CAN WE BREAK THE COVENANT? - Prof. J. Geertsema
Taken from the Clarion ( starting pg. 489 (1978) Vol. 27, No 22, ending pg. 292 (1979) Vol. 28, No. 13 )
CAN WE BREAK THE COVENANT?
In the Standard Bearer (the magazine of the Protestant Reformed Churches) of September 1, 1978, Prof. H.C. Hoeksema deals with a question from a reader about covenant breakers in the New Testament. It is the third time since 1975 that a question has been asked and answered on this point. In my opinion the fact that the same reader comes for the third time with a question on the same point is an indication that the doctrine of the Protestant Reformed Churches on this point does not satisfy the reader of Scripture. This is no miracle, for the Protestant Reformed doctrine comes into conflict with the language of the Bible. But let me first give the floor to Prof. Hoeksema. He first gives his readers the question as put before him:
In Old Testament times the Word of God speaks about covenant breakers. Can we also speak in the new dispensation about covenant breakers in the same sense of the word, with respect to those born of believing parents but who have turned their back on the church or who live an unruly and irregular church life? My question is not about the term itself, but rather about the idea of this expression. In my opinion it sounds like a contradiction of the true meaning of God's covenant. Who can break God's covenant? ....
After some introductory words Prof. Hoeksema's reply reads:
... in this entire discussion about covenant breaking there are two crucial questions. The first is: what do you understand by the covenant of grace? As I stated in my reply three years ago, "if you define the covenant, as we do, as the eternal relationship of friendship between God and His elect people in Christ Jesus, then it certainly follows, too, that the covenant cannot be broken. It is eternal, and it is an everlasting covenant. And it lies in the very nature of the case, therefore, that an eternal and an everlasting covenant is unbreakable."
Before I go on quoting from the September 1978 issue, I should like to give our readers the continuation of what Prof. Hoeksema wrote "three years ago." It can be found in the Standard Bearer of May 15,1975. We read:
And if, further, you maintain, as we do, that the covenant of grace is in the deepest sense of the word unilateral both in its establishment and its continuation and realization, that is, that the covenant is throughout strictly God's covenant, in no sense dependent upon you and me for its maintenance or its existence, then you can understand, too, that the covenant is absolutely unbreakable, and can understand also why it is unbreakable. Now this is not merely some dogmatic reasoning, but it is the plain teaching of Scripture every time it speaks of an everlasting covenant, as, for example, in the wellknown words of Genesis 17:7, "1 will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant; to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee." Further, it is this aspect of God's covenant which is emphasized in the wellknown history of the revelation of that covenant to David in 11 Sam. 7 when the Lord assures David: "I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away, before thee. And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: Thy throne shall be established for ever." 11 Sam. 7:14-16. These are the sure mercies of David, mentioned by the prophet Isaiah and celebrated in Psalm 89.
Before I go into these texts I'd like to quote part of the second article of Prof. Hoeksema on our topic, which can be found in the Standard Bearer of May 1, 1976. Readers had reacted to the first reply and sent in a number of textual references where we read about breaking the covenant. All those textual references were taken from the Old Testament. After some of these Scripture passages are mentioned , Prof. Hoeksema made three "explanatory remarks in general." He wrote:
In the first place, the term that is translated by "break" is the same term that is used more than once in Scripture with respect to breaking a commandment or breaking a law. Now, obviously, when a commandment or a law is broken, this cannot mean that the law as such is broken in the sense that it no more stands whole and complete and valid. The opposite is true. That law remains in force. The same is true with respect to the covenant. The term "break" refers to a violation, a transgression of the covenant, even as the same term can be used to refer to a violation or transgression of God's commandments. At the same time, we must remember, it points to the seriousness and heinousness of the sin. On the part of the sinner it is so serious that it constitutes a breaking of the law, or a breaking of the covenant.
