Afraid of the Gospel (9)

This article was written by Rev. John Heys in the January 1, 1954 issue of the Standard Bearer.

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Conditional theology.

Christless preaching.

These, we wrote last time, go hand in hand.

And, then, we do not mean that in sermons which are based on conditional theology the name of Christ is not mentioned. The use of the name of Christ does not save a sermon from being Christless. Even the modernist will mention the name of Christ repeatedly in his “sermons.” And yet the Christ is not in his “sermons” at all! The Christ of the modernist is the imagination of man’s mind, not the atoning Christ of God’s counsel.

The same is true of many religions which call them­selves the Christian religion.

In sermons based on conditional theology, even though much time is spent and many words are employed to extol and to present the glorious salvation which is in Christ, there is still that Christless element that condemns it as being false doctrine. Listen to all the Arminian philosophy that pours as a flood out of your radio! Arminianism as a rule, rather than as an exception, speaks loudly and at length of the salvation that is in Christ. Yet its Christless element nullifies it all. Do not forget that even the Pelagians, against whose heresy the Canons of Dordt were composed, speak of men who “through the grace of the Holy Spirit” believe in Christ. And yet they teach salvation by works rather than by grace.

What makes conditional theology Christless theology is that after all the wonderful things that it says about Christ and the salvation that is in him, it still leaves the sinner disconnected from that Christ and his salvation. What is more, conditional theology teaches that man makes the connection by fulfilling the condition stipulated by God.

We refer you again to those two statements of Rev. De Wolf which are plain examples of conditional theology and its Christlessness. “God promises everyone of you that if you believe, you will be saved.” That is his first statement which he deliberately made—it was no slip of the tongue—and which he still today refuses to condemn as being heretical in its literal form.

Now note, first of all, that, according to this statement, that which brings the salvation in Christ into man is not God in sovereign election or through the instrumentality of his gift of faith, but man’s act of believing. God promises that salvation conditionally. He has prepared the salvation in Christ, so the theory in this statement runs. It is all ready and is a present reality. But many men do not have it yet. It is still outside of them. However, God meets these men part of the way and assures them that if they will perform the act of faith and so cross over the chasm that still separates them from Christ and this salvation, they will be received of God on the other side of the chasm and be crowned with salvation and its glory.

In such a theory Christ is preached, so it is claimed. Salvation in him is preached, so it is said. And loud voices of murmuring were raised when, last time, we declared that conditional preaching and Christless sermons go hand in hand. And yet, so it is! For in that vital point between man and the salvation in Christ, Christ is not to be found. Instead you find a condition man must fulfill. Our act of faith, or of conversion, becomes the determining factor that brings the salvation into us.

It reminds one of the old Arminian figure of throwing out the life line to a sailor fighting against a watery grave. What is wrong with the illustration is that the “struggling sailor” has life and the desire to live, while the natural man is dead and can neither struggle nor desire to be saved. But how remarkably well Rev. De Wolf’s first statement fits in with this Arminian scheme of things. The man who is not yet saved and has not faith, is told by Rev. De Wolf in this first statement that if he believes he will be saved; If he will put out his hand in faith across this chasm, where Christ does not stand, he can reach out and take the salvation God offers.

Now he must not say that he never preached anything like that! His first statement teaches just exactly that! As we showed last time, you cannot add to this statement that phrase to which those addicted to conditional theology always resort, when it is made plain that their conditional theology is Arminian, namely, that we fulfill these conditions by God’s grace. You cannot say, “God promises every one of you that if you by his grace believe you will be saved.” You will have to say, “God promises all his elect that he will give them grace to believe and so save them.” That is quite different. That statement brings Christ into the very inmost part of the soul of those chosen in him and brings it into their souls by the work of God without any help from man.

