Israel had been defeated by the Philistines. Some Israelites got what he thought was a bright idea. With the ark of Jehovah in the midst of the army hostilities should be resumed. That would make victory certain. The idea caught on. The priests Hophni and Phinehas were commissioned to carry the ark. However, in the ensuing battle Israel suffered a crushing defeat, Hophni and Phinehas were slain and, worst of all, the ark fell into the hands of the uncircumcised Philistines. These tidings reached the wife of Phinehas. She went into shock and prematurely gave birth to a son. Just before breathing her last she named the child “Ichabod”; that is, “the glory is not.” And she said: “The glory is departed from Israel, for the ark of God is taken” (I Sam. 4).
This article concerns the Christian Reformed Church. The interest of TORCH AND ThUMPET, of course, extends far beyond that one denomination. It would serve the entire Reformed. in fact the whole Christian, communion. Yet this particular piece will be focused on the aforenamed church. And Jet it be noted at once that the title is not lchabod. The writer is not saying that the glory has departed from the Christian Reformed Church, Nor is the title lchabod? The writer is not asking whether the glory has departed from the Christian Reformed Church. He is sure that it has not. But, speaking truth in love, he is in all seriousness raising the question whether the glory is not in danger, perhaps even in process, of departing from that church.
THE GLORY OF THE REFORMED THEOLOGY
The glory of the Christian Reformed Church is bound up inseparably with its theology. That theology is the historic Reformed faith. It is indeed glorious. It is glorious because it is par excellence Biblical. To be sure, to claim that it does full justice to the Bible would be quite out of order, for that would amount to equating an interpretation of the Bible with the Bible itself. Nevertheless, the Reformed theology does fuller justice than does any other theology to the two principles of Scriptura sola and Scriptura tota. That is to say, in line with the so-called material principle of the Protestant Reformation it is based, not on ecclesiastical tradition, nor on human reason, nor yet on subjective religious experience, but solely on the objective Word of God; and instead of being a closed, logically consistent system, it would embrace all that the Bible teaches, teachings that transcend human logic included. Its adherents believe it to be at once the purest and the most comprehensive expression extant of Christian theology. Therefore B. B. Warfield has described it as “Christian theology at its best.” And if it be remembered that it includes not only such doctrines as are distinctively Calvinistic but also such as are specifically Protestant as well as those which are common to all Christian theologies, James I. Packers claim that it is the only theology the Bible knows is justifiable.
By the way, in that light is to be understood a remark made by me at the conclusion of the recent conversation on the authority of the Bible by Dr. Fred Klooster and Dr. Markus Barth. I complimented Barth on his strenuous effort to substantiate his positions with Scripture. Although it had become perfectly clear that he by no means holds consistent1y to the historic Reformed faith. he claims to be Reformed. And implied in his frequent appeals to Scripture was the confession that Scripturalness is the essence of the Reformed theology. So it is.
The official theo10gy, then, of the Christian Reformed Church excels in Scripturalness. Are we or are we not standing firm on that foundation? That is the question under consideration.
THE ARMINIAN CONTROVERSY
Perhaps we can learn a lesson from history.
Late in the sixteenth century and early in the seventeenth the Reformed churches of the Netherlands were engaged in the Arminian controversy. The issue may be stated briefly. At stake were particularism and a type of universalism. The followers of Calvin held that God from eternity chose, not on the ground of foreseen faith but sovereignly, certain persons in Christ out of the fallen human race unto life eternal, and decreed that those not so chosen would perish because of their sins; that God designed by the death of his Son to save all the elect and them only; and that God by the irresistible and indefectible grace of the Holy Spirit imparts saving faith exclusively to the elect. That in essence is particularism. It is wholly in line with the Scriptural declaration, “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy” (Rom. 9:16). On the other hand, Arminius and his followers taught that God from eternity chose unto eternal life because of their faith those of whom he foreknew that they would believe; that Christ died in order to make salvation possible for all men alike; and that whether or not salvation will through faith become and re· main actual in the case of an individual depends on the use which that individual makes or does not make of his own free will. That in essence is Arminian universalism. It makes salvation dependent in last instance on the will of man and thus does most serious violence to the Scriptural doctrine of salvation by grace.
