Covenant of election or covenant of conditions (6)
Reformed Free Publishing Association
This series is written by Rev. Nathan J. Langerak. This is the last article in this series.
I continue my answer to a reader from the Canadian Reformed Churches who objected to some of my characterization of the conditional covenantal view of those churches. This view, as stated by the reader, is “that ALL our children are included in that covenant, both the elect and the reprobate.” I charged that this doctrine overthrows the doctrines of grace, specifically election and justification, and overthrowing them overthrows the salvation of many. Expressing her disagreement with this assessment, she professed her love for predestination and justification. I have proved that love for the Reformed doctrines of grace, specifically election and justification, is incompatible with espousing the conditional view of the covenant. The full confession of predestination includes confessing that it controls the membership and grace of the covenant. Love for predestination includes a rejection of that false covenantal doctrine.
I also want to address the final statement of the reader concerning her covenantal doctrine and that of the Liberated Churches that in it there is “no room for complacency.” This is an implicit charge against the doctrine of the covenant that is controlled by election that there is room for complacency, indeed, it is a form of the old charge against gracious justification and all the doctrines of grace, and of an election theology of the covenant that it makes men careless and profane.
Concerning the confession about her covenantal doctrine that there is “no room for complacency,” I respond that no one in his right mind would ever dream of charging the doctrine of the conditional covenant with leading to complacency among those who espouse it. In fact, its proponents today present it as the antidote to a perceived antinomianism and a powerful shot in the arm for the church’s life of holiness. For them it is the doctrine that will move men to a godly life by thinking that the promise of God—and their salvation—depends on their faith and faithfulness. In their promotion of this false notion, they charge that the doctrine of the unconditional covenant is antinomian and makes men careless and profane. This is the view of the conditional covenant and the condemnation of the unconditional covenant in the recent book by Mark Jones, Antinomianism: Reformed Theology’s Unwelcome Guest? For him the conditional covenant is the only solution to antinomianism, and the unconditional covenant is to blame for antinomianism in the churches. This is part of the war of the conditional covenantal doctrine on the doctrines of grace and the unconditional covenant and a naked attempt to make the doctrine of the unconditional covenant odious in the eyes of the churches by those who are intent on teaching Arminianism in the covenant.
Further, in the conditional covenantal doctrine there is not only “no room for complacency,” but also no room for the precious Reformed doctrine of assurance. The doctrine of assurance and its necessity for the Christian life of godliness without complacency are described in the Canons 5.12: “This certainty of perseverance, however, is so far from exciting in believers a spirit of pride, or of rendering them carnally secure, that, on the contrary, it is the real source of humility, filial reverence, true piety, patience in every tribulation, fervent prayers, constancy in suffering and in confessing the truth, and of solid rejoicing in God.”
Here the Canons call assurance “the real source” of the entire godly life. Without it the godly life is impossible. Election—its unchangeableness and the faithfulness of the electing God—is the ground for that precious assurance. Canons 5.1 speaks of those whom “God calls, according to his purpose, to the communion of his Son.” Communion with God’s Son is to be united to him in the covenant of grace. This happens according to God’s purpose, or election. With respect to those so united, Canons 5.8 teaches: “With respect to God, it is utterly impossible” that those in communion with Christ totally fall from faith and grace, “since his counsel cannot be changed, nor his promise fail.” God’s election is the cause of the certainty of the preservation of the elect to salvation. Canons 5.10 makes this precious assurance the peculiar possession of God’s elect: “If the elect were deprived of this solid comfort…they would be of all men the most miserable.”
Many of the promoters of the conditional covenant deprive their disciples of this solid comfort by making assurance the lifelong quest of the believer, which he will usually only attain when he is very old. In my experience with some eighty-year olds, they usually do not have assurance even then, because the doctrine they have been taught all their lives did not give them assurance and deliberately withheld it from them. Because the conditional covenantal doctrine makes the act of faith and the faithfulness of the covenantal member that which makes one to differ from others equally furnished with the same grace, it vainly comforts him with his work, in which there is not comfort, and deprives believers of solid comfort. Because this doctrine takes away election as the source of covenantal grace, it takes away the source of covenantal assurance. “No room for complacency,” indeed, not because the love of God compels us, but out of terror concerning whether or not one has been faithful enough. Making salvation—covenantal salvation—dependent on the act of the child, the teachers of the conditional covenant introduce not only Romish works-righteousness into covenantal theology, but also all of Rome’s terrors of conscience. The covenantal child, young or older, must live with this thought: have I been faithful enough. No complacency and no assurance either.
This lack of assurance in the conditional covenant is the logical implication of denying that election governs membership and grace in the covenant. Denying that election controls the covenant, it is a covenant without election. A covenant without election is a covenant without assurance. Without assurance it is a covenant that according to Canons 5.10 makes its members “of all men the most miserable.” The child is oppressed with the thought that his eternal salvation depends on his response. Despair is the result. If someone espouses the conditional covenant and has assurance, the doctrine of the conditional covenant is not the source.
Without assurance the covenant has no source for a godly life. Despair is the great motivator of worldliness. “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die,” so worldliness results. The covenant not controlled by election may be able to inspire some to terror and to work for their salvation or to move others to a certain outward conformity, but such works are displeasing to God. If someone espouses the conditional covenant and leads a godly life, the doctrine of the conditional covenant is not the source.
By contrast, a covenant controlled by election is a covenant with election. Having election it is a covenant with assurance, which assurance has “no room for complacency” and is the real source of the zealous godly life.
For the sake of “no complacency” and a real and genuine assurance as the source of the real and genuine godly life, I urge the reader and all of her convictions to reconsider their covenantal doctrine that includes ALL the baptized children, elect and reprobate alike—that it is totally incompatible with the Reformed doctrine of assurance; that it cannot be harmonized with any of the Reformed doctrines of grace; thus that stands outside the boundaries of the Reformed creeds; and reconsidering it, that they reject it in love for the Reformed truth of grace.