30 June, 2016

The Saxon Confession (1551), written by Philip Melanchthon


Rev. Herman Hoeksema

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!



More to come! (DV)

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