In a Synodical meeting of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) which
began on June 18, 1924 in Kalamazoo, Michigan, after long controversy, the
CRC adopted what came to be known as the "Three Points of Common Grace."
Because certain ministers within the CRC refused to subscribe to those
"Three Points," they (with the majority of their consistories) were either
suspended or deposed from office. This was the beginning of the Protestant
Reformed Churches in America. These ministers, and others after them,
to the decision that was taken. At that time, and ever since, the
Protestant Reformed Churches have warned that these "Three Points" were
not only contrary to Scripture and the Reformed Confessions but also
served as a bridge into the world and would give excuse to introduce
worldliness into the church.
We quote the three points literally:
I. The First Point:
"Relative to the first point which concerns the favorable attitude of
God towards humanity in general and not only towards the elect, Synod
declares it to be established according to Scripture and the Confessions
that, apart from the saving grace of God shown only to those that are
elect unto eternal life, there is also a certain favor or grace of God
which He shows to His creatures in general. This is evident from the
Scriptural passages quoted and from the Canons of Dordrecht
III-IV:8,9, which deal
with the general offer of the Gospel, while it also appears from the
citations made from Reformed writers of the most flourishing period of
Reformed Theology that our Reformed writers from the past favored this
Matt. 5:44, 45;
I Tim. 4:10;
Ezekiel 18:23." [See
II. The Second Point:
"Relative to the second point, which is concerned with the restraint of
sin in the life of the individual man and in the community, the Synod
declares that there is such a restraint of sin according to Scripture and
the Confession. This is evident from the citations from Scripture and from
the Netherlands Confession, Arts.
36, which teach that
God by the general operations of His Spirit, without renewing the heart of
man, restrains the unimpeded breaking out of sin, by which human life in
society remains possible; while it is also evident from the quotations
from Reformed writers of the most flourishing period of Reformed Theology,
that from ancient times our Reformed fathers were of the same opinion.
Rom. 1:26, 28;
II Thess. 2:6-7." [See
III. The Third Point:
"Relative to the third point, which is concerned with the question of
civil righteousness as performed by the unregenerate, Synod declares that
according to Scripture and the Confessions the unregenerate, though
incapable of doing any saving good, can do civil good. This is evident
from the quotations from Scripture and from the Canons of Dordrecht,
III-IV:4, and from the
Art. 36, which teach that God, without renewing the heart, so
influences man that he is able to perform civil good; while it also
appears from the citations from Reformed writers of the most flourishing
period of Reformed Theology that our Reformed fathers from ancient times
were of the same opinion.
II Kings 10:29-30;
II Kings 12:2;14:3;
Rom. 2:14. " [See
Grace Uncommon by Rev. Barry Gritters
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A Brief Answer to Common Grace
- Brief answer to the
of Common Grace:
- In the first point, the Christian Reformed Church adopted two
- The first we may call the dogma of Common Grace. It
teaches that God is gracious to all men in bestowing upon them the
things of this present time, such as rain and sunshine, and all
earthly things. This is what Synod meant when it spoke of a grace of
God to "all creatures."
- The second we may call the dogma of Universal Grace.
According to it, God is gracious in the preaching of the gospel to
all that hear. This is what Synod meant when it referred to Canons
II:5 and III-IV:8 and 9, and the "general offer" of the Gospel.
- As to the dogma of Common Grace:
- The Confessions do not express themselves on this point,
although they do attribute the term "common grace" to the Arminians
in Canons III-IV:5.
- It is, however, contrary to Scripture, which plainly teaches
that God hates the wicked reprobates and that He uses even the
things of the present time to their destruction. See the following:
I Pet. 3:12.
- The truth is that grace is not in things. All things are but
means which God uses to the salvation of the righteous (elect) while
He uses them to the destruction and damnation of the wicked
(reprobate). And, because men also use these means as rational,
moral creatures, they are responsible. Things are certainly common
but grace is never common.
- As to the theory of Universal Grace:
- This is surely not proven by the passages from the Confession to
which the Synod of 1924 referred. Canons II:5 merely teaches the
general preaching of the gospel that is particular in contents.
Canons III-IV:8 teaches that what God proclaims in the Gospel is
unfeigned, that it is pleasing to Him that the called should come to
Him and that He promises eternal life to them that come (the elect).
Canons III-IV:9 emphasizes that the guilt of not coming is wholly
- Nor is this proven by the texts Synod quoted.
Romans 2:4 merely teaches that the wicked despise the goodness
of God that leads man to repentance. And
Ezekiel 33:11 teaches that God has pleasure in the wicked
that repents, and that is always the elect.
- The doctrine that God is gracious in the preaching of the Gospel
to all that hear the preaching of it is, however:
- Contrary to the Reformed Confessions which plainly teach that
God is gracious to the elect only: See Canons 1:6; II:8;
III-IV:10; V:8, and Rejection of Errors II:6.
- Contrary to Scripture:
II Cor. 2:15-16;
- Brief Answer to the
Point of Common Grace:
- The meaning of the Second Point:
- The second point of 1924 does not teach that God holds the
sinner in His power, so that he cannot do anything against the
will and providence of God. This is plainly taught in the Bible and
in the Belgic Confession, Art. 13.
- But the second point teaches:
- That there is a gracious operation of the Holy Spirit
which is not regenerating on the heart and mind and will of the
- That this operation commenced immediately after the fall and
continues all through history.
