30 June, 2016


Rev. Herman Hoeksema

Chapter 8: Still More Proof?

It appears as if Rev. Keegstra was well aware that this harvest of proof, which he had gleaned from the fields of the confessions of our own churches for a general, well-meant offer of grace and salvation on the part of God, looked rather meagre.

At least he tries to enrich his proof from other sources, some of which may be called confessions, others not.

Thus he quotes from a translation of the Westminster Larger Catechism, from the East-Friesian Confession, from the Second Swiss Confession, from the Bohemian Confession, and even from the Saxon Confession composed by Melanchthon in 1551.

Now it is possible, that with the urge to find some sort of proof to support a certain contention, one will finally resort even to the heritage of those who opposed the Reformed truth. In that case it would not be difficult at all for Rev. Keegstra to find support for his contention from the Remonstrants, and to furnish material to his heart’s desire for the teaching of a well-meant, general offer of grace on the part of God. But that kind of proof would naturally create suspicion. For it must also appear to be Reformed. And to cite from well-known Remonstrants to support a Reformed truth is a bit extreme.

Even though Rev. Keegstra does not quote from the writings of well-known Remonstrants, he virtually does that very thing when he quotes from the Saxon Confession composed by Philip Melanchthon in 1551.

It is most striking that in all of the quotations Rev. Keegstra furnishes us, not one is found that can honestly be said to teach a general, well-meant offer of grace and salvation, except the quotation from the Saxon Confession. I agree wholeheartedly that in that one you have a clear-cut teaching of a well-meant offer of God to all mankind. But if found in this one, this is the only one. It is not found in any of the others.

How is this to be explained?

When Melanchthon composed that Confession he had already for some time given up the truth of absolute predestination, of man’s incapability to do any good, and his inability to contribute anything toward his conversion.

Melanchthon had begun quite well.

He was a friend and follower of Luther also when Luther taught absolute predestination and strongly emphasized the natural depravity of mankind, leaving the person completely passive in his own conversion to God.

But that did not last.  That truth was much too strong for Melanchthon, too sharp, too exclusive. The gentle Philip, as far as his nature was concerned, was too irenic; as far as his training and views were concerned he was far too much of a humanist; and as far as his inclinations and aspirations were concerned he was far too much a man of union and cooperation, who was always concerned about seeking peace, even at the cost of the whole truth. Thus it came about that Melanchthon soon changed his views, at least in regard to his ideas and doctrine. The spiritual process that he experienced shows most remarkable similarity with the process of development experienced by the modern, humanistic Reformed people. As to the doctrine of predestination, at first Melanchthon was sound, thereupon he began to emphasize that this doctrine is a deep mystery, so that we cannot make this a basis for our views and teaching, and he ignored it completely. Later he opposed the strong and absolute truth of predestination and preached that God desires that all mankind shall be saved. And as far as the doctrine of total depravity is concerned, also in that regard Melanchthon first took the position that Luther had taken, that the natural man is totally incapable of any good; but afterward he began to see much moral good in the deeds of the unregenerate, and finally allowed him some good, some cooperative ability to work out his own salvation.

Melanchthon became a synergist, and synergism is basically Pelagianism and Remonstrantism.

That is why we repeatedly made reference to the date, the year, in which the Saxon Confession was composed by Melanchthon, 1551. Oh, already then an appealing humanism had captured the heart of the gentle doctor. Already then he was no longer a defender of the doctrine of predestination and the complete inability of the individual to contribute anything to his salvation. Already then he had taught for some time that God earnestly desired the salvation of each and every one. And then already for a long time he had not been the only one in the Lutheran Church who had departed in this respect from pure doctrine, as may be evident from the signatures of the theologians who signed the Saxon Confession, some of whom later, when the Formula Concordia was composed, defended a very liberal position.

Rev. Keegstra was therefore right when he wrote under the quotation from the Saxon Confession as a sort of an excuse that: “It cannot be counted among the Reformed Confessions.” He also could have written that it is no Confession at all, for it has long since been ignored. But, so Rev. Keegstra explains, he quotes it because Beza also quoted it, seemingly with approval.

Be that as it may, to substantiate his teaching that the Gospel is essentially a general, well-meant offer of grace and salvation on God’s part to every one, Rev. Keegstra finally is forced to quote from an essentially Remonstrant document.

