07 February, 2017

Is the Gospel a Conditional Promise?

The concept of a conditional promise of salvation figures large in the thinking of the RPC of Ireland. It is stated in the RWC’s article (Point 2) and reiterated in the response (Point 1). I explained in my protest how their thinking on this matter is erroneous. There are only two possible ways of understanding the concept of faith as a condition in salvation. There is the limited sense in which the Westminster divines used the word; in this view “condition” is equivalent to “means to an end” or “requirement.”7 There is also the absolute sense of the term that is the view of the RPC; in this view “condition” means something on which the result of a purpose or plan is really suspended. The position of the RWC is that God sincerely promises salvation to all head for head who hear the gospel; this “overture of mercy” is grace to all who hear since it confers on them the right to believe the promise is for them; and the condition on which salvation depends is faith. It ought to be clear to anyone that faith as a divinely appointed means or instrument of salvation is incompatible with faith as a cause that leads to salvation. Since the RWC in their response rejected my careful and precise definition of condition as means, the only other option is condition as a cause that leads to salvation; that the latter is their position is evinced by the weight they lay on “the initial exercise of saving faith.”

With reference to Point 1(b) of the response, if, as the RWC avers, there is no uncertainty in the mind of God respecting the outcome of the promise, it follows that the promise of the gospel is only to those for whom God intended it, that is, those who repent and believe. If there is no uncertainty respecting the outcome of the promise, then it cannot be made to those who never actually repent and believe, for if God promises salvation to all men and many of them never repent and believe, then the promise is not realized with them; and if the promise does not take effect in many to whom it is sincerely made, then there is uncertainty in God’s mind and purpose. Hence, to speak of a conditional promise that is certain is a contradiction.

Contrary to the RWC in Point 1(d), it is not I who “simply insists the promise is for the elect.” That the promise of the gospel is for the elect is explicitly stated in the confession: “[God] freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe” (7:3). Furthermore, and contrary to the RWC, I do not “ignore the fact stated in the original article that the confession teaches that saving faith ‘entails embracing the promises of God’ (14:2).” But I do notice in chapter 14:2 that the activity of “embracing the promises of God for this life and that to come” is for a Christian: “By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the word … and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth … and embracing the promises of God …” Furthermore, this chapter strictly limits the activity of saving faith (which includes embracing the promises of God) to the elect: “The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls …” (14:1). I suggest to the RWC that it is they who ignore what the confession so clearly teaches in this chapter.

There is something else stated in the article and reiterated in the response that is very problematic. The RWC wrongly assumes that in order properly to preach the gospel, it is necessary that it be preached as a general promise to all men. In Point 2 of the article, they take issue with the truth that the promise is particular when they say, “This means that there are no promises to any non-Christian, since no one can know they are one of the elect prior to their conversion. This, in turn, means that saving faith in its initial exercise can no longer be defined as entailing embracing the promises of God.” In Point 1(d) of the response they return to this position when they ask the question, “Since no one can know his election till after conversion (II Peter 1:10), then how do the elect embrace promises that they cannot know are addressed to them?” Their reasoning is that only if the promise of the gospel is made to all men can anyone believe it is for him personally. This amounts to saying that a sinner must know and believe that God’s promise is to him before he can rightfully be called to faith. But the confession, in line with Scripture, teaches that receiving the promise of God personally is only for those who possess saving faith—for Christians (14:2). The RWC ends up with the absurd position that I must believe the promise is to me before I believe.

Contrary to the Amyraldian scheme of a conditional promise espoused by the RWC, the Bible makes clear that God’s promise of salvation is to those who repent and believe: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31); “if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10:9). Following the example of Peter on Pentecost, we promise salvation to the penitent: “Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart … Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call” (Acts 2:37-39). The promise is to those who repent and believe, and we have no right to promise salvation to any but them. The call of the gospel is general; the promise of the gospel is particular—to those, and those only, who repent and believe.


7. See J. G. Vos’s explanation of “condition” as used by the Westminster divines as quoted in page 2 of my protest.

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