We have an important element here. Sinning against the commandments of the covenant is transgressing and sinning against the covenant itself, and against the God of the covenant. In Ezekiel 20, not keeping the fourth commandment, not keeping the sabbath, is said to be breaking the covenant. However, the question remains: when a member of the covenant people breaks the covenant, what does this mean for his relation with God? But let us listen to the second general remark:
In the second place, you will notice, if you check up on the various Scripture passages, that they refer to the Old Testament situation. This, too, is an important factor to remember in connection with this entire question. We must bear in mind that the peculiar dispensation of the covenant in the Old Testament was the dispensation of the law. At Sinai, the Mosaic law - not only of the ten commandments, but of the types and ceremonies - was the form which was given to God's covenant. This is undoubtedly a large factor in Scripture's speaking so often of the breaking of the covenant on the part of Israel. It was precisely because that covenant was under the dispensation of the law that it could be and was broken in the sense of not observing and keeping that law ....
In the third place, in close connection with this fact stands the fact that Scripture speaks more than once of "the house of Israel" as breaking God's covenant. This also stands connected with the fact that the dispensation of the covenant was the dispensation of the law and, at the same time, a national dispensation in the Old Testament. And when the carnal element in Israel had the upper hand in the nation, then it could be said that the "house" of Israel broke God's covenant.
Before I ask a number of questions here, it will be good to quote more from Prof. Hoeksema's writing in order to get a more complete picture. Therefore we go back to the first-mentioned article. He continued:
If, however, you understand the covenant as consisting in some kind of contract or agreement or in a general, conditional promise, then you also open the door to the possibility that such a covenant can be broken. In fact, you open the door to the certainty that such a covenant will be broken. But, as I pointed out in my earlier answer, both Scripture and our Baptism Form emphasize that God's covenant is eternal and unbreakable ....
The second crucial question is: who do you understand as being included in God's covenant? Does God's covenant embrace only the elect, that is, believers and their seed? Then again you cannot very well speak of that covenant being broken in the sense that the relation of friendship is severed. If, however, you include all children of believers, head for head and soul for soul, you also necessarily open the door to the idea of that covenant being broken through the unbelief and impenitence of the reprobate children, who fail to fulfill the conditions of that covenant. But then again you come face to face with the problem of what becomes of the Scriptural idea of an eternal covenant of grace.
In the second place, as I also pointed out earlier, Reformed people have sometimes spoken rather loosely and inaccurately, in connection with the sins of those who are born and brought up and live in the historical sphere of God's covenant, of covenantbreakers. This language is not accurate and precise. We must certainly not forget that in the sphere of the covenant all sin - whether of elect or reprobate - is more emphatically sinful .... But it is neither necessary nor helpful to speak in this connection of covenant breaking; it is only confusing (italics mine, J. G.).
Now I would like to ask some questions. The Protestant Reformed view of the covenant is, according to what Prof. Hoeksema writes, God's covenant with the elect. This covenant cannot be broken, because it is an eternal covenant. When the Bible says that the covenant is established with the believers and their seed, we must see this seed as those children who also belong to the elect. The reprobate children are not included in the covenant.
Now a difficulty arises for me: the Bible speaks about breaking the covenant. This breaking of the covenant can only be done by those who are placed in the covenant relation with God. Can we then break an eternal covenant?
As shown above, Prof. Hoeksema tries to solve this problem by pointing to the fact that the term "breaking the covenant" only occurs in the Old Testament, but not in the New Testament. He also points to the fact that breaking the covenant means so much as transgressing against it.
However, he is not fully clear here. Does he admit that the Old Testament covenant with Israel could be broken, not only in this sense that one could transgress against it, but also in this way that through the sins from the side of the sinner the covenant relation with God really was severed? I am inclined to think that Prof. Hoeksema admits this, because he stresses the difference between the old and the new covenant: the old covenant was the covenant with the law and was of a national character, which the new is not. I hope I understand Prof. Hoeksema well.
