The Voice of Our Fathers being A Review & Appreciation - Allen Baird
Reproduced herewith by the kind permission of the British Reformed Journal
Before I was asked, some years ago, to effect a book review for this special edition of the BRJ, the name of Homer Hoeksema meant very little to me. I knew that he had lectured in Dogmatics and Old Testament at the Seminary of the Protestant Reformed Churches of America for many years, and that he was called "Professor Hoeksema" in distinction to his father's "Reverend Hoeksema". That, of course, was the other notable fact I knew about this man: he, was the son of the great Herman Hoeksema, that consequential theologian of the covenant and critical defender of the doctrines of grace in America earlier this century. The son had taken over from his father at the seminary after the latter's retirement. Therefore, in every way, Homer seemed merely to have dwelt under the shadow of his more famous father.
Before I was asked to review this book, the name of the Synod of Dordrecht, which is the subject of the book, conveyed a very limited amount of information to me, and certainly nothing which was capable of arousing much affection for it. Of course, I respected the Canons, knew that they constituted the original "Five Points Of Calvinism", and, because of their creedal status in the congregation in which I now have membership, was somewhat aware of their content. But having been brought up in Presbyterian circles, I knew more of and about the Westminster Assembly and the Confession and Catechisms produced by it than I did about Dordt. And frankly, being British, I cared more about the Westminster Standards also. Men like Thomas Goodwin and Samuel Rutherford were at the Westminster Assembly, but who was at Dordt that I had even heard of before, never mind read? Reading this book has seriously altered both of these opinions. I now know Homer Hoeksema to have been an accomplished theologian and analytic article writer in his own standing. The theology is that of his father's, but the application of those truths to this old and crucially important Reformation Creed is a work of his own, and one for which he has earned the right to the highest regard. But more, I now also know that the Synod of Dordt, with the possible exception of Luther's stand at Worms, was the most significant and shape-setting event in the history of Protestant theology. It is realized that this is a large statement, but it is one that I hope will be substantiated during the course of this review and indeed throughout the whole of this edition of this British Reformed Journal.
As A Piece Of Literature
Professor Hoeksema did not set out to write a book on the Canons of Dordt. Rather, as the Preface states, each chapter initially commenced its existence as an individual article in the periodical magazine of the Protestant Reformed Churches called The Standard Bearer. It was only after, this series had been completed that Hoeksema, due to his increased understanding of and appreciation for the Canons stimulated by the research necessary for the articles, and his realization that no commentary on the Canons was currently available in English, decided to attempt to write a commentary himself. This commentary in its completed form is the book under review.
The layout of this book can not be understood without recognizing this important point. Because each of its chapters started out as a single article in a magazine, none of them go beyond several pages in length, at least as far as the actual exposition of the Canons is concerned. This is greatly to the advantage of the reader. It means that he or she will not have to wade through pages and pages of introductory historical and technical jargon before the actual and essential commentary takes place. It also means that it is the sort of book that can be left down for a while and picked up later without the thread of the argument being lost.
The chapters themselves are well written. The language is flowing and the sentences not overlong. The content of the exposition is to the point and in layman's terms, since it was not originally written for academics in a theological journal. All distinctly theological words or phrases are therefore defined and explained. One often gets the impression that Hoeksema is preaching rather than writing, such is the earnestness and force with which he writes. To put it simply, the book is a good read.
In terms of the quality of the production of the book by its publishers, a few things can be said. It is a well-bound hardback edition with sporadic and useful footnotes, a good "Bibliography" and an adequate "Index of Scriptural Passages Cited". The spacing of the main print in the text is clear and not overly dense as it might have been. I do, however, have one complaint, and it constitutes my main criticism about the book in total. There is no thematic index. In a book this good,full of sound theology and useful fact, such an omission is a great shame. Otherwise, it could almost have been used as a sort of supplement to Herman Hoeksema's Reformed Dogmatics. This single weakness is one which is to be found in most other of the otherwise excellent books published by the Reformed Free Publishing Association, and in this case it seriously weakens the case that might be made for this book to become a recognised textbook in its field.
2.2 As An Historical Survey
The book itself breaks up into two distinct sections. The first section provides an historical introduction to what led to the gathering of the Synod and the subsequent writing of the Canons, and the second section is an analysis of the Canons themselves. This first section contains three chapters. Because of the nature of the subject, these chapters are the largest in the book.
