28 May, 2016

Canons of Dordt, II:5—“… declared and published to all without distinction …”



Moreoever, the promise of the gospel is, that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified, shall not perish, but have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of his good pleasure sends the gospel (Canons of Dordt, II:5).


(I)

Rev. Herman Hoeksema


We can content ourselves with a few brief remarks:

First of all, it must be evident that here the gospel is not presented as an offer, but as a promise. The promise of the gospel is, that whosoever believes in Christ crucified will not perish, but have everlasting life. That promise must be declared and published (annunciari et proponi debet, according to the original Latin) to every nation and all persons to whom God, according to His good pleasure, sends the Gospel. There is a marked difference between an offer and a promise, as we have noticed previously; a difference that consists mainly in this: that the fulfilment of a promise depends upon the one who makes the promise, while the realization of an offer depends upon the acceptance of the one to whom the offer is made. If the latter is true of the gospel, then the Remonstrants are right. But our fathers speak here of the gospel, not as an offer, but as a promise. God does not offer something, but He does promise something. And when He promises something He will also fulfil His promise.

In the second place, this article teaches that even the declaration and publication of the promise is not general, but limited, and that God the Lord Himself sets the limitation according to His good pleasure. Throughout the course of history the Gospel is preached to comparatively few people. By far the largest majority of nations and people die without having come in contact with the gospel. And this is according to God’s good pleasure. Through Christ God directs the course of the gospel. Christ is also the missionary. He carries out His mission task through the church. Thus according to the will of God this preaching is not general. God does not want everyone to hear the gospel. He Himself takes care that the gospel is preached exactly where He wills.

In the third place, that according to its content the gospel is not general, but most definitely particular. This article of the confession does teach that this promise must be promiscuously preached and presented to all who hear without distinction. Yet the promise that must be presented and preached is not general, but particular. It is the promise of eternal life to all who believe in the crucified Christ. Thus the Lord does not promise something to everyone, not to all who hear without distinction. If the gospel were an offer it could very well be general according to its content, for an offer depends for its fulfilment upon the persons to whom it is offered. But since the gospel is not an offer, but a promise, the certainty of the fulfilment depends upon God, who cannot lie. If He were to promise to every one eternal life, then He would also save all. But since He does not will to save everyone, He does not allow a general promise to be preached. But the promise is particular. It is limited to those who believe in the crucified Christ.

Therefore the question immediately arises: Who, according to this confession, are they? You find the answer to this in the same Head of Doctrine, II, articles 7 and 8:

But as many as truly believe, and are delivered and saved from sin and destruction through the death of Christ, are indebted for this benefit solely to the grace of God, given them in Christ from everlasting, and not to any merit of their own.

For this was the sovereign counsel, and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all of the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation, that is, it was the will of God that Christ, by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to him by the Father, that he should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, he purchased for them by his death, should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot or blemish to the enjoyment of glory in his own presence forever. (Emphasis added).

This is plain language that does not allow for a twofold interpretation, and answers the question: To whom does God promise eternal life in the preaching of His Word? The answer is:

1. To those who believe.
2. They are the ones to whom God, in His eternal grace, wills to grant faith, for one does not believe of himself.
3. They are the ones for whom, by His death, Christ merited faith as the saving gift of the Holy Spirit, for also that faith had to be merited by Christ. Of ourselves we have no right to it.
4. They are the elect. For it was the eternal and free counsel and will of God that Christ should die for them.

Now read once more the article which we quoted, and the meaning becomes crystal clear: In the promise of the gospel, namely, that whosoever believes in the crucified Christ has eternal life, God promises life and salvation only to the elect. For only they are endowed with that faith. Thus He fulfils His promise. It can only fill one with amazement that some can read a well-meant offer of grace and salvation in this beautiful article, enriched even by the context in which it appears!


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(II)

Prof. David J. Engelsma

[Source: Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 47, no. 2 (April 2014), pp. 7172]

Canons, II:5 states and teaches a particular promise of grace: “whosoever believeth in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” The promise applies itself to the believer: “whosoever believeth.” It is for the believer. It is to the believer. The promise is not for the unbeliever remaining in his unbelief. The promise itself excludes the unbeliever as its object. The particular promise itself implies a warning to those who do not believe: “whosoever believeth not shall perish.”

The general publication of the promise is not the same as the publication of a general promise. Even the average unbeliever understands the distinction. The promise of the lottery that the person turning in the winning number 666 will receive a million dollars, although announced to the entire nation, is a particular promise: to and for the one person with the winning number. It is for no one else. Similarly, God wills, and the Reformed church practices, that the particular promise, “whosoever believes shall be saved,” be published indiscriminately to all and sundry.


