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Our Rejection of Conditions (3): Herman Hoeksema, late 1940s and early 1950s (Part 1)

Our Rejection of Conditions (3): Herman Hoeksema, late 1940s and early 1950s (Part 1)

By Martyn McGeown. Previous article in the series: Our Rejection of Conditions (2): A Survey of Creeds and Literature.

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In the late 1940s and early 1950s the topic of conditions was debated in the Protestant Reformed Churches in the Standard Bearer and one of the chief proponents of conditional theology was the Rev. Andrew Petter with whom a number of men, especially Herman Hoeksema, discussed the issue in a robust, but cordial and respectful, manner. One such series, found in volume 26 of the Standard Bearer, is titled “As to Conditions,” although some articles around the same time are titled “Faith: A Condition According to Scripture.” In those articles, Hoeksema seeks to define and explain “conditions.” The whole series is worth reading (the reader can find the articles on pages 28, 52, 76, 100, 124, 196, 220, 244, 269, 292, 316, 364, and 388 of volume 26 of the bound volumes of the SB). 

Now, I should add that Hoeksema is not the authority in the PRC, nor would he want to be called the authority—Scripture as it is summarized in the Reformed Confessions is the authority—yet, Hoeksema’s teaching on conditions (namely, why we must reject conditional theology and the term “condition”) is very helpful and insightful. I will quote a lot of examples below, and I ask the reader’s indulgence; I had to restrain myself and limit myself to a limited number of quotes. The whole series, as I said, is excellent.

In the following quotes I have added italics for emphasis, where appropriate, so I will not repeat “my italics” after the quotes below. Assume, unless otherwise stated, that the italics are mine.

“The question is, of course, whether faith may be presented as a condition of salvation, and whether the establishment and continuation of God’s covenant with us is in any sense of the word contingent upon our fulfilling the conditions of faith and obedience. This, unless we juggle words, is the plain and simple meaning of the question” (Herman Hoeksema, “As to Conditions,” Standard Bearer, vol. 26, issue 2 [Oct 15, 1949] 29).

“The term condition undoubtedly stands for some notion that makes salvation dependent on something man must do” (Herman Hoeksema, “As to Conditions,” Standard Bearer, vol. 26, issue 3 [Nov. 1, 1949] 52).

“How utterly impossible it is, then, to conceive of faith as a condition which man must fulfill in order to obtain salvation, or to enter into the covenant of God!” (Herman Hoeksema, “As to Conditions,” Standard Bearer, vol. 26, issue 4 [Nov 15, 1949], 77).

“A condition is either something which man must fulfill in order to receive grace from God, or it is no condition, but simply a work of God. Faith, or believing the promise of the gospel, is either a condition the fulfillment of which God demands of man before He saves him, and in order that God may establish His covenant with Him; or the gift of faith, together with the act of believing, is the sovereign work of God, and then it is no condition. And only the latter is true” (Herman Hoeksema, “As to Conditions,” Standard Bearer, vol. 26, issue 5 [Dec 1, 1949], 101).

“Always a condition is something, some requirement man must fulfill. That means that the entire way of salvation, from beginning to end is, ultimately, dependent on the will of man. Let us, therefore, reject this Pelegian heresy, together with the term that is used to express it.” (Herman Hoeksema, “As to Conditions,” Standard Bearer, vol. 26, issue 6 [Dec 15, 1949], 125).

“There simply is no room for anything that man must fulfill before he can attain to salvation” (Herman Hoeksema, “As to Conditions,” Standard Bearer, vol. 26, issue 6 [Dec 15, 1949], 126).

“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” (Herman Hoeksema, “As to Conditions,” Standard Bearer, vol. 26, issue 10 [Feb 15, 1950], 222).

“The question is simply whether there is any part of the work of salvation as God works it within us left to man, so that the work of God’s salvation is really not complete, or so that at any stage of that work of God in us His work is conditioned by and contingent upon anything that we must still do. And also this is most emphatically denied by Canons 3-4.12” (Herman Hoeksema, “As to Conditions,” Standard Bearer, vol. 26, issue 12 [March 15, 1950], 270).

“We do not say ever, to any man, whether he be elect or reprobate: ‘God will save you on condition that you believe; you must first fulfill a condition before God will ever save you.’ That certainly is not the gospel; and it certainly is not the Reformed conception of the relation between faith and salvation” (Herman Hoeksema, “As to Conditions,” Standard Bearer, vol. 26, issue 13 [April 1, 1950], 294).

“Whatever else it (condition) may mean, it certainly denotes something that must be fulfilled prior to something else … It is a conditional promise, for a condition is something demanded or required as a prerequisite to the granting or performance of something else. It is something that must exist if something else is to take place; and that something else is contingent on the condition” (Herman Hoeksema, “As to Conditions,” Standard Bearer, vol. 26, issue 14 [April 15, 1950], 316).

“The grace of preservation is God’s part in the covenant. But the grace of perseverance is man’s part, which always is the fruit of God’s part. But these two parts are never so related that man’s part is a condition which he must fulfill in order that God may fulfill His part. The grace of God is always unconditional” (Herman Hoeksema, “As to Conditions,” Standard Bearer, vol. 26, issue 17 [June 1, 1950], 390).

From these statements it is clear that if something is a condition it is something that man must do, perform, produce, or contribute on which his reception of salvation depends, or on which it is contingent. Such a condition must be contrasted, explains Hoeksema, from something that God gives or something that God works in the sinner whom he saves; for, since it is God-given or God-worked, it is not a condition for salvation, but part of the salvation that God gives. That remains true even if in God’s good pleasure certain activities of man (believing, repenting, etc.) precede God’s giving—and man’s receiving—of certain blessings of salvation. Temporal sequence is not decisive in the determination of whether or not something can be called a “condition’ in salvation or in the covenant.






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