And most striking is the fact that this is actually the only quotation that gives him any support.

This is indeed a proof that his presentation is not adapted to the Reformed, but rather to the Remonstrant churches and circles.

One can produce too many items of proof!

That is what Rev. Keegstra did.

For that matter, the contents of the article should have warned him that it had not been composed by a Reformed writer. We will copy it here once more:

It is most certain that the preaching of penitence should be directed to every one, and accuses every one. Thus the promise is general and offers to each the forgiveness of sins, according to the general statement (Matt. 11): “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Thus also John 3, “That whosoever believeth in him should not perish,” and Romans 10, “Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” The same God is rich toward all that call upon Him. God has concluded them all under sin, in order that He should be gracious to all. Let each and every one include himself in this general promise, and yield not to distrust, but strive to agree with God’s Word, obey God’s Spirit, and pray to be helped, as He says in Luke 11, “How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?.”

All” in the article refers to every one, head for head, as must be evident. Here you have the Remonstrant presentation that God on His part wills that every one shall be saved. Therefore, He offers salvation to every individual. No, even more emphatic, the promises of God are for every one! Here you have the actual presentation of a well-meant, general offer of grace from God to every one.

But in full agreement with this the synergistic, semi-Pelagian view is expressed in the last part of this article of the Saxon Confession. Every individual must consider himself included in that promise. When God earnestly offers salvation to the sinner, the sinner can oppose it or cooperate; he can accept or reject, pray or cast it from him. As far as he is concerned, the realization of his salvation depends entirely upon that.

Yes, we agree that here Rev. Keegstra has found support for his presentation.

Only, it was not in a Reformed, but in the synergistic Saxon Confession composed by Melanchthon in 1551!

However, it becomes evident how little support Rev. Keegstra can find in the truly Reformed Confessions when we once more examine and evaluate his quotation from the Second Swiss Confession.

Examine, I say, for Rev. Keegstra’s quotation is also here very faulty, and he omits the most important part, even to the extent that he does not copy a full sentence. Had he done so, the meaning would have been completely clear.

He presents the following:

For even as the Word of God that remains the true Word of God, whereby one does not only relate mere words when he preaches, but also offers us the things that are meant and proclaimed by those words, even though the ungodly and the unbelievers hear and understand the words, yet do not enjoy that which is made known, because they do not receive it in a true faith.

Even this faulty quotation should have been sufficient to prove that this article does not teach a general offer of salvation. Obviously the intent of this article is to teach that it does not subtract from nor add to the saving power of God’s Word that the unbelieving and ungodly do hear the Word but do not understand. For God does indeed offer to His people the spiritual gifts which are proclaimed through the Word. The word ‘offer’ (offere) expresses as much as “to place spiritually before the eyes,” so that the spiritual truths of God’s Word are understood and embraced by His own, while the unbelieving only hear and understand mere words.

But this becomes even more evident when we quote the whole article.

I do not have the translation from which Rev. Keegstra quotes. The original reads as follows:

Imterim sicut a dignatate vel indignitate ministrorum non asdtimamus integritatem sacramentorum, ita neque a conditione sumentium. Agnoscimus enim sacramentorum integritatem ex fide vei veritate meraque bonitate Dei dependere. Sicut enim Verbum Dei manet verum Verbum Dei, quo non tantum verba muda recitantur, um praedicatur, sed simul a Deo offeruntur res verbis significatae, vel adnunciatae, tametsi impii vel increduli verba audient, et intelligent, rebus tamen significatis non perfruantur; eo quod vera fide non recipient; ita sacramento verbo, signis et rebus significatas, tametsi increduli res oblatas non percipiant. Fit hoc non dantis aut offerantis Dei vitio, sed hominum sine fide illegetimeque accipientium culpa: Quorum incredulitas fidem Dei irritam non facit (Rom. 3:3). (Conf. Helv. Posterior, XIX:12).

