The undersigned, too, wishes to express himself on our Declaration of Principles which was adopted at our Synod of 1950. This I wish to do not because my convictions in regard to these principles are unknown. I am convinced that our churches must adopt this Declaration, and that we must adopt it now. Of this I am convinced all the more because of my experiences among the Canadian immigrants among whom I labored during the year of 1950. It is because of this conviction that I write this article.
A Few Observations
First, we need not discuss the church-political angle of the Declaration of Principles. It has certainly been established by this time that our Synod of 1950 acted completely within its bounds when it drew up this statement of what we as churches have believed and confessed all the years of our existence. Not even Dr. K. Schilder has uttered one word in connection with this aspect of the Declaration, and the undersigned has read, as of now, some ten articles by the professor on the Declaration. Of course, the professor may reserve this criticism for some future articles, but until now this criticism has not appeared.
Secondly, Rev. Petter writes in Concordia of Jan. 4, 1951, that our consistories have about two months to prepare an evaluation and criticism of the work of the last Synod. The brother refers to the fact that all matters for Synod must be brought to the January 2, 1951 meeting of Classis East, including the reports of the consistories on the Brief Declaration. And he bases this observation upon the fact that we did not get the full picture of the origin of the Declaration until October when the Acts of the 1950 Synod appeared. Now, in the first place, from October 3, let us say, until January 3 is a period of three months and not of two months. However, already July 1, 1950, the Declaration appeared in the Standard Bearer. This means that the consistories of Classis East had six months instead of two months to study this document. But, Classis West meets, I understand, in March. Hence, the consistories of Classis West have eight months to prepare their answer instead of two months. Quite a difference!
Thirdly, in the same Concordia of January 4, 1951, appears an article by brother Van Spronsen of the Netherlands. In this article he mentions my article in the Standard Bearer of December 15, 1950. The brother does not comment on my article as such. He merely makes the remark that also my article strengthened him in his conviction that we are dominated by a fear-psychosis. If the brother means that we were dominated by a certain fear of what we repeatedly heard the immigrants express, that we were mortally afraid of the things we heard them say, he is quite correct. We fear all Arminianism. And of Arminianism we heard plenty. If, on the other hand, the brother means to suggest that we had become panicky, he is completely in error. This the esteemed brother from the Netherlands can never conclude from my article. On the contrary, brother Van Spronsen, I was quite convinced of my calling, of my calling before God and the churches I am privileged to serve, and I acted from that principle of conviction, without doubt and without hesitation. It was not “fear” but conviction, and the love of our churches that prompted me in all my activity in Hamilton. However, I wish that brother Van Spronsen would tell us whether the immigrants whom I met and heard express themselves according to my article are reformed. Is it reformed to teach an election and a reprobation upon foreseen faith and unbelief, to teach that Christ died for all, that the Lord wishes to save all, that “I am not an election man (ik ben geen verkiezings man)”? Or, is the following statement reformed: “God loves every child and wishes to save every child; and if that child is not saved it is because he does not believe”? Brother Van Spronsen, I do not understand how a reformed man can say such things. And, why is it that the fact that one does not obtain the promise is continuously ascribed to unbelief, also when discussing Rom. 9, whereas that portion of Holy Writ clearly expresses that all simply did not receive the promises? I repeat: we are mortally afraid of this Arminianism.
A Glaring Inconsistency
I now refer to the fact that we can say on the one hand, that these Canadian immigrants are fundamentally Reformed, Scripturally and Confessionally, and must therefore be welcomed into our fellowship, and that, on the other hand, it is also mentioned that the two-point decision of the Hamilton consistory of June 5, 1950 (only to accept such who express the desire to be further instructed in our doctrine and who also promise not to agitate against this doctrine) must be enforced. This I fail to understand. On the one hand it is said that these people are fundamentally Reformed and must be welcomed into our midst. This can only mean that they are fundamentally reformed and must be welcomed as such. If this is not the meaning of the above expression which appeared in our missionaries’ articles last December 1, I stand to be corrected. It is difficult for me to conclude from this statement that these immigrants must first be thoroughly instructed. And, on the other hand, it is said that Hamilton’s decision of last June 5 must be enforced.