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(III)

Rev. Steven R. Key

[Source: Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 37, number 2 (April 2004), pp. 45-64]

The First Point of the CRC’s decision concerning common grace reads as follows:

Relative to the first point which concerns the favourable attitude of God towards humanity in general, and not only the elect, synod declares it to be established according to Scripture and the Confession that, apart from the saving grace of God shown only to those that are elect unto eternal life, there is also a certain favour or grace of God which he shows to his creatures in general. This is evident from the scriptural passages quoted, and from the Canons of Dort (II:5, and III/IV:8-9), which deal with the general offer of the gospel, while it also appears from citations made from Reformed writers of the most flourishing period of Reformed theology that our Reformed writers from the past favoured this view.3

The reference to Article 5 of the Second Head clearly cannot stand by itself in support of the first point.4 The article simply speaks of the church’s mandate to preach the gospel promiscuously. It says nothing of that preaching being an offer to all who hear it, let alone an expression of God’s grace to all who hear it. But it becomes evident by the reference that the Synod viewed the preaching as both an offer and an expression of God’s grace to all who come under that preaching. Their interpretation of common grace, therefore, coloured their interpretation of this article.

Furthermore, because this article lies in the midst of the Reformed fathers’ defence of limited atonement and the Arminian charge that this doctrine prevented the gospel from being preached, it should immediately be evident that the fathers—had they indeed desired to teach a general and well-meant offer—would have clearly and succinctly stated so. They did not. They did not because the whole idea of a well-meant offer of the gospel, expressing God’s sincere desire that all be saved, is not in harmony with the doctrine of limited atonement. How could God desire the salvation of those whom He did not give to Christ in eternal election and for whom Christ did not die?5

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FOOTNOTES:

3. Acta der Synode 1924, English translation from Synodical Decisions on Doctrinal and Ethical Matters, Grand Rapids, MI, Board of Publications of the Christian Reformed Church, 1976, p. 16.

4. The Article reads: “Moreover, the promise of the gospel is that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of His good pleasure sends the gospel.” For a full exposition of this article, confer Homer C. Hoeksema, The Voice of Our Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1980), pp. 349-358.

5. In a controversy that shook the CRC in the late 1960s, Harold Dekker, a professor at Calvin Theological Seminary, tied the well-meant offer of the gospel as adopted in the first point of 1924 to the atonement, and maintained that the offer could be sincere only if Christ died for all. He quoted Canons II:5 to maintain the availability of salvation to all. He wrote in The Reformed Journal, January 1964, under the title “Redemptive Love and the Gospel Offer,” “Is not this precisely what the sincere offer of the gospel says to all men about the redemption in Christ? For if something which is offered is not available, evidently there is no genuine offer” (Quoted by Herman Hoeksema, The Standard Bearer, vol. 40, p. 247).


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(IV)

Prof. Herman C. Hanko

[Source: The History of the Free Offer, chapter 3: “The Arminian Controversy and the Synod of Dordt,” emphasis added.]

II:5 speaks emphatically of the promise of the gospel, but insists that this promise of the gospel is very particular; i.e., it is only to those who believe in Christ. And it is clear from the rest of the Canons that those who believe in Christ are only the elect (“That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others do not receive it proceeds from God’s eternal decree,” I:6), who are converted to God by efficacious grace merited in Christ’s limited atonement.

… II:5 also speaks of the fact that this promise ought to be proclaimed everywhere, “to whom God out of his good pleasure sends the gospel.” So the article speaks very clearly of a general proclamation of a particular promise and this has always been the position held by the Reformed churches.

… II:5 also speaks of the fact that this promise, generally proclaimed but particular in its contents, is proclaimed together with the command to repent and believe. In III/IV:8-9 this is also said to be the call of the gospel. This call is described as being serious in nature. God requires of all men, through the preaching, that they forsake their sins and turn from their evil ways, that they believe in Christ who has shed His blood for sin. Concerning this point there are two points that ought to be made.

a) In the first place, no one who stands in the line of Calvinistic and Reformed thought has ever denied this truth. This is important to understand. The Reformed have sometimes been charged with being unable to preach the gospel to all men because they insist that the promise of the gospel is for the elect alone and no preacher knows who the elect are. But this is a distortion of the Reformed view. The gospel must be generally preached both because it is the means whereby God calls out of darkness into light those whom He has chosen to everlasting life, and because, through this general proclamation, all men are confronted with the obligation to forsake their sins and believe in Christ.

b) Nor have the Reformed ever denied that this command or call is serious. God means exactly what He says. He is not joking when He comes to all with this command. He is not saying something in the gospel that is not really true. Quite the opposite is the case. Man was originally created perfect and upright. When man fell in Adam, he fell by his own sinful choice. His depravity which made it impossible for him any longer to serve God becomes his lot in life because of God’s just judgment upon the sinner. But God does not, on that account, require any less of man than He did at the beginning. God is God. He remains just and holy and righteous in all His ways. He does not now say: “Oh, you are such a poor sinner, no longer able to do what I have commanded; I will no longer require of you that you serve me and flee from your sins. It is perfectly all right if you do less than you were originally required to do.” Oh, no! Then God would not be just and righteous. God still insists that this man serve him. And man is confronted with that demand every time the gospel comes to him.