In the first chapter, entitled "Swift Decline", Hoeksema sketches the state of the Netherlands, or Holland as we call it today, at the time of the Reformation. In the main the churches were externally Calvinistic in doctrine and polity, but large numbers of Lutheran's, sects, crypto-Catholics and Libertines also existed; the last two especially had power in the government. But Semi-Pelagianism started to appear in an organised fashion under various guises and more centrally behind the leadership of Jacob Arminius, who himself was Dutch. Hoeksema outlines the influences upon, career of, and followers with Arminius, as well as the tricks they used to fool the simple, and their first official creed, known as the Remonstrance, which contained the "Five points Of Arminianism", against which the Canons were written.
In the second chapter, "The Great Synod", Hoeksema deals with the National Synod of Dordrecht itself, which was convened between 1618 and 1619 to write a formal and authoritative reply to the Arminians. He defends the popularly viewed status of the Synod as "great" because of its pivotal place in Dutch Reformation theology, its length, its method of patience and thoroughness, its auspicious personnel, and particularly because of its great fruit - the Canons themselves. Interesting points raised in this chapter include the relation of the Synod to the civil government, the strategy of the cunning and schismatic Arminians, and differences between the members in matters of the Synod in nationality, attitude and doctrine. This last element is particularly valuable, and Hoeksema points out not only the difference between the supralapsarians and infralapsarians, but also between those who wanted to stress the place of condition while still rejecting Arminianism. In this regard special note is made of the shamefully weak British delegation, who seemed to favour a sort of protoAmyraldianism.
The third chapter, "The Confessional Status Of The Canons", is one of the most useful chapters in the whole book, for it is not easy to find a good defence of the concept of creeds written anywhere these days. In this chapter, Hoeksema accomplishes many things. Firstly, he defines the concept in terms of the three perspectives of standard (the normative principle of authority), creed (the existential belief of heart), and confession (the situational expression of life). Secondly, he outlines the use and benefit of creeds: they serve as a basis of unity, to preserve and transmit the truth throughout generations, as a defence against further assault, and as a means for doctrinal instruction within the church. Thirdly, he studies the relation between the Canons of Dordt and the other Continental creeds: the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession.
Finally, Hoeksema analyses the form and content of the Canons. In terms of form, first, they are split up into five chapters, each chapter dealing with one of the "Five Points Of Arminianism" which- were presented at the Synod. Second, each chapter is divided up into a positive exposition of truth and a negative rejection of errors. Against existing criticism, Hoeksema defends the inclusion of a negative element to the chapters theologically, historically and logically. In terms of content, Hoeksema outlines each of the "Five Points Of Calvinism", and shows how they relate to each other: Their essence is summarised by Hoeksema when he says that "from the theological point of view, we may say that the Canons deal with the subject of God as the God of our salvation. They are an answer to the very crucial question whether God is really GOD in regard to the salvation of the elect and the damnation of the reprobate." (p.39).
Two short appendices are added to the conclusion of the historical section for further interest. They are, the "Historical Foreword to the Acts of the Synod of Dordrecht" and "The Opinions of the Arminians Concerning the Five Articles." This latter document makes very interesting reading in light of the current "wellmeant offer" debate. Some of the articles written by the original Arminians sound very familiar to those of us who have debated the matter with selfproclaimed Calvinists who allegedly oppose Arminianism and yet hold to a well-meant offer of salvation to the reprobate. (See especially articles 6, 8 and 10 of the third section on pages 106-107.)
2.3 As A Doctrinal Treatise
This section constitutes the main bulk of the book, and takes the form of a commentary on each successive article in the Canons. The actual nature of Hoeksema's exposition, while entirely doctrinal throughout, in the sense that he is always chiefly interested in expounding the scriptural truth against the Arminian lie, often proceeds in the way of one of three perspectives. Firstly, it is sometimes devotional (for want of a better word), as he points out the import and impact of the particular truth to the individual person, and calls upon them to love it with all their soul and let it mould their very existence. Secondly, it is sometimes apologetic, as Hoeksema highlights the arguments used in attacking and defending a truth in an ecclesiastical situation. Thirdly, it is sometimes dogmatic, for Hoeksema is always writing not only as an adherent of the Reformed faith, but more specifically as a member and office-bearer of the Protestant Reformed Churches, and therefore as one who is freely bound to judging matters by his denomination's theological norms. All these factors combine to make the study challenging, practical and contemporary.