But the difficulties are not gone now. Must we, then, see it in this way: there was a covenant with the elect in Old Testament times besides the covenant with Israel as a nation? Or was there in those days only that national covenant that could be broken? Was that old covenant, then, a covenant of works? A covenant with the condition of keeping the law as the way to eternal salvation? I thought that also in Old Testament days salvation was in Christ's sacrifice and received by the elect in the way of faith. Is it really according to the Bible to create such a basic difference between the covenant with Israel in the Old Testament and the covenant with God's people in New Testament times?
I have another difficulty. Prof. Hoeksema bases the idea of the eternal and unbreakable covenant also on Genesis 17:7. 1 assume for a moment that he does not wish to identify the covenant with Abraham and his seed in their generations with the covenant later with Israel, just because in Genesis 17 the LORD speaks of an "everlasting covenant," of which Prof. Hoeksema says that it cannot be broken. But what is, then, the relation with the Sinaitic covenant?
And I have more difficulties. For I read in the very same chapter, Genesis 17, with respect to the very same -everlasting covenant," that the LORD gives circumcision as the sign and seal of that covenant; and then, in verse 14, the LORD says to Abraham: "Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."
How is this now? Can that eternal covenant with Abraham and his seed be broken? Or must we consider also this covenant with Abraham as having been made with Abraham and his elected seed? But if that seed is elected, that covenant cannot be broken, because it is eternal. But then the LORD, speaking in verse 14 about the possibility that someone can break it, is not really serious, is He? Maybe the reader is confused now. Well, I think it is confusing to say: God's covenant is eternal, that it is with the elect, and that it cannot be broken, while the Scriptures simply speak about a breaking of the covenant as something that can be done and against which the people are warned. It always becomes confusing when we come with a dogmatic construction and then have to press the clear words of the Bible into the framework of that construction, while those words of Scripture refute precisely such a construction. But maybe Prof. Hoeksema can make clear to us that we do not have a construction here. However, at the moment his view is confusing to me.
Let us now also go to the New Testament. It is true that we do not read the term "breaking the covenant" here. But that does not mean that the matter is not here either. Also the word "covenant" does not occur so often in the New Testament. The matter, however, is fully present. Let me point to a few examples. In the first place, there is the Sermon on the Mount, in which Christ addresses His disciples, and, in them, the people of the new covenant. He shows to the new covenant people what God requires of them: the better righteousness. And at the end our Lord confronts His disciples with the covenant blessing and the covenant curse: if one hears and does His words he is like a man who builds his house on the rock. But if one hears and does not do Christ's words, he is like one building his house on sand. Hearing and not doing is the same as breaking the covenant, as far as I can see.
The same I see, e.g., in I Corinthians 10. Paul writes there about Israel in the wilderness. They were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and the Rock from which they all drank was Christ. Yet, with most of them God was not pleased, Paul writes. I ask: if they were all reprobate, does this mean that they did not have a place in the covenant at the same time? Was there not the covenant with the whole people. Yes, here was the covenant with Israel. So, were they covenant breakers? Yes, they were. But Paul uses Israel as an example for the church in Corinth. And he warns them not to go that evil way of Israel. And I conclude: the evil way is the way of sin, which still is breaking the relation with God, provoking Him to anger. In verse 22 Paul asks: "Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?" I read here covenant language.
As a third example I'd like to bring the whole epistle to the Hebrews to the readers' attention. This epistle especially speaks about the new and eternal covenant of grace, in which also the Hebrews share, being once for all perfected by the sacrifice of Christ. But at the same time this epistle is one strong exhortation to endure and persevere in the faith. And pointing to Israel which did not receive the promised good because of their unbelief, the author warns the Hebrews, people of the new covenant, not to follow in the line of that unbelief. For then there is also for you a fierce judgment. See chapter 10:25 to the end, for example. It is evident that people of the new covenant can fall away. If this is not so, I cannot understand the New Testament in its serious warnings against apostasy and unfaithfulness. Also in the New Testament we have real covenant language. And also here the covenant is unilateral (coming from one side) in its establishment. But, once established, it becomes bilateral = two sided: also the people have their responsibility.
