16 January, 2017

Chapter Four


The substantial error committed by the 1924 synod was its acceptance of the Arminian definition of the sincere calla definition that is clearly rejected by Canons III/IV:8. The acceptance of the doctrine of common grace, however, by no means entails acceptance of the well-meant offer, contrary to the contention of Hoeksema, Danhof, and the Protestant Reformed Churches. There was, however, an overemphasis on the doctrine of common grace in the 1920s that was just as extremist as the denial of that doctrine. Given the fact that the concept of common grace is only marginal and implicit among Reformed theologians of the sixteenth century, and only becomes an explicit doctrine later in the seventeenth century, it is utterly untenable to claim that common grace is “the fountain head of Reformed thought.”115 Extremism on both sides exacerbated the situation unnecessarily, as did the failure of both sides to carefully consider their opponents’ arguments and to give the issue the proper historical and theological study that it required.

The concept of a well-meant offer of salvation may have its origin in the teachings of William Heyns and Jan Karel van Baalenan issue that deserves further study.116 Heyns, who taught Practical Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary, proposed a view of the covenant and of divine grace that was clearly out of step with the Reformed confessions. Heyns spoke of a subjective covenant grace that, because it also imparted an intrinsic capacity (innerlijke vatbaarheid), was sufficient to bring covenant children to salvation if they made good use of the means of grace.117 Even A. C. De Jong, who defends the well-meant offer, recognizes that “Heyn’s view of an innerlijke vatbaarheid can scarcely be distinguished from the Remonstrant Limborch’s concept of some sinners as being very receptive to the working of saving grace.”118 This fact, combined with the acceptance of the Remonstrant definition of the serious call, adds weight to the charge that the 1924 synod added Arminian elements to Reformed soteriology. At the very least, this charge cannot be dismissed out of hand, even if the charge is frequently made in the most extreme terms and with a minimum of charity.

The 1920s are not the most illustrious period in the history of the Christian Reformed Church. This was also the era of the Janssen case, in which Professor Ralph Janssen was removed from the Seminary faculty on the basis of student notes. In the 1924 synodical proceedings on common grace, the voices of charity, reason, and restraint went unheeded. We can only wish that the substitute motions, which urged further study of the issue rather than a precipitous judgment of both the issues and persons involved, had been accepted at the synod of 1924.119 Numerous delegates to the 1924 synod, including those who agreed with the doctrine of common grace, registered their protests against the declaration of the synod. Several of these protests argued that the issue had not received adequate study, and that it was not in the best interest of the churches to make such a definitive statement and to condemn the teachings of Revs. Hoeksema and Danhof at that time.120

There was a rush to judgment in the case of Hoeksema and Danhof that contributed to a serious ecclesiastical schism as well as the introduction of the rather dubious doctrine of the well-meant offer of salvation. Berkhof, and later Hoekema, seem to realize that it is not logically compatible with the doctrines of limited atonement and divine election and reprobation, but they feel compelled to affirm it nonetheless. In so doing, however, they are saying something quite different from what our confessional standards affirm. In the future, the Christian Reformed Church and the Protestant Reformed Churches should strive to amend the errors of the past, and perhaps even obtain a greater degree of charitable respect for their brothers and sisters in Christ.


115. As asserted by Henry J. Van Andel, “Common Grace and the Creative Idea,” Religion and Culture 6 (December 1924): 101, cited in Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America, 265 n. 20.

116. On van Baalen’s involvement in the common grace controversy see the discussion in Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America, 110-13. Van Baalen’s defense of both the well-meant offer and common grace appear in two publications: De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie; Gereformed of Doopersch? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans- Sevensma, 1922) and Nieuwigheid en Dwaling: De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans-Sevensma, 1923).

117. See W. Heyns, Handboek voor de Catechetiek (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans-Sevensma, n.d.), 144-46. On the well-meant offer, see idem, Gereformeerde Geloofsleer (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans-Sevensma, 1916), §§ 213, 316-23, 348; English translation, Manual of Reformed Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans-Sevensma, 1926).

118. A. C. De Jong, Well-Meant Offer, 76.

119. One substitute motion reads:
“That synod, having considered the advice of the pre-advisory committee with regard to the protests against the conception of the Brothers Danhof and Hoeksema, which have been submitted to synod, it now be decided to ‘step down’ from the matter of common grace, with the earnest admonition that a thorough study be made of this matter, and that this be done in the spirit of brotherly love and mutual appreciation of contrary views.
In order that this thorough study be carried out, it be decided by synod to appoint a committee representing all sides, in which Revs. Danhof and Hoeksema will have a voice and that this committee will serve the next synod with clarification and enlightenment concerning this very important question.
In conclusion, that synod declare that the protesters (whose good intentions in submitting their protests are appreciated) be satisfied with this decision and should rest in this decision, in light of the fact that it is the judgment of synod that the time is not yet ripe to make a precise declaration concerning this question which has been placed before synod by the protesters.” (AS 1924, art 124, pp. 143-44, rejected in art. 129, p. 145.)

120. See AS 1924, art. 149, pp. 192-99.

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