30 June, 2016

The Second Helvetic Confession (1566)


Rev. Herman Hoeksema

[Rev. H. Keegstra] 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.



More to come! (DV)

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