Friday, December 31, 2010

What of the Canons of Dordt, Articles 8 and 9? (50)

Dear Forum members,

One other quotation from the Reformed Confessions was given as proof for the gracious and well-meant gospel offer. It is found in Articles 8 and 9 of the third head of doctrine in the Canons of Dordt. I quote it here in full.

“As many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly called. For God hath most earnestly and truly shown in His Word what is pleasing to Him, namely, that those who are called should come to Him and believe on Him.

“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, some of whom when called, regardless of their danger, reject the Word of life, others, though they receive it, suffer it not to make a lasting impression on their heart; therefore their joy, arising only from a temporary faith, soon vanishes and they fall away; while others choke the seed of the Word by perplexing cares and the pleasures of this world, and produce no fruit. This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower ( Matt. 13) ”.

Although the Synod of the CRC in 1924 gave no explanation of this article and made no effort to show how this article actually proved the gracious and well-meant offer of the gospel, their line of reasoning was most probably this: Because the call of God that comes in the gospel to all men to repent of sin and believe in Christ is “unfeigned,” that is, is sincere and expresses what is pleasing to God, therefore God expresses in the gospel his desire to save all men. This interpretation is an astounding jump in logic, but I cannot explain in any other way why this article was quoted in support of the offer.

Let us consider the article for a few moments.

It would be a dreadful slander of God to consider the opposite of what the article teaches. What would the Synod of Dordt have been saying about God if this article were not true. It would be saying that God does not really mean what he says when he commands men to repent of their sin and believe in Christ. Really, behind this command lies God’s secret hope that man will not take the command seriously, but realizes that it is only a joke. It would mean that God is deceiving man when he commands them to repent and believe.

Further, if the command of the gospel to repent were not very seriously meant by God, God’s punishment of the wicked who reject the gospel would be grievously unjust. If I would order my son to cut the lawn, but would secretly hope he did not do it, and then, upon his failure to obey, give him a hard spanking, I would become a hypocrite.

God is in dead earnest when he comes to men with the command to repent. He is God; he has the right to command men to do as they were created to do. He has the right to punish them when they refuse. In fact, he would be less than God if he did not punish them for their opposition to him. This is clearly what the article is saying.

Secondly, the article also implies a distinction between what God has eternally determined in his counsel and what he commands men to do. God’s eternal counsel, including the decree of eternal predestination, is his sovereign will and unchangeable purpose. The article is not speaking of that counsel of God, but of what is “pleasing to him, namely that those who are called should come to him.” I have repeatedly demonstrated that repentance from sin is pleasing to God because God created man capable of doing good and serving God with the whole of his being; and God refuses to alter his demands upon man because of what man himself did when he sinned. The distinction is clear and one does wrong when one confuses the issue.

Thirdly, God’s counsel in reprobation is indeed to manifest his righteous justice in damning sinners to hell, but let it never be forgotten that God executes his counsel in such a way that man remains responsible for his sin. God does not make man sin; man sins willingly and willfully. This is clearly the teaching of Article 9, which I quoted above.

If one should inquire into how it is possible for God to be sovereign also over the sin of man and still hold man accountable for his sin, let it be clearly understood that one is shifting the discussion to an entirely different question; indeed a question over which much ink has been spilled and with which theologians have struggled for many centuries. Already the old church father, Augustine, who taught double predestination, but never denied man’s accountability, dealt with the problem.

Scripture teaches both and finds no conflict between them: God is sovereign; man is accountable. This is the firm and unwavering conviction of the church. And the teaching of Scripture.

Finally, it is true that Canons 3/4.9 uses the word “offer.” But as I and others have repeatedly pointed out, there is no problem with the word “offer” as long as it is taken in the sense in which the fathers of Dordt took it, along with all theologians in the 17th century, who used Latin in their theological works. The Latin offere means simply “to present” Christ as publicly proclaimed and presented as the one in whom alone can be found salvation. When men are called to repent of their sin in obedience to the command of God, they are also called to believe in Christ presented in the gospel. When men refuse to do this, their refusal is rooted in their sin. For such disobedience they are justly punished.

