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As To Conditions: An Exposition From The Confessions

By Herman Hoeksema

“Faith itself is also no condition for the other benefits of salvation (justification, sanctification).” –Bavinck

“The covenant relation did not depend on the keeping of the law, as a preceding condition; it was no covenant of works, but rested only upon God’s electing love.” –Bavinck

“The (covenant) is not dependent on any condition of man.” –Bavinck

“There are really in the foedus gratiae (covenant of grace, H.H.), i.e., in the gospel, which is the proclamation of the covenant of grace, no demands and no conditions.” –Bavinck

“Conditional this covenant of grace is never. God gives everything. Everything for nothing. And nothing of what God gives is made dependent upon the contra-presentation of man.” –Kuyper

The above quotations are taken from Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, IV, 124; III, 236; III, 556; III, 242; and Kuyper, Dictaten Dogmatiek Locus de Foedere, p. 134.
Translated by H. Hoeksema.

Preface by the Editor

The following material was written by Rev. Herman Hoeksema, beginning in 1949 and continuing throughout 1950. The direct occasion was material being written by Rev. Andrew Petter in a periodical published in the west called Concordia. At the same time, the churches were engaged in correspondence with the Liberated or Schilder churches in the Netherlands, and a dialogue was also taking place internally in the Protestant Reformed Churches. These discussions would lead to “The Declaration Of Principles,” formulated by the Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches in 1950 and adopted in 1951. The “Declaration” is a systematic statement of what the creeds teach on conditionality, intended for use by missionaries as a teaching tool.

Rev. Herman Hoeksema, already in his book Believers And Their Seed, in the Dutch Language had likewise rejected a conditional covenant at the very inception of the Protestant Reformed Churches. He had further developed this rejection in a second work, “Het Evangelie,” (The Gospel) in the 1930s over against the views of Prof. W. Heyns of the Christian Reformed Church. In the context of these discussions involving Schilder in 1948, Rev. Herman Veldman had written an extensive and positive treatment of the doctrine of the covenant. In the course of that writing he rejected the idea of conditions in the covenant. Rev. George Ophoff was also writing on the same subject in the same time period.

The position of the Protestant Reformed Churches on this subject was in fact well-established. In the light of these discussions, Rev. Herman Hoeksema wrote over the course of a year the following articles in the Standard Bearer, volume 26. His purpose was to teach and instruct, rather than simply engage in controversy.

His intention was to develop the truth of God’s unconditional covenant and the unconditional work of salvation from the confessions. This approach is important. The Reformed confessions are settled and binding in all churches which profess to hold the “Three Form of Unity.” The Three Forms of Unity’s rejection of conditionality, whether applied to the covenant or the work of salvation is therefore not an open question in any Reformed church which holds these creeds and whose officebearers sign the “Formula of Subscription.” The issue in the discussion, as it took shape, was particularly focused on the idea of faith as a condition, either of the covenant or salvation.

The controversial aspects of these discussions repeatedly interrupted the series. They disrupt the positive instructional purpose of the material and are the reason that Hoeksema felt it necessary to review what he had previously covered at the beginning of a number of the articles. The purpose of this edition is to set forth this positive instructional material.

This material, together with the other Protestant Reformed writings on this subject, particularly from the confessions, has never been answered by the proponents of a conditional covenant or conditionality. “The Declaration Of Principles,” which is a summary of the teaching of “The Three Forms of Unity” has sometimes been vilified as “Exra-Confessional Binding.” This characterization is often made by those who have never actually read the “Declaration.” It is also made by some to hide the fact that their doctrine of conditionality, is “Anti-Confessional Unbinding,” a violation of the “Formula Of Subscription,” and their characterization a smokescreen for the errors they wish to introduce into Reformed doctrine.

The articles have been formatted by the editor as chapters. The chapter titles, and internal division in italics are the work of the editor. A few changes were made in the text. The Canons of Dordt have been formatted according to the current formatting; this is a change of format and not in the text. Hoeksema sometimes uses the Latin “caput” instead of “Head” in referring to sections of the Canons; this has been changed. Some of the Roman numerals have been converted to contemporary numbering. The text needed to be cleaned up from the original OCR version. There have been few other changes to the material. The first article was divided into an introduction by Herman Hoeksema, a few paragraphs being elided, which is the opening of the series, and then into Chapter 1, where he begins to develop the material. TCM



Herman Hoeksema

As the reader knows there has been, for the last year or so, a controversy in our papers about the question of conditions in the covenant of God. The question was really whether the term “condition” could be used properly in Reformed theology, and especially whether it could be used to express Protestant Reformed thought.

Some think that we need the term in order to express a necessary element in the Reformed conception of the covenant, the element of the responsibility of man.
Nevertheless, I do not agree on the question concerning conditions in the covenant, and I think, too, that this terminology is dangerous and is liable to convey a meaning that is foreign to the Reformed conception of the truth.

Whatever meaning we may attach to certain terms, we must never forget that words have meaning in themselves, and that this fundamental meaning of the terms stands out in the minds of the people. And when it is said that God establishes His covenant with us, or that we are saved, “on condition of faith and obedience,” the impression this expression makes upon the minds of the people (and not without reason) is that the will of man is one of the determining factors in the matter of salvation. And thus, on the wings of a term, one instills nolens volens the Arminian heresy into the minds and hearts of the people. And for that reason I consider the term “condition” dangerous.