10 June, 2016


Rev. Herman Hoeksema

Chapter 2: Up Against A Stone Wall

It is not an easy task to follow the reasoning of the Rev. Keegstra, to find a clear line in his reasoning and to give a correct presentation of the actual view which the esteemed writer holds with respect to the so-called general, well-meant offer of grace and salvation on God’s part in the preaching.

I have seriously attempted to find such a line.

For when one wants to subject someone’s view to criticism, then the very first requisite is surely that he understands clearly the view to be criticized. Therefore I have read Keegstra’s articles very carefully, and even re-read them several times. But I have not succeeded in becoming sure what Keegstra really means. Neither have I been able to discover any unity or any single line in what he has written about this subject. When he writes about other subjects, the Editor of De Wachter is usually clear and easy to follow. But in these articles the usual clarity is completely lacking. Time after time I had to ask: what does Keegstra mean now? Only this one thing finally became very clear: the esteemed writer wants to cling to a general, well-meant offer of grace on God’s part to all men.

When I faced the question: why is it so difficult to follow Keegstra’s reasoning when otherwise he can usually express his thoughts very clearly? I soon found an answer. The esteemed Editor of De Wachter has attempted to rework two mutually exclusive propositions into one whole, or at least to join them in such a way that his readers would not stumble too much over the flagrant contradiction. His intention was to show that a well-meant and general offer of grace and salvation properly is at home in pure Reformed preaching. And that is in the nature of the case impossible.

With such a position one runs against a stone wall.

One feels this at once upon reading it.

One cannot even escape the impression (I do not believe that this is my imagination) that the author himself felt this.

Black is not white. Square is not round. General is not particular. Reformed is not Arminian. All of this was evidently clear to the author all along. But when one is committed to the position that black is white, square is round, general is particular, and Reformed is Arminian, and wants to defend it and make it clear, then he certainly has to argue very carefully.

This is what Keegstra does.

I finally discovered the following in his reasoning process:

First, the esteemed writer is Reformed. Of general atonement he wants nothing. Christ did not die for all men. Election must be maintained and taught also in the preaching.

Second, Keegstra becomes ambiguous. He begins to write in such a way that one repeatedly rubs his eyes and asks: where are we now? Where does the Editor want to lead us? It is not completely clear that he does not mean the same thing with a general offer of grace as a general demand of conversion and faith. If one is not on guard, he is swept along; but he who is on guard begins to hesitate at this point to travel farther with Keegstra.

Finally, Keegstra again expressed himself clearly, and now he speaks frankly of a general, well-meant offer of grace on the part of God to all men.




Thus the line runs in the reasoning of the Rev. Keegstra. It is well that we pay close attention to this. For indeed, the argumentation and presentation of the Rev. Keegstra are very dangerous for those who value keeping their feet on Reformed shores and not sailing away with the travel companions of Arminius. We shall therefore demonstrate that the method described above is actually that employed by the Rev. Keegstra. Notice that first he writes:

What is preaching?
Wherein does the Gospel consist, the message of salvation which we have to bring to men in general?
In answers given to these questions differences come to the fore.
The Remonstrant preaches to all men without distinction: “Jesus has satisfied for you all with His suffering and death, your debt is paid, your sins are atoned; now accept that Jesus by faith, and you are saved in beginning, and if you persevere in the faith, then you will be completely saved.”
Of course, the Remonstrant has much more to say than that; but if you want to reduce his preaching to a few words in which he brings his message to all men, then it comes down to that.

Now one would expect that the Rev. Keegstra would subscribe to this presentation of the Arminians wholeheartedly in order to be able to hold fast to and have a valid basis for his general, well-meant offer of grace and salvation on God’s part. We would think that one cannot do with less if he wants such a general offer. If grace is to be offered by God to all men, then that grace must actually be there. That is an indispensable requisite. Then Christ must die for all, for otherwise that salvation is not there cannot be offered. And this is precisely what the Remonstrants say. That a general offer of grace is in any event thoroughly at home in the preaching of the Remonstrants and fits very wellthis Keegstra makes very clear.

But he who would think that Keegstra is committed to this Arminianism is evidently mistaken. He wants to be Reformed. Therefore he writes further:

Such a message we do not have for our hearers. To say in the name of God to all who hear, without distinction, that Christ has died for themthat we cannot do. Scripture does not give us the right to do this.

This becomes even stronger when Keegstra writes:

Certainly, we must say and do much more in our preaching. For we must proclaim the full counsel of God. In that full counsel there appears as a very definite and necessary element this, that we set forth the plan of salvation as it is revealed to us in Scripture; and therefore it belongs to the preacher’s mandate to declare clearly and unambiguously that according to God’s eternal purpose only the elect, for whom Christ died and who were given Him of the Father, shall be saved.

This is the first state in the reasoning of the esteemed Editor of De Wachter.

And it is clear that here he is soundly Reformed. He rejects the presentation of the Remonstrants. He cannot say to all his hearers that Christ died for them. He even emphasizes that the opposite must be preached and that the preacher must say unambiguously that salvation in Christ is not for all.