* * * *

We now turn to the passages in Scripture used to support the error of the gracious and well-meant gospel offer. I consider this to be the most important part of our investigation of this doctrine. After all, Scripture is the only and final authority for all our faith and all our life. If the offer is taught in Scripture, we must teach it regardless of any other consideration. But if it is not taught in Scripture, we not only err when we teach it, but we deceive the people of God.

In our considerations of various texts in Scripture that are appealed to in support of the offer we find passages quoted, which are purported to teach that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is universal; that is, that he died on the cross for all men. Such pages as John 3:16 and I John 2:2 are referred to. It is not my intention to enter into the question of the extent of the atonement. It is true that to support a well-meant and gracious gospel offer, it is necessary to expand the extent of the atonement to include all men, for salvation must be available if it is offered to all, and it can be available for all only if Christ died for all. But to enter into a defense of the extent of the atonement would involve repetition of what I have said in early installments.

Two passages especially are favorites in defense of the gospel offer. I refer to I Timothy 2:4, which reads: “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth;” and I Timothy 4:10: “For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.”

It is also true that there are those who in the interests of maintaining a particular atonement and still teaching the offer, speak of gifts merited on the cross for all men that are not a part of salvation: a sort of an overflow of blessings from the cross that engulfs all men.

Or, with a slightly different emphasis, some maintain that Christ died for all men, but only in a way sufficient to save all, intended to save all, but not efficacious to save all. I have dealt with this in an earlier installment, and need not repeat here what I said there.

The fact is that no Scriptural evidence can be adduced for either position. The argument defending a broader atonement than an atonement of our Savior that is only for the elect is not a deduction from Scripture, but a bold and unwarranted attempt to support the theory of an offer by supplying it with a judicial ground in the cross of Jesus Christ. One looks for a text to support a heresy, and as Luther himself said, Any heresy in the world can be supported by some sort of text, if one wants to do so. The Dutch expression is, Elk ketter heft z’n letter. The translation is: “Every heretic has his text.”

But my task is not finished until the texts referred to are explained. And that I intend to do in the next installment, DV.

With warm regards,


Thursday, December 16, 2010

God's Command to Repent and Believe (49)

Dear Forum members,

We were considering the confessional proof offered by the defenders of a gracious and well-meant gospel offer; more particularly, we were considering the proof offered in Canons 2.5, which we quoted last time.

The article establishes the truth that the gospel proclaims that all who believe in Christ will be saved: “. . . whosoever believeth in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” I pointed out earlier that this language does not give the opportunity to claim that faith is a condition to salvation. The language used is, first of all, Biblical (John 3:16); second, the language emphasizes that faith is that gift of God by which the elect lays hold on Christ crucified and appropriates him for his own; and third, is part and parcel of the other part of the gospel: “the command to repent and believe.”

It is that command to repent and believe that is often interpreted as a gracious offer. But anyone can see the difference between the two. One who is offered something has it within his power to accept it or reject it. One who is commanded to do something, on the other hand, must do what he is commanded to do, or suffer the consequences of disobedience. That is indeed a very great difference.

To repent and believe in Christ is commanded of all in the gospel. Man is placed by the gospel under solemn obligation to repent of his sin and believe in Christ.

As I pointed out in an earlier article, man is commanded to repent of his sin because God maintains his righteous demands that were placed upon man in Paradise. God must do this to remain a holy God. The fact that man no longer obeys God and, indeed, is unable to do it, makes no difference at all. Man’s inability is brought upon him by his own refusal to obey God. God is not to be blamed for man’s total depravity; man despised God’s command and chose rather the evil promises of Satan.