It is interesting and important to note that II:5 speaks of the “promise together with the command to repent and believe,” as forming the contents of the gospel. It is exactly in this way that God works His purpose in His elect by enabling them to repent and believe, and it is exactly because of this that the wicked are responsible for their own failure to repent and believe. It is not the fault of the gospel, nor of Christ offered therein, nor of God who calls, but the fault lies in the wicked themselves. And so God is also perfectly just when He casts the wicked forever from His presence.

It is not difficult to see that all this is a far cry from the free offer of the gospel as that is presented and defended in our times. Of this the fathers wanted no part and it is a perversion of our Canons to try to find support for the idea of the free offer in this confession.


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(V)

Joshua Engelsma

[Source: Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 45, no. 2, April 2012, p. 90]

Q. “Does not the fact that the promise of the gospel must be “declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of his good pleasure sends the gospel” imply that there is a 'desire' on the part of God to give the fulfilment of this promise to all who hear?”

This is not what Article 5 teaches. Article 5 is simply saying that the gospel, which includes the call to repent and believe as well as the promise that all who repent and believe will be saved, must be proclaimed promiscuously. The article says nothing about God’s intention or desire in such preaching. It simply calls the preacher to proclaim these words: “Everyone listening today, repent and believe in the crucified Christ! To all who repent and believe God will give everlasting life!” Nowhere is there expressed a desire on the part of God to give everlasting life to all who hear. The command comes to all in general. The promise is for all who repent and believe. And the only ones who repent and believe are the elect.


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(VI)

Dr. Raymond A. Blacketer

[Source: “The Three Points in Most Parts Reformed: A Reexamination of the So-Called Well-Meant Offer of Salvation,” Calvin Theological Journal, vol. 35, no. 1 (April, 2000), emphasis added.]


Canons II:5 speaks of the mandate to proclaim the gospel to all, including its promises and obligations, to all persons without discrimination. But this refers to the command to preach the gospel to all nations, and really has no bearing on whether this activity, known as the external call, constitutes an offer on God’s part to all who hear it.


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(VII)

Rev. Lau Chin Kwee

[Source: Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 35 no. 2 (April 2002), p. 35]

Regarding the phrase, “... to whom God out of his good pleasure sends the gospel.” (Canons II:5:A)

[To interpret the words “good pleasure” in this article to mean “gracious desire/delight”] is a mistaken notion, as the good pleasure of God does not necessarily speak of His grace. For example, we may say that it is God’s good pleasure to cast the wicked unbelievers to hell in His just judgment. There is no show of grace in such good pleasure of God.


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(VIII)

Rev. Martyn McGeown

[Source: “An Answer to Phil Johnson’s ‘Primer on Hyper-Calvinism’”]

Notice the careful wording here. God does not promise in the gospel to save sinners, if they will believe. God promises to save all believers. God does not promise to save the reprobate. But then how do the elect, the true recipients of the promise, hear the promise? Through the preaching! The promise is preached to all and sundry, but the promise applies only to believers. The command must be addressed to all hearers, and that call must go far and wide, but a command implies neither the intention of God nor the ability of man. A command only teaches us what our duty is. God does not promise anything to the reprobate. Indeed, and this element is lacking in Johnson and other modern Calvinists, the gospel call serves to harden the reprobate and to leave them without excuse (Isa. 6:9-10). Does God, then, “offer” something and later rescind His offer when the reprobate refuse to accept it?


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(IX)

Prof. Robert D. Decker

[Source: The Standard Bearer, vol. 72, no. 2 (Oct. 15, 1995), pp. 35]

This article teaches that the promise of the gospel must be preached promiscuously to all nations and men without distinction. It teaches that the gospel goes where God in His good pleasure sends it. The content of the promise of the gospel, according to this article, is that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified shall not perish, but have everlasting life.

Note well that the article presents the promise of the gospel as strictly particular, for it is to them that believe in Christ, that is, the elect. The gospel is not presented as a general offer which can be rejected or accepted at will, but as a command! The article certainly does not teach that the preaching of the gospel is grace of God to all who hear it.


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(X)

More to come! (DV)




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