Hoeksema's method of approaching each section of the Canons is basically the same in all chapters of his book. Firstly, he makes a comment about the accuracy or otherwise of the English translation, not only comparing it with the original Latin but also with the Dutch. Secondly, he expounds the actual doctrine taught in the article of the Canons. This consists of straight forward theological expatiation, and is usually the longest part of the commentary. Thirdly, Hoeksema will evaluate the article by various techniques. These might include exegesis of relevant scriptural texts, personal application and exhortation, or relation to contemporary church problems and defects. A summary of all the findings is sometimes then provided.
It would be profitable to go through the whole of the commentary and evaluate Hoeksema's analysis of it. This would not only be impossible in such a short space but also superfluous. Better just to get the book and read it for yourself. What I do intend to do, however, is to emphasise what I consider to be central themes and important or interesting points which crop up along the way.
2.31 Unconditional Election
The first chapter, or "Head of Doctrine", is on divine predestination. The Arminians had taught that God's choice of certain persons to salvation was dependent on and therefore conditioned by their prior choice of God in the act of believing, which act they could perform independent of the eternal grace of God. God loves us because we first loved Him. In contrast to this, the Canons teach that the order is the other way around. Christians are saved because God has eternally chosen them to be saved. Hence our salvation is not determined or conditioned by any act of ours, but rather by the grace of God. The key debate here is over the place and nature of conditions.
Hoeksema draws out the theological implications for this throughout the whole of this chapter. He shows the foundational nature of predestination for the whole of the doctrine of salvation, and demonstrates that if salvation is conditional at this point, then it must be conditional in every other point also. More importantly, he establishes the inconsistency of those Reformed theologians who, against the Arminians, wish to affirm an unconditional predestination unto salvation, but who, against Hoeksema and his (I think valid) interpretation of the Canons, want to maintain conditional elements in other aspects of salvation, as if these could somehow be separated from eternal election in Christ. Even the Arminians were able to see the necessary connection between election and the whole of redemption, for of them Hoeksema says that "if they were to promulgate their doctrine of a conditional salvation, they must above all overthrow the Reformed doctrine of divine predestination". (p.113) All this is summarized nicely by Hoeksema on page 168.
Hoeksema is not going off in some sort of partisan tangent here, determined to read into the Canons things that are not there. Indeed, the whole question of condition is unavoidable in any adequate treatment of the Canons, since various of the articles explicitly mention the wore. This is the case m articles 9 and 10 (ps.177-192), at which point Hoeksema provides his most penetrating critique of the concept. This discussion is continued in the parallel section of the rejection of errors (ps.293-304).
Since the chapter has to do with divine predestination, Hoeksema, following the Canons, is quick to relate the nature of the act of predestination with the nature of God Himself. For this reason, this section has more to do with theology proper, or the being and persons of God, than any other in the book. There is an inseparable connection between God and His works, between the decreeing God and the decree, so that an attack on the latter is always an attack on the former. (p.118). And God's temporal works are an outflowing of His eternal works, so salvation history, including the preaching of the gospel, is a revelation of God's decree. (ps.148-9). Therefore, in order to understand the gospel, we must first know the eternal, immutable and above all simple God. (ps.195 and p.160).
Hoeksema frequently mentions the issue of the logical order of priority in the decree of God - the infralapsarian/supralapsarian debate. He honestly admits that the Canons possess a strongly infralapsarian flavour, in the sense that they teach that those God unconditionally elects are not only creatures but fallen creatures. (ps.121, 151-2, 163-166, 190, 235). In some places, especially as he concerns himself with exegetical matters, Hoeksema declares himself to be in the supralapsarian camp as his father before him. (p.143) In other places, Hoeksema shows a conciliatory spirit to infralapsarians, and is willing to admit that the two positions are both consistent with a strong rejection of Arminian theology. (ps.224, 239). However, in his most detailed discussion of the topic (ps.241-251), he finds it necessary to reject infralapsarianism because of its tendency to speak of God as having a "permissive will" (ps.241 and 251; also ps.143, 234, 319 and 656), and because of his belief that "election and reprobation are as to their purpose by no means coordinate, but rather that reprobation follows election in the order of the divine decrees, and is subordinate to it". (p.247). In order to further explain this point, he quotes from his venerable father's Reformed Dogmatics.