And when Prof. Hoeksema comes with the idea of a historic sphere of the covenant for the reprobate in the church, then I say "No, I cannot find this in Scripture."
I do not believe that the one child, being baptized, is "in the covenant," and that the other child being baptized is only "in the sphere of the covenant," but not "in the covenant" itself. I do not believe that God assures the one child in its baptism: "I make My covenant with you in Christ"; and that God says to that other child in its baptism: "To you I give nothing. For you your baptism is a fake baptism, an empty form." Can God really do a thing like that? Is baptism meant that way? Then we had better baptize adults who have the certainty that they belong to the elect, and not babies.
I also cannot understand that the struggle of the liberation in The Netherlands, and all the articles and books of Prof. K. Schilder and others from that time, did not convince the Protestant Reformed people that they are wrong with their idea of a covenant with only the elect, and that they are not less wrong with their unscriptural idea of a real covenant besides a "covenant sphere" for those children who belong to believing parents, but are not elected. I also say: poor children, poor parents, who cannot build on God's promises when a child turns away, but have to ask: "is perhaps my child not an elect? Well, then I cannot do anything but accept it."
What is basically wrong here? In my opinion this is wrong: a whole theology or dogmatic system is built up on the point of election, and everything is pressed into the framework of this election. This is what Abraham Kuyper also did, as well as the synods of the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands in 1942 and following years.
However, what is the line of thinking followed by our confession, e.g., the Canons of Dort? In chapter 1 they speak specifically about election in Christ as the basis for salvation. To save us, God did not take any ground in us. For there is no ground whatsoever in us. We have sinned in Adam. Adam's sin is our sin and renders us guilty before God: guilty and condemnable. And God would do injustice to no one if He would leave all mankind under His wrath and curse. But God did not want to do that. He sent Jesus Christ in order that everyone who believes in Christ should not perish but have eternal life. In order to make people believe, God sends the gospel to them when and where He pleases. That gospel comes with the demand of faith. Now there are two different reactions to the gospel preached. The one reaction is that of unbelief. On the unbelievers the wrath of God remains. There are also those who do believe. They are saved. That unbelief is man's own fault. But faith is a free gift of God. That now the one receives the gift of faith and that the other is passed by comes from God's eternal decree: the decree of election and of reprobation.
This is the order in which the Canons speak. This is also the order in which Paul speaks in Romans. We do not start with election. We conclude with it. At the end the believers say: that we may believe while others do not is not because we are better. Its ground is solely in God. In God's sovereign, free, electing good pleasure.
Important here is Deuteronomy 29:29: "The secret things belong to the LORD our God; but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law." Revealed is the covenant with its two parts: the promise and the obligation. The promise is: I am the LORD your God in Christ, and you are My people. And the obligation, basically is: we must believe that promise and live in this faith. Promise and obligation are for believers and their seed - all seed - to do the words of the covenant. And when we do, we conclude, on the basis of God's revealed truth: this faith is not my own doing; it is God's free gift. It is His electing grace in Christ. To Him be glory forever.
Can a Covenant Be Broken? - A Reply
In Clarion of November 4, 1978, I gave some critical remarks on what Prof. H.C. Hoeksema had written In The Standard Bearer with respect to the question "Can the covenant be broken?" My criticism was met with a lengthy, critical reply by Prof. Hoeksema. It was an extensive reaction in more than one issue of The Standard Bearer. The first part appeared in the issue of January 15, 1979. And I would like to devote a few "Press Reviews" to this response. I think it is worth it, both because of the matter itself as well as for its historical aspect. Many of our people remember that both in the West and in the East there was contact with the Protestant Reformed Churches in the beginning of the history of our churches in this country. Our churches in Chatham and Hamilton belonged to the PRC. But when the PRC adopted the so-called "Declaration of Principles ... .. Chatham" and "Hamilton" broke with the PRC.
