26 February, 2017

Canons of Dordt, III/IV:8—“[He] promises eternal life and rest to as many as shall come to him and believe on him”

As many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly called. For God hath most earnestly and truly shown in his Word what is pleasing to him, namely, that those who are called should come to him. He, moreover, seriously promises eternal life and rest to as many as shall come to him and believe on him (Canons III/IV, 8).

Proponents of the theory of common grace interpret the “serious promise of eternal life and rest” to be general, and being addressed, by God, to all that hear the preached word. A general, conditional promise—something which depends for its realization upon the will of the one to whom such a promise is made. And a general, conditional promise is, essentially, an ‘offer.’


Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965)

[Source: The Protestant Reformed Churches in America (1947), p. 338]

[This] promise is strictly particular, for it is to them that believe and come to God in Christ, that is, the elect. There is not a trace in the article of the doctrine that the preaching of the gospel is grace to all the hearers.



H. L. Williams

[Source: British Reformed Journal, “The Free Offer Issue” (6)]

[In] this passage of the Canons, is the requirement to proclaim promiscuously the promise of eternal life and rest to as many as shall come to Him, etc. It is apposite to draw special attention to this, as it is a well-founded scriptural concept, that God promises salvation to all who come to Him. It was a perversion of this concept that caused the tortuous schism in the Protestant Reformed Churches in 1953, when many of their ministers and members fell under the spell of Klaas Schilder and the Liberated Reformed Churches of the Netherlands. The perversion emerged right in Hoeksemas congregation at Grand Rapids, when one of the co-pastors, Rev. De Wolf, asserted from the pulpit that God promises every one of you, that if you believe you will be saved.16 In contrast, the correct, Dordtian orthodoxy would have been: God promises everyone who believes that they will be saved. There is a world of difference betwixt those two formulations. They are two different gospels! The De Wolfian version is synonymous with Arminianism, whether they are willing to admit to this or not! For the De Wolfian formulation is effectively a promise made to all men without exception, elect or not. And it is redolent with the suggestion that contrary to Scripture, believing is within the capacity of every hearer. For a professed Calvinist to assert this formulation is an abomination, for he must know that such a universalised promise is completely beyond the grip of the non-elect, since none can believe unless God sovereignly works faith in them. Such a formulation makes the gospel a mockery, effectively like promising all blind men that you will make them millionaires if only they will see. Worse, the De Wolfian formulation makes God look deceitful, in that He, and He alone, can work faith in them, but chooses not to, whilst apparently simultaneously giving them a promise on condition that they have faith. Functionally, and logically, it portrays God as a hypocrite.

Such a conception of God is a damnable abomination. An utter blasphemy.

But our main-stream modern Calvinists want to insist that this is all to be justified under the blanket term of paradox, or as Geoffrey Thomas puts it, a tension between the two wills of God.



Prof. Robert D. Decker

[Source: The Standard Bearer, vol. 72, no. 2 (Oct. 15, 1995), pp. 35]

This article teaches that the calling of the gospel is unfeigned. This calling is to repent and believe. God is serious when He sends this calling to any man. No man has the right before God to remain in his sin and persevere in unbelief. God reveals in the gospel what is pleasing to him, viz., that the ones called should come to Him. God seriously promises eternal life and rest, not to all who hear the gospel, but to as many as believe and come to Him. The promise of the gospel, therefore, is strictly particular. Certainly the article does not teach that the preaching of the gospel is grace to all the hearers.



Rev. Martyn McGeown

[Source: Grace and Assurance: The Message of the Canons of Dordt (RFPA, 2018), pp. 234-235]

With the call comes a promise, which we have encountered in head two, article 5. God promises eternal life and rest, and he is serious in that promise. But to whom does God make that promise in the gospel? God does not promise eternal life and rest to everyone, but “to as many as shall come to Him and believe on Him.” In other words, God promises to save believers, or to express it differently, God promises to save the elect.

However, if the preacher declares, “I bring good news! God promises to save the elect,” such a declaration, while true, does not identify the elect. Although we cannot name the elect, we can determine the elect from the spiritual characteristics set forth in holy scripture. The Bible does not name the heirs of the promise. Instead, the Bible describes the identifying features of the elect so that the reader or hearer can identify himself as one of the elect—he hungers and thirsts for righteousness; he has a broken and a contrite spirit; and above all he believes in Jesus Christ. We are believers because we are the elect; we are not the elect because we are believers.

Therefore, when the gospel goes forth, the preacher does not announce, “God promises salvation to every one of you” or “God promises to every one of you that, if you believe, you shall be saved.” Instead, the preacher announces, “Here is what God has done for sinners in Jesus Christ. God commands you to repent and believe, and God promises—seriously promises—to give eternal life and rest to as many as shall come to Christ and believe on him. Therefore, believe in Jesus Christ, and you, too, shall enjoy rest and peace.”

That promise God will surely keep. On that promise you can stake your eternal future.



More to come! (DV)

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