This article was written by Rev. John Heys in the October 1, 1953 issue of the Standard Bearer.
Afraid of the Gospel (3)
Such is the process of life.
And if you do not root up or choke that which sprouts forth from the seed, the plant will soon come to that degree of growth that you can distinguish the plant from other types of plants.
You plant your flower seeds, and they grow. But in the soil are also the seeds of several obnoxious plants, the seeds of weeds. They also germinate. And as both that which your flower seeds send forth grows and that which these seeds of the not-wanted plants send forth grows, you are for a brief period of time at a loss to decide which must be uprooted.
So it is with the seed of the truth and the seed of the lie.
Both grow, and at certain stages, when that which the lie has brought forth first begins to make itself manifest, you hesitate to root it up, and you cannot always with definiteness brand it immediately as the lie rather than as the flower of the truth.
That has been our experience with those seeds of conditional theology which have troubled us and led many of our people to be afraid of the gospel.
When that conditional theology first appeared in our midst, after the seeds were sown from a foreign soil, we had a rather general discussion of conditions in the covenant. Soon enough faith was presented as a condition of salvation. Naturally, as the plant grew and thrived in our soil, we heard defenses of conditional promises. We were assured, by those who loved this plant, that although the plant had the name of a weed it was really a pretty flower. By now we could see the plant clearly. We could see the leaves, the stem and even the flowers, and were therefore clamoring for these plants to be uprooted and choked out of our garden, our Protestant Reformed garden. So those who cherished this imported plant decided to give the weed the name of a flower. And so it was called “Conditions in the Reformed Sense.” Well, now that ought to warn anyone not to try to uproot such a lovely plant!
We pleaded! We asked and waited for a definition of those “conditions in the Reformed sense.” Naturally such a condition is one taught and defended by the Reformed Confessions. In that catalogue we could find no such flower. Neither could those who drew up this name for the weed.
But now we know!
By a united defense and persistent refusal to deny it, we know that by “Conditions in the Reformed sense” are meant “prerequisites”. Even the cautious reference to “conditions which we by God's grace fulfill” is no more heard, but the key word now is “prerequisites.” That word must be maintained and be defended, so they now say. Now what is defended is not merely that as covenant children we have a calling, that there are things which we must do as heeding the precepts of the gospel. Now what is defended is that we must do something BEFORE God bestows the next installment of our salvation. Understand it is not requisites but PRErequisites that are being defended. We are told that our act of conversion is required before we enter into the kingdom of God.
Do not say, “O, but we mean that we perform that act of conversion only and entirely by God's grace. We are speaking of those already in the kingdom.” Listen! You put that grace of God before our act of conversion and you have taken the “pre” away from your requisite. It is misleading doubletalk to speak of prerequisites we fulfill by God's grace. The moment that God gives you that grace to perform the act of conversion, you have already entered into his kingdom, entered consciously into the enjoyment of that kingdom. Why, do you not see that the moment God gives you that grace to convert yourself you ARE CONSCIOUSLY ENJOYING one of the wonders of that kingdom? One is conscious of his act of conversion, is he not? You must enjoy the grace of that kingdom before you can convert yourself.
Then too, conditions must be preached, so it is chimed, lest we deny the responsibility of man. Come, now. You mean that? Then why do you, when your doctrinal soundness seems to be questioned, quickly add, “Which we fulfill only by God's grace.” Are you not afraid to add that too? By such an addition have you yourself not done damage to the idea of man's responsibility? Are you not afraid that you will make man a stock and a block by telling him that he fulfills those conditions only by God's grace? Have you not fallen again into that dreadful thing of preaching a passive doctrine? Come, let us throw away that prerequisite business! Let us uproot all that conditional theology that has crept into our Protestant Reformed “flower garden.”
