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As to Conditions (10)

As to Conditions (10)

This tenth article in the series 'As to Conditions' was written by Herman Hoeksema in the May 15, 1950 issue of the Standard Bearer.


Before I proceed with my discussion of condition, I want to call the attention of our readers to something I wrote almost twenty years ago, and in which I apparently teach conditions myself. I refer the reader to Volume VI, page 90, ff., of the Standard Bearer. This passage occurs in a series of articles which have been published in pamphlet form under the title, Calvin, Berkhof, and H. J. Kuiper.

I call attention to this passage for the following reasons.

  1. In that particular article I certainly speak of conditions and conditional. And I am surprised that the Rev. Petter did not call attention to this passage long ago. In fact, I have been waiting for him to do so, in order that then I might answer him and explain myself. Seeing, however, that he evidently overlooked it, I will for the sake of the truth call the attention of the readers to this passage myself.*
  2. In the light of the present controversy that is disturbing our churches about conditions, I certainly would not use this same terminology today, as I did in the passage referred to above. The reader must remember that twenty years ago there was not a cloud of conditional theology in the Protestant Reformed sky. Hence, I wrote, following Calvin, rather freely, without having in mind the present controversy. And perhaps I wrote rather carelessly. I never believed in conditions. In my preaching and writing I never taught conditions. And, I can show very plainly from the very same articles in which the above-mentioned passage occurs that I condemn the idea of a conditional promise. Nevertheless in the passage referred to my pen must have slipped, so that I used the term conditionand conditional. And therefore, I ask the reader to consider my use of the term an error.
  3. In using the term I followed the exegesis which Calvin offers of Ezekiel 18:23, and that, too, over against Berkhof in his pamphlet on the Three Points. Berkhof explained the passages in Ezekiel as follows: ‘These passages teach us as clearly as words are able, that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (notice that he does not say: the elect wicked, but the wicked, entirely in general, H.H.); and the tender calling to which we listen in them, witnesses of his great love for sinners and of his desire to save the ungodly.” Now it is in opposition to this teaching of Prof. Berkhof that I quoted Calvin as follows:

“All this Pighius loudly denies, adducing that passage of the apostle (1 Tim. 2:4): ‘Who will have all men to be saved’; and referring to Ezekiel 18:23, he argues thus, ‘That God willeth not the death of a sinner may be taken upon his own oath, where he says by that prophet: As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked that dieth, but rather that he should return from his ways and live.’ Now we reply, that as the language of the prophet here is an exhortation to repentance, it is not at all marvelous in him to declare that God willeth all men to be saved. For the mutual relation between threats and promises shows that such forms of speaking are conditional. In this same manner God declared to the Ninevites, and to the kings of Gerar and Egypt, that he would do that which in reality he did not intend to do, for their repentance averted the punishment which he had threatened to inflict upon them. Whence it is evident that the punishment was announced on condition of their remaining obstinate and impenitent. And yet, the denunciation of the punishment was positive, as if it had been an irrevocable decree. But after God had terrified them with the apprehension of his wrath, and had fully humbled them as not being utterly desperate, he encouraged them with the hope of pardon, that they might feel that there was yet left open a space for remedy. Just so it is with the conditional promises of God, which invite all men to salvation. They do not positively prove that which God has decreed in his counsel, but declare only that which God is ready to do to all those who are brought to faith and repentance.”

And again:

“Wherefore, God is as much said to have pleasure in, and to will, this eternal life, as to have pleasure in the repentance; and he has pleasure in the repentance, because he invites all men to it by his word. Now all this is in perfect harmony with his secret and eternal counsel, by which he decreed to convert none but his own elect. None but God’s elect, therefore, ever turn from their wickedness. And yet, the adorable God is not, on these accounts, to be considered variable or capable of change, because as a lawgiver he enlightens all men with the external doctrine of conditional life. In this primary sense he calls or invites all men to eternal life. But in the latter case, he brings to eternal life those whom he willed according to his eternal purpose, regenerating by his Spirit, as an eternal Father his own children only.”

Now it is in this connection that I wrote:

“This language is plain to all that will understand.

“In unmistakable language the reformer denies, that there is, in the passage from Ezekiel a general offer of salvation to elect and reprobate promiscuously, a manifest desire to save them all, a revelation of a certain general or common grace.

“He affirms here, what we have always taught, as we have written often in the past, that, in as far as the message is general and comes to all, it is conditional.

“The offer is eternal life.

“The condition, limiting this offer is: turn from your wicked ways.

“This condition makes the contents of the general message particular. Just as we have emphasized in the past, a contention our opponents have tried to laugh to scorn, there is a general proclamation of a conditional and particular gospel. He promises to all that believe peace and eternal life.