- That as a result there is in man a remnant of his original
goodness, so that he is not as depraved as he would be without
- That, because of this operation, the natural man is able to
live a relatively good life in this life, and do good in the
sphere of the world.
- Objection to the Second Point:
- The proof adduced by Synod for this point does not hold:
- From Scripture the Synod quoted the following passages:
Rom. 1:24, 26, 28;
II Thess. 2:6-7; Concerning these passages we note:
- Only one speaks of the Holy Spirit at all, namely,
Gen. 6:3. However, the text does not speak of a restraining
by the Spirit, but of a striving. This took place through the
Word of God by the prophets.
- None of them speak of a restraint of sin.
- Three of them speak of the very opposite of restraint,
namely, of a delivering over into sin by the wrath of God. See:
Rom. 1:24, 26, 28;
II Thess. 2:6-7 does not refer to the Holy Spirit as is
plain from the text itself.
- As to the proof adduced from the Confessions:
- Belgic Conf., Art. 13, does not speak of an influence of the
Holy Spirit, but of the Providential power of God; nor of an
inward restraint of sin, but the restraint of sinners and
- Art. 36 does not speak of an influence of the Spirit but of
the power of the police or magistrate.
- The Second Point itself is contrary to Scripture and the
- To Scripture:
- It postulates a remnant of good in natural man, which is
contrary to all those passages of Holy Writ that speak of the
depravity of the natural man. For these, see the discussion
under Point III.
- Scripture teaches directly the opposite from the main tenant
of the Second Point when it declares that God delivers men over
into ever greater corruption by His wrath. See:
- To the Confessions: Canons III-IV:4 speaks of "remnants of
natural light." These remnants are not due to an operation of
Common Grace. Even with these remnants, however, the natural man
is still wholly depraved and incapable of doing any good even in
things natural and civil.
- Brief Answer to the
- The meaning of the third point:
- The meaning of the third point of 1924 is not:
- That the natural man through the remnants of natural light
that are left in him after the fall is able to distinguish between
good and evil; has some knowledge of God and of things natural.
- That the natural man is able to see that the law of God is
good for himself, and that, therefore, there is on his part an
attempt to live in outward conformity with that law.
- That the third point does not intend to express this is
- The fact that the deposed ministers taught exactly this
before 1924. It was this view which Synod condemned.
- The fact that no special influence of the grace of God is
necessary to explain these things in the natural man. The
confessions explain them as remnants of natural light. Synod,
however, speaks of an influence of God on the natural man,
whereby he is able to do civil righteousness.
- From the evident connection between the second and third
- But the third point teaches:
- That there is an influence of God, of the Holy Spirit, on the
mind and will of the natural man, which is not regenerating, but
- That because of this influence, he is able to live a
relatively good life in this world, and his works are not always
sinful before God.
- Objections to the third point:
- It is contrary to the Reformed Confessions:
- The proof from the confessions to which Synod referred does
- Canons III-IV:4:
- Speaks of a remnant of natural light and not of an
influence of God on the natural man.
- It emphasizes that even in things natural and civil the
natural man wholly pollutes this natural light and holds it in
- Netherlands Confession, Art. 36:
- Does not speak of any good that the natural man can do,
but of a good order and decency which God establishes among
- Nor does it refer to an influence of God on the natural
man, but to the power of the magistrates.
- For proof from the confessions to the contrary, see:
Heidelberg Catechism, L.D. III,Q. 8; L.D. 33, Q. 91; Belgic
Confession, Art. 14; Canons III-IV:1-4.
- It is contrary to Scripture:
- Synod tried to sustain the Third Point by the following
II Kings 10:29-30. (But Jehu saw in God's commandment a
means to satisfy his own ambition, and very well executes the
command--but becomes blood- guilty in doing so, and does not
depart from the ways of Jeroboam (See Hosea l).
II Kings 12:2 and 14:3. (At best the examples of Jehoash and
Amaziah prove an attempt to live in outward conformity to the
law. In the case of Jehoash this was under the influence of a
Luke 6:33. (a proof that sinners do no good and have no
Romans 2:14. (The work of the law in the hearts of
the Gentiles--not the law itself.)
- For proof to the contrary, that is, for positive proof from
Scripture that the unregenerate cannot do good, see:
Romans 1:28- 32; and
A Protestant Reformed Look at the Doctrine of Common Grace
by Rev. Barry Gritters
Three items should be treated by way of introduction.
First, the Protestant Reformed Churches (PRC) are not alone in their
rejection of the doctrine of common grace. Increasing in number, there are
others who agree with the PRC in their objections to this doctrine. There
is a lengthy article written by a Presbyterian in The Trinity Review
called "The Myth of Common Grace" (March/April, 1987). There is Dr. Henry
Vander Goot, a professor of religion at Calvin College, and a champion, of
sorts, of the conservative cause there, who has spoken of the fundamental
error of common grace, even claiming that many of the problems in the CRC
at present can be traced to the doctrine of common grace. There are
In the second place, supporters of the doctrine of common grace make
quite a point of calling John Calvin to witness for their cause. This has
been done before, and often. In fact, an entire book was written to try to
show that (Herman Kuiper, Calvin and Common Grace, 1928). About 10
years ago, I went through that book and wrote an extensive paper to show
that almost every reference from Calvin is either a grasping at straws or
taken so badly out of context as to make the claim unsubstantiated (see
Appendix III). In the fall of 1987, Dr. Vander Goot
spoke to a minister's gathering ("Why Herman Hoeksema Was Right in 1924"),
the burden of his speech being to show that Calvin, taken in context, does
not teach common grace. I believe that he made a good case of it. My point
is that the claim to have Calvin on one's side, a weighty advantage if it
can be proved, does not come easily.