However, this places me in a quandary, I wish to emphasize and impress upon our people that the undersigned struggled with the agonizing thought that I would be held responsible (I mean that I would actually be guilty of this) for the collapse of our missionary activity in Canada, that this activity would suffer shipwreck because Of me, I repeat; this was for us an agonizing thought. What sane man would leave a congregation behind such as the undersigned left behind, take his children off the Christian school and into a Dutch community for the sake of wrecking the Protestant Reformed cause in Hamilton? Hence, aware of the seriousness of the situation already last June and July, I asked Rev. Kok at the time of the July Classis whether children might be baptized whose parents could not answer the second baptism question in the affirmative. He answered in the negative. I also asked him whether thorough instruction in our doctrine must precede membership. And this the brother answered in the affirmative. Last year, in August, our missionaries visited at our home. We discussed, of course, the Hamilton situation. I asked them the same questions. And they gave me the same answer as Rev. Kok. Moreover, they said to me that in their opinion the stand of the consistory of Hamilton was weak. Then I also asked them whether we should accept anyone who, after instruction, should maintain the Heynsian conception of the covenant and the promise. And their answer was a vehement NO. And now we are told that these people are fundamentally reformed and should be welcomed into our fellowship. Frankly, I do not understand. This I call a glaring inconsistency. Last August I rejoiced and was strengthened by the fact that the missionaries and I saw eye to eye. I even mentioned this to several people. Of course, we understand, we were talking about the Liberated immigrants.
Our Need Of The Declaration.
First, the Liberated immigrants whom I met last year, and we, as Protestant Reformed Churches, are widely divergent. Let me, for the sake of our churches and our truth, declare this with all the power and solemnity which I can possibly muster. Let us not be deceived. I am speaking, let us understand, of the immigrants whom I met during my labors in Canada. I have already mentioned some of these things in my December 15, 1950 article. Regardless of what Dr. K. Schilder may write in the Reformatie about the Declaration (who, e.g., among us does not believe in a general preaching of a particular gospel, or who among us believes that we preach only to and for the elect, etc.—did we not hear the same thing in 1924?), the undersigned knows what he experienced and encountered in our Canadian mission field in the vicinity of Hamilton. People left our church who declared that they were starving under our preaching. Others declared that they desired more “conversion” preaching, and this not in a Scriptural, Reformed sense of the word. I have not met, among all the newly arrived immigrants, with one possible exception, a single one who spoke of Divine election as the heart and core of the Church. On the contrary, the doctrine of Election was hardly mentioned and that of Reprobation completely ignored. What we as churches mean when we say that the promise concerns only the elect (geldt alleen den uitverkorenen) we all understand. And I do not hesitate to say that Dr. Schilder understands this also. However, be this as it may, the undersigned made it perfectly plain to these immigrants. I emphasized the seriousness of being born under the dispensation of the covenant, of being baptized, of receiving the preaching and catechetical instruction, that it were better for the wicked had they never been born. I emphasized God’s command to repent, our obligation before the living God, and the awfulness of knowing the way and not walking in it. I was never as subjective and practical as during the months that I have labored in Hamilton. But, I did not add what the immigrants wanted me to add, namely: the promise is for you all. Indeed, I said over and over again that the promise surely comes to all (as in the preaching, etc.), that all must give an answer to it, etc., but I could not add the Arminian “touch” of a promise for all. In fact, I have the testimony of the consistory of Hamilton that I preached the Word of God fully, subjectively and practically. Let us make no mistake here. The difference between these immigrants and our churches is clear as crystal. And we owe it to them and to us that we present this difference clear as crystal. A mere difference in terminology? Let the Liberated leaders tell us what they mean by their terminology. This we asked them months ago. We know what we believe, do we not? Moreover, I now have evidence that these immigrants do not believe in the doctrine of our Protestant Reformed Churches. More of this later.