However, that was not the entire picture. A significant phase of a radically different kind of universalism, Scriptural universalism, also came into purview. The Arminians contended that the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination cannot possibly be harmonized with the universality and sincerity of the gospel offer. They argued that, if God decreed irrevocably from eternity that only certain persons would be saved and that all others would be lost, it is in· conceivable that God would in all sincerity invite all men without discrimination to eternal life. Therefore, embracing the latter doctrine, they rejected the former. And they told the Calvinists that, in case they held to the former, they would by an the rules of logic have to renounce the latter. From the viewpoint of finite human reason the Arminians were right. Thus the Calvinists confronted a strong temptation. Did they yield? By the grace of God they did not. They subjected human logic to the divine logos. Convinced that the two doctrines concerned were both of them taught unmistakably in the infallible Word of God and therefore could not in reality be contradictory, they accepted both uncompromisingly.
The Synod of Dort, at which the Reformed churches not only of Holland but of practically all of Europe were represented, received in faith a striking Scriptural paradox. On the one hand, the Synod declared: “What peculiarly tends to illustrate and recommend to us the eternal and unmerited grace of election is the express testimony of sacred Scripture that not all, but some only, are elected, while others are passed by in the eternal decree; whom God, out of his sovereign, most just, irreprehensible and unchangeable good pleasure, has decreed to leave in the common misery into which they have willfully plunged themselves, and not to bestow upon them saving faith and the grace of conversion; but, permitting them in his just judgment to follow their own ways, at last, for the declaration of his justice, to condemn and punish them forever, not only on account of their unbelief, but also for all their other sins. And this is the decree of reprobation, which by no means makes God the author of sin (the very thought of which is blasphemy) but declares him to be an awful, irreprehensible and righteous judge and avenger thereof.”1 But the same Synod declared no less emphatically: “As many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly called. For God has most earnestly and truly declared in his Word what is acceptable to him, namely, that those who are called should come unto him.”
The Synod of Dort, it may be said, came through with flying colors. It resisted and overcame the temptation of rationalism. Under a banner with the twofold inscription Scriptum sola and Scriptura tota it marched on to victory. It upheld the Reformed faith in all its Scriptural glory.
In so doing, it was true to its Reformed heritage. It followed in the footsteps of John Calvin. Commenting, for instance, on II Peter 3:9, which asserts that God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” Calvin said: “But it may be asked, If God wishes none to perish, why is it that so many do perish? To this my answer is, that no mention is here made of the hidden purpose of God, according to which the reprobate are doomed to their own ruin, but only of his will as made known to us in the gospel. For God there stretches forth his hand without a difference to all, but lays hold only of those, to lead them to himself, whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world.” How clear that Calvin, too, founded his theology on the Word of God alone and on the Word in its entirety! Let it be said again, that is the glory of the Reformed faith.
THE COMMON GRACE CONTROVERSY
Perhaps a lesson may be learned from a more recent doctrinal controversy.
In the early twenties of the present century the Chris· tian Reformed Church found itself in the throes of the socalled common grace controversy. Again the issue concerned particularism and Scriptural universalism.
Certain ministers, notably the Reverend Henry Danhof and the Reverend Herman Hoeksema, gave rise to this controversy. This writer has long held these brethren in high esteem. He knew them already in their and his student days. He remembers them as students of more than average ability. They were gifted with keen intellects and excelled as logical thinkers. But his esteem for them is rooted most of all in their unswerving loyalty to Scriptural particularism. They believed with all their heart and soul and mind the five points of Calvinism: absolute predestination, limited atonement, total depravity, irresistible grace, and the preservation of the saints; and they proclaimed those truths of the Word of God with all their strength. In short, they upheld without so much as the semblance of compromise that doctrine which constitutes the very core of Holy Scripture—salvation by the grace of the Triune God. However, exceedingly sad to say, something went wrong. These theologians fell far short of doing justice to Scriptural universalism. To state the matter briefly, they taught that God loves only the elect and, proceeding from that basic tenet, they made several denials. In spite of such a passage, among others, as Matthew 5:43–45, where citizens of the kingdom are commanded to love their enemies in order that they may prove themselves children of the heavenly Father, who does that very thing, they denied that there is in God an attitude of favor toward tho non-elect. In spite of such a passage, among others, as Ezekiel 33:11, where God swears by himself that he has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live, they denied the sincere offer of the gospel to all whom the gospel reaches. In spite of such a passage, among others, as Genesis 20:6, where God tells Abimelech, king of Gerar, that he withheld him from sinning, they denied that God in his goodness ever restrains sin in the lives of the unregenerate. And in spite of such a passage, among others, as Luke 6:33, where Jesus says: “If ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? for also sinners do even the same,” they denied that unregenerate men can do good of any kind.