Third, the issue of common grace is not dead, but alive and well in the
CRC. At times, the words common grace are not used. At other times,
explicit reference has been made to common grace to promote heresy and
unrighteousness in the churches.
Regarding doctrine: In 1962 Harold Dekker, a professor in Calvin
Theological Seminary, began his public defense of universal atonement by
using the teaching of the well-meant offer of the gospel, a teaching which
was adopted by the CRC in 1924 with the teaching of common grace. (For
Dekker's position, see The Reformed Journal, 1962 to 1964). In the
1970s, Dr. Harry Boer lodged a gravamen against two articles in the
Canons of Dordt, using
the doctrine of common grace to bolster his attack against the doctrine of
reprobation taught there. More recently, in the late 1980s, God's Word in
the first part of Genesis been interpreted as myth, almost if not
completely bereft of historical fact. What is not so well known is that
this troubling and heretical interpretation of Scripture appeals to the
doctrine of common grace. (See "Hermeneutical Issues Then and Now: The
Jansen Case Revisited" in Calvin Theological Journal, April, 1989).
These are a few of the ways that the teaching of common grace has
Regarding practice: ever since the synodical decision of 1928 (see
below on the antithesis) and through the 1950s and beyond, the
churches have been appealing to common grace to sanctify the movie and
redeem the dance. This practice continues. Recently, one of the young
women in my congregation expressed concern to me that, at the Reformed
college she attended, there was frequent appeal to common grace to support
behavior and fellowships that were contrary to historic Reformed
Not only in the past, but also in the present, some have claimed that
common grace is insignificant, that the controversy in the 1920s was
unfortunate and unnecessary (see J. Tuininga in Christian Renewal,
February 19, 1990, page 14). My prayer is that all will see that, whether
one agrees or disagrees, common grace is an issue that is important and
must be discussed.
A Clearing of Misunderstandings
I have heard that the Protestant Reformed Churches often misrepresent
the CRC's position. Perhaps that has been the case. It is also the case
that the PRC's position has not been fairly represented by the CRC in
times past. Perhaps this has happened because sin and pride have stood in
the way of a desire to be completely accurate, honest and fair. Because
the Protestant Reformed position has been misrepresented or misunderstood,
I want to make plain first what we do not mean in our rejection of common
Regarding The First Point
The first point of common grace teaches a favorable attitude of God
towards all men in general, and not only toward the elect (see
Appendix I). The proof given for this point was the
"rain and the sunshine" that the unbelievers receive from God. When the
Protestant Reformed Churches reject the first point of common grace, our
denial does not mean that we teach that the rain and sunshine the wicked
receive are not good. They are good. The wicked must recognize them
as good. And they are given to the wicked by God. Our problem with that
first point of common grace is that it teaches that God gives those good
things to unbelievers in His love for them or His favor
towards them. The difficulty is there.
Regarding the Second Point
The second point of common grace teaches that God restrains the
unimpeded (unhindered) breaking out of sin, by the general
operation of the Holy Spirit (Appendix I). He does
that in their hearts without regenerating them. When we object to
this second point, our objection is not with the truth that God restrains
sin. (This has been said by some of our critics. Whether purposely or
whether they just understood us to know that they meant otherwise, is a
question. But they have said quite plainly that God does not restrain sin.
But in the context of their writings, it becomes obvious that they say
that God does restrain sin. If it has been said that God does not
restrain sin, I make bold to say that it should not have been said, and
ask that the writings be viewed in their context.)
Our objection to this second point is not that God restrains sin. God
does restrain sinners from doing every conceivable wicked deed. It that
were not the case, the world would be chaos. Our objection to the second
point is that it teaches that God restrains sin by a gracious
operation of His Spirit and in an attitude of favor toward them. If
this is not the teaching of common grace, then I have no problem with the
second point. All by itself, the second point can be true.
There are other explanations, though, (besides the operation of the
Holy Spirit in their hearts) why men do not commit every sin imaginable.
The church father Augustine gave one. He explained that the wicked were so
busy pursuing one lust that they did not commit all of them. If they were
lovers of money, for example, they would forgo all kinds of other sins
(drunkenness, drug use, gluttony) in order to pursue this one lust of
theirs -- to get as much money as possible. Other explanations can be
given why men do not commit every possible sin. An obvious reason is that
men do not desire to suffer the evil consequences of evil. According to
the Canons of Dordt,
they still have regard for good order and decency in society. But they
have regard for this because they see it is profitable for them. A
man refrains from murder, but not because God restrains him; he
refrains from sinning because he knows the miserable consequences if he
murders; he wants to save his own hide. (This is Calvin's explanation; see
his Institutes: II,3,3.) As the
teaches, God ordained the magistrate, "to the end that the
dissoluteness of men might be restrained, and all things carried on among
them with good order and decency. For this purpose he hath invested the
magistracy with the sword...."
Regarding The Third Point
The third point teaches that unbelievers who are not regenerated can do
good works, not saving good, but civil good (Appendix I).
When we object to this third point, our objection should not be taken to
mean that unbelievers cannot do anything useful, profitable, or
outwardly correct. We do not say that because an unbeliever made pen,
it is not a good pen and therefore I cannot use it; or that because he
made this shirt, therefore it is not a good shirt and I cannot (may not)
wear it. We do not ever say because an unbeliever wrote a book, that
therefore it cannot be a useful book for the believer.