It was not ever thus. It was not even thus with those who hold so tenaciously to this error today in our circles. Those who condemn the conditional theology have changed????? What will you say then of these lines below written only ten years ago? They were written by one* who today wants the men, who taught him the Protestant Reformed truth, expelled from their position as professors in our Theological School. Why? Because he has changed his views from the Reformed truth to conditional theology.
Writing about article 3 of the second half of the first chapter of the Canons of Dordt, we come across this amazing paragraph which we quote in its entirety. (The italics are ours in every instance.)
“They say here (the Pelagians—J.A.H.) that God elected certain conditions. God, they say, could have maybe made it so that nobody would ever be saved. But it pleased God to say: ‘Whoever will meet my conditions, him will I elect unto salvation.' That is their conception. Hence according to them, salvation rests on the question of whether we meet the conditions. This is what we call ‘Conditional Election.’ Many people also speak this way about accepting the terms of the covenant, (There, brother, you have the controversy that is raging in our churches, and what do you say of that?—J.A.H.) We do indeed believe in covenant obligations and privileges, but never as conditions.”
That, if you please, was only ten years ago. Frankly, brother, NEVER is longer than ten years, is it not?
A little later in the same vein we read in regard to article 2 of the second half of chapter one of the Canons, “Which states that there are really two kinds of election. One is election unto faith and the other is election unto salvation. One can be elected unto faith but not unto salvation. In other words, one has to go two miles, but it may be we get only one mile. Hence we are not saved. The whole of election is therefore dependent upon the question whether man keeps on believing. On this error much of that so-called revival preaching is based. Of course we must keep on believing, but that is not a condition. It is rather the grace of God which gives power to keep on believing. And that grace flows forth from election."
That, brother, is Protestant Reformed language. That is what the men, you now want relieved of their position as professors in our seminary, taught you. That is where you get it. Now you do not want them to teach that to our present students? Are you afraid of the gospel now, when ten years ago you boldly published it in this book of yours, which we once wrote you, we enjoyed?
Return, return, the undersigned pleads with you, return to that stand. Go back and preach that again from the housetops. Be another testimony in Classis West of that Protestant Reformed truth.
Classis West, consistories, members in the congregations, who is it now that has changed? This conditional theology you have been hearing so much these last years from your pulpits, is that what these same men taught you ten years ago? Urge them to come back to the Protestant Reformed truth.
O, indeed, some of you have a problem of interpretation. You have been frightened by these loud cries of making men stocks and blocks, of preaching a passive doctrine and of denying man’s responsibility. You have been made afraid of the gospel, so much so that one can read the amazement upon your faces when from the pulpit the scriptural and Protestant Reformed truth is declared that God loves his people even while they walk in sin. It is because election has not been preached to you, and you have not been reminded that God always looks down upon his people in Christ and therefore sees them as righteous and holy in him? Have you forgotten that the scriptures say that while we were yet sinners God manifested his love in sending his Son to die for sinners? Has it not been held before your eyes that “The mercy of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting upon those that fear him,” Psalm 103:17, so that all prerequisites of fearing him before that mercy comes are ruled out? That mercy which begins in eternity, surely was upon them before their first act of fearing him.
We will concede that our regenerated minds must see the fruits of the Spirit in our lives in order for us to have the consciousness of our salvation. But that is a far cry from prerequisites and conditions. My regenerated mind (which is then already in principle saved and therefore desires assurance of the forgiveness of sins) cannot have this assurance unless and until I can see repentance in my life. But then repentance, conversion, my act of faith are not conditions God demands me to fulfill before he will give me the consciousness of my forgiveness. Instead they are his signs to me through which he speaks the comforting words that I am Christ’s and that I may know it by these fruits of the Spirit. Then my act of conversion is not something that God must see before and in order to give me the consciousness of entering his kingdom, but it is that work of God which my regenerated mind (for God deals with me as a rational moral creature) must see and demands in order that I may have this assurance. Why should we want anything more than that? The rest is Arminianism.
*The Rev. M. Gritters in his work "The Testimony of Dordt," written in 1943 at Sioux Center, Iowa.