27 June, 2016


Rev. Herman Hoeksema

Chapter 7: Not Confessionally Reformed

After Rev. Keegstra has attempted to show that it is in harmony with the Holy Scripture to teach that God calls everyone to be saved with a well-meant calling, and offers to them the salvation in Christ, he focuses the attention of the readers of De Wachter upon a few quotations from the Reformed confessions to prove that his presentation is also confessionally Reformed.

Now we wish to review also this attempt of the esteemed writer.

However, before we do that, we must once more call to your attention the fact that in the introductory remarks which Rev. Keegstra makes at the beginning of the article (De Wachter, April 30, 1930) he obscures the issue and does not present the facts correctly. He writes:

Here and there in our circles it is questioned whether the Bible actually teaches that in the general preaching to sinners, including the reprobate, we may and must invite them to salvation. That is considered to be something new in the preaching, a departure from time-tried Reformed doctrine and practice. Sometimes they speak of Methodistic leanings. They even fear the danger of Remonstrantism and Pelagianism when the preacher in the Lord’s Name invites all his hearers without distinction to the salvation described and promised.

In this paragraph the matter is once more not correctly presented.

Rev. Keegstra should have written in that last sentence: “Sometimes some speak of Methodistic leanings. They even fear for the threat of Remonstrantism and Pelagianism when the preacher teaches in the Name of the Lord that God Himself from His viewpoint offers the salvation in Christ well-meaningly to everyone; or, if you will, that the Gospel is a well-meant, general offer of grace according to God’s intent.”

That is the issue.

That is Rev. Keegstra’s presentation.

The question we face is whether (1) Do the confessions teach that the Gospel according to God’s intent is an offer of salvation? (2) That God presents this offer well-meant to all men; or, if you will, to all who hear without distinction?

To prove his point Rev. Keegstra quotes, first of all, from the Canons of Dordt, II, 5:

Moreover, the promise of the gospel is, that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified, shall not perish, but have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of his good pleasure sends the gospel.

This quotation is so completely devoid of any proof for that which Rev. Keegstra tries to prove that further commentary is virtually superfluous. We can content ourselves with a few brief remarks:

First of all, it must be evident that here the Gospel is not presented as an offer, but as a promise. The promise of the Gospel is, that whosoever believes in Christ crucified will not perish, but have everlasting life. That promise must be declared and published (annunciari et proponi debet, according to the original Latin) to every nation and all persons to whom God, according to His good pleasure, sends the Gospel. There is a marked difference between an offer and a promise, as we have noticed previously; a difference that consists mainly in this, that the fulfilment of the promise depends upon the one who makes the promise, while the realization of an offer depends upon the acceptance of the one to whom the offer is made. If the latter is true of the Gospel, then the Remonstrants are right. But our fathers speak here of the Gospel, not as an offer, but as a promise. God does not offer something but He does promise something. And when He promises something He will also fulfil His promise.

In the second place, this article teaches that even the declaration and publication of the promise is not general, but limited, and that God the Lord Himself sets the limitation according to His good pleasure. Throughout the course of history the Gospel is preached to comparatively few people. By far the largest majority of nations and people die without having come in contact with the Gospel. And this is according to God’s good pleasure. Through Christ God directs the course of the Gospel. Christ is also the missionary. He carries out His mission task through the church. Thus according to the will of God this preaching is not general. God does not want everyone to hear the Gospel. He Himself takes care that the Gospel is preached exactly where He wills.

In the third place, that according to its content the Gospel is not general, but most definitely particular. This article of the confession does teach that this promise must be promiscuously preached and presented to all who hear without distinction. Yet the promise that must be presented and preached is not general, but particular. It is the promise of eternal life to all who believe in the crucified Christ. Thus the Lord does not promise something to everyone, not to all who hear without distinction. If the Gospel were an offer it could very well be general according to its content, for an offer depends for its fulfilment upon the persons to whom it is offered. But since the Gospel is not an offer, but a promise, the certainty of the fulfilment depends upon God, who cannot lie. If He were to promise to every one eternal life, then He would also save all. But since He does not will to save everyone, He does not allow a general promise to be preached. But the promise is particular. It is limited to those who believe in the crucified Christ.