In his first article Prof. Hoeksema informs his readers about the history, adding some critical remarks about what I wrote. From this I quote:
Since that time [1951, The Declaration of Principles, J.G.] the Liberated immigrants in Canada [and America, J.G.] have gone their own ecclesiastical way .... Also the Liberated Churches in The Netherlands have shunned us since that time, and there has been no further contact. I refer, of course, to official contact; the unofficial contact of exchange of The Standard Bearer for the Clarion and De Reformatie has continued for many years .... The Liberated hold to what we sometimes call the Heynsian view of the covenant, which involves a general, conditional promise to all the children of believers, to all baptized infants .... The Liberated disagree with us so strongly on this matter and accuse us of "building a whole dogmatic system on the point of election" [my words, J.G.], [which fact] should also be an indication that we do not teach anything like what is sometimes called "automatic grace" [not my words, J.G.]. You see, we hold to neither a general promise for all that are baptized nor presupposed regeneration [the synodical view of Kuyper and especially the synods in the forties in The Netherlands, J.G.], but insist with Scripture and our confessions that the lines of election and reprobation cut right across the generations of believers [which we do not deny at all, J.G.).
Prof. Hoeksema remarks a little further:
For my part, I welcome discussion of this important truth any time. Personally, I would even welcome official discussions between our churches. However, such discussion would have to be far more basic than that offered by Mr. Geertsema; and it would have to follow a different method and evince a different tone. For one thing, in the articles quoted I was not discussing the truth of the covenant in general, but merely answering a reader's questions about the specific subject of covenantbreaking .... For another thing, I do not like to have words put in my mouth and to be misrepresented. When brother Geertsema does that - as he does in his article - then he is not really criticizing me and my views, but fighting a straw man; and that of course is both dishonest and futile .... Nevertheless, I will reflect on and respond to some of the points made in Clarion's "Press Review."
I should like to make a few remarks here already. Professor Hoeksema accuses me of misrepresenting him. I was not aware that I did. For one thing, I quoted almost everything that he wrote in those three answers, so that the reader could read what was said. But Professor Hoeksema takes only very few, and then very small, quotations from my article. That does not help a discussion. That holds the great danger of misrepresenting the writer without giving the reader the opportunity to check what you write. Therefore, in order to be honest, I shall again quote extensively from what Prof. Hoeksema writes, so that at least the readers of Clarion can follow the discussion on both sides, and not only on one.
I shall reply to the accusation of the misrepresentations right here. The first misrepresentation, according to Professor Hoeksema, is: that I wrote, "The Protestant Reformed view of the covenant is, according to what Prof. Hoeksema writes, God's covenant with the elect." As reaction we read that to write this statement
is not only gross over-simplification, but it is serious misrepresentation. What is the covenant? What is its nature? Is it a means to an end ... ? Or is it the end itself, and as Bavinck once put it "the very essence of all religion." You see, when you merely say "covenant with the elect" you have not said anything about the nature of that covenant itself. And the latter subject is important, also for the question of covenant-breaking.
It is true that I did not speak about the nature of the covenant and so on, but reacted only to the statement that the covenant cannot be broken, according to the Protestant Reformed view. And I wrote that this view that the covenant cannot be broken is based on the view that only the elect are in the covenant, since the covenant is eternal. Is this really misrepresentation? No, it is not. On the contrary. It would have been a misrepresentation if Prof. Hoeksema denied that the covenant is only with the elect. However (and now I quote already from the next article in The Standard Bearer), he writes: "the elect children, the seed, are in the covenant, while the reprobate are not."
A second so-called misrepresentation is the following:
Geertsema suggests that I did not answer the question concerning covenant-breaking. Writes he:
Now a difficulty arises for me: the Bible speaks about breaking the covenant. This breaking of the covenant can only be done by those who are placed in the covenant relation with God. Can we then break an eternal covenant?
However, two things should be noted in this connection: 1) I do not concede and I did not write that the covenant can be broken only by those who are placed in the covenant relation with God. This is Geertsema's assumption, not my position. 2) The whole thrust of my articles on this subject was explicitly that we cannot break the eternal covenant in the sense of severing the covenant relationship. An eternal covenant can be violated, sinned against, transgressed against; but it is in its very nature as an eternal covenant that the bond of friendship cannot be broken.