The question arises why it was that these brethren made those denials. The answer is to be found in their logic. They leaned too heavily on human reason. When confronting two Scriptural teachings which they could not harmonize with each other before the bar of human reason, they, instead of accepting both as complementary, chose for one to the serious detriment, even the denial, of the other. This is not to say that they wittingly and willlingly rejected certain teachings of Scripture. Rather, convinced that Scripture cannot contradict itself, which it certainly cannot, they exegeted away such teachings of Scripture as to their way of thinking were out of line with Scripture’s unmistakable teachings. Thus they destroyed certain Scriptural paradoxes. In short, in their interpretation of Scripture, they failed to subject finite and faulty human reason un· reservedly to the divine logos. The outcome was both inevitable and regrettable. Their theology came to be tainted with a strain of rationalism and a note of unwarranted absolutism. That was meant by the oft-repeated popular judgment that theirs was a “single-track theology.” No doubt, the Reverend Hoeksema, today’s sale survivor of the two, would resent any and all of the foregoing statements. Yet, are they not true?
Evidently the 1924 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, foregathered at Kalamazoo, so judged. Under the able leadership of such theologians as Professor Louis Berkhof and Dr. Clarence Bouma it weighed the theology of these brethren in the balances of Scripture and found it wanting. Over against the denials noted above Synod affirmed the so-called Three Points of Common Grace.1 To be sure, it did not claim to have said the last word on that subject. Nor is the formulation of the Three Points beyond criticism. In To Be Or Not To Be Reformed, published by Zondervan in 1959, I suggested some possible improvements:4 Others have done likewise. But exceeding1y significant is the fact that Synod upheld the doctrine of common grace without detracting in the least from the historic Reformed doctrine of special or saving grace. In a word, the Synod of Kalamazoo, like the more famous Synod of Dort, came through with Hying colors. By insisting on the principle of Scriptura tota as well as the principle of Scriptura sola it upheld the glory of the Reformed faith and incidentally the glory of the Christian Reformed Church.
OUR PRESENT PLIGHT
Have we learned the lesson taught by history as above recounted? In facing complementary truths of Scripture, have we overcome the temptation to emphasize one at the expense of the other? Are we upholding the glory of the Reformed faith by complete loyalty to the Scriptura tota as well as the Scriptum sola principle of theology? Are we keeping our theology both pure and balanced or, perhaps more accurately put, full-orbed? In our interpretation of Scripture are we subjecting our logic unreservedly to the di· vine logos? Surely, nobody would dare to assert that we have attained such perfection. Perfection obviously belongs only to the church triumphant. But this writer is convinced that today we are falling far short of that goal and that there is considerable evidence that we, too, are afflicted with much the same sort of rationalism and absolutism as plagued the Arminians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and a number of our Christian Reformed brethren in the present century. Following are some samples of that evidence.
Some five years ago discordant voices emanated from the Christian Reformed Church as to the inspiration of Holy Scripture. The 1959 Synod dealt with that subject. By a large majority it adopted certain conclusions which had been approved by the Reformed Ecumenical Synod of Potchefstroom. Here let it be said that the Christian Re-formed Church owes a debt of gratitude to Dr. Martin J. Wyngaarden for bringing the issue to a head at the same Synod by way of a protest and appeal. Nor is it true, as many suppose, that Synod gave little heed to his contentions. On the contrary, in effect it sustained several of them.s A competent committee was appointed to study certain aspects of Scriptural infallibility. The substance of its able report was adopted by the 1961 Synod. In view of all that, one might well think that virtual unanimity had been achieved. And yet, in the February, 1963, issue of The Reformed journal Dr. James Daane says of the recent controversy concerning Biblical inspiration: “Viewed over all it did the Church no good.” I am not saying that Daane is mistaken. In the interest of the Christian Reformed Church I hope he is. But he may well be right. In that case it must be presumed that there still is discord among us on so basic a doctrine as that of Scriptural infallibility.
PROFESSOR DEKKER ON GOD’S LOVE
The March number of this periodical contained a long evaluation by me of Professor Harold Dekker’s article “God So Loved—All Men,” published in the December, 1962, issue of The Reformed Journal. The matter will now be dealt with more briefly.
If I may be permitted to say so, there was a flood of favorable response to my evaluation. Yet not all readers were pleased. Some thought my comment on Dekker’s theology too generous. These may be reminded that intentionally and, I think, altogether properly I placed the best possible construction on what Dekker had written. There were also those who disliked the one sentence in which [ said that the given context made it clear that as a dogmatician Professor Dekker was hardly worthy to stoop down and unloose the latchet of the late Professor Berkhofs shoes. This struck them as invective. Although most certainly no invective was intended, I do not mind saying that I wish I had expressed myself in language precluding the very possibility of such a construction.