Our objection to the third point is simply this: The unbeliever cannot
do anything for which God is pleased with him personally. There are no
works that unbelievers perform which God approves, about which He says
"good work," and upon which He puts His stamp of approval. All works of
unbelievers are unrighteous.
Having shown what the Protestant Reformed do not believe in their
denial of common grace, there are especially three vital tenets of the
Reformed faith which the doctrine of common grace touches and to which the
doctrine does damage.
Common Grace's Denial of Total Depravity
The Truth of Total Depravity
The Reformed doctrine of total depravity is that men who are not born
again are dead in sin, unable to do any good, and inclined to all evil.
The emphasis here must be this: they are spiritually dead. The cause of
this spiritual death is the fall of our first parents in Paradise and
their subsequent punishment by God with death: physical and spiritual.
Natural man is unable to do any good.
Biblical proof for this is found throughout Scripture. In
Genesis 2:16-17 the Lord says to Adam and Eve, "The day that thou
eatest thereof, thou shalt surly die. That punishment was meted to them,
Ephesians 2:1ff: "You... were dead in trespasses and sins.... But God,
who is rich in mercy...hath quickened us together with Christ...." Many
more passages speak of man's spiritual death.
Not only is natural man dead, he is actively evil. "For
to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and
peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: For it is not
subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are
in the flesh cannot please God" (Romans
8:6-8). This is also the teaching of
Romans 3:9-12, "As it is written, There is none righteous, no not one:
There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
They are all gone out of the way, they are all together become
unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no not one...." All that
natural man does is sin.
Natural man is a slave to sin. His will is bound to doing nothing but
evil. This is the thesis of Martin Luther's book, The Bondage of the
Will, the only book, in his own opinion, that was worth saving. Christ
John 5:15, "Without me ye can do nothing."
The above is not a careless appeal to a few isolated texts, but is the
In the Heidelberg Catechism,
Q&A 5, we learn that
the natural man is "prone...to hate God and his neighbor"; in
Q&A 6 that natural man
is "so wicked and perverse..."; and in
Q&A 8, "Are we then so
corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and
inclined to all wickedness?" What is the answer? "Indeed we are,
except we are regenerated by the spirit of God." "Indeed we are."
The fathers say nothing here like, "Well, let us make some distinctions.
What do you mean by good? What do you mean by corrupt?" But, "Indeed we
are, except for regeneration by the Spirit of God."
The Belgic Confession has, in
Article 14, that man
is "become wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all his ways....
Therefore we reject all that is taught repugnant to this concerning the
free will of man, since man is but a slave to sin.... For who may presume
to boast, that he of himself can do any good...for there is no will
or understanding conformable to the divine will or understanding but what
Christ has wrought in man; which he teaches us when he says, without me ye
can do nothing." In
Article 15 of this same creed, original sin is said to be "a
corruption of the whole nature...which produces in man all sorts of sin as
a root thereof."
What is made so plain in these two confessions is explained further in
the Canons, III-IV,1,
"Man was originally formed after the image of God...but revolting from
God...he forfeited these excellent gifts; and on the contrary entailed on
himself blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity and perverseness of
judgment, became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and
impure in his affections."
The doctrine of total depravity is confessed by all Reformed
Common Grace Denies This Reformed Truth
The third point of common grace does not teach that man can do
saving good. By that I take the CRC to mean activities such as
repentance, faith, or anything that would bring him closer to God. But the
third point does teach that unbelieving, unregenerated man does
something of which God approves, with which God is pleased, and which is
conformable to God's will. He is able to do civil good.
I believe that common grace undermines the Reformed Confession of total
depravity. (It possibly undermines this truth also in the second point,
which teaches, if I do not misunderstand it, that the Holy Spirit
restrains sin in the heart of natural man, so that there is still a
remnant of God in him. The Holy Spirit's common grace preserved man after
the fall so that he did not become completely wicked.) But common grace
undermines this teaching in the third point, which teaches that natural
man is able to do civil good.
Scripture and the Reformed confessions teach that man is totally
depraved, unable to do any good, and inclined to all evil. The
makes that plain. The only exception to this truth is regeneration. The
is clear: "He is corrupt in all his ways...." "There is no will or
understanding conformable to the divine will or understanding but what
Christ has wrought in man." The Canons of Dordt (III-IV:11)
spell out plainly that all good works a man performs come by regeneration
and regeneration alone.
Our Defense of our Denial of Common Grace
Certainly, there are texts that seem to teach that natural man can do
good. Yet this question must be considered: what is the prevailing
teaching of Scripture? These texts must be explained in light of the
prevailing teaching of Scriptures and the Confessions, which show that
natural man cannot do good in God's eyes.
No more do the Protestant Reformed "explain away" the texts which are
presented to support the teaching of common grace, than all Reformed
believers are "explaining away" the texts in the Bible which Arminians
bring to us to support the false doctrines of universal atonement and
resistible grace. The old Dutch saying is, "Elke ketter heeft zijn
letter" (Every heretic has his text).
There is claim that the confessions teach this ability of natural man
to do good. Reference is made to Canons
III-IV:4. It must be
pointed out that very plainly the confession does not teach this ability.
The first half of the article says, "There remain, however, in man since
the fall, the glimmerings of natural light, whereby he retains some
knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the difference between good
and evil, and discovers some regard for virtue, good order in society, and
for maintaining a good, external deportment." That is all the farther that
article is quoted in the 1924 synod's study report. But the last half is
the key: "But so far is this light of nature from being sufficient to
bring him to a saving knowledge of God, and to true conversion, that he is
incapable of using it aright even in things natural and civil.