To believe in Christ is also man’s obligation. God has provided the way of escape from sin and death; God has sent Christ into the world as the only one under heaven by whom man can be saved. Surely, God did not need to provide salvation, but he did. And now God commands men to believe in Christ as the only way he can be saved. But man will not, for he hates God and Christ and would rather go to hell than obey God and believe in Christ. His hatred of God’s command is manifested in his crucifixion of Christ. It is a terrible depravity, which man brought upon himself. And it is a terrible sin to refuse to obey God’s command to believe in the one through whom salvation is possible.

But the objector will say: Man can do nothing else but repudiate Christ. True. But man’s inability is a terrible state that man brought upon himself; and he alone is to be blamed for it.

But the objector will say: But God does injustice to man for demanding of him that which he cannot do. Lord’s Day 4, 9 answers that question: “God made man capable of performing it; but man, by the instigation of the devil, and his own willful disobedience, deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts.”

It is interesting to note, rather parenthetically, that both Arminians and Antinomians agree that God does not demand of man that which he cannot perform. The Arminian says, “Man can perform obedience to God’s command, because man has a free will. The Antinomian agrees that man cannot obey God, but dodges the issue by claiming that God does not demand good works; the imputed righteousness of Christ is sufficient. This same antinomian position is often the position of the Hyper-Calvinist as well.

Again, the objector will say that man has to have some sort of ability to choose to do good or evil before he can be punished for his failure to the good can be held against him. This is the Arminians' argument for free will. The Arminian claims that only a man with free will can really be punished for doing wrong. The confessional answer is the same: Yes, but God made him capable of doing the good; capable of choosing between good and evil; and it is his own fault that he lost the ability to pay the debt that he owes to God.

God’s insistence that man repent of sin and believe in Christ is rooted in his own holiness. God would deny himself if he was to listen to the Arminians. The Arminians try to tell God that he would show an abundance of mercy and love if he would simply overlook man’s terrible sin, forget man did such dastardly things, excuse man for a moment’s recklessness, and so act as if sin had never been committed.

God’s insistence that men obey him is not another will in God that is contradictory to his decretive will to save only some. I am aware of the language that is often used in this respect: the will of God’s decree and the will of God’s command, or something similar. But if such terminology leads to the conclusion that there are two wills in God, the terminology ought not to be used. Even more so, if the terminology leads to the notion that the will of God’s command is a gracious and loving offer, the terminology is yet more deceptive.

It seems to me to be better to speak of the holy demands of God’s law that he maintains throughout all history, regardless of the moral state of man. God’s will, on the other hand, is His ultimate determination to save from the sin into which they plunged themselves and for which they are responsible, those whom he has chosen eternally in Christ and to punish those whom he has determined to damn for their sins as manifestations of of his holiness and justice.
* * * *
The gospel accomplishes that purpose. God, through Christ and by means of the church, proclaims that all those who believe in Christ, set forth in the gospel, will be saved, and those who reject the gospel and remain in their sins will be damned. That gospel is heard wherever the gospel is preached, by elect and reprobate alike. It is heard by all to whom the gospel is sent according to God’s good pleasure.

Accompanying that gospel is the work of the Holy Spirit of Christ who works faith in the hearts of the elect so that, when they hear the gospel of Christ crucified and salvation in him, along with the command to repent of their sins and believe in Christ, they turn from their wicked ways and flee with their sins to the cross. But when the wicked hear Christ crucified, they do just as the wicked Jews of Jesus’ day and crucify him again in mockery and scorn.

God reveals in the righteous who come to Christ the riches of his grace, mercy and love; God reveals in the wicked his just judgment and holy hatred of sin. The wicked have not only walked in the ways of evil; they have shown how truly evil they are in their crucifying of Christ. Just as in Jesus’ day, the gospel of the cross rips away any mask of piety and religion the wicked might have to cover their terrible sin, and their wickedness is revealed for what it truly is: a hatred of God and of his Christ.

God’s purpose is sovereignly accomplished and God’s perfections are revealed and shown to be the only perfection there is.

With warm regards,
Prof. H. Hanko