Although Professor Dekker made considerable use of Scripture, his presentation of God’s universal love in relation to the atonement did not excel in Scripturalness. On the contrary, not only did he brush aside lightly those passages of Scripture which practically all Reformed theologians have been wont to cite in support of a limited or particular atonement; he ignored almost completely the numerous passages of Scripture which stress the uniqueness of God’s love for the elect.
In identifying God’s love for the non-elect with God’s love for the elect, Professor Dekker made use of the truism, “God’s love is Jove; it cannot be something else” and the rhetorical question, “Where in Biblical language or concept is there a qualitative difference within love as agape?” In the light of the emphatic Scriptural teaching that God loves his own with a peculiar love and the ascription of agape even to the unregenerate in Luke 6:32, it can hardly be gainsaid that such utterances by Professor Dekker have a distinctly absolutistic or, if you will, extremist flavor. Widely though Dekker’s teaching that God loves all men with the same love differs from Hoeksema’s teaching that God loves only the elect, the two are characterized by a like extremism, the only difference being that they go to opposite extremes. Small wonder indeed that Dekker says in a second article on God’s universal love, published in the February, 1963, issue of The Reformed Journal: “Rev. H. Hoeksema is quite right, as I see it, when he suggests that essentially there is no tenable middle ground between his established position, i.e., that God loves only the elect, and the position I have attempted to set forth, i.e., that God loves all men.” Obviously, Hoeksema and Dekker employ the same sort of logic.
Professor Dekker keeps insisting that the character of God’s love for the elect and his love for the non-elect is the same, the only difference between the two being results. But that position, regrettable to say, is quite out of line with the Scriptural teaching of salvation by grace. If the terms love and grace are used interchangeably, as Dekker does and well may, that is easily shown. That the results differ is self-evident. Some men believe and are saved; others disbelieve and are lost. How is it that there are those who reject the gospel in unbelief? According to the Canons of Dart this, as well as the fact that some believe, “proceeds from God’s eternal decree,” according to which, while graciously softening the hearts of the elect, however obstinate, and inclining them to believe, “he leaves the non-elect in his just judgment to their own wickedness and obduracy.”6 However, let no one think for a moment that God is thus made the author of unbelief. That notion is rejected emphatically by the Canons when they say: “It is not the fault of the gospel, nor of Christ, offered therein, nor of God, who calls men by the gospel and confers upon them various gifts, that those who are called by the ministry of the Word refuse to come and be converted: the fault lies in themselves.”7 In reality there is nothing strange about the fact that many reject the gospel. The depravity of human nature fully explains it. The wonder is that not all men do so. And that is a wonder indeed. It is a wonder of divine grace. “That others who are called by the gospel obey the call and are converted, is not to be ascribed to the proper exercise of free will whereby one distinguishes himself above others equally furnished with grace sufficient for faith and conversion…, but it must be wholly ascribed to God.”8 At this point the Reformed faith differs sharply from Arminianism. Faith is a gift of divine grace. Such is the unmistakable teaching of the Word of God. Having equated faith in rum with coming to him, Jesus said: “No man can come to me except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44). The conversion of Lydia at Philippi is accounted for in the words, “Whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul” (Acts 16:14). Saving faith, then, is the product of the irresistible, efficacious, grace which God imparts to the elect alone. In short, it is precisely the character of the grace bestowed by God upon the elect that accounts for its result.
That there is mystery here need not be denied. In studying the transcendent and incomprehensible God we are beset by unfathomable mystery. As Professor Dekker has pointed out, Berkhof, when distinguishing between saving grace and common grace, says: “There are no two kinds of grace in God, but only one.”9 Dekker has also cited the late Reverend H. J. Kuiper to the effect that “the distinction between saving grace and common grace does not imply that there is a twofold grace in God.”10 What Berkhof and Kuipcr had in mind is evident. They refused to analyze the Infinite, in this instance to divide a divine attribute. Kuiper went on to explain: “God is one; all his attributes are one; his grace is one.” May I not say that I made the same refusal in my article “Professor Dekker on God’s Universal Love” and shall make it again in this piece under the head “God is Love”? Most assuredly, God is one. Not only is his love one; each of his attributes is one, and so are all of them. The attribute in virtue of which God saves sinners and the attribute in virtue of which God sentences sinners to eternal death are also one. But distinction is something quite different from division. God himself has taught us in his Word to distinguish, for instance, between his love and his justice, one though they are. He has also taught us to make a distinction within his one attribute of love. To the point is Calvin’s comment on Ezekiel 18:23: “God always wishes the same thing, though in different ways, and in a manner inscrutable to us. Although, therefore, God’s will is simple, yet great variety is involved in it as far as Our senses are concerned. Besides, it is not surprising that our eyes should be blinded by intense light, so that we cannot certainly judge how God wishes all to be saved, and yet has devoted all the reprobate to eternal destruction and wishes them to perish.”