Nay, further, this light, such as it is, man in various ways renders
wholly polluted, and holds it in unrighteousness, by doing which he
becomes inexcusable before God." Whatever our fathers meant when they said
that natural man is unable to use the light of nature aright in things
natural and civil, it is clear that they mean here that natural man does
not do good.
The Free-Offer's Denial of Predestination
The "free offer of the gospel" is the teaching that God offers
salvation to all men when the gospel is preached promiscuously to all. The
free offer teaches that God graciously and sincerely offers salvation to
all who hear the preaching, and honestly and sincerely desires to save all
The adoption of the first point of common grace in 1924 was an official
adoption (albeit in a backhanded way) of the teaching of the "free offer
of the gospel."
Sometimes it is said that the Protestant Reformed put this teaching
into the CRC's mouth. It is said that the teaching of the "free offer" was
only part of the study committee's report. But the free offer was more
than that. It was part of the official decision of Synod (see
Appendix I). Besides, the defenders of common grace
never tire of defending the free offer. Thus, this paper, an analysis of
the three points of common grace, takes up a defense of the Reformed faith
against the "free offer of the gospel" taught in the first point.
We believe that the "free offer" must lead to a denial of the Reformed
teaching of predestination.
The Reformed Truth of Predestination
The Reformed truth of predestination is that God has decreed, willed,
and intended that some be saved and others not be saved. God determines to
save a certain, definite number of people in Christ, whose names are
written in His book of life from eternity. This is the Reformed doctrine
of election. At the same time, God determines not to save a certain,
definite number of people, all those who are not in Christ. This is the
Reformed doctrine of reprobation.
Predestination is unconditional. God determines to save this
specific number of people, not because He saw ahead of time that they were
going to believe or would be "save-able." God chose His friends
unconditionally. To illustrate, our choosing of friends is
conditional. It must be, most often. A Christian girl or boy who wants
to date must be selective and say, "I will date on one condition--that
(among other things) you are a Christian." God's choosing of His
friends was not conditional. He did not choose them because of what
they were or would become. Also, God determined to pass by others
in this decree of election, not because He saw that they were going to
reject Him. God rejected them unconditionally.
There is so much Biblical proof for this that the difficulty is
choosing the few texts that are clearest. In
Ephesians 1:4 Paul says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord
Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly
places in Christ; according as he hath chosen us in him before the
foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame
before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of
children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his
will" (see also
Eph. 1:11; etc.).
That predestination is unconditional is seen in a number of
Deuteronomy 7:7-8, "The Lord did not set his love upon you nor choose
you, (that's electing love!) because ye were more in number than any
people; for ye were the fewest of all people: but because the LORD loved
you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your
fathers...." (If ever I loved a petitio princippi [circular
reasoning] it is this! The Lord loves you because He loves you!)
This comes out especially in
Ephesians 1. God chose a people, not because they would be
holy, but He chose them in order that they might be holy. His
election brings holiness. Good works are the fruits, not the roots,
of election. What standard was used by God for His election of us?
"According to the holiness of the people?" "According to the
faith of the people?" "According to their good works?" Never.
"According to the good pleasure of his own will" He chose a people.
That reprobation is unconditional is seen in more than one
John 10:26 is a key text, "Ye believe not, because ye are not of my
sheep, as I said unto you." They are unbelievers because God did not
I Peter 2:8 brings that out as well. Jesus Christ is "a stone of
stumbling and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word,
being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed." Then it
goes on, "But ye are a chosen generation..."
A reminder is in place here that predestination, election and
reprobation, is a fundamental truth of the reformed faith, a
non-negotiable of the Reformed standards, the first of the five points of
Calvinism: Unconditional election (predestination).
This is confessionally Reformed.
The Heidelberg Catechism,
Question 52 says that
God "shall translate me and all his chosen ones to himself into
heavenly joys and glory."
Question 54, on the church, has: "The Son of God gathers, defends, and
preserves...a church chosen to everlasting life." The Belgic
Confession becomes more clear, especially regarding the
unconditionality of election, in
"God...delivers...all whom he...hath elected in Christ...without any
respect to their works...." The Canons of Dordt,
I:7 claim: "Election is
the unchangeable purpose of God whereby...he hath chosen...a certain
number of persons to redemption in Christ...." And in
I:9: "This election was
not founded upon foreseen faith...or any...good quality...in man...." In
II:8: "This was the
sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God...that
the...efficacy of the...death of his Son should extend to all the elect,
for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith.... That is, it
was the will of God that Christ...should effectually redeem...all those
and those only who were from eternity chosen to salvation...."
The "Free Offer of the Gospel" Must Deny This Truth
The free offer either explicitly or implicitly denies predestination.
The first point and the offer teach that God's love is for all who
hear the preaching of the Gospel. But election is that the love of God in
Christ is eternally directed toward some, definite, particular men,
willing their salvation and effectually accomplishing it (see
Deut. 7:6-8 and
The free offer of the gospel (explicitly or implicitly) either makes
election universal, or conditional, or both. If God wills the salvation of
all men, then He must will the salvation of those whom he has not chosen.
How can that be? Then God must have chosen all those to whom He offers
salvation; or salvation must be conditioned by man's believing -- both of
which we have seen are not biblical and not confessional. How can God
sincerely offer salvation to all men when He has decreed (in
predestination) not to save them? Can He be sincere in that, His
"expression of love?"