The doctrine of God is further elucidated in this section by means of some beautiful points at which Hoeksema introduces the doctrine of the Trinity into the discussion. The attribute of God's grace, which is obviously mentioned many times during the course of the Canons, is even defined in Trinitarian terms. (p.161). In another place, the doctrine of the unity of God is explained in terms of, rather than contrasted paradoxically with, the doctrine of the Trinity. (p.124). In a typically Protestant Reformed way, this is immediately related to the doctrine of the covenant (p.125), as is also the case elsewhere when the problem of understanding the socalled "covenant of redemption" occurs. (p.167). The covenant of grace is mentioned only once in the text of the Canons in this first part, and then it has to do with the status of children who are born within the sphere of the covenant and who die in infancy. (p.267. Concerning the concept of "the sphere of the covenant", see ps.679, 760 and 796.) In connection with this debated 17th article, I would like to say that the measure of Hoeksema's submission to scripture and dedication to truth is shown by the fact that, even though he is fully committed to the Canons personally and professionally, he still is not beyond criticising them when necessary, as he does here on page 277, and elsewhere. (e.g.: p.343).
Other points worthy of note in this section include Hoeksema's treatment of the psychology of Arminianism (ps.118, 284), one way reconciliation (125, see also ps.649 and 682), the place and nature of preaching (ps. 130, 133, 136, 220-3, 153), the free-offer and common grace (e.g.: ps.131, 133, 226-7, 236-8), the Canons contrasted with the Westminster Standards (p.135), the Canons and Dispensationalisrn (p.173), the relation between election and assurance (ps.313-6), and the notion of mystery and mysticism in theology (ps.203, 254). The well known contemporary theologians G. C. Berkouwer and James Daane are mentioned on page 240.
2.32 Limited Atonement
One might have thought that, in a chapter on the extent of the atonement, Hoeksema would automatically commence with a discussion of the nature of the death of Christ, or some other such contiguously related point. But this is not the case. And it is not the case with Hoeksema because it is not the case with Dordt itself. The Canons depart on the subject of the atonement by relating it to, or better, understanding it in the context of the doctrine of God and His attributes of mercy and grace. Hoeksema rightly focuses in acutely on this point, explaining that this was no accident, but that it is all part of the method which the Reformed fathers employed, "a method which is too often despised and condemned in our day, namely, the theological method: they begin with the truth concerning God Himself." (p.328).
It was the strategy of the Arminians to play off God's mercy and justice against each other by emphasising the former over the latter, and concluding that strict judicial satisfaction for sin was not necessary for all. Hoeksema relates all this to the doctrine of God as expounded in the first section on predestination, where it was shown that God never acts contrary to His own being, that He is unified and simple, and therefore that His attributes can only exist in perfect harmony and equality. This flawless concord between divine justice and divine mercy are especially revealed in the death of Christ and in the redemption of men by that death. Hence atonement involves penal and vicarious satisfaction which is graciously for and to men.
But there is yet a further context in which the death of Christ is to be understood. The Canons explain that the nature of Christ's death can be ascertained of who Christ is. Hoeksema then spends some time expounding the basics of Christology, or the doctrine of Christ. (ps.345-348). Firstly, Christ was really man and perfectly holy, allowing Him to suffer and die for other humans. Secondly, Christ is the only begotten Son of God, giving His death the worthiness to and value required to satisfy God. Thirdly, Christ's death was attended with a sense of the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin.
What has all this to do with an explicitly limited atonement, or an atonement which was for only some members of the human race? Hoeksema definitively answers this by making the excellent point that the Canons emphasise the organic wholeness of the work of Christ. Separation cannot be made between atonement and the nature of God, or atonement and the person of Christ, as has been already seen. But further, because of this biblical sense of organic wholeness emphasised by the fathers, one "cannot make separation between redemption and deliverance, between the redemptive value of Christ's sacrifice and its power and effectual application, between the blessings which Christ merited by His death and the application and appropriation of those blessings. The latter necessarily follows the former, and they are coextensive." (ps.339-340). In other words, the extent of the atonement is limited because it is conditioned and determined by the nature of the atonement. Those for whom Christ died are those who are actually saved from sin. This emphasis on the Canons' organic view of the truth of limited atonement and its place in the scheme of salvation is emphasised by Hoeksema at several other points to highlight that it is pervasive. (e.g.; pp. 372 and 378).