Therefore the question immediately arises: Who, according to this confession, are they? You find the answer to this in the same Head of Doctrine, II, articles 7 and 8:

But as many as truly believe, and are delivered and saved from sin and destruction through the death of Christ, are indebted for this benefit solely to the grace of God, given them in Christ from everlasting, and not to any merit of their own.

For this was the sovereign counsel, and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all of the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation, that is, it was the will of God that Christ, by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen to salvation, and given to him by the Father, that he should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, he purchased for them by his death, should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot or blemish to the enjoyment of glory in his own presence forever.

This is plain language that does not allow for a twofold interpretation, and answers the question: To whom does God promise eternal life in the preaching of His Word? The answer is:

1. To those who believe.
2. They are the ones to whom God, in His eternal grace, wills to grant faith, for one does not believe of himself.
3. They are the ones for whom, by His death, Christ merited faith as the saving gift of the Holy Spirit, for also that faith had to be merited by Christ. Of ourselves we have no right to it.
4. They are the elect. For it was the eternal and free counsel and will of God that Christ should die for them.

Now read once more the article of Rev. Keegstra, which we quoted, and the meaning becomes crystal clear. In the promise of the Gospel, namely, that whosoever believes in the crucified Christ has eternal life, God promises life and salvation only to the elect. For only they are endowed with that faith. Thus He fulfils His promise. It can only fill one with amazement that a man like Rev. Keegstra can read a well-meant offer of grace and salvation in this beautiful article, enriched even by the context in which it appears!

Nor can any evidence of a general, well-meant offer of grace and salvation be discovered in the following article that Rev. Keegstra quotes from the same Canons:

And whereas many who are called by the gospel do not repent nor believe in Christ, but perish in unbelief, this is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves (Canons II, 6).

Here at least we can somewhat understand that Rev. Keegstra ventures to quote this article as proof for a general offer of the Gospel of grace and salvation. It seems to me that he reasoned somewhere as follows:

1. There are those called by the Gospel who perish in their unbelief.
2. Hence not only the elect, but also the reprobate are called.
3. Consequently they also were offered, well-meant, the salvation in Christ.

However, the serious mistake that Rev. Keegstra makes here is that he makes himself guilty of begging the question. He assumes as an established fact the very thing that he must prove.

He had to prove that the calling of the Gospel, as it comes to the reprobate, (many are called few are chosen) is a well-meant offer of grace and salvation. But he tacitly assumes that which he had to prove.

Please, Rev. Keegstra, we do not differ at all on the fact that many who are called by the Gospel perish in their unbelief! Nor is there any question among us concerning the established fact that the blame for their unbelief does not lie in any lack in Christ, but in themselves! That is the entire content of your article.

No, no, but you proceeded from the assumption that the calling of the Gospel is an offer of grace, well-meant and general. And that was exactly what you had to prove. But you cannot prove that, for in the article immediately preceding this one the Canons have just described what must be understood by the calling. It is not a general offer, but a particular promise with a general demand to repent and believe. In the preaching of the Gospel God condemns the unbelief and wickedness and impenitence of the world. Therefore in the calling of the Gospel He demands of everyone faith and repentance. If they fail to do this the blame is to be sought in them, in their depraved heart, not in Christ. If they do repent, the reason for that is to be sought in eternal, elective grace, not in the person, nor in any offer of the Gospel, but in efficacious, irresistible grace. To those who by eternal grace obey this call to faith and repentance God promises eternal life. He does not offer it, He promises it to them and will also surely bestow it upon them.

This is the truth in regard to the calling. The calling is also a command to believe and repent. This aspect of the calling was in the minds of the fathers when they wrote this article, even more than the particular promise, as is evident from the manner in which this calling is briefly described in this same article: “That many . . . do not repent, nor believe in Christ.” The Gospel came with the demand to believe and repent. Many do not believe and repent. The fault lies with them.