Another way, out of the horns of the "free offer's" dilemma -- besides
to deny predestination -- is to say that this is a contradiction in the
Bible that we cannot fathom. Friends, the Bible is not contradictory. "God
wills to save them; God does not will to save them?" The
Bible is mysterious and unfathomable, but it is not contradictory.
Not only does the free offer undermine the truth of unconditional
predestination, it undermines other of the five points of Calvinism. If
God's grace is extended in the preaching to all men, then God's grace is
not irresistible, as all Calvinists and Reformed teach, but resistible, as
the Arminian teaches, for not all are saved by it. If God's grace in the
preaching is for all, from where did this grace come? (And the grace in
the preaching is certainly not common, but a saving, special grace.) All
grace is from the cross of Christ. But if this grace in the "offer" came
from the cross of Christ, then the atonement is not limited, but
universal. Or, if God offers salvation to all men in the preaching, His
offer is not sincere, since His Son did not die for all men. And if God's
desire in the preaching is to save all, then our Almighty, sovereign God
is frustrated in His desires.
In our defense of our denial of the free offer, we ask a question.
In the view of the free offer, why are some saved in the preaching and
others not? The answer cannot be the grace of God, because the
grace of God comes to all in the preaching. The answer cannot be the
will of God in the preaching, because the will of God is to save all
alike. There are two alternatives: Either it is due to the free will of
the sinner (clearly Arminian), or it is a paradox. But the Bible is not
contradictory, flatly contradictory.
There is a defense of the free offer in a number of texts that
supposedly refer to God's desire and will to save all men. But the
Reformed man must be careful in his interpretation of them. The Arminians
at Dordt had a basketfull of proof texts. It is striking that most of the
texts appealed to in support of the free offer of the gospel are the same
texts used by the Arminians at Dordt. The Reformed believer will consider
seriously the interpretation of these texts by John Owen, Francis Turretin
and John Calvin, before he says that the interpretation which denies the
"free offer" is a ruthless, arbitrary distortion of the texts. Our defense
is that Scripture interprets Scripture, and that one text does not
contradict another. This is a fundamental principle of Reformed
The testimony of the
Canons, the expression of the faith of every Reformed believer,
speaks loudly and clearly on the question of the will of God to save:
"This was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and
purpose of God...that the...efficacy of the...death of His Son should
extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the
gift of...faith...." (emphasis mine: B.G.).
Clarification of Our Denial of the Free Offer
There always has been a misunderstanding of the Protestant Reformed
denial of the free offer of the gospel, which should be cleared up. The
PRC's denial of the free offer does not mean that the preacher must not
preach to all promiscuously. He must! It does not mean that he does not
call all men to repent and believe. He does! It does not imply that god
does not promise salvation to all who will believe. God most certainly
The PRC's denial of the free offer means this: that we deny that there
is grace in the preaching to all men, that we deny that the
preaching expresses God's desire and purpose and intent
to save all men. He most certainly does not. Else they would be saved,
because He is a sovereign, powerful God.
Common Grace's Destruction of the Antithesis
What The Antithesis Is
God calls His people to live in opposition to the world. They are
called to say "Yes" to everything of God, and to say "No" to everything of
the world. They are called to live in spiritual separation from
worldliness. This is the antithesis.
When the Reformed believer maintains the antithesis, it does not mean
that he wants to be an Anabaptist, fleeing from the world, taking no part
in the life of this world. He does not go, as the Dutch used to say,
mocking, "met e'n bookje in e'n hoekje" (with a little book in a
corner). He lives in the world and takes part in all the activities of
labor and government and society. The antithesis means that he has nothing
in common with the world spiritually, that he is called to "come
out from among them" and be separate.
The reason it is his calling to live the antithesis is that Christians
are a different people. The life of the regenerated child of God in the
world has its source in the new life of Christ and is directed by the
power of God's grace in Christ. It is a living and walking in the Holy
Spirit. It is exactly the struggle of the child of God, day in and day
out, to live, to think, to will, to feel, to speak, and to act out of
Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The life of the
unregenerated unbeliever, in contrast, has its source in the flesh,
that is, in depraved human nature, and is directed by the power of sin. It
is a living and walking in sin. Therefore the life of the believer and the
unbeliever are in opposition.
The antithesis must show itself, and show itself in all of life.
First, the life of the believer is subject to the Word of God, whereas the
unbeliever's life is independent of the Word and in rebellion against it.
Second, the goal of life is different. The believer directs his life
toward God. His life is God-centered; the goal: God's glory. The
unbeliever leaves God out; his life is man-centered.
Proof that the Antithesis is Reformed
Confessional proof is not as explicit as the former two fundamentals of
the Reformed faith. But this does not mean that the antithesis is not a
biblical and Reformed idea. Although the concept was developed more
clearly by our Reformed fathers in the 19th century, it certainly is
Heidelberg Catechism says that the "Son of God gathers...out of
the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life." The
brings out the idea of the antithesis when, explaining the doctrine of
baptism and taking the cue from the significance of circumcision, it says
that by the sacrament of baptism "we are received into the Church
of God, and separated from all other people and strange religions,
that we may wholly belong to him, whose ensign and banner we bear...." The
sacrament of baptism, then, is a great banner which proclaims to the
There is biblical proof. The nation of Israel was a prime example of
the antithesis. They were a separate people, called not to mix with the
nations around them, punished every time they intermarried and mingled
with them. Time and again God called them to be a separate people.