Let me say this: the quoted statement is my own statement, and not put, by me, in the mouth of Prof. Hoeksema. I only showed my difficulty with the opinion of Prof. Hoeksema when he says: the covenant cannot be broken. The Bible says: the covenant is broken by people who harden themselves in unbelief and disobedience. And is it not so that outsiders who are not in the covenant cannot break that covenant, but that breaking the covenant can only be done by those who have a place in it? So we can say: also here is no misrepresentation, at most a lack of clarity.
Then there is a third case of misrepresentation according to Prof. Hoeksema. He writes:
In the third place, Geertsema devotes two or three paragraphs to suggesting that I deny the unity of the covenant, separate between the old covenant and the new, and even find two covenants in the old dispensation, viz., a national covenant with Israel plus a covenant with the elect. He further suggests that I admit that the national covenant could be broken again in the sense of not merely transgressing against it but in the sense of severing its bond. Again, however, Geertsema sucks this out of his thumb, not out of my articles. I repeat: if there was anything plain in all three articles, it was my insistence that the covenant cannot be broken in the sense that the relationship can be severed, and that, too, precisely because it is God's eternal covenant.
I am thankful for what is written here. It is clarifying for me. I now understand better that Prof. Hoeksema sees the breaking of the covenant always as only a sinning, a transgressing against the covenant, both regarding the old covenant with Israel (which can be Galled the covenant of the "dispensation of the law," or of "a national dispensation") and regarding the new covenant. I now understand better that, according to Prof. Hoeksema, this transgressing against the covenant (old and new) is always to be seen as a transgressing against God's commandments, which does not mean that such a commandment does not stand "whole and complete and valid" anymore; I now understand better that Prof. Hoeksema means with this that breaking the covenant, therefore, never could nor can mean: severing the covenant relation. An eternal covenant remains eternal. When Prof. Hoeksema wrote that the term "breaking the covenant" only occurs in the Old Testament, and fits that covenant of the dispensation of the law, I misunderstood him.
However, I wrote a few times that with what Prof. Hoeksema wrote I had difficulties, and, although some of the difficulties regarding his view are cleared up, my main problems with what Prof. Hoeksema wrote have remained. I pointed to the fact that when the LORD speaks of an eternal covenant, when He made the covenant with Abraham, Genesis 17:7, He speaks of a breaking of that eternal covenant in verse 14, which is done by one who does not have the sign of the covenant: circumcision. Do I now understand it well, when I conclude that, according to Prof. Hoeksema, not being circumcised and abiding by that sin only means: violating the covenant, but not severing the covenant relation with God?
But, as I said, with this explanation my difficulties remain. If breaking the eternal covenant of God with Abraham by not being circumcised means a violating of that eternal covenant, but not a severing of the covenant relation, what does the LORD mean, then, when He says that such a person "shall be cut off from his people," because he has broken the covenant? What does "being cut off" mean here? Or is Prof. Hoeksema of the opinion that the covenant was not established with such a person, because "not all who descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham, because they are his descendants" (Romans 9:6, 7), and thus: because such a person was not elected. Or let me say it in a different way: Was such a person not really in the covenant (that had a national character then and belonged to the dispensation of the law)? Was he only in the historical sphere of that covenant? Was the promise not really for him? I hope to come back to this point of creating a historical sphere of the covenant beside the covenant itself in a next article, because Prof. Hoeksema devotes a separate article to the same matter. But I want to say now already that here my great difficulties were. And when I brought up the point that Genesis 17:14 speaks about breaking that eternal covenant, and that the LORD speaks of a cutting off of such a person from His people (which is His covenant-people, isn't it?) that point was not answered; it was not replied to. It is in this connection that I spoke of confusion and a dogmatical construction. Prof. Hoeksema remarks in this connection that 1, from my side, should answer the question how an eternal covenant can be broken, of course, in the sense of being severed. I hope to come to this also in a following "Review."
