Why Not Protestant Reformed (2)

Continuing with our discussion of the malicious caricature drawn up of our Protestant Reformed preaching and teaching by members of our late Protestant Reformed Church of Hamilton, we now quote the following: “They say that God is unchangeable and works all things according to His decrees. Everything has been determined and ordained by Him. God has loved the one eternally and hates the other. Because God loves His children always there is no place for wrath,”—end of quote

One might well ask these immigrants: “Don’t you believe these things? Do you not believe that the Lord is unchangeable and works all things according to His decrees, that everything has been determined and ordained by Him, and that He loved the one and hated the other eternally? How is it possible that we err bemuse we believe these truths and reject as heresy anything which contradicts these cardinal truths? Do not our Fathers reason in the Canons of Dordrecht from God’s sovereign predestination? I do not see how it is possible to err because one maintains the sovereignty of God, and I do not know of any church that has gone astray because it has maintained the sovereignty of the Lord. Indeed, I realize that there are heresies such as Fatalism and Determinism. But, we, as Protestant Reformed Churches, are certainly not Fatalistic or Deterministic. This I stated and showed conclusively in my previous article. Besides, these heresies certainly do not maintain the Scriptural truth of God’s sovereign predestination. They corrupt and distort this truth.

Moreover, that these Liberated immigrants do not understand the truth of God’s eternal and unchangeable election is evident from the quotation quoted above, and I quote: Because God loves His children always there is no place for wrath.” This, of course, was never stated by the undersigned, i.e., in the sense in which it appears in this quotation. Of course, the Lord loves the elect eternally. And, as He loves them, this love is eternal and exclusive and unchangeable. Does this mean, however, that “because God loves His children always there is no place for wrath,” that therefore the elect, as they walk and reveal themselves in the midst of this world, never experience the wrath of the Lord? Indeed, we also endorse and preach Is. 12:1. That God loves the elect eternally surely does not imply that He also always loves them as they reveal themselves in the midst of the world. A father loves his child; does this mean that he is never angry with that child? The Lord loves the elect eternally,

However, He loves them as elect and as He sees them eternally in Christ Jesus. Hence, if these elect walk in ways of sin they do not experience the love of God but His wrath. We never preached anything else. And, let me emphasize: the Liberated immigrants around Hamilton know this, This truth was emphasized repeatedly. This quotation is simply a slanderous caricature of the truth of our churches.

Another quotation to which I wish to call attention is the following: “The consequences unto which this preaching leads are illustrated by the following examples. When Adam fell in sin he thereby actually did nothing else than carry out God’s counsel as obedient servant, namely by leading the human race to fall. Thereby the deed of sin is not ascribed to man as an individual, whereby the guilt consciousness because of the deed disappears.”—end of quote. I suppose that the authors of this quotation refer to the sermon by the undersigned on Lord’s Day 12: What is the significance of the name Christ? In this sermon I emphasized the truth, so familiar in our Protestant Reformed Churches, that Christ is our CHIEF prophet, ONLY high priest, and ETERNAL king, that Jesus alone is the Christ, the anointed to lead us into everlasting glory, and that therefore, also in the counsel of God, there never was any other. Also eternally Jesus alone is the Christ. Indeed, that Jesus is the only Christ, also eternally, does not mean, after Adam failed to remain in the state of rectitude and therefore failed to lead us into glory, Jesus became the Christ, also as in the counsel of the Lord. This would surely be a denial of the truth of the Word of God as expressed, e.g., in Eph. 1:9-10. Hence, it was not the divine purpose that Adam should lead us into the heavenly glory, but that Christ should lead us into that glory, and that Adam’s place, therefore, in the eternal purpose and counsel of God was to prepare the night of sin and death out of which Christ, according to the sovereign counsel of the living God, would save us unto the praise and glory of His matchless grace. However, this is not all. The undersigned did not expect that his hearers would subscribe “overnight” to this “supralapsarian” presentation of salvation. But, might he for that reason not preach it? Of course, the reader should also bear in mind that this sermon was on the twelfth Lord’s Day, and that the undersigned had treated, prior to this Lord’s Day, also Lord’s Days 2-5, inwhich sermons Adam’s calling and responsibility were as clearly set forth as they are ever set forth in the Netherlands. And, to be sure, never did the undersigned make the statement that Adam did actually nothing else than carry out God’s counsel as obedient servant. In fact, Adam carried out God’s counsel exactly as a disobedient servant, and the Lord realizes His eternal purpose and will also through the sin and fall of the father of the human race. Hence, the statement as it appears in this article which we now criticize is nothing else than wicked and malicious slander. This also applies to the statement that in our preaching the deed of sin is not ascribed to the individual. Professor Schilder, I am sure, is fully aware of this.

