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As To Conditions (7)

As To Conditions (7)

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


It may be expedient, at this stage of our discussion, briefly to recapitulate what we have developed thus far in regard to the question of conditions.

We based our arguments entirely on our Reformed confessions which constitute the basis of our common faith as Protestant Reformed Churches, and which are binding for all of us.

First of all, I appealed to the argumentum esilentio, the argument from silence, which means in this case that in none of our confessions the term is used in a sound sense. This proves, at least, that in a Reformed system of doctrine there is no need for the term condition, for our confessions are a rather elaborate expression of all the basic principles of the Reformed truth, yet, in a positive sense, the term is never employed in them.

Secondly, I showed that, in our confessions, faith is always presented as a means or instrument of salvation, and that, too, as an instrument, not of man, but of God. Never is faith explained as a condition. And to be sure, instrument and condition are two entirely different conceptions.

Further I based my argument against the use of the term condition on the fundamentally Reformed truth of election, and showed that, according to our confessions, the gift of faith flows from God’s unconditional decree of election. It follows that, if faith does not appear as a condition unto salvation in God’s eternal decree, it cannot appear as such in time.

Finally, we showed that in our confessions the term condition does, indeed, occur, but always as a term that is employed by the Arminians and Pelagians. In their presentation of the truth (which is the lie) there was not only ample room for, but also need of the term condition.

In my last article on this subject (cf. The Standard Bearer of Dec. 15, 1949) I was discussing Canons 2, article 8, an article of our confessions which completely covers the entire truth of our salvation from election to eternal glory. Yet, this article not only fails to speak of conditions but leaves no room for the notion at all.

It speaks of the sovereign decree of election as the unconditional source of our salvation. It emphasizes that the gift of faith is bestowed by God only upon the elect, so that faith is presented as belonging to salvation itself. Moreover, by this God-given means of faith, the elect are infallibly led unto salvation. And how can a gift possibly be, at the same time, a condition unto that gift?

But there is still more in this article of the Canons.

First, the article continues to emphasize God’s unconditional election in the words: “it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation and language, all those and those only, who were from eternity chosen unto salvation, and given him by the Father.” Note the expression “effectually redeem.” When Christ effectually redeems the elect that redemption cannot possibly be conditioned upon anything in the elect themselves.

But there is still more.

Note especially the following: “that he should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, he purchased for them by his death.” Notice especially: 1. that faith is presented here as belonging to the gifts of salvation by the Holy Spirit; 2. that Christ confers this gift upon the elect alone; 3. that he purchased this gift of faith for them by his death. Now, how could one possibly introduce the element of condition here? Shall we say that the gift of faith is conditioned by faith? This is absurd. It is, therefore, unconditional. Shall we say that Christ works faith in the heart of the sinner on condition that he believe? Again, this is equally absurd. Besides, it would imply the thoroughly Arminian conception that Christ stands knocking at the door of the heart of the sinner, the key of which is on the inside. Shall we say that the death of Christ, by which he purchased the gift of faith for the elect, is conditioned by faith on the part of the sinner? But that would mean that he did not effectually redeem the elect at all. It would really imply a denial of sovereign election.

The rest of the article speaks in equally unconditional terms. We read there: “should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot or blemish to the enjoyment of glory in his own presence forever.” All this belongs to God’s part of the covenant. We have no part in it whatsoever. He redeems us. He bestows upon the elect the gift of faith. He delivers us from the dominion of sin, and sanctifies us. He preserves us, and leads us on to eternal glory. And this entire work of God is absolutely unconditional. If it were not, no sinner could possibly be saved.

Only on the basis of the truth that the entire work of God concerning our salvation is sovereign and, therefore, unconditional, can the Canons close this chapter with the following beautiful confession:

“This purpose proceeding from everlasting love towards the elect, has, from the beginning of the world to this day, been powerfully accomplished, and will henceforward still continue to be accomplished, notwithstanding all the ineffectual opposition of the gates of hell, so that the elect in due time may be gathered together into one, and that there never may be wanting a church composed of believers, the foundation of which is laid in the blood of Christ, which may steadfastly love, and faithfully serve him as their Savior, who as a bridegroom for his bride, laid down his life for them upon the cross, and which may celebrate his praises here and through all eternity.”

Of course, the Arminians deny this unconditional work of God concerning our salvation. But the Canons insist upon it, and deny the errors of those

“Who teach: That Christ by his satisfaction merited neither salvation itself for anyone, nor faith, whereby this satisfaction of Christ is effectually appropriated; but that he merited for the Father only the authority or the perfect will to deal again with man, and to prescribe new conditions as he might desire, obedience to which, however, depended on the free will of man, so that it therefore might have come to pass that either none or all should fulfill these conditions. For these adjudge too contemptuously of the death of Christ, do in no wise acknowledge the most important fruit or benefit thereby gained, and bring again out of hell the Pelagian error.”

This is strong language.

But it is the truth, nevertheless.

And into this Pelagian error, which has its origin in hell, we must needs fall, as soon as we teach that faith is a condition unto salvation. For then we must necessarily deny that “faith, whereby this satisfaction of Christ is effectually appropriated,” is merited by the satisfaction of Christ and is wrought in our hearts efficaciously by the Holy Spirit. In other words, one must choose between the error that salvation is, wholly or in part, which means the same thing, dependent upon the free will of man, or he must deny that there is a conditional element in salvation, and confess that salvation is of the Lord alone.

You say, perhaps, that you believe that salvation is of the Lord alone, but that one can, nevertheless, speak of faith as a condition in such a way that the free will of man has nothing to do with it? I answer: 1. that our confessions never speak that language, but, on the contrary, uniformly repudiate the term conditions and all its implications. I am, therefore, in good company when I deny that faith may ever be presented as a condition, while those that like to lay stress on the conditional element are certainly not confessionally Reformed; and, 2. that I challenge anyone to make plain that the proposition “faith is a condition” can be used in a truly Reformed sense. If he takes up this challenge, I promise that I will make plain to all that can read that either he camouflages the term condition or somehow he tries to make salvation dependent on the free will of man.

That faith can in no wise be presented as a condition which in some way must be fulfilled by man, and is, therefore, in some way dependent on the will of man, is also evident from those articles of the Canons that speak of regeneration and faith. Note the following:

“And this is the regeneration so highly celebrated in scripture, and denominated a new creation: a resurrection from the dead, a making alive, which God works in us without our aid. But this is in no wise effected merely by the external preaching of the gospel, by moral suasion, or such a mode of operation, that after God has performed his part, it still remains in the power of man to be regenerated or not, to be converted or to continue unconverted; but it is evidently a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not inferior in efficacy to creation, or the resurrection from the dead, as the scripture inspired by the author of this work declares; so that all in whose heart God works in that marvelous manner, are certainly, infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe. Whereupon the will thus renewed, is not only actuated and influenced by God, but in consequence of this influence, becomes itself active. Wherefore also, man is himself rightly said to believe and repent, by virtue of that grace received.”

This beautiful article has an important bearing upon our discussion of conditions.

There are several questions implied in the subject of conditions that receive a rather clear answer in this article.

If faith is a condition is not regeneration also to be presented as a condition? But why not, if both are the work of God, and if, moreover, faith is rooted in and a fruit of regeneration?

Is there any part of the work of salvation left for man after God has accomplished his part?

Is it in the power of man to remain unconverted after God has regenerated him?

What is the proper conception of the relation between God’s “part” and man’s “part,” between the work of God and the activity of the regenerated sinner, between faith and believing?

All these questions are related to our subject, and receive a Reformed answer in this article.

Look for the answers in the next issue, D.V.

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