However, we would surely want to conclude that by this he cuts off absolutely all possibility of presenting the Gospel as a general offer of grace and salvation, coming to all men as well-meant on God’s part. Notice, the issue is not whether the Gospel must be proclaimed by the preacher to all men without distinction who sit in his audience. Every Reformed man believes this. No, the issue is whether the preacher may say to his audience: God well-meaningly offers salvation to you all, head for head and soul for soul. That is the question. Neither can Keegstra very well explain well-meaningly as meaning anything but: with the intention to save you. Gladly would I accept from him another explanation if he knows of one. Thus, the general offer comes down to this, that the preacher says to his audience: God offers grace to you all head for head and soul for soul, with the intention of saving every one of you. Now this we would say, Keegstra can no more teach after the first stage of his reasoning. For I must declare unambiguously: God does not will to save all; only the elect. How, then, could I add to this in one breath: “He indeed wills to save all of you: therefore He now offers you salvation”?

No, in the first stage of his argument the esteemed writer is Reformed.

Here he says: White is white and black is black. Reformed is Reformed, and Arminian is Arminian.

But now comes the second stage.

Does the Rev. Keegstra simply follow up, without beating about the bush, by saying: But the offer of grace and salvation is on God’s part general and well-meaning?

Does he suddenly say: white is black? Reformed is Arminian?

No; apparently he could not get that out of his pen. Here the struggle begins. One can feel that the esteemed writer begins at this point to feel the difficulty of his problem. Therefore he tries to find a gradual transition to his general offer. And in that gradual transition the Rev. Keegstra is ambiguous. It is not entirely clear what he means. One can explain him in a favourable way. He could also have intended it wrongly. Things become blurred. The presentation is no more clear. White begins to become grey. The reasoning becomes cloudy.

Thus he writes:

We may and must indeed bring the message in Christ’s stead to all the hearers: “Repent and believe the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.” We do not have to add to this the reservation, either in words or in our thoughts: “This pertains only to those for whom Christ has made satisfaction; for those others cannot repent, they cannot believe, for them Christ has not died.” Nowhere does God’s Word point us in that direction for our preaching.

At this point you rub your eyes and then read it once again.

And here you must pay careful attention. Here you have the beginning of the transition to a general offer.

You simply do not understand this at once. It leaves the impression on you that it is still correct, but also that there is nevertheless something wrong. And if you once again read the words of the esteemed writer carefully, with the question in mind how you get such a double impression, then you come to the discovery that they are capable of a double interpretation.

For when Keegstra writes that the message must go forth to all the hearers, “Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved,” then he writes nothing new. No one would get it in his head to contradict him here, to say that he here departs from the Reformed line. For, in the first place, he here quotes Scripture almost literally; and that is sufficient for us. And besides, this is almost literally the presentation of our Reformed confession. We read in Canons II, 5:

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.

About this, therefore, there is no dispute. To this article of the confession we also subscribe.

But in the first place, it appears that the Rev. Keegstra wants to leave the impression here that this is now the general offer of grace and salvation. He gives that impression through the context in which these words occur; but also by the fact that he writes this under the title: “Offer of the Gospel General.”

And yet this is not the case.

The words, “Repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved” contain no general offer. In fact they contain no offer whatsoever. What they indeed contain is:

1. A general demand of faith and conversion. And to this we also have no objection. About this there is no dispute. And about this the Rev. Keegstra did not write. That the demand of repentance and faith concerns all, even though only almighty grace can put one in a position to satisfy it, we readily grant.

2. A limited promise: he who believes shall be saved. This promise, therefore, is not general, but particular. And since the Lord God alone bestows faith, and since He bestows this faith only upon His elect, such preaching is absolutely not in conflict with the doctrine of particular grace.

If, therefore, it was the intention of the esteemed Editor to leave the impression here that he is writing about a general offer, then it will not be plain that that impression is not deceitful.

And, in the second place, the Rev. Keegstra becomes even more ambiguous when he adds to this:

To this we do not have to add the reservation, neither in our words nor in our thoughts: “This pertains only to those for whom Christ has made satisfaction; for those others cannot repent, they cannot believe, for those Christ has not died.” Nowhere does God’s Word point us in that direction for our preaching.

Also these words are capable of a double interpretation.

If Keegstra means by this that the demand of faith and repentance must be proclaimed without reservation in word or thought, then there is no wrong lurking in those words. But then he also says nothing. Then he is also saying not a single word about his subject: “Offer of the Gospel General.”

If, however, he wants to leave the impression that he is indeed referring to the offer of grace, and if these latter words mean: to everyone salvation must be offered, and in this the preacher must not think: only on the elect will it be bestowed, then he is slipping from firm Reformed ground into Arminian waters. A Reformed man can indeed proclaim without reservation the demand of faith and repentance. But no Reformed man can speak of grace in Christ without reservation in word or thought.

What the Rev. Keegstra means here cannot be stated with certainty. It would have been better that he explained himself more precisely.

As I said: the presentation is no longer clear here. No longer are you dealing with pure white or black. It becomes grey.