Hoeksema demonstrates that it is the Arminians who really "limit" the atonement, in that they teach that it is limited by the will of the sinner. If he or she wills not to "accept" that Christ has "died for them" then they will not be saved, that is, atoned for. The death of Christ is "limited" in that it actually saves no one of itself, and without the cooperation of the one who supposedly is atoned for. God cannot save sinners because they will not allow it. In contrast to this, the Reformed believe in a "limited" atonement in that Christ died, according to God's intention, for the elect alone. The Canons make the limitation a divinely sovereign limitation. (p.373). This is only another instance of the already observed principle that the Reformed and Arminian views of the atonement differ in that the Reformed is God centred and unconditional while the latter is non-decisive and conditional. Therefore, the former is definite and particular, while the latter is general and dependent. "It depended upon MAN, who might believe, or then again might not believe. It depended on MAN, who might persevere in faith and obedience, but who again might not persevere" is the Arminian position. (p.385).
It might be said by the Christian in true disgust that such a view of the atonement is no atonement at all. Hoeksema proves that this is literally the case. Because Arminians reject limited atonement, they really deny the proper notion of atonement altogether. Many of the Arminians against whom the Canons were originally written actually developed another theory of the atonement rather than the biblical model of an atonement which was judicial and substitutionary. It was called the governmental theory, and expounded by a man called Grotius. (p.325). This theory, according to which God did not require a strict satisfaction of divine justice, is explicitly denied by the Canons, which teach that God does not, can not, pass over sin without punishing it. (p346). As Hoeksema points out in his commentary on the rejection of errors, the Arminians are forced into this position. If they are determined to hold that the atonement is general, then they must either believe in a universal salvation or deny the vicarious atonement of Christ in total. (p.383.) Most consistent Arminians then chose the latter, whereas the modern evangelical Arminians seem more and more to be moving towards the former in different ways. Therefore, to put the matter at its most focused, it is not the case that the Arminians hold to one view of the atonement and the Reformed hold to another, but the Arminians really deny any atonement whatsoever! (ps.419-20).
Following the lead of the Canons in one its few direct references to the covenant of grace, Hoeksema correlates limited atonement with covenant. The essence of atonement is the concept of reconciliation: those who are atoned are in a state of acceptance with God. Reconciliation presupposes a relationship of friendship between those who are reconciled. Therefore if atonement is made for all men, all men are God's friends, which is explicitly contrary to scripture. (p.408-9). Further, since that friendship between God and man is the covenant, the Arminian view of the atonement has serious implications for the doctrine of the covenant itself. Firstly, it has a purely individualistic conception of the covenant, denying federal unity. (p.411). Secondly, it implies a conditional covenant of works and worksrighteousness. (p.410). The Canons militate against such a covenant, teaching instead that God's relations with elect men are always without merit and by grace. (p.369). Indeed, when the Canons do mention the idea of a covenant of works, it is put in the mouths of the Arminians and vigorously rejected as associated with the dread errors of Pelagianism and Socinianism. (ps.389-405).
One of the most interesting aspects of this section for me was to observe Hoeksema's treatment of Article 3, which states that the death of Christ "is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world." I do not like such statements, as they seem to imply that Christ's death is "sufficient for all, but efficient only for the elect," and implies a hypothetical potentiality for the salvation of all, or that there is a salvation possibility attainable for all on condition of faith. This seems to me to be Amyraldian. Hoeksema honestly acknowledges this problem (p.341), but tries to clear the Canons from being interpreted in such a way by claiming that they were only speaking of the atonement "when considered by itself' apart from God's decree or its concrete salvific nature. Such an excuse is probably true, but weak nevertheless, especially considering what Hoeksema had just been saying about the organic unity of the work of Christ and the impossibility of separating any part of it from any other. Finally, he concludes (I think correctly) that the most we can say is that the fathers were in a bit of speculative philosophy at this point and do not represent a scriptural point, although it might be forgiven in light of its historical context. (ps.343-4.)
