Peter Y. De Jong, THE MINISTRY OF MERCY FOR TODAY. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. 1952. 261 pp. $3.50.
Those who have read the author’s Taking Heed to the Flock, The Christian Life, and The Christian Reformed Church, will welcome this volume which “is designed to meet the need for a practical handbook for—deacons, as well as for a comprehensive source book on the diaconate.” Much of the material was presented to and discussed with the members of the Diaconal Conference of the Christian Reformed Churches of Grand Rapids and vicinity.
No one can seriously doubt the urgency and importance of the subject with which the author is dealing. “The poor” in Scripture are the object of special concern. As the great High Priest, Christ dealt in the spirit of compassion with those who were destitute or afflicted. He clearly indicated also that in the care of the needy the Christian church would face a perennial challenge. It is not only regrettable, but it is a reflection on the church that in altogether too many instances the office of the diaconate has been neglected, and by default, the care of those in poverty has become the concern of other agencies, when the church might have set a challenging example by carrying out the ministry of mercy which the Lord has demanded by both precept and example.
In this volume the author sets forth the origin of the diaconal office, the biblical principles pertaining to it, and at the same time traces for us the historical development of this office in the Christian church. It soon be.comes apparent that the importance of the diaconal function has not been fully appreciated and that, as in the past, even today there are distortions of it in that deacons arc reduced to custodians of the temporalities of the church, rather than being honored as the representatives of our great High Priest in his loving concern for the needy.
Expecting to find many practical suggestions as to the task, the administration, and the practice of the ministry of mercy, one is not disappointed. Such information abounds, but in each instance it is rooted in the teaching of Scripture. Those who are functioning as deacons will find this book invaluable, while many others will find in it a rich store of information. Its perusal will give one a new appreciation of a holy office and at the same time will stimulate greater interest in the exercise of the Christian charity which our Lord expects and which is such an effective reaction of the gospel in our hearts.
May many read this excellent book, which fills a real need, and which is presented by the publishers in such substantial and attractive form.
Hermon Hoeksema, BAPTIZED INTO CHRIST. Vol. VI, An Exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1951. 179 PP: $2.50.
In this book the Rev. Herman Hoeksema, pastor of the First Protestant Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, covers Lord’s Days 25 through 27, which gives him opportunity to discuss in detail the biblical doctrine of the means of grace, including both the preaching of the Word and baptism. The significance of the Lord’s Supper is left for the next volume in this series.
In chapter 1 the author offers a thorough and elaborate discussion of the biblical use of the word grace. Hoeksema points out that when we speak of “means of grace” we ought to have in mind those means which the Holy Spirit employs to work faith in our hearts, effect within us the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and bestow upon us all the blessings of salvation (p. 21) .
Chapter 2 – “Preaching as a Means of Grace”– impressed us as one of the best in the book. We heartily recommend its reading to every thinking Christian. The argument is clear, the thesis worthy of careful consideration—even if one may not agree with its conclusion. Correctly, we believe, the author states that the Word is the means of grace par excellence” (p. 26) . Preaching is defined as “the authoritative proclamation of the Gospel by the church in the service of the Word of God through Christ” (p. 29). Christ as the revelation of the God of our salvation is the central theme of all preaching. The fact that he is an ambassador of Christ, II Corinthians 5:30, must be deeply ingrained in the consciousness of the preacher.
With unkindly severity the writer denounces the revival type of meeting characteristic of current Fundamentalist groups. No doubt much of this type of activity is justifiably criticized, but nevertheless the author has missed an excellent opportunity to bind upon the heart of the Church the urgency of the Great Commission. Such a call would have given fine balance to this otherwise most excellent chapter.
Hoeksema subscribes to the biblical doctrine of the immediacy of spiritual rebirth. For him the “germ” of regeneration is wrought by the Holy Spirit apart from any external means whatever. The controversy between those who held to the mediate and immediate views of the origin of regeneration is correctly exposed to be a controversy in which both parties are not so far apart.
The author expounds many Scripture references to establish the immediacy of regeneration. Very little is said, however, concerning those who are externally called, that is, who come under the hearing of the Gospel. We believe that this omission was not intentional, but this reviewer wishes that an explanation of Romans 10:14, 15 and especially verse 17—“So belief cometh of hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.”—would have been included.