Rev. Keegstra himself will now agree that this is the proper interpretation of this article of our Canons; as also that there cannot be found a semblance of evidence of a general, well-meant offer of grace and salvation in this article of our confession.

I think that also the rest that Rev. Keegstra quotes from the Canons of Dort will present no difficulty, if we but bear in mind in what sense the Canons speak of the calling of and by the Gospel. That calling is no general offer of grace and salvation (how could our Reformed fathers have spoken of that in a confession that wanted to oppose the Remonstrants?), but the preaching of a particular promise, and of a general command to repent and believe. Bearing this in mind we read that which Rev. Keegstra further quotes:

As many as are called by the gospel are unfeignedly called. For God has most earnestly and truly declared in his Word what will be acceptable to him; namely, that all who are called should comply with the invitation. He, moreover, seriously promises eternal life and rest to as many as shall come to him and believe on him (Canons III/IV, 8).

We notice here:

1. That also in this article reference is made to the external calling through the Gospel, whereby everyone who comes in contact with the Gospel is called. It is confessed here that all who come in contact with the Gospel are most earnestly called. Let it be understood that, according to the very wording of the Canons, this only means that the particular or conditional4 promise and general command to repent and believe are seriously meant for all. When it is proclaimed to a thousand people that whosoever believes in the crucified Christ will be saved, this very seriously applies to all. And when God’s call comes to all those thousand, this call also is very serious for every one of those thousand. Not one among them has the right before God to continue to live in unbelief and in impenitence. Up to this point there is obviously no general offer. You cannot and you may not carelessly read here, as Rev. Keegstra would like: “As many as are offered the grace in Christ are offered this grace by God seriously and well-meant.” That is something quite different. In regard to the calling the confession means, according to its own interpretation, “the particular and conditional5 promise of the gospel is most seriously and truthfully preached, along with the command to repent and believe, to all who hear.”

2. That in that same sense it is said here that it is pleasing to God, that those who are thus called should come to Him, that is, by way of repentance and faith. Unbelief and impenitence are not pleasing to God. He is furiously angry with the impenitence and unbelief of the disobedient. Again here we find no offer, not as much as a semblance of it.

In passing, we wish to remark that someone might well serve a gravamen against the English translation of this article of the confession, at least if, as it appears in our Psalter, it has tacitly been adopted by our Protestant Reformed Churches. If that is not done, the entire article should be re-examined and after approval should be adopted by us, since we do need an official English translation of the Three Forms of Unity.6 The translation that we have at present is of the Reformed (Dutch) Church of America. This article has been translated in such a way that the meaning is vague and has received an Arminian flavor. Indeed, the Dutch translation, (“That those called should come to Him”) is translated as, “That all who are called should comply with the invitation.” This is very poor, but also a deceptive translation that can give occasion for the thought that Rev. Keegstra’s general offer is included in the calling. This translation not only fails to translate the Dutch, but it also fails to translate the Latin, in which the Canons were composed. There we read: ut vocati ad se veniant (that the called should come to Him).

3. Finally, not a general offer, but a particular promise is added to the explanation when the article concludes, as we might expect, “He, moreover, seriously promises eternal life and rest to as many as shall come to him and believe in him.” Those who come to Him are the ones who repent and believe; they are the ones for whom Christ has merited faith; they are the ones who, out of eternal grace, have received that faith from God; they are therefore the elect. So again in this article you do not have a general offer of grace from God, but the same preaching of a particular promise, that is always in the mind of the authors of the Canons of Dordt.

I trust that also Rev. Keegstra will agree that I have given a correct interpretation of the articles of the Canons of Dordt which he cited.

If he does not agree, he should write again. But then he should include his own interpretation of these articles.

But now we come to the real issue.