This comes out in the New Testament, generally, when God's people are
called "foreigners, pilgrims, strangers" in the world; and specifically in
II Corinthians 6, "Be ye not unequally yoked together with
unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?
and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ
with Belial?" And in
James 4:4, "Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity
Recent history shows that the antithesis is a Reformed concept. The
book by James Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in America, points out that
the early Reformed settlers in America desired to maintain the antithesis
in their life here. Their attempts went to extremes, even to the extreme
claim that the preservation of their mother tongue -- the Dutch language
-- would bolster their antithetical life. But it points out that God's
people were concerned about being a separate people, spiritually,
about living the antithesis.
That the antithesis is our Reformed heritage was brought out clearly in
the warning that the Christian Reformed Church's Synod gave to the
churches in the decision of common grace in 1924. "If we observe the
spiritual tendencies of the present time, we cannot deny that there exists
much more danger of world conformity than of world flight. The liberal
theology of the present time actually wishes to eradicate the boundary
between the church and the world.... The idea of a spiritual-moral
antithesis is weakening in large measure in the consciousness of many,
and gives way to a vague feeling of general brotherhood.... The doctrine
of special grace in Christ is more and more driven to the background....
Through the press and through all sorts of inventions and discoveries,
that in themselves should be valued as gifts of God, a great part of the
sinful world is intruding into our Christian homes. Against all these and
more pernicious influences, which press upon us from all sides, there is a
crying necessity that the church mount a guard on principle; that
she...also fight tooth and nail for the spiritual-moral antithesis....
Without ceasing may she hold fast to the principle that God's people is a
special people, living from its own root, the root of faith.... And with
holy seriousness may she call...her people and especially her youth not to
be conformed to the world." (Bratt, page 115, and the CRC Acta der
Synode, 1924, pp 146-147.)
Common Grace's Undermining of the Antithesis
The doctrine of common grace undermines the antithesis in two ways,
first, in that it teaches a love and favor of God toward all men in
common. If it is true that God has a favor towards all men, that God loves
all men, that God is friend of all men, even those whom He wills to
send to hell, even those who are fighting tooth and nail against His
kingdom (and they all are!), there is no reason that the child of God
should not be friends with the world. In fact, given the doctrine of
common grace, there is good warrant to call God's people to be friends
with unbelievers, to fellowship with worldly men and women.
Second, common grace teaches that unbelievers are involved in works in
this world with which God is pleased. If God gives unbelievers an ability
to work a work that pleases Him, as a fruit of His grace (even though it
is not "special grace"), the logical conclusion is that, in all endeavors,
the believer is able to work side by side with the unbeliever in those
endeavors -- in the work of a labor union, the work of social matters, the
work of politics, even in the education of their children. But according
to the Biblical truth of the antithesis, this is impossible because the
goals of each are different.
Common grace undermines the truth that there is that "spiritual-moral
antithesis" between believers and unbelievers, and denies that there is no
common ground between Christ and Belial, between righteousness and
unrighteousness. Common grace implies, if it does not teach, that God's
people are no longer called to come out from them, but to go in among
Historically, the antithesis has been rejected on the basis of common
In his book Dutch Calvinism..., James Bratt says that "over
against the antithesis, the Journal raised the idea of common
grace...." (page 101).
Henry R. Van Til, himself a proponent of common grace, in his book
The Calvinist Concept of Culture (1959, Baker), warns against what he
would call "abusing" the doctrine of common grace. He speaks of "a certain
level of existence at which the army of the Lord is immobilized, where it
does not function as an army, but suddenly takes on the appearance of
crowds of vacationers, or the motley multitude at a fair and pushing one
another for a better position to see. Thus there is established between
the church and the world a gray, colorless area, a kind of no-man's land,
where an armistice obtains and one can hobnob with the enemy with impunity
in a relaxed Christmas spirit, smoking the common weed."
A CRC synodical declaration already in 1928 says, "The question arises,
what basis of fellowship there can be between the child of God and the man
of this world. What have they in common which makes a degree of communion
possible and legitimate?... The solution is found in the doctrine of
common grace.... The basis of our fellowship with unbelievers should
be...the grace, common, which they have in common with us." "The basis
of our fellowship with unbelievers" (emphasis mine, BLG)
And in an issue of The Banner (December 12, 1988), an issue
devoted almost entirely to the question of the antithesis, there is a
subtle mockery of the historical teaching of the antithesis. The Reformed
believer grieves over the ridicule of the faith of our fathers, the faith
of Holy Scripture. The Reformed believer prays that God will show His
people the truth because, in the generations to come there will be no
calling to live in spiritual separation from the world.
Let there be made an appeal to the experience of Reformed Christians.
How often is it heard that the children of God must be a separate people?
How often is reference made to
II Corinthians 6? When is it heard that friendship with the world is
enmity against God? If this is lacking, one explanation may be that the
doctrine of common grace is alive and working, and that the common grace
of the "three points" and the antithesis are at odds.
Our defense of the antithesis is to deny common grace, is to deny that
there is a favor of God common to all men, to deny that there is a common
life that we share because of common grace, and to deny therefore that we
are to have fellowship with the world. This is the practical aspect of the
doctrine of common grace.