I fear, however, that he indeed intended already here to leave the impression that he was writing about a general and well-meant offer of grace and salvation. For in this way this offer is almost incidentally inserted here when the esteemed writer further expresses himself as follows:

That proposed salvation the preacher must recommend to all his hearers, must invite them to it, and in the name of the Lord must offer it to them with the equally necessary exhortation, as a command of the Most High, to repent and believe.

The reader should note that here matters become worse. We are gradually being prepared by the writer for the general, well-meant offer of salvation on God’s part. He has not yet reached that point completely. These words are indeed very disguised. The white of the Reformed confession here becomes very grey. If one wants to, he can read in these words that God offers grace in Christ, but that it depends on man whether now he will further repent and believe in the Lord Jesus.

Also the little word “offer” is peeking around the corner here.

But the writer has nevertheless not yet arrived where he wants to be and where he wants to lead his readers.

He can still rescue himself by saying that he is not writing here about what God does, but about the work of the preacher. The preacher must recommend to all his hearers grace in Christ (although it is a question whether Keegstra intends this by the expression “offer in the name of the Lord”) He could also say that he would emphatically add: “with the equally necessary exhortation, as a command of the Most High, to repent and believe.”

But here, too, we must let the writer himself explain what he meant. The words are not clear. They are capable of more than one explanation. It is becoming greyer.

As I wrote, however, this belongs to the second stage of the Rev. Keegstra’s presentation. It is a medium of transition. (See: De Wachter,  April 9.)

He says here approximately: White is black-white-black.

But he does not stop here.

For, after the esteemed writer has so very carefully prepared you, and has carefully guarded against telling you plainly what he understands by a general offer of grace, he at last plops into Remonstrant waters and is picked up in the boat of Arminius, when he boldly writes:

Even if it were true that the preacher cannot very well harmonize this offer of salvation with the truth of particular atonement, that does not excuse him from the obligation to preach both.

Here the writer suddenly refers to an offer of salvation which cannot be harmonized with the doctrine of particular atonement. As it were, he plucks this thought out of thin air, for he has not previously discussed this.

And then he writes further:

And now the second question: the well-meaningness of God in the offering of salvation even to those of whom God knows that Christ has not atoned for them and whom he did not choose unto salvation. Is God sincere and well-meaning in this?
Yes, now it is clear!

Keegstra hesitated long to express himself clearly. He even had difficulty with it apparently. As long as he still spoke of a general demand of faith and repentance, we could go along with him, even though it was necessary that we pointed out the dangerous and ambiguous way in which he expressed himself.

But now it is completely clear where Keegstra wants to go. He began with white, and now it has become completely black.

And we do him no injustice when we interpret his view briefly as follows: The Rev. Keegstra believes that the preaching of the Gospel is an offer of grace, well-meaning on God’s part, to all who hear the Gospel, head for head and soul for soul. (See: De Wachter, April 16).

But now he runs up against a stone wall. For if we omit Keegstra’s transitions for the moment, then the presentation of the Editor comes down to this: The Lord God well-meaningly offers (that is: with the purpose to save) salvation in Christ also to those whom He does not will to save.

Is it a wonder that the writer already beforehand feared that some would raise the objection against him that this after all runs stuck, runs up against a stone wall? For he writes:

But, thus the question is raised sometimes, and thus the question was put to us at the occasion of our articles in De Wachter about general atonement, with such a view does not one run against a stone wall in the preaching?
How can you, preacher, who firmly believes the truth of election and of particular atonement, how can you now simply offer to your hearers in general, without distinction, the salvation of the Gospel and invite them to it? What becomes of your honour? Do you not transgress your power as ambassador of the Lord? God can after all not well-meaningly and sincerely offer salvation in Christ to those for whom Christ has not atoned can He? And how can you as His messenger presume to do this? Do you simply do that on your own authority?
There you have the question plain and simple.
We want to furnish a simple and honourable answer to that question.

I have sought in vain for this simple and honourable answer. The Rev. Keegstra does not so much as touch the answer to these questions.

Nor is he able to do so. The doctrine of particular atonement and that of a general well-meant offer on God’s part simply exclude one another. The one swears at the other. For white never becomes black, no matter how long you talk.

But in our subsequent discussion we shall set all philosophizing aside and proceed from the thought that the Rev. Keegstra believes that the preaching of the Gospel really is an offer of God, well-meant, to all.

If this means anything, then it includes the following, as we wrote already in our first chapter: (1) That God wills that all the hearers shall receive salvation in Christ (general grace). (2) That the offered salvation actually exists for all men (general atonement). (3) That Scripture presents salvation as intended for everyone, head for head (general offer). (4) That man can accept the offered salvation (free will).

If the Rev. Keegstra thinks that we present him incorrectly when we say that these four elements are included in his doctrine, then I challenge him to demonstrate that one of these elements can be omitted, and that we nevertheless retain the possibility of a general offer on God’s part.

Let him not jump to another line that he might also want to draw. Let him not answer us that he has written clearly enough that he nevertheless also believes in election and in particular atonement. Nor let him accuse us of wanting to understand mysteries.

But let him explain the general offer of salvation in such a way that he does justice to that term and nevertheless remains Reformed.

As matters stand now, Keegstra ran up against a stone wall.

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