A third quotation to which I will briefly call attention is the following: “God’s child CANNOT turn his back upon the Lord inasmuch as He always draws His child unto Himself and it cannot resist that. This is shown, a.o., by Paul’s cooperation in the stoning of Stephen which is not presented as sin and they also come to the conclusion that Paul was not converted on the way to Damascus, but merely apprehended by God in the heart. Fact is, Paul was elected, God loved him and every step which that beloved child of God did IS to His honor.”—end of quote.

Such nonsense! I recall that I mentioned once in a sermon that it is my personal opinion that Paul was not converted on the way to Damascus. But I do not recall ever having referred to Paul’s cooperation in the stoning of Stephen and that this was not sin on Paul’s part. Our churches do not teach such nonsense. As far as Paul’s “conversion” on the way to Damascus is concerned, I did remark that it was my belief that the apostle was a child of God from infancy on and that, on the way to Damascus, he was called out of the darkness of the Old Dispensation into the light of the New Dispensation, recognizing Jesus Christ, whom, he thought to be dead, as the very God whom he sought to serve. However, I also added that it made no difference to me whether one wished to believe that he was converted now rather than believe that he did serve the Lord from infancy on. Besides, I am sure that I added that it was my own personal opinion. Nevertheless, these authors of this malicious document ascribe this to our churches, and add the thoroughly wicked statement: “Paul was elected, God loved him and every step which that beloved child of God did IS to His honor.” I refuse to comment on this bit of slander, except to say that it is a riddle to me how sincere people and children of God can write so wickedly.

A fourth quotation is the following: “God never strikes His people with His judgments, for if God strikes, then it is not His people which are stricken but the world. When the Scriptures teach us how the Lord goes up with the people of Israel, then that is explained merely as concern for people who are elected, and those are but few in Israel.”—end of quote. The first part of this quotation is again sheer nonsense. Our churches should teach that “God never strikes His people with His judgments, for if God strikes, then it is not His people which are stricken but the world?” Are we not constantly involved in the judgments of the Lord? Do not wars and pestilences and famines, sickness and death strike God’s people as well as the world? Were not the elect, also in the Old Dispensation, constantly stricken by God’s judgments, such as repeated invitations by heathen nations round about them, the Babylonian captivity, etc.? Neither am I able to recognize any sermon to which this article may possibly refer, unless it is my sermon on 1 Peter 4:18. It is so unfair and unchristian for people that they never visit the pastor and later write an article in which they “quote” from memory and accuse the pastor of various monstrosities which they never called to his attention. On the other hand, I do not understand how they can refer to 1 Peter 4:18 inasmuch as in that sermon I emphasize in my introduction that the judgment of God begins at the house of God. I simply do not know to what they refer. However, I am somewhat interested in the second half of this quotation. This is not due to the fact that I recall ever having made a statement of this nature, but because these Liberated immigrants evidently teach here that when the Lord went up with the people of Israel He did so as filled with concern also for the reprobates. What do they mean with this? I fear that this “concern” must be interpreted as Divine compassion, love, care, etc. This is not Reformed. It is Arminian. Does not Prof. Schilder declare that there is no “algemeene gunstige gezindheid Gods?” A little more light on this particular sentence in the quotation might prove interesting.