Secondly, we must preserve our Protestant Reformed Cause. Our Cause is God’s Cause, is it not? The question does not concern the difference between Supralapsarianism and Infralapsarianism. Let us please not confuse or becloud the issue. ‘The question concerns the eternally sovereign and particular character of the grace and salvation of our God. Twenty- five years ago we disposed of the Heynsian conception of the covenant and the promise. Twenty-five years ago we vowed before the living God to maintain the truth of God’s absolute sovereignty. This is the issue, the same issue which was also decided at the Synod of Dordt in 1618-1619. Did we, in 1924, believe that we were maintaining something new? It is not a question of the responsibility of man or of a general preaching of a particular gospel. How often have we as Protestant Reformed Churches not maintained these truths! The question is simply this: shall we permit people to affiliate themselves with our churches who cut the very heart and core out of our churches and the Reformed truth? To this I say: God forbid! We must be concerned, not primarily for immigrants who refuse to be or become Protestant Reformed, but for our churches. The Protestant Reformed Cause is, in this country, nothing else than the Reformed maintaining of the Confessions. What would brethren, such as the professors, Schilder, Holwerda and Veenhof, etc. say if a horde of Protestant Reformed immigrants were to descend upon the Netherlands, seek membership in the Liberated Churches, continue to receive their literature out of America and intend to maintain and disseminate their Protestant Reformed conception and conviction in the Liberated Churches ? Surely, if the Liberated immigrants are advised not to join the Protestant Reformed Churches if they must submit to the Protestant Reformed covenant conception, then no Protestant Reformed member, who maintains that covenant conception, would be permitted membership in the Liberated Churches. It is said that there is no room for the Liberated within the Protestant Reformed Churches, as Liberated; to this we reply: neither is there room for the Protestant Reformed, as Protestant Reformed, within the Liberated Churches. At least, such has been my experience in our Canadian mission field.
Thirdly, let us bear this in mind: this (to remain Liberated in their conception of the covenant and the promise) is exactly what these immigrants intend to do. They have no intention of becoming Protestant Reformed. This, too, I wish to emphasize with all the power I can possibly muster. In fact, they have been advised out of the Netherlands to remain Liberated, receive their literature from the Netherlands, and spread it in our Protestant Reformed Churches. Of this fact (that they intend to remain Liberated) the congregation of Hamilton furnishes us with a striking example. The consistory simply refused to function as a Protestant Reformed consistory and desired to continue without any binding. This they have declared literally. In fact, this consistory had promised the undersigned to support him fully in all his Protestant Reformed preaching and teaching. This surely implies that they declared themselves willing to bind themselves to my preaching and. teaching (as a Protestant Reformed minister). Thereupon the consistory decided to refuse all binding, declared themselves unwilling to bind themselves and the congregation of Hamilton to the Protestant Reformed truth. And finally the consistory had the boldness to ask the release of the undersigned because he refused to submit to them, thereby paralyzing his labors in Hamilton. And when I, after the recently held classical meeting, asked the consistory of Hamilton what they desired they simply said to me: submit to us. I declared at our recently held classical meeting that I distributed considerable Protestant Reformed literature among the immigrants whom I visited last year, and never had an opportunity to discuss this literature with them. The implication of this is, of course, that they never intended to become Protestant Reformed. Until now I have been some eleven months in Hamilton, and during all this time never received one visit from one for the purpose of discussing with me our Protestant Reformed covenant conception. In fact, unmarried confessing members were urged to attend the confession class which I was conducting for those who had expressed the desire to make confession of faith for the purpose of acquainting themselves with our truth, but never appeared. These are facts. And today the Protestant Reformed Church at Hamilton has disappeared simply because they refuse to be a Protestant Reformed Church. In constant touch with the Netherlands, they are simply determined to remain Liberated, and this I mean, if you please, in distinction from our Protestant Reformed Churches. Do we need the Declaration? And this, if you please, is general. Very rarely did I meet a Liberated immigrant in our Canadian mission field who really intended to join the Protestant Reformed Churches for the sake of those Churches. For this statement, too, I have abundant evidence.