Honestly and thoroughly the problem of presumptive regeneration is faced by the writer. In this connection we cannot resist the temptation to quote a few sentences:
It stands to reason that the preaching of the Word in the sphere of the covenant must be both distinctive and upbuilding. On the one hand, it cannot proceed on the assumption that all the children of the covenant, that is, those that are born in the sphere of and under the covenant, are elect and regenerated. The theory of presumptive regeneration, according to which it is presumed that all the children that are born under the covenant are regenerated, is certainly not Scriptural…And the theory of presumptive regeneration…is not only unscriptural, but it is also dangerous. Dangerous it is, not because, as the popular saying goes, it tends to let people go to hell with an imaginary heaven; for that is quite impossible, at least where the truth is preached. But the danger is that because it presumes what is not true according to Scripture, it leaves the carnally minded men in the Church, and thus the Church of Christ is corrupted. And, therefore, the preaching…must be so distinctive that under its influence the reprobate and ungodly cannot remain, but will reveal themselves as haters of the truth of God and his Christ …
Hence, the preaching in the sphere of the covenant must always be distinctive. This does not necessarily mean that it must divide the Church into elect and reprobate,converted and unconverted, and address them separately. Rather it means that the whole Church, as it organically exists in the world, must be brought under the influence of the very same preaching. The same Word must be directed to all; all must be exhorted to be converted and to convert themselves, to repent in dust and ashes; and all must be admonished continually to walk in the way of sanctification and to live antithetically, as of the party of the living God in the midst of the world…
In this volume Hoeksema finds opportunity to present his view of the Covenant (d. chapters II and III under Lord’s Day 27). There is a strong stress on the unilateral character of the Covenant, by which is meant that God established it with man without consulting him initially. The essential meaning of the Covenant is said to be “fellowship with the ever blessed God” (p. 144) . “The deepest ground of this covenant relationship between God and man is the triune God himself, of whose triune life it is at the same time the highest revelation” (p. 145). Hoeksema’s conception of the Covenant is rigidly one-sided, with very little emphasis upon the responsibility of the second “part” as described in the formula for baptism as used in the Christian Reformed churches.
In his extensive treatment of baptism as a sacrament the author includes many and lengthy quotations from various creeds. With all due appreciation for history and the creedal confessions, this chapter we found to be a bit wearisome. For the rest, Hoeksema’s material on baptism as a sign and seal of saving grace is very good.
Tn the final chapter we find a discussion of the Scriptural ground for the baptism of infants. Very effectively the author argues the point of the unity of Scripture and of the people of God. There is but one true people of God in Old and New Testaments, spiritual Abraham and his seed—“and if ye are Christ’s then ye are Abraham’s seed” (Gal. 3:29). We believe that the biblical validity of infant baptism is conclusively proved by the author. However, the argument would have been more complete, we feel, had the writer explicated the passage which calls covenant children “holy” children (I Cor. 7:14).
The reviewer recommends this book highly. This does not mean, of course, that he agrees with the author at every point, as we have indicated above. However, the sound and clear emphasis upon the sovereignty of God and the preciousness of Reformed truth is needed today! It is our prayer that the author may be allowed to complete this series of thorough expositions of the Heidelberg Catechism.
– Frederick W. Van Houten
*In fairness to the Rev. Mr. Hoeksema it ought to be stated that these passages are treated in his collection of sermons on Romans 9–11, privately published some years ago. Ed. Comm.
Herman Hoeksema. EATING AND DRINKING CHRIST. Vol. VII, An Exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1952. 189 pp. $2.50.
In this exposition of the Catechism (Lord’s Day XXVIII through XXXI) the author lives up to his enviable reputation for solid, substantial treatment of Scripture truth. I have yet to read something (rom his pen that might be described as “light” or superficial. He is an exegete of unusual ability, a theologian par excellence, and certainly a lover of the Reformed Faith.
There have been in the past unfortunate developments in connection with certain emphases in his preaching and teaching which led to situations where animosities prevailed in place of brother!y discussion. Had the Rev. Herman Hoeksema been willing to remain in the Christian Reformed Church, where his theological scholarliness is still admired by many, and to submit his views to a more prolonged discussion and examination, it is quite possible that the Protestant Reformed Church would never have come into existence, and the Christian Reformed Church would be the stronger for having him and his fine people in her constituency. It is not unreasonable to cherish the hope that a reunion may some day be effected.
There is little in this volume to criticize. The author’s treatment of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is homiletically stimulating. When he writes on “The fearful Error of the Romanists,” he exposes what is unquestionably the principal error in the doctrine of transubstantiation by showing that it presents the grace of God as being in things. His treatment of this important observation would have been more complete had he gone on to develop at greater length the implication that the Roman Church by her doctrine of transubstantiation relegates the Holy Spirit to an inferior and subordinate function in the activity of faith. Indeed, it may be questioned whether the Roman Church even recognizes the operation of the Spirit in the bestowal of the blessings of salvation.
Rev. Hoeksema still speaks of the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation. There has been, however, a shift in the thinking of Lutherans of the Missouri Synod which makes this chapter a bit out-of-date. The term “consubstantiation,” so I have been told by a theologian in that Synod, is no longer in vogue. More emphasis is being placed on “spiritual eating.” This is borne out by J.T. Mueller’s chapter, “The Means of Grace” in the volume, What Lutherans Are Thinking (edited by E.C. Fendt, The Wartburg Press, Columbus, Ohio, 1947) .
On page 154 Hoeksema begins his discussion of the question: What is the promise of the gospel? His answer is: “Christ and all his riches of salvation and blessing” (p. 160). This promise is “unconditional” (p. 161). Those of us who read The Standard Bearer are acquainted with the controversy now prevailing in The Protestant Reformed Church on the subject of “conditions” in God’s promise of salvation. The Rev. Mr. Hoeksema, who is the editor of that magazine, is committed to the position summarily stated as: “God promises to you salvation, provided he works in you faith and repentance, the fruit of which you may discern in yourselves by believing and repenting” (The Standard Bearer, December 1, 1952, p. 102) . This is not the same as saying: God promises to all of you salvation, if you believe, that is, if you perform the act of believing.