Three other notable areas in this section are as follows. Firstly, there is quite a lot said about the common grace issue as it relates to the doctrine of the atonement with reference to the preaching of the gospel (ps.349-358. 362), the counsel of God in justification (ps.374-5), and the use of the word "offer". (ps.413-417). Secondly, there is another comment on the infralapsarian language of the Canons. (p.363). Thirdly, this section contains one of the book's only references to the doctrine of eternal justification. (p.334, see also p.665).
2.33 Total Depravity and Irresistible Grace
In the Canons, the original "Five Points of Calvinism", two of the points are combined and dealt with in one place - this fourth section. The title of the third and fourth heads of doctrine is , "The Corruption Of Man, His Conversion To God, And The Manner Thereof." One word in the title suggests why these two points have been combined, that is, the word "man". The first chapter had to do with God in election, the second with Christ in atonement, and so the next subject is man. Firstly the eternal purpose of salvation, secondly the objective accomplishment of salvation, and thirdly the subjective application of salvation by the Holy Spirit.
Three elements in anthropology, or the doctrine of man, are covered in this section. In terms of chronological order, firstly man as created in his state of primitive integrity or innocence, secondly man as fallen in his state of total depravity or misery, and thirdly as converted in his state of begun recovery or grace. Various nuances connected with these relations are mentioned by Hoeksema, along with their dogmatic ordering. (ps.427-9). Also, Hoeksema demonstrates the importance of the doctrine of man in the whole Arminian controversy. "One's basic view of man determines his view of redemption ... There is an inseparable relation between one's view of God and his doctrine of man." (p.429). A high view of man, his worth and his powers, will lead to a low view of God. A weak view of the scope and scale of the sinfulness of man will lead to a weak view of the grace necessary to save him from it.
The single most important theological concept in an understanding of the biblical doctrine of man is that of the image of God. The Canons commence this section with a statement on man prior to the fall, and Hoeksema correctly interprets it in terms of the image of God, which is corporate and moral. (p.433). This broadens out into a discussion of the nature of the image of God, of whether or not we can make the usual distinction between the image in a broader and narrower sense (see also p.575), of how the image was altered after the fall (p.435-6), and the question of free will (p.437, see also ps.549-56 and 622). A typing error occurs near the bottom of page 433 and affects the content of this discussion of the two senses of the image of God, and therefore deserves a mention. The word "normal" should read "formal". (See Herman Hoeksema's Reformed Dogmatics, p.208.) There is also a brief discussion of the creationist/traducianist debate on the origin of the human soul. (p.445).
A large portion of this section is taken up with deliberation on the subject of common grace. This is wholly warranted from the text of the Canons themselves in several ways. Firstly, it is mentioned briefly in connection with the image of God in man, and whether common grace enables fallen man to retain some of his moral gifts. (p.435). This whole issue of the relation of common grace to fallen and therefore totally depraved man is further expanded in page 453, in which Hoeksema provides an extremely helpful retranslation of an article in the Canons which is often used as support for the common grace theory. This theme is expanded until page 471, during which time Hoeksema provides an excellent analysis of such related topics as natural light, civil good, law and grace, and general and special revelation. All these issues influence one's doctrine of total depravity, or the corruption of human nature after the fall, which is why they are included here. The Three Points of Common Grace are also mentioned in pages 485, 510, 587 and 617 and elsewhere in this section.
For the elect of God, after creation and the fall comes deliverance. Hence, in the Canons in this section, the doctrine of man is completed in the doctrine of salvation, at least in its initial stages. As with any Reformed "Systematic Theology", the Canons contain all the usual biblical elements. As far as the condition of man is concerned, the first work of the Holy Spirit in him or her is that of regeneration. But unlike most standard Reformed theologies, which explain this work in purely individual terms, as they do with all the other elements of soteriology (such as calling, conversion, faith and repentance, and sanctification), the Canons begin in a very different area. Just as the articles on total depravity emphasised the corporate nature of man's fall from grace under the headship of Adam, so the articles on irresistible grace also emphasise the corporate nature of man's restoration to grace in Christ.