Among the great certainties of the Reformed theology not one looms larger than this: that some men, in distinction from others, believe in Christ unto salvation is due not at all to men but solely to God, particularly to the love and grace of God, a love and a grace which God bestows upon the elect alone. “By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). Going far beyond our depth, Scripture even asserts: “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth” (Rom. 9:18).
Professor Dekker errs in emphasizing Scriptural universalism, as expressed in the universal and sincere offer of the gospel, to the detriment of Scriptural particularism, as summarized in the five points of Calvinism, notably limited atonement and efficacious grace.
DR. HENRY J. STOB ON GOD’S HATE
The February, 1963, number of The Reformed Journal contained an article by Dr. Henry J. Stob, Professor of Ethics and Apologetics at Calvin Seminary, in which he sought to answer the question “Does God HATE Some Men?” He came to the conclusion that, with the possible exception of those who have committed the unpardonable sin, God hates no man. His finn conviction on that score came to vigorous expression in the concluding paragraph: “As for me, I think that to ascribe hate of persons to God is to pervert the very thought of God. I believe that we are emphatically not permitted by the total witness of the Scriptures to say that God hates men in any distinct and significant meaning of that term. And I contend that every responsible theology is called upon to purge itself of the idea.”
Two Christian Reformed ministers engaged me in conversation on the aforesaid article. Said one of them: “The case is perfectly clear. Scripture says that God hates certain men. Dr. Stob says that God hates no person. So Dr. Stob flatly contradicts Scripture.” Said I: “But aren’t you indulging in oversimplification? Are you aware of Dr. Stob’s definition of hate?” Having said that, I read a few sentences from Dr. Stob’s article: “Is it against men that the very structure of his Godhead is turned?…Is he against them. as he is against evil by the inner necessity of his eternal and exclusive divinity? Does he delight in man’s destruction, and does he bend all his efforts to bring it about?” I asked, “Are you prepared to answer those questions in the affirmative?” Whereupon the other minister queried, “But where does Dr. Stob get his definition of hate?” I granted that this was a good question.
It was indeed a good question. Where did Dr. Stob get his definition of hate? Did he get it from Scripture? Certainly not from such passages of Scripture as Psalm 5:5, Psalm 11:5, Proverbs 6:16, 19, which tell us in so many words that God hates evil men. Rather, Dr. Stab assures his readers that when God says this he does not “mean” that he really hates evil men. He goes on to assert that to say, as God does, that God hates certain men is not to use that term in “any distinct and significant” sense. At this juncture one cannot help wondering. With the best of good will one can hardly suppress the question whether Dr. Stob is here neglecting the fact that God is abundantly able to say, albeit in human language, what he means and that he most certainly means what he says. Does Dr. Stab actually mean to tell us that when God says in his Word, as he repeatedly does, that he hates wicked men, he is not using the word hate in a meaningful way? Obviously, in discussing the question whether God hates some men Dr. Stob prefers his definition of hate to whatever definition of hate may be implicit in the Scriptural statement that God hates certain men.
Would that Dr. Stob had followed a radically different method! In seeking an answer to his question, he should as a theologian have taken his starting point from those passages of Scripture which state in so many words that God hates certain men, have made the frank admission that in a sense—a significant sense at that—God hates certain persons, and then have proceeded by careful exegesis of Scripture to make clear just what that sense is. That exegesis would, of course, have had to include a study of the words employed in the verses concerned and a study of those verses in their immediate context, but also a study of them in the broad context of Scripture as a whole. In other words, pains would have had to be taken to observe the significant principle of Bible interpretation that, the Bible being the infallible Word of God, it is its own infallible interpreter and no part of it can be properly understood but in the light of the whole. This means that the eschatological aspect of the matter should also have been considered. Just what is the force, for instance, of the declaration, “He that is unjust, let him be unjust still; and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still” (Rev. 22:11); of the prophecy, “The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power” (II Thess. 1:8,9); and of the condemnation, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41)? Even at that an exhaustive analysis of the hate of the infinite God toward wicked men would, no doubt, have proved impossible. Yet, if Dr. Stob bad pursued this method, his theology at this point would have been Scripturally based and Scripturally oriented, as it ought to have been. Significantly, Dr. Stab appeals to “the total witness of the Scriptures” in support of his view that we are not permitted to say that God bates men in any distinct and significant meaning of that term. Yet, his definition of hate manifestly falls to do justice to the totality of the Scriptural conception of hate.