The fifth quotation to which we wish to call attention is the following: “The prayer to Christ for daily repentance has no place in that system. Man IS converted, i.e., elected, or man is not.”—end of quote. This is more serious than it probably appears upon the surface. Of course, viewing this particular quotation as such, we could quickly dispose of it and say: such nonsense was never preached by the undersigned and is surely never preached anywhere in our churches. However, the issue at stake here is more fundamental than what appears on the surface. I fear that this touches upon a fundamental difference between our preaching and that in the Liberated Churches. I say: I fear this, because we have no dispute with the Liberated Churches of the Netherlands. This I have mentioned in all my labors in Hamilton. I did not place myself over against the churches of the Netherlands. I was simply dealing with immigrants who wished to join our Protestant Reformed Churches, and I was called to deal with them as a Protestant Reformed minister. However, I KNOW that this touches upon a fundamental difference between us and the Liberated immigrants of Hamilton.

Did not the undersigned preach conversion? Of course he did. Does the undersigned not subscribe to Lord’s Day 33, Art. 24 of our Confession of Faith, and Heads III and IV of the Canons of Dordrecht? What, then, was the difficulty? How vividly I recall a certain visit at the home of elder T. Hart last year during the month of August. Friends visiting with us from the States accompanied us on this visit. That evening we discussed this subject of conversion-preaching in the church or congregation of God. Returning home that evening I declared optimistically that I thought elder Hart would be convinced of the truth even as I was convinced of it and as it lives in my soul. Thereupon our visitor replied that he feared that Hart would never share our conviction with respect to this truth. How wrong I was and how correct he was!

I ask again: What was the difficulty? The point is this: I emphasized conversion as according to Lord’s Day 33, the Lord’s Day which calls our attention to true conversion. These people demanded a conversion preaching in the current sense of the word, a conversion preaching to people who are not yet converted and must as yet be called into the salvation of God and our Lord Jesus Christ. I viewed the congregation primarily as the Church of the living God (notice that “conversion” and “election” are identified in this quotation) which must be admonished to repent daily because they are the people of God and repentance is required of us as the fruit of grace. They would have me view the young people, e.g., as unconverted, who in that current sense of the word must be exhorted to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Does this mean that we do not command the wicked to repent, or that we do not conform our preaching to the particular needs of the congregation as she reveals herself in the midst of the world? Of course not. But it is my conviction that even as a farmer is concerned about his crop so also the positive and primary purpose of all congregational labors concerns the elect, the Church, the people of the living God. And if people may say to this: there he goes again; preaching to the elect, etc., I answer: that is Protestant Reformed and that is thoroughly Scriptural. I will presently support this with the Scriptures.

Indeed, I believe I could have satisfied these people if I had so desired, although it is a question how long I could have continued along this way. In fact, I certainly attempted to be as practical and subjective as I possibly could be. Then I would simply preach misery and redemption, the admonition to repent and believe. Then I would simply preach that Baptism commands us to do so, that it speaks of our sin and condemnation, of the blood of Christ as the only atonement for sin, and that we must believe unto everlasting life, and that whosoever believeth is saved and whosoever believeth not shall be damned. And, preaching this, I would be preaching the truth. How well I remember emphasizing this in connection with my sermon on Lord’s Day 7. But, of course, there is nothing distinctive about this, and one can find this preaching in almost any church today which bears the name of fundamentalist over against modernism. Doing this, however, we certainly would not be preaching the whole truth, the entire counsel of the living God. And I repeat: we must be Protestant Reformed.

