the answer: “Thus: That Christ appointed this external washing with water, adding thereunto this promise, that I am certainly washed by his blood and spirit from all the pollution of my soul, that is, from all my sins, as I am washed externally with water, by which the filthiness of the body is commonly washed away.” And in Q. 70: “What is it to be washed with the blood and Spirit of Christ?” And the answer: “It is to receive of God the remission off sins, freely, for the sake of Christ’s blood, which he shed for us by his sacrifice upon the cross; and also to be renewed by the Holy Ghost, and sanctified to be members of Christ, that so we may more and more die unto sin, and lead holy and unblameable lives.” All this, mark you well, is included in the promise of the gospel which is sealed to us by the sacrament. The promise, therefore, includes the washing away of sins by the blood and Spirit of Christ, according to Q. 69. And this is further explained in the answer to Q. 70 by saying that in baptism is sealed to us freely the remission of sins and the renewal, that is, the regeneration by the Holy Spirit, and sanctification to be members of Christ, so that we die unto sin and lead holy and unblameable lives. All this God promises us in the gospel, according to the Heidelberg Catechism. And therefore, I say once more that Schilder is certainly mistaken when he says that the promise of the gospel is our ultimate and final salvation. It includes much more. As I said before, in Canons II, 5 we have no complete definition of the promise of the gospel.