Besides, several immigrants have expressed the desire that we organize many churches in this Canadian province of Ontario, as in Sarnia, London, Orangeville, etc. What would happen if we had more churches in Canada than in the United States? Does anyone doubt? I ask: do we need a distinctly Protestant Reformed basis for the organization of Protestant Reformed Churches? Do we need the Declaration?
Furthermore, we even have churches, besides our congregations in Canada, who can verify the truth that these Liberated immigrants remain Liberated and have no intention to become Protestant Reformed. The undersigned can also verify this statement.
To this we may add that the consistory of Hamilton insists that they were organized, not upon the basis of the Three Forms of Unity as interpreted by the Protestant Reformed Churches, but simply upon the basis of the Three Forms of Unity. With this they mean that the Protestant Reformed emphasis upon the truth is extra-confessional, is not necessarily contained in those Three Forms of Unity. Hence, a man can believe in the Liberated view of the covenant and the promise and stand upon the Three Forms of Unity as well as a member of the Protestant Reformed Churches. And the consistory of Hamilton has maintained that they were never bound to the Protestant Reformed conception of the truth, but only to those Three Forms of Unity, and that no person may therefore be excluded from the fellowship of the church simply because he believes in the Liberated conception of the promise and of baptism. Do we need the Declaration, a specific setting forth of our Protestant Reformed doctrine? What this stand of Hamilton .implied and what the results were will become plain in the following paragraph.
I have already told our readers in my article which appeared in the Standard Bearer last Dec. 15 how I labored in Hamilton. At a consistory meeting which was held the Thursday evening of Jan. 11, 1951, seven families severed connections with our Protestant Reformed Church of Hamilton. All sent in a written request for their papers. Six families declared that they did not agree with the doctrine of our church (mind you, these families boast of the fact that they stand upon our Three Forms of Unity). Another declared that he had discovered lately that he was Liberated at heart. Still another expressed the thought that the Liberated view and the Protestant Reformed conception could not exist side by side, whereas at a recently held meeting of the young people of Hamilton it was stated that the opposing views of the Liberated and the Protestant Reformed could not exist together in the same society (and then we are told in Concordia that the Liberated and we have so much in common). A third party wrote the consistory that the Protestant Reformed Churches proclaim a pernicious or ruinous (verderfelijk) doctrine. And at a recent consistory meeting an elder declared that I had been offensive to the people in the Divine services because I had maintained that the promise is not general, whereas he also stated that I should have preached so as not to hurt their feelings. Certain leaders among us may declare that the Liberated and the Protestant Reformed Churches have much in common, but the undersigned assures our readers that this is not the opinion of these former members of the congregation of Hamilton. I ask in all seriousness: do we need the Declaration? No ‘Liberated immigrant, when asked whether he believes in the Three Forms of Unity, will answer in the negative. And yet, if we have much in common with those whom I contacted last year, I assure our readers that we have everything in common except that which constitutes the very heart and core of our Protestant Reformed Cause and truth. Mind you, these people who left our church of Hamilton because they did not agree with us and our doctrine, never appeared at a consistory meeting and never visited with the undersigned to discuss their problems and grievances. Neither did they point to a specific point of doctrine with which they did not agree. They left us simply because they were never of us and never intended to become Protestant Reformed. Do our readers now understand why I thanked God when the Declaration of Principles was announced?