In his book, now under review, he distinguishes between “promise” and “offer,” saying of the former, “A promise is a declaration, written or verbal, which binds the person that makes it to do or to forbear to do the very thing promised” (p. 162). Relating this to the gospel, he writes: “The promise must be preached. It must never be offered” (p. 166)… “The gospel must be so preached that it very definitely declares to the heirs of the promise that it is for them” (p. 168). But who are the heirs? How can the preacher single out the elect (i.e., “the heirs of the promise”) and “declare” to them that “the promise is for them”? Hoeksema replies: “Preaching must needs be general.” “Nevertheless, in this generaI preaching of the gospel the heirs of the promise must be called by their spiritual name” (p. 168).
All this to me creates a problem which the author from his rigid standpoint has not yet cleared up. If I as a preacher of the Promise must preach “generally,” since I do not know the elect by name, and if I at the same time must call them by their “spiritual names,” so that they may know that the sure mercies of David are for them, am I not necessarily under obligation to the same Lord who claims the elect as his own to include in my preaching an appeal for personal commitment (responsibility) by giving heed to which God’s people “cleave to this one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; trust in Him…love Him…forsake the world…crucify their old nature…and walk in a godly life”?
What I am trying to say is that when our Form for Baptism says: “Whereas in all covenants there are contained two parts…,” it certainly describes the hearer of the Promise as being in a position where he can claim the first part of the covenant for himself only if he assumes the obligations of the second part. And while it is ever so true that this if is comprehended and covered in God’s eternal intent with respect to his own, it is psychologically unwise in preaching the Promise to say to the hearer: “There are no conditions with which you must reckon and about which you must be seriously concerned in claiming that Promise for yourself.” Surely, it must be made plain to sinners that the fulfilling of those conditions, solely by the grace of God, is not accomplished apart from themselves, but within and through themselves as active beings. The sinner, then, should be addressed in such a manner that within his own consciousness there arises the thought: “According to the appeal that is being addressed to me this moment, and the claim that is being made upon me in the name of the Lord, if I do what I am bidden to do, I am hopelessly lost. The history of Christian Missions reveals that preaching like that brings results. And of course when that sinner is saved, and the joy of salvation possesses him, he sings, “I’m only a sinner, saved by grace.” But deep within his consciousness, as he reflects upon the experience that brought him so much joy, there is an awareness to a challenging “if” that confronted him. And so, when Hoeksema writes: “God fulfills all the conditions in such a way that we have to fulfill conditions no more,” he is unrealistic and one-sided. The glorious truth of God’s absolute sovereignty is not necessarily dishonored when the minister of the Word, with a high sense of urgency, “throws out the lifeline” and says, in effect, to his listeners, “If you grasp this line, you shall be saved; if not, you are doomed!”
– Leonard Greenway
Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, THE PERSON AND THE WORK OF CHRIST. Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. 1952 (reprint). 575 pp. $4.50.
“What think ye of the Christ?” is still the crucial question of the day. To this question a voluminous literature has arisen, giving many answers both false and true. Of all attempts to answer this question Warfield’s remains as a classic statement of the conservative, biblical position. The publishers have performed a real service by reprinting this most valuable work.
In my opinion this work presents some of the finest statements -as applicability to that “new modernism” termed the Theology of Crisis. Its afinity with the theology of the critics is obvious as we consider Warfield’s statement on this point of doctrine.
Not that Warfield’s work here is narrowly polemical. Actually we find in this work much material of a positive, exegetical order. Absorbing and inspiring as well as edifying is Warfield’s exposition of Romans 1:1, 2 as found in the chapter entitled: “The Christ that Paul Preached.” So also the exegesis of Philippians 2:59 found under the title: “The Person of Christ According to the New Testament.” After reading the exhaustive treatment given these passages—and many others so expounded in this volume—I came away convinced that no one should attempt to preach on them without having first read Warfield!
Space forbids commenting on each of the different articles which make up this book. Special mention, however, should be made of the chapters entitled: “The Emotional Life of our Lord,” and “Jesus’ Alleged Confession of Sin.” We thought “Redeemer and Redemption,” “The Chief Theories of the Atonement,” and “Modern Theories of the Atonement” to be very profitable chapters. In addition there is an appendix which will prove to be of real interest to ministers at least, especially if they are interested in samples of Reformed preaching at its best. It contains three of Warfield’s sermons: “The Risen Christ” (II Tim. 2:8); “The Saving Christ” (I Tim. 1:15); and “Imitating the Incarnation” (Phil. 2:5–8).
We are in thorough agreement with a statement on the fly-leaf which claims: “Among the chief merits of these writings is the contribution they make toward an understanding of the distinctive nature of Christianity and the help they afford in distinguishing between genuine Christianity and its counterfeits.” The undertaking of such a large publishing project which the re-printing of Warfield’s works is ought to move those who love the Reformed truth to do that which the publishers most desire: purchase and study this outstanding book!
– HENRY N. ERFFMEYER