For, finally, Rev. Keegstra quotes an article from the Canons of Dordt in which the very word offer is used. Here at last it appears as if our Reformed confessions do speak of a general offer. The Canons even refer to Christ being offered. We need but read:

It is not the fault of the gospel nor of Christ, offered therein, nor of God, who calls men by the gospel, and confers on them various gifts, that those who are called by the ministry of the Word refuse to come and be converted. The fault lies in themselves, some of whom when called, regardless of their danger, reject the word of life; others though they receive it, suffer it not to make a lasting impression on their heart; therefore, their joy arising only from a temporary faith, soon vanishes, and they fall away; while others choke the seed of the word by perplexing cares and the pleasures of this world, and produce no fruit. This our Saviour teaches in the parable of the sower, Matthew 13 (Canons III/IV, 9).

We may surely remark, in the first place, that the subject of this article is not: a general, well-meant offer of grace and salvation, but rather, that the fault of unbelief is not God’s, but that of the disobedient and unbelievers.

Thus if here were taught a general offer (which is not the case!), then, this is not to be found in the main thought of the article as such, but in the mere expression: “Christ offered therein.”

Therefore the main and all-decisive question is: What did our fathers intend with this expression? What is the meaning of this: “offered therein”?

Was it the intention of the fathers to teach that Christ with all the riches of His spiritual and eternal salvation is simply preached to every one as something that must and can be accepted by every one? If that were the meaning, then this article, or rather this expression would violate all that is taught in the rest of the Canons. The fathers most emphatically teach that grace is not something to be offered and accepted, but is the free gift of the efficacious grace of God. The presently commonly accepted meaning, which the word has also in Keegstra’s presentation, cannot have that meaning here.

That this cannot be the meaning is suggested already in the expression. No mention is made of an offer of grace, of salvation, or eternal life, but of Christ being offered.

What does this mean?

We turn, first of all, to the original Latin, in which this article was composed by the Synod of Dordt.

There we read:

Quod multi per ministerium Evangelii vocati, non veniunt et non convertuntur, huius culpa non est in Evangelio, nec in Christo per Evangelium oblato.

Thus for our Dutch word “aageboden,” and in the English “offered,” you have in the original the word oblato. Oblato or oblatus is a form (past participle) of offere. The literal meaning of this word is: to present. My dictionary states that the word means: bring away, or carry, produce, to show, to make aware, to display, to present, to point out. One must agree that all these various meanings are entirely different than the present day use of the word “offer.” One must also agree that this meaning of the original word makes better sense than the word offered. The meaning then is, “Christ presented, showed, displayed, pointed out by the gospel.” Moreover, this is a thoroughly scriptural idea. For this is exactly what takes place through the preaching of the Gospel. Christ is never offered in the Gospel in the sense in which Rev. Keegstra desires, as if the individuals were given the ability to accept or to reject Him. However He is presented in the Gospel, pointed out in all the wealth of His rich significance, interpreted from every aspect, pictured before our eyes.

But if that is the meaning of the word oblatus as the fathers used it in the Canons of Dordt, how did it happen that the word offer or offered appeared in the article?

My answer is that in its earlier use this word came the closest to the Latin oblatus.

I found in the Woordenboek der Nederlandsche Taal of M. DeVries and L.A. TeWinkel in this regard the following:

Formerly “offered” was also said of persons who were introduced by others, to give these persons opportunity to make acquaintance. Now the word “introduced” is used.
We still speak of “presenting” a child for baptism.

For all these reasons, (1) since the first meaning of the word used in the original is certainly: to present, point out, introduce; (2) since the word “offered” was formerly used in that sense; (3) since that meaning of the word fits exactly with the expression “Christ being presented in the gospel”; (4) since this is the thoroughly scriptural presentation of Christ crucified and risen; I am of the opinion that even Keegstra finds in this expression no support for his presentation of a general, well-meant offer of grace and salvation. “Christ being offered through the gospel” is something quite different than a well-meant, general offer of grace in the sense in which it is presently used.

We conclude that also in this quotation that Rev. Keegstra offers from the Canons of Dordt there can be found no semblance of proof for his presentation.  


4. It is evident that Hoeksema means by the term “conditional” the same as particular: the promise is only to believers and is therefore particular.

5. See previous note.

6. This has since been done.

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