Fourthly, what sound argument can anyone possibly raise against this Declaration of Principles? We deal with immigrants who do not hesitate to say that they stand upon the Word of God and upon the Three Forms of Unity, for the simple reason that, upon that basis, we would be compelled to accept persons from several Reformed churches who all stand upon the same Bible and the same Forms of Unity. ‘This means that we must discuss the truth with them. But how? This we shall do certainly as Protestant Reformed Churches. We certainly intend to teach them in the Three Forms of Unity as interpreted by the Protestant Reformed Churches. That is the solemn calling and duty of every officebearer, yea, of every member of the Protestant Reformed Churches. We must surely have the Declaration, be it written or not written and merely understood. It is said that this Declaration will bar Calvinistic, Biblical, Reformed people from our churches. Will someone please make plain how it is possible that this Declaration can bar reformed people from our fellowship? Is this Declaration perhaps not calvinistic, biblical, reformed, confessional? But, is it not merely a statement of that which we, as Protestant Reformed Churches, have believed all the years of our existence? Only, the Heynsianism which we rejected some twenty-five years ago once more rears up its head and seeks to infiltrate into our Protestant Reformed Churches. This is the experience of the undersigned. Professor Schilder may then write that he is reformed and also that he would never subscribe to this Declaration. To this we answer: “Professor Schilder, we do not understand how you, as the reformed man which we always believed you to be, can be in disagreement with this Declaration. But we know what we have encountered in our Canadian mission field. And we also know these immigrants have little respect for the doctrine of God’s sovereign and unconditional predestination. We wish to stand upon the Reformed truth that salvation is of God alone, from the beginning even unto the end, that grace is exclusively particular, also sovereignly.” Let, then, the Liberated, if they wish to maintain a general promise, etc., go their own ecclesiastical way. We will maintain over against their view of a general promise our view that God’s promise is particular and unconditional. Both cannot dwell together underneath one roof. They contradict each other. Besides, our Liberated immigrants have absolutely no intention that these views shall dwell together underneath one roof. They firmly intend that their conception shall triumph. It is indeed either-or, one or the other. And, our Protestant Reformed conception is surely not according to the flesh. The undersigned once asked an immigrant family which is easier to say to his children, that God loves them all and would save them all, or that the promise is exclusively particular and unconditional. And when this party answered me that the former was easier I countered with the question why the Protestant Reformed Churches then continue to preach and teach the latter. Indeed, our view is not of the flesh or according to the flesh.
We remarked in the preceding paragraph that according to some we must not have the Declaration because it would bar Calvinistic, Reformed, Biblical people from our churches. I wish to conclude this article with the following which I have also experienced here in Canada among these Liberated immigrants. Last July and August it was maintained by the consistory that we must bar none from the fellowship of our churches, and that therefore the two-point binding of June 5 was wrong. The consistory maintained that the preaching must drive the “undesirables” out. At that time, and also later, it was said that the Protestant Reformed truth is the purest presentation of the truth today, and that the purity of this truth must be maintained. But, we must not bar people from the church and thereby exclude them from this purest preaching of the truth of the Word of God. At that time we told the consistory that the result would be, if we permit all these immigrants to join our church: instead of witnessing the fact that the preaching drives out these undesirables, we would witness the fact that they would drive out the preaching. And what has now been the experience of the undersigned? I am accused of offending the people because of my emphasis upon the Protestant Reformed doctrine and am told that the preaching must be such as not to hurt and offend. O, it is true, that never did anyone visit me to call my attention to anything that I had said from the pulpit. In fact, the consistory has even until now never singled out a single expression which I used from the pulpit. In Hamilton we witness the spectacle of a Protestant Reformed minister being held captive within his own church and forbidden to preach distinctively”. Do we need the Declaration? And then it is being maintained, even by some of our own men, that we must reject this Declaration because it would bar these Calvinistic, biblical, and reformed immigrants. It is said that the Liberated detest binding. I assure you that they intend to bind our churches to their own conception of the covenant and the promise. I declare, solemnly, in the light of my own personal experiences, that the people among whom I have labored, notwithstanding that all those who joined our church last year did so upon the promise that they would be further instructed and not to agitate, have no intention that the Protestant Reformed truth and their conception of a general promise shall exist side by side. I assure our readers that it is exactly our distinctively Protestant Reformed truth, which we believe is founded upon our Confessions, which they reject. And if the result of the Declaration is that we exclude from our fellowship such as those among whom the undersigned might labor this last year, people who have no intention of being or becoming Protestant Reformed, this would be reason enough. We must have the Declaration because our only right of existence lies in our distinctiveness, and this is the issue at stake. May the Lord give us grace to hold fast that which we have.
* This article was written by the undersigned before he wrote he article: The End of Hamilton. The reader is kindly requested to bear this in mind.