“Thus is the plain exposition of Calvin on this passage. He teaches all that hear conditional doctrine: if ye turn, ye shall live.

“And because it is conditional, it is also particular. And God in reality promises eternal life only to the elect. For it is quite certain, according to Calvin, that men do not turn from their wicked ways on their own accord, nor by any instinct of nature. It is equally certain that none turn from their wickedness but the elect. And, therefore, the contents of this externally general message is particular and applies only to the elect of God.”

The controversy, therefore, at the time when I wrote this article was quite different from the present controversy on conditions in our churches. Over against Berkhof I quoted Calvin in defense of the proposition that in the preaching of the gospel we have the general proclamation of a particular promise. And although I am sorry that at the time I followed Calvin in his terminology, the truth of what I wrote at the time still stands for the simple reason that I used the term conditional in the sense of particular.

How far the idea of a conditional promise and of faith as a condition was from my mind when I wrote the above passage is evident from what I wrote in the same series of articles. On pp. 115, 116 of the same Standard Bearer I refer to another quotation from Calvin as follows:

“It is quite certain that men do not turn from their evil ways to the Lord of their own accord, nor by any instinct of nature. Equally certain it is that the gift of conversion is not common to all men; because this is that one of the two covenants which God promises that he will not make with any but his own children and his own elect people, concerning whom he has recorded this promise that ‘he will write his law in their hearts’ (Jer. 31:33). Now a man must be utterly beside himself to assert that this promise is made to all men generally and indiscriminately. God says expressly by Paul who refers to the prophet Jeremiah, ‘For this is the covenant that I will make with them. Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers: but I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts’ (Heb. 8:9­­-10). Surely, to apply this promise to those who were worthy of this new covenant or to such as had prepared themselves by their own merits or endeavors to receive it, must be worse than the grossest ignorance and folly; and the more so as the Lord is speaking by the prophet to those who had before stony hearts. All this is plainly stated and fully explained by the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 36:26).”

On this quotation from Calvin I make the following comments in the same article.

“Now this passage is extremely interesting for our present purpose, for more than one reason.

“In the first place, because it raises the question: What do Berkhof and Kuiper mean, when they claim that in the promise of the gospel, as presented in the external calling, God earnestly reveals his willingness to save all men?

“What is the contents of their gospel, which they say is for all?

“Kuiper proclaimed loudly: The gospel I preach is a gospel for sinners, for all sinners!

“The question cannot be repressed: What gospel does he preach? Does he mean by the gospel merely the proclamation that Christ has died for sinners and arose again, and that now they are invited earnestly by God to come to him, to believe and repent? Does he, in the preaching of the gospel, merely present to his hearers the work which Christ did objectively accomplish for us? Even if he should speak thus, he is presenting to his hearers only a half truth, which is more dangerous often than a plain lie. For it is not the entire truth, it is not the truth fully and correctly stated, if Kuiper should say, that Christ died for sinners. He certainly will at all times have to say, that he died and arose only for the elect sinner and for none other.

“Even so it is quite unintelligible, how Kuiper can say, that the gospel he preaches is for all sinners. For mark, that he did not say that he was preaching the gospel to all sinners that heard him, but that the very gospel he preached is a gospel for all sinners.
“And, surely, in this Berkhof agrees with him.
“But let us turn our attention to the question brought before us by the quotation from Calvin.
“Does not the gospel contain much more than the preaching of what the Lord did for us?

“And does it not also imply the preaching of the riches of his grace, whereby he applies this salvation to all his elect? Does this grace of the Lord Jesus Christ not belong to the promise of the gospel? I am now thinking of the grace of regeneration, whereby we become partakers of the life of the risen Lord in principle; of the grace of effectual calling, whereby we are translated from darkness into light; of the grace of faith, whereby we know that we are justified before God and have peace with him through our Lord Jesus Christ; of the grace of conversion and sanctification, the mortification of the old man and the quickening of the new man; of the grace of perseverance, so that no one can pluck us out of Christ’s hand. I say, do not all these blessings of grace belong to the promise of the gospel? Surely, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ does not come with a mere message that he will save us (of what avail would it be for us, poor, dead, miserable sinners?) but with the very positive glad tiding, that he did save us and does save us even unto the end.”

And that I did not even in those articles teach the idea that faith is a condition and that the promise of God is conditional is plain from the following quotation:

“Neither is Calvin’s language too strong. The folly of maintaining that God promises a new heart to everybody, is easily discovered. For why, pray, if God offers the blessing of a new heart to all, if the promises of grace are actually for all men indiscriminately, why does he not fulfill his promise? Surely, a new heart is entirely the work of God. Man can do nothing towards receiving it. He cannot make himself worthy of it. He cannot get himself into a state of receptivity for it. He cannot even make himself will to receive it. He is incapable to induce himself even to pray for it. This is true of all men by nature, of all indiscriminately. A new heart is God’s work, his gift only, absolutely. Man cannot work for it if God does not bestow the blessing on him; neither can any man resist the operation of God whereby he renews the heart, if it pleases the Almighty to give him a new heart of flesh instead of the stony heart. Now, please, if the promise of the gospel concerning this new heart (not is preached to all that hear, this is self-evident) is given by God to all men without distinction, why does he not fulfill his promise?