The Bible tells us that God hated Esau (Mal. 1:3, Rom. 9;13). It also tells us that God loves all men, Esau of course included (Matt. 5:44, 45). Dr. Stab tells us that, since God loves all men, he did not really hate Esau. The Bible tells us that God hates certain men (Ps. 11:5). It also tells us that God loves all men. Dr. Stob tells us that, since God loves all men, he does not really hate any. The Bible tells us that God hates wickedness (Ps. 45:7). It also tells us that he hates all workers of iniquity (Ps. 5:5). Dr. Stob tells us that God does indeed hate wickedness but, inasmuch as he loves all men, he does not really hate the workers of iniquity. Just where lies the difficulty? However much one dislikes saying it, it must be said that there is a strain of rationalism in Dr. Stob’s interpretation of Scripture. It comes to clear expression in these sentences; “Hate and love are contradictory; they exclude each other. It is logically sound, therefore, to declare that if God hates someone, he does not love him; and if God loves someone, he does not hate him. If it can be established that God hates some men, it will have to be conceded that he does not love all men. Conversely, if it can be established that God loves all men, we are thereby prevented from saying in a truly meaningful way that he hates some of them.” That argumentation appears logical. But does not Dr. Stob here employ precisely the same logic as the Reverend Hoeksema is wont to employ? Hoeksema says: “If God hates a person, he does not love him.” Stob says in reverse but just as logically: “If God loves a person, he does not hate him.” Yet such is not the logic! of Scripture. God tells us in his Word that he loves all men and yet hates some. What mortal, pray, has the right to deny that God makes the latter affirmation in a truly meaningful way? Whether or not one can fathom its meaning, the fact of God’s making it is proof of its meaningfulness.
Or shall we say that Stob’s exegesis of Scripture, like Hoeksema’s, is marred by a note of absolutism? He conceives of divine love in such a way as to leave no room for so much as the possibility that God may also hate a person whom he loves. And he conceives of divine hate in such a way as to rule out the very possibility of God’s loving a person whom he hates. But Scripture often speaks of love and hate as co-existing in God with reference to the same person. In the light of the affirmation of God’s self-revelation that he hates all workers of iniquity (Ps. 5:5), Dr. Stob’s asseveration that “to ascribe hate of persons to God is to pervert the very thought of God” stands out as extremely, not to say shockingly, absolutistic.
THE EQUAL ULTIMACY OF ELECTION AND REPROBATION
According to Scripture and the Reformed Confessions eternal predestination has two aspects: the election of some in Christ unto everlasting life and the leaving of others in their fallen estate as well as the condemning of them to eternal punishment because of their sins. The latter is usually denominated reprobation. Of late years some of our number have thought it necessary to insist that the two are not equally ultimate.
If by equal ultimacy is meant that God takes delight in the damnation of the non-elect as he does in the salvation of the elect, it must of course be rejected. The Bible teaches most emphatically that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked but therein that they repent and live (e.g., Ezek. 18;23 and 33:11). And if by equal ultimacy is meant that God effectuates the damnation of the non-elect as he effectuates the salvation of the elect, it must again be rejected. It is no exaggeration to say that, according to Scripture, when a sinner is saved God gets all the glory, whereas when a sinner is lost the sinner has only himself to blame. When a sinner comes to Christ in faith he does so because the Father draws him; when he faits to come it is because he will not come (John 5:40; 6:44), The Conclusion of the Canons of Dort affirms that the Reformed churches “detest with their whole soul” the view “that in the same manner in which election is the fountain and the cause of faith and good works, reprobation is the cause of unbelief and impiety.”
However, if the view should be found among us that in the counsel of predestination the eternal destiny of the non-elect is left less certain than is the eternal destiny of the elect and that, in case the eternal destiny of the non-elect were unalterably determined in God’s eternal counsel, that would render the so-called universal and sincere offer of the gospel mere mockery—then there would be cause for deep concern. This would constitute a serious departure from what the Dort divines spoke of as “the express testimony of sacred Scripture.”11
Those of us who are conversant with theological terminology may be interested in a bit of history. Some two or three years before his departure from the militant church Professor Berkhof and I were in conversation on the theological status of the Christian Reformed Church. In sub. stance he said: “Hoeksema and Danhof represented an extreme type of supralapsarianism. That was bad. Today I sense among us a trend toward an extreme infralapsarianism akin to Arminianism. That is fully as bad.” “Bad” is the adjective he used.