This counts also for the fourth and last mentioned "gross misrepresentation," namely, that I suggested that Hoeksema's view is that in baptism God says to the reprobate children: "I give nothing to you." I'll reserve this for later, because this point comes back when Prof. Hoeksema deals with that point of the historical sphere of the covenant.
Let me conclude for now with a few quotations from the comment of Prof. Hoeksema on my remark: "I cannot understand that the struggle of the Liberation in The Netherlands, and all the articles and books of Prof. K. Schilder and others from that time, did not convince the Protestant Reformed people that they were wrong with their idea of a covenant with only the elect ...... Prof. Hoeksema says that the PR know the writings of K.S. very well; that they have thoroughly discussed these matters with him, when he made his trips to the States, in 1939 and in 1947/8. I shall quote part of what Prof. Hoeksema writes. Even though during the Second World War contacts with The Netherlands were all but broken nevertheless some news about what happened in the Reformed Churches came to the United States. And Prof. Hoeksema writes that the people of the Protestant Reformed Churches
were intensely inquisitive about one matter: what were the views of the Liberated theologians about the covenant and baptism over against the position of the synodicals.
Well do I remember when we began to get reliable information. When the first numbers of De Reformatie reached us after the war, we were simply flabbergasted. I well remember that the late Rev. Vos visited my father with one of those early numbers completely bluepencilled, marking those sections which made it plain that the Liberated churches were addicted to what is known among us as the Heynsian view of the covenant, the view of a general, conditional promise of God for all children of believers. The only element of Heyn's view which we did not discover in De Reformatie at that time was the element of a sufficient grace to all children of believers to accept or reject the objective right to the blessings of salvation bestowed upon them in the promise, an element specifically spelled out in Prof. Heyn's Catechetics.
During the first part of this century Prof. Willem Heyns was professor in Reformed doctrine at Calvin College for many years. He taught that in the Church God gives to all children a certain subjective grace. With subjective grace is meant: a certain grace which all the members of the covenant receive from God in themselves, in their heart, through which they can, accept but also can refuse to accept salvation. It is this specific, point that was not found in De Reformatie at that time.
May I make a remark here? I shall do it in the form of a question. The wording of Prof. Hoeksema is quite negative here. It is that they "did not discover" this point "in De Reformatie at that time" (Italics added). Was it there later? Did Prof. K. Schilder teach it later? Why not more positively tell the readers of The Standard Bearer that Prof. K. Schilder declared in De Reformatie (October 25, 1947), and in his booklet "A Binding Above Scripture A New Danger" (Bovenschrifturlijke binding - een nieuw gevaar), that he fully rejected this point of Prof. Heyn's teaching? He wrote in the abovementioned issue of De Reformatie, and repeated in that booklet (page 28): "That we do not believe either." This whole booklet was written as a reaction to the Protestant Reformed "Declaration of Principles." But let me continue to quote. Prof. Hoeksema writes:
And while at least some of us were convinced that he [K. Schilder, J.G.] personally was and intended to be Reformed, we were not at all convinced that the Liberated view of the covenant was not Arminianism applied to the covenant.
Things developed, both here and in The Netherlands. To make a long story short, the result was the present situation in which the Liberated and the Protestant Reformed continue in sharp disagreement and in separate church existence.
But I want to emphasize that we are well acquainted with the Liberated position and writings. It is not that we are ignorant. Nor is it that Schilder and others did not make their position clear. We know the Liberated ideas of the covenant and the promise, and we want nothing of them. We hold them to be contrary to Scripture and the confessions.
Prof. Hoeksema then adds that a discussion has to be on the same basis of Scripture and confession, and he wants Clarion to start with studying the question whether our view of a general promise is consistent with the Baptism Form.
In a following article I hope to continue. For now I conclude with the remark: I did not suggest that ignorance of K. Schilder's writing was the cause of the Protestant Reformed view about a covenant with the elect. I wrote that I could not understand that K.S. did not convince them. And this proves to be still -fully true.