Hence the conversion of man to God is placed squarely within the context of the church in the Canons, commencing with Article 8, which focuses on the place of the preaching of the gospel. (p.483). But this is immediately problematic, at least as far as a commentary is concerned, as these sections in the Canons are some of the most controversial in Reformed circles today, dealing as they do with the nature of the external call of the gospel. From this follows a full discussion of the reason for the emergence of the Protestant Reformed Churches in 1924, the First Point of Common Grace (p.485), the validity of such words as "invitation" and "well-meaningly" (p.486), the relation of the call to the doctrine of God (ps.488-9), the appeal to mystery (ps.489-90, 499), and the scope of the promise of the gospel (p.492). Also included are more standard expositions of the relations between God's decretive and perceptive will, and the internal and external calls. (p.491). This continues until about page 512. Hoeksema of course defends the Canons from false accusations by the Arminians and false interpretations by the Christian Reformed Church, while interestingly admitting that the Canons are not as clear and complete on the call as they might have been. (p.487).
After this Hoeksema follows the Canons in defending the sovereignty (p.513-17) and describing the nature (p.519) of the work of regeneration, while admitting its fundamentally incomprehensible manner of working, (ps.525-530 - an interesting section in light of the Clark/Van Til Controversy.) Elsewhere Hoeksema meets the challenge of an article that seems to teach mediate regeneration (ps.560-566) and handles it superbly. Hoeksema himself strongly defends immediate regeneration, and provides a good exegetical case for so doing, although he also holds that the Canons themselves leave the matter open. This debate between mediate and immediate regeneration is considered further on also, (ps.757, 821, 825-37). Next is the nature of faith, which is the fruit of regeneration brought to consciousness. Hoeksema makes a useful distinction between the power of faith and the act of faith (p.534, see also p.601), which is something the same as faith in potential and faith made manifest.
A very important theological and practical emphasis in the Canons across this section is teased out and explicated by Hoeksema in his commentary on it. It is the truth that as man's fall was not individual, so man's conversion occurs within the context of the church. From Article 15 on, the fathers explain in surprising breadth some important principles concerning the Christian view of the doctrine of the church. They "lay down guiding principles for the conduct of the Reformed believer towards others in the church." (p.538). Within the church are not only reprobate hypocrites but elect who have not yet received grace. (p.542). The church on earth as militant and visible is therefore never entirely pure. (p.544). This should especially be observed by office bearers when members make a confession of faith. (p.545). Hoeksema also discusses the means of grace (p.564-566) and the unity of the church (p.613), contra the proto-Dispensationalist teachings of the Arminians (ps.465, 475 and 478).
Other interesting points made by Hoeksema in this section include some excellent comments about education (ps.443-4 and 581), evangelism (p.479), the covenant of works (p.540), synergism (p.623), mystery (ps.489-90 and 499), typology (p.562), and dualism (p.606). Anyone familiar with the writings of Herman Hoeksema would be acquainted with the general thrust of what Homer has to say in each of these areas, at least as far as the more purely dogmatic elements are concerned. However, what I admired was the way Homer was able to fit all these into a commentary on an historical Protestant creed in an unforced and interesting way, always informative as to comprehending the meaning of the text and always helpful in understanding the psychology of the creed itself.
2.34 The Perseverance Of The Saints
The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints is really only an extension in time of the doctrine of irresistible grace. The irresistible grace given to the elect in regeneration, that initial work of God in imparting life to the spiritually dead soul, requires a continual upholding by the power of God, just as the cosmos requires continual preservation even after its initial creation. Both are affected by the presence of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the elect. As might be expected, therefore, this section in Hoeksema's commentary is in reality simply an extension of the former. But for all that, it is one of the most beautifully written and practically orientated sections of the book. It could almost be published separately in its own right as a treatise on sanctification.
All the usual elements which comprise the doctrine of sanctification are to be found here; for example, Article 2 alone covers good works, humiliation, repentance, mortification, prayer, progress and victory. (p.637-642). From Article 3 on, Hoeksema divides the contents of the further articles into four sections: "the relation between preservation and the sins and falls of the saints, the manner in which the grace of preservation operates, the assurance of preservation, and the means of preservation." (p.643). In the first section, (Articles 4 to 7) such topics as God's sovereignty and human sin, the possibility of falling away and backsliding are covered. In the second section (Article 8) a lengthy article explains the Trinitarian mode of imparting the grace of preservation by the unchangeable decree of God, the effectual Priesthood of Christ and the indestructible seal of the Holy Spirit. In the third (Articles 9 to 13) the concrete problem of assurance of salvation is squarely faced, related to knowledge, analysed in terms of possibility and fact, the way it is to be attained, the subject of carnal doubts and temptations, and the effects of assurance upon believers. In the fourth section (Article 14) the central place of the preaching of the word, as well as the use of the sacraments, is considered. Finally, Article 15 concludes with a statement of the church's faith of perseverance. So much for the alleged "hyper-Calvinism" and "cold Scholasticism" of the Canons! Any church which believes, preaches and practices such doctrines will be the very epitome of life and comfort.