Positively and primarily all congregational labor is for the sake of the elect, the “crop”. We baptize our children because they are elect, because God has established with them eternally His covenant of grace and has eternally adopted them to be His children and heirs, and because Christ has suffered and died for them and rendered them righteous before God. To deny this implies a denial of what is reformed. To be sure, not all the children are elect, and it is the good pleasure of God that also the carnal seed of the church receive the sign and seal of the covenant, which is administered to them not in God’s love but in His sovereign wrath. Or, if you will, also the carnal seed of the church must bear the uniform of God’s elect in the midst of the world. And all our preaching and instruction purposes, positively and primarily, to build up the elect body of Christ, instruct it in all the knowledge of the Scriptures, in order that the people of the Lord may walk unto the glory of God’s name in the midst of the world, and may know that all things work together for their good and salvation, which things include also include the reprobate, carnal shell with which they are organically united.

This presentation is thoroughly Scriptural. We refer, at random, to Is. 40:1-2, Rom. 1:7, 1 Cor. 1:2-5, 2 Cor. 1:1-4, Eph. 1:1-14, Eph. 4:11-16, Phil. 1:1-2, 1 Thess. 1:4, 2 Tim. 3:16-17, Titus 1:1-2, 1 Peter 1:1-5, 2 Peter 1:1, 1 John 2:12-14. I will quote just a few of these passages. We read in Eph. 4:11-12: “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.” Here we read that the divine purpose of the offices within the Church of God is the edifying of the body of Christ, the perfecting of the saints. This is the primary and positive purpose of the ministry of the Word in all its phases. Verses 14-16 are also of importance in this connection. Or, I would call attention to 2 Tim. 3:16-17: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” This passage of the Word of God is surely pertinent, is it not? Indeed, all of Scripture is given us of God for doctrine and reproof and correction and instruction in righteousness. This implies that we must not preach election merely in the sense that we simply ask the question: Are you an elect? But the Word of God must also reprove and admonish and correct. There is no true preaching of the Word of God if these things be lacking. But, please bear in mind that the positive purpose of the Scriptures, according to this particular Word of God, is: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. This man of God is the elect. Or, to confine ourselves literally to this text, he is the man of God, the man as he is the product of God, God’s man. Hence, the Word of God has been given us by divine inspiration exactly in order that the elect of God may be thoroughly furnished, equipped unto the performance of every good work. Finally, I call attention to 1 John 2:12-14: “I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake. I write unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning. I write unto you, young men, because ye have overcome the wicked one. I write unto you, little children, because ye have known the Father. I have written unto you, fathers, because ye have known Him that is from the beginning. I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.” This I consider a truly remarkable passage. I understand the “children” here in distinction from the fathers and young men. These children here are the little ones. And what do we read of them? That their sins have been forgiven them and that they have known the Father. The apostle here does not presuppose this, but declares this to be a fact. Of course, this does not apply to all the children in the bosom of the church. All of Scripture contradicts this. But this Scripture does inform us that also children share in the eternal salvation of the living God. Baptism is therefore a sign and seal, not merely of something which the children may obtain in the future if they only believe, in the name of the Lord Jesus, but also of something which they already possess.

The undersigned vividly recalls his sermon on the parable of the tares among the wheat, according to Matt. 13. At the time there were six visitors in the audience from the States, members of our Fuller Ave. Church. I will mention no names. How I tried to emphasize in that sermon that we must and do labor with all our children, teaching them and praying with them, etc.! But I also emphasized that we cannot make children of God, that the same instruction serves to soften the one and harden the other. And I preached that the Scriptures speak of sheep and goats, tares and wheat, etc., and therefore distinguish within the church in the midst of the world according to eternal predestination. And I held up before the congregation the sure and blessed comfort that God has His children among our seed, and that He will surely gather and save His church according to election, at the same time admonishing the congregation that we must be willing to be instrumental in the hands of God unto the divine realization of His counsel of election but also of reprobation,

Indeed, what a tremendous difference between a conditional theology and an unconditional theology! May our churches ever be spared from the former and continue to maintain the latter!

One may say in connection with this conversion preaching: It is merely a matter of viewpoint. It is surely a difference of viewpoint. But, this viewpoint is fundamental! May we never lose it!