Afraid of the Gospel (4)
Reformed Free Publishing Association
This article was written by Rev. John Heys in the October 15, 1953 issue of the Standard Bearer.
In the article just preceding this one we stated that the seeds of conditional theology were planted into our churches from foreign soil.
That conditional theology was not here even during those days when our leaders used the word “condition” without having fully before their consciousness the implication of that word. Today, however, fully conscious of the use of that word among members of the Liberated Churches of the Netherlands who desire to become members of our congregation while still holding on to their conditional theology, fully conscious of its implications because of thorough and exhaustive discussions on the floor of Synod and Classis, there are those who still want that which manifestly they did not want and did not know only a few years ago.
There was a time when there was none in our churches who was afraid to preach the gospel. We like to show that at this time. We quote again from the work of the Rev. M. Gritters, “The Testimony of Dordt.”
We find no personal joy or pleasure in revealing these things of the brother’s past writings, for we always had great respect for him. He is a hard worker, and produced more in the line of such works than any other of our ministers with the exception of our leaders, the Rev. H. Hoeksema and the Rev. G. M. Ophoff. We always considered the brother also to be a very conscientious worker and in our student days we respected and appreciated his advice, which he will no doubt remember. Added to this is that, as we wrote him, we enjoyed this work of his, especially because of its real Protestant Reformed emphasis. We had always hoped that the brother would see his own departure from his earlier teachings, that he would be persuaded to go back to it by all the argumentation in ecclesiastical gatherings and in our church papers. And since he never assumed the role of leading a battle against his former teachings, that is, not before Classis West met in September, with the exception of the document he and his consistory sent to Classis West and to Synod in order to seek the defeat of the Declaration of Principles, we never intended to bring out of the past these writings of his, even though we knew for the last three years or more that the statements we quoted last time were in his writings as well as those we quote in this present article.
But now, since he is ready apparently to defend the two statements which Classis East declared to be literally heretical, now that he and his consistory went on record and even lead in the movement to recognize as the legal consistory of First Church that group of men which refuses to abide by the decision of its Classis, we felt that the good of our Protestant Reformed Churches demanded that we show very plainly from the writings of the brother that this conditional theology has been imported, that it was not here ten years ago, and that those who now embrace and defend it wrote things which the opponents of conditional theology would be rebuked for, were they to say them today. That we have to refer to the writings of one whom we always respected so highly before, as we wrote above, is painful and we do not relish it, but our people must see that something has happened in our churches and that to deny conditions is to continue in the Protestant Reformed way.
Naturally we are interested to know what the brother had to say about the much-quoted passage of the Canons which was presented to defend conditional promises when the Declaration was treated at Synod. We have reference to Canons 2.5. We quote his entire statement on this Article and underscore that last sentence.
“Article 5...You will notice that the Fathers bring in the mention of the gospel as being THE MEANS whereby God applies the merits of Christ’s redemption to the elect. That is noteworthy. Especially if one bears in mind that the majority of people today view the gospel and its preaching as merely a well-meant offer, or as a means to improve the world or as a means to try to bring ‘some sinners’ etc. The Reformed fathers have rightly grasped that word of Paul which says that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, it is thus the POWER whereby God brings to salvation them for whom he has prepared salvation. The gospel comes with the assurance that whosoever believes in Christ shall be saved. This gospel, although it is intended to gather and to save only the elect, must however be preached throughout the whole world. God commands this, for ALL must be called to repent (and demanded to repent) and believe in Christ. Although therefore the preaching is general, the message is particular...it promises eternal life only to them that believe.”
That last sentence, surely, is quite different from a promise to all who hear on the condition of faith. When the brother wrote these lines ten years ago, it is plain that he had not yet heard of the conditional theology imported from the Netherlands. He surely would have written the above paragraph in quite different language. His paragraph above gives not the faintest notion that believing is the condition to that eternal life or even to the conscious enjoyment of the promise of eternal life. Would he today write that last sentence thus, “...it promises eternal life conditionally? It promises eternal life to all who hear on the condition of faith”? Would he today end this paragraph with the statement: “God promises every one of you (those who hear the gospel) that if you believe you will be saved”?