And it is surely a striking thing that Rev. De Wolf made this statement, that God promises everyone that if they believe they will be saved, in a sermon on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, and also that he made it at the point he did in the “sermon.” See the Reformed Guardian of August 29 wherein he reconstructs this sermon to try to show that the context will reveal that he had no heresy in mind. It is striking because the parable speaks of those who do not believe and are not saved, namely the brothers of the rich man who is in hell. There is a gulf between him and Lazarus who is in Abraham's bosom. The rich man is desirous to see that his brothers bridge that gulf and do not land in the torment which he suffers. He pleads with Abraham to have Lazarus sent to his brothers to warn them of the awful torment that is in store for them. Abraham says, in the parable, that they have Moses and the prophets: “Let them hear them.” The rich man says that they need more than that. If one would return from the dead to tell them as an eyewitness of these awful things, they would repent. Abraham tells them that it is not so, that if they would not listen to Moses and the prophets, they would not listen to Lazarus either, even though he came back from the dead. It is an important thing to remember that Jesus caused Abraham to say that in this parable. Rev. De Wolf’s statement ignores that fact, but it is the truth of the text nevertheless. If one does not heed the preaching that he receives through the living men that God sends to him, he will not hear any messenger that God might send from out of the dead.

We might pause a moment to ask why this is. The answer of Christless conditional theology would surely not be the words of Jesus to the ungodly Jews that refused to listen to him, “Ye believe not because ye are not of my sheep” John 10:26. Conditional theology would not suggest that, because it is afraid of the gospel. It is afraid of election. Election brings certain individuals into Christ, makes them one with him and does not leave a gulf, a chasm, a separation between Christ and his people which they must fill up with certain works which are the condition to their obtaining of the blessedness that is in him. Conditional theology, as its defenders dare to tell us, is built around the pedagogical approach that if you tell people that the church is one with Christ in sovereign election and that Christ has united us unto himself by the bond of faith, you will make men careless and profane. You must come to him with the pedagogical approach that his activity of faith is necessary to span the gulf between himself and the Christ who is full of blessedness. That is the underlying, fundamental philosophy of conditional theology.

The point here in the parable is, however, that God, by the Spirit of Christ and on the basis of sovereign election and the cross of Jesus Christ after engrafting them in Christ by the bond of faith, will use the preaching of the scrip­tures to bring his elect to repentance and the activity of faith. And the reprobate, who are in no way connected to Christ, either by sovereign election or by the bond of faith, will not believe no matter who testifies to them. Rev. De Wolf should have preached Christ to his audience in this text and shown his hearers that One did return from the dead the third day, and though the evidence of this is in­disputable and that though the “brothers” of this rich man were convinced of that fact and could not deny it, they paid the soldiers to silence this testimony of him.

Of course the “brothers” of the rich man did not believe in Christ, even after he came back from the dead. If you bring that risen Christ next to them and leave as much as one millionth of an inch between him and them where he does not stand, they cannot reach out even that small distance to take hold of him by faith. That is still too big a chasm for a dead man to span. Christ must be IN us by his Spirit, and we must be IN him by sovereign election and by the bond of faith. And God does not promise to those who are OUTSIDE of Christ that, if they believe, they will be brought into such a living relation with Christ and be saved. That is heresy!

Please note, in the second place, that, in this first statement of Rev. De Wolf, faith is not promised to the elect, but everyone is promised that if he will only believe, then God will save him. Man’s act of faith precedes salvation, rather than to be a part of it. Jesus taught in the parable that the scriptures are sufficient as God's means of grace to work faith in his elect. Rev. De Wolf dares to use that same parable to try to teach us that God promises even the unbelieving brothers of this rich man that if they will only meet God’s condition and believe, they too can still escape the torments of hell. Reprobates have a promise of salvation!!!! What an insult to God that first statement is in its literal form!

Indeed, he adds that we can believe only because God gives us that faith in his grace and that he bestows it sovereignly upon his elect. That seems to fix it all up, and many are deceived by such procedure. But if he is honest before God and to those for whom he preaches, he will add (1) that since God must give us this faith before we will believe, he was wrong in stating that we must believe before God will save us and that God does not, therefore, promise on the condition of faith but promises faith to the elect. And he should have added (2) that since God promises faith to the elect, his statement that God promises everyone salvation on the condition of faith is wrong and must never be defended. Let him still do that. Now he is trying to walk in two directions at one time. He will find that he cannot. No man can.

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