One of the most important sections in this entire book, in my opinion, occurs in this section on the perseverance of the saints. It is the part near the commencement of the section which demonstrates the interdependence of the "Five Points Of Calvinism", ltd therefore the dependence of the fifth and last point on all the others. I suggest that this is a very important principle especially because of the increasingly loud clamour for so-called "balance" and "a sense of proportion" when dealing with the doctrines of grace. People do not want a necessarily interrelated system today. They want a piecemeal and fragmented theology. They want to be "Two Point Calvinists" or some such nonsense. Cries for this sort of thing usually come either from academic/evangelical scholars who wish to uphold "the true spirit of Calvin over against the speculations and rationalizations of the Calvinists", or is of a baptist/brethren type mentality which thinks that it is the essence of all true wisdom to deny the logical implications of a stated position. Both of these sorts of people want to maintain the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints while denying at least one of the other points. Against all this the fathers and Hoeksema implacably set their faces.
Hoeksema states his principle from the very introduction of the section. "He who denies election and makes atonement general and presents conversion as dependent upon the free will of man must needs end by leaving all of salvation in doubt, by allowing all to depend on free will, and by denying the perseverance of the saints" (p.629). Hoeksema proceeds to sketch how sovereign predestination is the eternal fountain of perseverance, limited atonement is the objective guarantee of perseverance, and efficacious grace is the subjective realization of perseverance. (p.631). Finally in the introduction, Hoeksema makes the good point that the words "perseverance" and "preservation" are not different doctrines but two aspects of the same doctrine, the former emphasising man as subject and the latter emphasising man as object. (p.632) Hoeksema frequently indicates those Articles in the Canons which stress the interrelatedness of the five doctrines it defends (e.g.: pages 676, 688, 6956 and 788-92).
Other perceptive points made by Hoeksema in this section include the topics of "testimonies" (p.788) and "revival" (p.820). There are some more beautiful sentences on the Trinity, (p.163). There are also, following the Canons, some (what I somewhat tongue in cheek might call) "post-millennial" passages as far as the progress and victory of tire saints and churches' sanctification is concerned. (ps.637-42 and 766). Finally, and more theologically, there are strongly worded, and greatly needed, statements concerning what Cod cannot do: He cannot cease to be God (p.649, see also 616) and He cannot sin (p.657). The former of these is particularly relevant in the light of those modern Arminians, like Clark Pinnock, who believe that God can set aside M4 divine attributes, apart from. .the incarnation, for the sake of allowing man free-will.
Homer Hoeksema's commentary on the Canons Of Dordt succeeds at every level. He is a capable author, an informed historian and an exemplary theologian. But what in the final instance makes the book as good as it is, is not the prowess of the commentator, but the greatness of what he is commentating upon. It is the Canons themselves, and Hoeksema's faithful representation of them, that makes the book worthy of the. time invested in reading it. The father's spoke with a voice which was deep and wide, coherent and clear, for it was and is, in the final analysis, the voice of Christ speaking in biblical truth. Their voice needs to be heard today first of all by the Reformed and Presbyterian churches, who have forgotten the heritage bequeathed to them by their fathers at Dordt. Indeed, all who call themselves "Christians" should listen, for if they do not, they forfeit the right to that name, for Christians obey the fifth commandment: Honour thy father and thy mother, which is the. first commandment with promise. Those who wish to obey this commandment with regard to the fathers of Dordt can do no better thing than betake themselves to Homer Hoeksema's book.
"The Voice of Our Fathers" by
Homer C. Hoeksema.
Publ. RFPA Grand Rapids Michigan USA 1980.
Available from: Mr. Sean Courtney,
78 Millfield, Grove Road,
BALLYMENA BT43 6PD.