We translate as follows:

In the meantime, even as we do not assess the integrity of the sacraments by the worthiness or unworthiness of the ministers, we judge them no less by the condition of those who partake of them. For we know that the power (integrity) of the sacrament depends upon faith and upon the veracity and pure goodness of God. For even as the Word of God remains the true Word of God by which in the preaching no mere words are recited, but also the content of the Word that is preached is offered (presented, set before our eyes, offeruntur) to us by God, even though the ungodly and unbelieving hear and understand the words, yet do not taste that which is signified by them, because they do not receive it in faith; so also the sacraments, which consist of words and signs and that which is signified, always remain true and proper sacraments, not merely because God Himself offers (presents, sets before us, Deo offerente) that which is signified, even though the unbelievers do not perceive the things which are offered. The fault is not in God, who gives or offers, but in the individuals who receive unworthily without faith. Their unbelief does not make the faith of God without effect (Rom. 3:3).

We notice here:

1.  That it must be evident that the basic meaning of the word offere that is repeatedly used here is “to present.” God presents in the Word and in the sacraments. But the reference here is to the spiritual content of the Word and the sacraments which God presents to His people, yet is not even understood by the unbelievers, even though they hear the same words and receive the same signs.

2.  That here a comparison is drawn between the working of the Word and the working of the sacraments. This is not evident in the partial quotation of Rev. Keegstra. He breaks off at the point where the article begins to treat the sacraments, and begins again where the article ends about the sacraments. This is naturally of great significance. For if it is true that in the section quoted by Rev. Keegstra the Word should be presented as a general, well-meant offer of grace and salvation on God’s part, then it is equally true that the sacraments are similarly explained. Then the Lord’s Supper is not ordained only for the believers, but is an offer to all, well-meant on God’s part. Then Rev. Keegstra would do well to introduce open communion, allowing all without distinction to partake.

3.  That the comparison between the Word of God in the preaching and the Sacraments is drawn here from the aspect of God’s veracity. The unbelief of mankind does not make God’s faith of none effect. God is sincere in that which He promises in His Word and in that which He seals and grants in the Sacraments. He grants that which He promises, and to whom He promises. That is the point of comparison in the article. The Word remains the true Word of God, even though the unbelievers see nothing of its actual significance. The Sacraments remain true and upright, even though the unbelievers recognize nothing of that which God offers, grants, and seals therein. Why is that? Because neither the Word of God nor the Sacraments are ever a general and well-meant offer of grace, but the preaching, presenting, and sealing that which God has ordained for the believers, for His own, for the elect.

In as far as you can speak of offer (but then in the sense of promise, presenting with the assurance that it is for them) God never offers His salvation to any but to the believers, that is, to the elect.

That this is indeed the intent of the article quoted can be shown from Article XXIII of the First Swiss Confession, which was composed thirty years earlier than the Second and is closely related to this one. Bullinger, who wrote the Second, was also the main composer of the First. There we read:

Coenam vero mysticam, in qua Dominus corpus et sanguinem suum, id est, seipsum suis vere ad hoc offerat, ut magis magisque in illis vivat, et illi in ipso.

That is:

Concerning the Holy Supper we confess, that therein the Lord truly “offers” (offerat, gives) His body and blood, that is, Himself to His own,  that He may live more and more in them, and they in Him.

In regard to the other quotations of Rev. Keegstra, we can be brief. In not one of them is taught a general, well-meant offer of grace and salvation. The fact of the matter is simply this, that all those quotations do speak of an offer (in the sense of presenting, offere) of grace, but never of a general, well-meant offer of grace and salvation on the part of God, in the sense that Rev. Keegstra regards it. The context in which the expression often appears shows this all too clearly. Thus in the quotation from the Westminster Larger Catechism the following is said:

All the elect and they alone are efficaciously called, even though others can be, yet, often are externally called through the ministry of the Word, and have some common working of the Spirit, which, because they deliberately neglect and despise the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, will never any more truly come to Jesus Christ.

Is there any reference here to a general, well-meant offer of grace in the sense that the Lord should declare to all that He desires their salvation? Of course not! Indeed, the elect alone are efficaciously called. But to others the grace of God in Christ Jesus is offered, presented, (offere) in the preaching of the Gospel, in the ministry of the Word. There is no one who denies this. Only the offer, the presenting of the grace of God in Christ is according to its content never general, but particular.

The same is true of the quotation from the East Friesian Confession.