But then note what he writes on the same page, page 17, about Article 7:
“As the gospel is preached in the world there are those who believe and are saved. Now, how did this come? To what is this to be ascribed? Notice how carefully our Fathers answer this question. If people go lost it is because they rejected Christ: if they are saved, is it because they accepted Christ? We would say, Yes. But notice that they do not say that. So afraid are they to ascribe any honor or power to man, that even in this case they refuse to use the word ‘accept.’ Faith and salvation is due to the grace given them of Christ and not due to any merits of their own. The words, ‘accepting Jesus,’ although very popular today ought to lead us to consider its dangerous implications. Not WE but God does the accepting. (The italics are ours—J.A.H.) Behind the so-called accepting (believing) lies the decree of election. And who cannot see that also behind the rejecting (disbelieving) lies the decree of reprobation. In faith and unbelief both God realizes his eternal decrees, and the gospel is his handmaid to that end.”
That, brother, is beautiful language, would to God you would return to it. While copying the above lines we could not help but wonder whether the Fathers mentioned in this article ever used the word “accept” in their writings. Those addicted to conditional theology, as you know, like to insist that the word “condition” is good Reformed language even though the Confessions do not use it. And they base their assumption on the fact that outside of the Confessions these fathers did use the word. Could it be that they also do use the word “accept.” It would be interesting if anyone can show this from their writings.
But the point we want to make is that the brother said ten years ago that “God does the accepting.” The italics are ours, not his. Wonder what some of the disciples of conditional theology would say if that statement would be made from the pulpit in their church by one who cannot believe in conditions. What would the reaction be, if we were to say that “God does the believing”? For note how the brother uses the words interchangeably when he says, “Behind the so-called accepting (believing) lies the decree of election.” But even apart from that observation, God does the accepting. In the light of that statement the brother, surely could not mean by the last line of the preceding quotation that the promise of eternal life is only to them that believe because believing is the condition that God requires of man. For God does the accepting. Shall we be as careful as our Fathers were and though many of us are saying that faith is the condition of salvation, shall we cast the word and the concept far away and say that in the way of causing us to believe through regeneration and the preaching of the gospel, God brings us to the consciousness that the promise of eternal life is ours?
We have other passages we like to quote of the brother to show, that he, not only ten years ago but as short as two years ago knew nothing of prerequisites unto even the conscious enjoyment of our salvation, though now he and his consistory desire to encourage that group of suspended and deposed officebearers which stands behind the heretical statement that “our act of conversion is a prerequisite to enter the kingdom.”
And the brother, of course, may feel free to use our space in this rubric to show us that he has returned to the Protestant Reformed truth and that he maintains all these things which he wrote ten years ago.
But, as little space remains, we like to quote just one short passage to show that some of our people have been trained to lately listen to something which is different from that which has always been taught in our circles and was taught by the brother.
Undersigned would expect quite a reaction, were he to preach on some of our pulpits and say what is found on page 28, where the brother, in the days when he was not afraid to preach the gospel wrote,
“Thirdly...But behind and beneath this all lies that almighty work of grace called Regeneration, whereby both the heart and the will are touched by divine grace, and the person so touched actually believes, and with the Philippian jailer cries out, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ And forthwith comes the answer, ‘I have saved you.’ Let therefore the gospel be preached from a thousand pulpits and in all countries, but let the preacher tell every soul that salvation is only of God.” (The underscoring is ours—J.A.H.)
Can you visualize people coming up to one who preached that which we have underscored above and telling him, “Domine, you make man a stock and a block!? That is passive preaching and denies man's responsibility.”
“Tell us what WE must DO!”