What Berkhof was driving at was that the aforenaroed brethren stressed Scriptural particularism to the detriment of Scriptural universalism, that some of us today tend to stress Scriptural universalism to the detriment of Scriptural particularism, and that in both instances there is a failure to take into account the totality of Scripture.
GOD IS LOVE
The history of Christian doctrine teaches us that heresy often, not to say usually begins with the stressing of one Scriptural truth to the detriment of another. For instance, Universalism stresses the love of God to the detriment of his wrath and so concludes that there can be no eternal hell. and present-day Modernism emphasizes the love of God to the detriment of his justice and therefore denounces as utterly unworthy of God the Scriptural doctrine of substitutionary atonement.
Can it be that in the Christian Reformed Church there exists the beginning of a similar trend? A member in good standing in one of our churches once chided me for having made mention, in a sermon. of eternal punishment. Said he: “There can be no such thing; God is love.” Likely this man was a rare exception. More significant is the fact that a few years ago one of our theological students told me in all seriousness that in view of God’s infinite love he was finding it increasingly difficult to accept the reality of hell. His being truly troubled was in his favor. He overcame his doubts. Even more Significant is the fact that once in a while it is suggested in our circles that, when stating that God is love, the Bible identifies God with the attribute of love as with no other attribute.
Perhaps we need to be reminded of Calvin’s treatment of the divine attributes, In his Calvin and Calvinism Warfield complimented the great Genevan on his having brought the various attributes together and concatenated them with one another “with some indication of their mutual relations, and with a clear intimation that God is not properly conceived unless he is conceived in all his perfections.”12 Herman Bavinck insists, to be sure, that love is identical with the divine essence, but he makes the same claim for each of the divine attributes. Says that prince of Dutch theologians: “Each attribute is the divine essence…In God all his attributes are identical with his essence. God is wholly light, wholly knowledge, wholly wisdom, wholly logos, wholly spirit, etc….All his attributes are his essence in the same sense.”13
By all means let us beware of analyzing the Most High, of splitting, so to speak, the divine nature into so many isolated attributes, and of elevating one or another of those attributes above the others. As the Being of infinite perfection God is simple in the theological sense of that term. Berkhof put it well when he said “God is not composite and is not susceptible of division in any sense of the word,”14 Infinite perfection is his one, all-embracing attribute. manifested, no doubt, in countless ways and viewable from many angles, yet one.
Bavinck has called attention to the fact that Ritsehl. together with Schleiermacher usually held responsible for the rise of present-day Modernism. in his description of the divine essence took his starting point in the divine love. He takes Ritschl to task for so doing. IS Its unbalanced emphasis on the love of God is undeniably one of the outstanding characteristics of today’s theological liberalism. May God keep us from Modernism. To say the very least. we are in peril of incipient Modernism.
COMMON GRACE AND CHRIST’S KINGSHIP
The Reformed faith stresses strongly the universal mediatorial kingship of Christ as taught, for example, in Matthew 28:18, “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth,” and Ephesians 2:22, which states that God, “hath put all things under his feet. and gave him to be the head over all things to the church.” With that in mind our Reformed fathers used to say that there is not a square inch in any domain of human life which Christ does not c1aim as his own.
Am I wrong in surmising that there is an inclination among us to distinguish between two areas. the one under the direct rule of Christ, the other religiously neutral, and to seek to justify that limitation of the rule of Christ by an appeal to the fact of common grace? I find it difficult to escape from that impression.
In other words, there would seem to be with us an emphasis on common grace to the detriment of the pervasiveness of the antithesis. No doubt, the fact of common grace makes possible cooperation of the regenerate and the unregenerate in several areas of activity, but the Bible also teaches that in principle the regenerate do all things, even their eating and drinking (I Cor. 10:31), to the glory of God, while the unregenerate do nothing to that end. Significantly, the Synod of 1924 appended to its declarations on common grace the warning that “it is imperative for the church…, while upholding the doctrine of common grace, to maintain tooth and nail the spiritual-ethical antithesis.”16
Admittedly questions remain here which have not been fully answered. But what I am pleading for is a theology which upholds unqualifiedly the universality of Christ’s kingship and the pervasiveness of the antithesis, even while giving due recognition to the Scriptural doctrine of common grace. Here too pains must be taken to do justice to the Scriptura tota as well as the Scriptura sola principle of theology.