Even as the elect cannot boast of their merit before God, even so the ungodly cannot complain, since God is entirely free to choose or to forsake whomever He wills, being obligated to no one outside of His promise to bestow His grace; and has power to deal with His own as He wills, showing no injustice to the ungodly, since they deliberately separate themselves from Him, sin against His command, misuse His gifts and despise the offered grace of the gospel.

It is always the same. Also here is plainly stated that there is no general, well-meant offer of the Gospel. Distinction is even made between promises and offer. God is obligated to no one outside of His promises. Thus His own promises do bind Him. The offer does not. And why not? Because the promises of God offered in the Gospel (in the grace which is presented) are particular. God promises in the Gospel, the presentation of which comes to the hearers without distinction, never anything but what is only for the believers, that is, for His elect people. It is true that by the presentation of God’s grace, by the promise of eternal life with the command to repent and believe, the ungodly and unbelievers are condemned because exactly in the light of this offer their sin and unbelief are revealed. But God’s people are powerfully drawn by this presentation out of darkness into His marvelous light, and they alone.

This is no less clear from the few paragraphs cited by Rev. Keegstra from the Bohemian Confession:

No one can obtain or become partakers of the saving and justifying faith by his own efforts or free well, or by the ability of flesh and blood, unless God implants His grace in the heart by the Holy Spirit and by the preaching of the gospel, in whom and whenever He wills, in such a way that one can receive all these benefits offered and assured unto salvation by the external preaching of the divine Word and by the sacraments instituted by Christ. Of which John the Baptist says: “A man can receive nothing except it be given him from heaven.” Even as our Lord Christ Himself has said: “No one can come unto me, except my Father which hath sent me draw him.”

But these keys belong to the special office and ministry, or an observing of the power of Christ and of His Holy Spirit, which is entrusted to the church of Christ and its officebearers, even unto the end of the world, not only (although this is of first importance) in order that they should proclaim the holy gospel through the preaching, that is, in order that they should preach this Word of true comfort and this glad and new tidings of peace in regard to the grace which God offers. But also in order that they should proclaim and point out to the believers and to the unbelievers, to the former the grace and to the latter the wrath of God in general, and publicly to each and every one in particular.

The first paragraph emphatically teaches that the benefits offered in the preaching of the Word and in the sacraments cannot be embraced except only by the grace of God. This surely already points out that also in this confession “offer” (offere) is used simply in the sense of presenting, setting forth, showing.

In the second paragraph the word has the same meaning, not in the idea of showing that one is willing to give something to everyone, so that the acceptance still depends upon the willingness of the person to whom it is offered, but in the sense of “presenting.” The Gospel is glad new tidings in regard to the grace which God offers. But do not fail to notice, that even as He offers or presents He also grants; namely, to all who believe in the crucified Christ, which faith, however, He only can and must give, and which He only gives to His elect. It is exactly for that reason that the paragraph ends by making a distinction between the preaching to the believers and to the unbelievers, to the former God’s grace and favor are proclaimed, to the latter His wrath and sore displeasure.

No matter how you may twist or turn it, you can discover no trace of a general, well-meant offer of grace and salvation in any of these Reformed confessions, as Rev. Keegstra imagines. That also explains why there is not a single reference in any of these articles to a mystery, to a deep matter, something that we cannot fathom. Keegstra does find it. Before his consciousness there is a conflict. On the one hand, God indeed offers salvation to every one with the sincere purpose and declaration that He wants every one to be saved; on the other hand, He does not will that every one shall be saved. That is the mystery before which Rev. Keegstra sees himself and others placed, and of that he would make an article of faith. But you read nothing of all this in these articles. Such a conflict absolutely did not exist for those fathers who composed the Confessions. Why not? Simply because they did not allow the Lord God to say two contradictory and mutually exclusive things. That which God offers He grants; that which He presents in the Gospel He carries out; that which He promises He does. And when He, in the general preaching of the Gospel, presents His grace in Christ thus that every one who believes in the crucified Christ shall be saved, then the believers will experience that this is also realized; and the unbelieving and unrepentant will no less experience God’s wrath.

The Conclusion of the matter is that Rev. Keegstra has not found that which he sought, has not proved that which he thought to have proved.

He found no support anywhere for the presentation of a general, well-meant offer of grace and salvation, except by Melanchthon in 1551.

And at that time Melanchthon was a Remonstrant!

Poor proof!

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