“Because some do not will to receive it? That is Arminianism. And even then a man must be utterly beside himself to speak thus, for no one is willing to receive a new heart before he possesses it.

“More mysteries, perhaps? I fear me, that Kuiper will answer thus. But we can say with Calvin: Nay, but more nonsense! A man must be utterly beside himself to assert that this promise of the gospel concerning a new heart is made by God to all men generally and indiscriminately!

“But again: if God promises this blessing, which he alone can bestow and bestows unconditionally, to all men, and does not fulfill the promise, where is God’s truth? Is the promise of God brought to naught? Has his word become of none effect? God forbid! Nay, but the promise was never made to all by him, but only to the elect. And Kuiper has no right and no calling to present it differently.”

In conclusion, therefore, I want to state briefly that although in the light of our present controversy concerning faith as a condition and concerning a conditional promise I am sorry that I was tempted to follow Calvin in the use of the term condition and conditional, yet essentially I maintain in these articles nothing else than the simple truth that the preaching of the gospel is a proclamation of a particular promise, and that that promise is only for the elect.

* But see the P.S. at the end of this article.


* P.S. to the Rev. A. Petter:

Dear brother:

  1. I sincerely thank you for calling my attention and the attention of all our readers to the error in terminology (for it was no more than that) which I made almost twenty years ago. For an error it surely was. I should never have used the term condition, nor was there any need for it in the connection in which I wrote at the time. Therefore, for the sake of the truth which is more dear to me than any personal interest, and for the sake of the churches which I love, I humbly apologize for letting that thoroughly unreformed term slip out of my pen. This humble apology, together with my retraction and utter repudiation of the term, will make it impossible for you, of course, ever to refer to the matter again.
  2. But, brother, I cannot thank, neither praise, you for the superficial way in which you quote me, without any regard to the context. You almost make the impression upon me that you gloat over my error, and that your purpose was to launch an attack upon me rather than get at the truth of the matter concerning conditions. If you had not written so superficially, and had made but a little study of the matter, you would have informed your readers as follows:

“a. The Rev. Hoeksema wrote this passage almost twenty years ago when the question of conditions was not an issue among us. The question, at that time, was whether the preaching of the gospel is grace for all that hear. This must be borne in mind when you consider his error in terminology.

“b. He inadvertently quoted and followed Calvin who used the term rather freely.

“c. The Rev. Hoeksema did not use the term, twenty years ago, with reference to the present controversy (faith as a condition, conditional promise, etc.), but clearly in the sense of particular. He merely meant to emphasize that the preaching of the gospel is the proclamation of a particular promise. This is so true that you can eliminate the term condition without changing the contents of the articles at all.

“d. That the Rev. Hoeksema, even twenty years ago, must have nothing of conditions is evident from the fact that, in the same articles, he emphasizes that God fulfills his promise unconditionally.”

  1. You see, brother, if you had written in this strain you would have served the cause of the truth, instead of leaving the impression that you are rather elated to find a flaw in what I wrote twenty years ago. You may also consider, brother, that I had to write much more than you ever will write in your whole life, that often, in my very busy life, I had to write hurriedly, and that, considering all this, it certainly is no wonder that occasionally you can find a flaw in what I wrote. In other words, you might have assumed a more charitable attitude, even in regard to the error I made.
  2. Nevertheless, brother, I once more sincerely thank you for calling the attention of our readers to this error in terminology, something which I already did myself, in the above editorial which was written before the last Concordia reached me. An error, even in terminology, is always dangerous, and should be rectified. I once more apologize for having used this term, which is Arminian and is clearly condemned in all our confessions. And if now, brother, you will make the same humble apology for having taught, not only the term, but the actual error of conditions, we can probably show a united front once more, and no longer create division in our churches. Otherwise I will continue to oppose you, not for any personal reasons, but for the sake of the truth and for the well being of our Protestant Reformed Churches. Through your writing Concordia has placed itself in antithetical position to the Standard Bearer. You have attacked our covenant conception all along the line. You spoke of “the covenant of works,” of “parties” in the covenant, and of “faith as a condition.” You, therefore, not I, have started this controversy. That is, of course, your privilege. But I love our Protestant Reformed truth, and will try to expound and defend it as long as it pleases the Lord to leave me in this tabernacle. It is now up to you. My slate is clean.

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