STROMATA ON THE REFORMED FAITH
The students of Calvin Seminary publish a little paper entitled Stromata. A given article does not necessarily represent the opinion of the student body. Often Stromata contains good material, worthy of wider circulation. Occasionally it contains an article that may well give painful pause. An example of the latter is afforded by the February 1963, number. Exception is taken to James I. Packer’s statement, “The only theology that the Bible knows is the Reformed theology.” In a critical vein it is said with reference to the question what truth is: “At Calvin Seminary dogmatics confidently answers this question with the grand Berkhovian affirmation that truth is most closely approximated by our Reformed theology. This is generally the attitude of the Christian Reformed Church as expressed in some of our periodicals.” The author opines: “I would consider it the greatest compliment if an outsider were to tell us that our theology is the most biblical, but if we make this assertion ourselves we are no different than the man who commenced his prayer by saying, ‘Lord, I thank thee that I am not like…’” He concludes: “We should never be the ones to say that our theology is the best. Let us merely thank God for whatever light he has given us.”
I am aware that the writer of that article has much growing to do. From personal contact with him I gather that he is both willing and able to grow. And in fairness to him it must be noted that he does not deny the eminence of the Reformed theology. Yet, how clear it is that the faculty of Calvin Seminary has its work cut out for it! So does the church which owns the seminary and is in duty bound to control it. Surely, every Christian Reformed minister ought to proclaim the Reformed faith with genuine enthusiasm. Only he can do that who is firmly convinced that it excels in Scripturalness.
OF BABES AND THEOLOGIES
When Jesus said, “I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them unto babes” (Matt. 11:25 ), he was not placing a premium on ignorance but on Spirit-taught childlike acceptance of divine revelation, even when that revelation transcends, yes contradicts, the wisdom of the world. True it is that Jesus chose “unlearned and ignorant men” (Acts 4:13) as his first disciples, but it is also true that God has been pleased to use such highly educated men as Moses, Paul, Augustine and Calvin for the furtherance of his kingdom. The latter as well as the former were babes. In the history of the Christian church heresy has more often begun in the pulpit and the classroom than in the pew, but among the outstanding defenders of the faith have been such scholars, to name but a few of recent times, as the Hodges and Warfield, Kuyper and Bavinck, Vas and Machen. They too were babes. Early in his ministry Abraham Kuyper had leanings toward Modernism. But he was set straight by an unlearned woman, Pietje Baltus, and from that time on he proclaimed with might and main the Reformed faith. Both she and he were babes.
Such babes are not confined to anyone denomination of Christians. They are scattered throughout many churches, no doubt through all. But it does not follow that the theologies of the various churches are all of them equally valid or nearly so. They differ widely as to Scripturalness. Some have departed far from the truth as revealed in Holy Scripture, a few having become apostate. Others adhere more closely to the truth. Not one has a patent on the truth. But, due to the promised guidance of the Spirit of truth, there runs through the history of the Christian church a line of orthodoxy. ru for the central teaching of Scripture. that of salvation by the grace of the Triune God, it runs in broad outline from inspired Paul to Augustine of Hippo to the Reformers of the sixteenth century to the outstanding Reformed theologians of the past and present centuries. In that grand tradition the truly Reformed churches stand. Of all Christian churches the Reformed have upheld that doctrine most consistently, witness the five points of Calvinism as taught, for instance, in the Canons of Dort and the Westminster Confession of Faith. Besides, as was previously noted, the Reformed churches as a matter of course adhere not only to such doctrines as are distinctively Reformed but also to all such as are specifically Protestant as well as all those which Christian theologies have in common. These are some of the facts which we have in mind when we claim for the Reformed faith that of all Christian theolOgies it satisfies most fully the demands of Scripture. It is at once the most nearly pure and the most nearly full-orbed.
Such is the glorious heritage of the Christian Reformed Church. Shall we not maintain it uncompromisingly? Shall we not in complete loyalty to the Word of God seek to augment it? Shall we not with holy zeal impart it unsullied to others? God grant that we may do all that in deep humility, as mere babes.
1. Canons of Dort, I, 15.
2. Canons of Dort, III and IV, 8.
3. Acta der Synode, 1924, pp. 145–147.
4. pp. 106f.
5. Acts of Synod, 1959, pp. 65–68.
6. Canons of Dort, I, 6.
7. Canons of Dort, III and IV, 9.
8. Canons of Dort, III and IV, 10.
9. Systematic Theology, p. 435.
10. The Three Points of Common Grace, p.14.
11. Canons of Dort, I, 15.
12. p. 170.
13. Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, II, pp. 100, 211.
14. Systematic Theology, p. 62.
15. Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, II, p.98.
16. Acts der Synode, 1924, p. 148.