A teaching that ended in the deposition of three ministers from the
church of Jesus Christ is a vitally important teaching, a teaching that
must be examined, a teaching that does not lie dormant in the archives of
Common grace is still appealed to today. Outside of the Dutch Reformed
tradition, appeal is being made to common grace, so that the church and
the world are yoked together. Within the Dutch Reformed tradition, common
grace becomes the unconscious (and sometimes conscious) basis for
unreformed teaching and practices.
Our prayer is that God will use this paper to show that we are still
interested -- for our neighbor's sakes -- in these important issues,
interested to sharpen our spiritual senses for appreciation for the
Reformed faith, so that we might stand shoulder to shoulder in the
maintenance of god's truth of total depravity, unconditional election, and
the antithesis which God's people are called to live.
The actual copy of the "Three
Points of Common Grace,"
"For the record..."
Since this study of common grace is made for the last part of the 20th
century, whereas the controversy occurred in the first part of the century
(1924), it may be helpful that a few notes of an historical nature be
inserted for those who are unfamiliar with the history. For a study of the
history, the book The Protestant Reformed Churches in America, by
Herman Hoeksema (long out of print, but available from some libraries) may
be obtained. A more popular study (also out of print, but more readily
available) is the 50th anniversary commemorative study of the PRC,
God's Covenant Faithfulness, edited by Gertrude Hoeksema.
1. The three points of common grace did not originate with the PRC, but
were statements drawn up by the Christian Reformed Church.
2. The ministers involved in the debate (which climaxed at the 1924
Synod of Kalamazoo) were required to subscribe to Synod's three
statements. Because three of them refused, they were deposed from the
ministry of the CRC.
3. These three men, Reverends H. Danhof, H. Hoeksema, and G. Ophoff
were the founders of the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Calvin On Common Grace
Since Calvin carries considerable weight with those in the Reformed
camp, it is worthwhile to hear what Calvin says about the subject. The
following is two sections of the author's paper entitled, "Calvin and
Common Grace," a paper analyzing Herman Kuiper's Calvin on Common Grace
and presented at a Student Club meeting at the Protestant Reformed
seminary in 1980:
On page 29, Kuiper says that Calvin (II-2-11,12) implies, though not
expressly, that those who possess miraculous faith are recipients of
divine grace, of a non-saving character. This does seem to be the case,
and Calvin uses language that sounds like common grace. He speaks of
"present mercy...a present perception of His grace which afterwards
vanishes away... God enlightens the reprobate with some beams of His
grace which afterwards vanishes away.... God so far enlightens the mind
that they discover His grace." To understand these statements, we must
read farther, as this proponent of common grace does not do.
Calvin explains it in this way: To some reprobate, God gives a seed
of faith, (in this case, miraculous faith) but he "infuses no life into
that seed which he drops into their hearts" (Institutes,
III,2,12). "Not that they truly perceive the energy of spiritual grace
and clear light of faith, but because the Lord, to render their guilt
more manifest and inexcusable, insinuates Himself into their minds"
(III,2,11). The reprobate are similar to the elect, "only in their
opinion" but not in the eyes of God.
Strikingly, Calvin says that any grace or faith attributed to the
reprobate is only "by catechresis, a tropical or improper form of
expression; only because they...exhibit some appearance of
obedience to it" (III,2,9). He says that this faith and grace are only a
shadow or image of faith and grace, and are of no importance, unworthy
even of the name. He calls it common only "because there is a
great similitude and affinity between temporary faith and that which is
living and perpetual." He calls their grace common only "because they
appear, under the disguise of hypocrisy, to have the principle of faith
in common with them" (III,2,11). to the elect, true faith and,
therefore, true grace is given.
Had this controversy over common grace been an issue in his day, we
can be sure that Calvin would have emphasized more often that, when he
spoke of common grace, it was only by catechresis: an improper
form of expression."
Those who appeal to Calvin for support of common grace look to the
three points of 1924 as the basis for their definition of common grace.
But Calvin's common grace has nothing to do with that of the present
day. Concerning the first point, that God has a favorable attitude
toward all mankind, especially in the offer of the gospel, Calvin has
much to say. In connection with the good gifts of God as a "favorable
attitude," Calvin says:
How comes it then that God not only makes His sun to rise on the evil
and the good, but as far as the advantages of this present life are
concerned, His inestimable liberality is constantly flowing forth in
rich abundance? Hence we certainly perceive that the things which really
belong to Christ and His members, abound to the wicked also...in order
that they may be rendered more inexcusable (III,25,9).
Concerning the "offer of the gospel" Calvin has something to say. But
first, it must be noted that Calvin wrote his Institutes in the
Latin language. The word translated "offer" in English is, not
surprisingly, offere in the Latin. But this word did not
necessarily have the same connotations than as it does in English today.
The word offere primarily means "to present, to bring towards, to
thrust forward, to show, to exhibit." Our word offer has broader
connotations and implies the ability to accept or reject, as well as a
desire on God's part that the offer be accepted. Calvin says this (which
is omitted by Dr. Kuiper):
His sole design in thus promising, is to offer His mercy to all who
desire and seek it, which none do but those whom he has enlightened,
and He enlightens all whom He has predestined to salvation
That is, God's mercy is offered in the preaching only to those whom
He has predestined to salvation!
What purpose then is served by exhortations? It is this: As the
wicked, with obstinate heart, despise them, they will be a testimony
against them when they stand at the judgment seat of God; may they (the
exhortations of the word: BG) even now strike and lash their consciences
When the mercy of God is offered by the gospel (remember, "offered"
is "offere," to present, to set forth; BG), it is faith, that is,
the illumination of God, which distinguishes between the pious and the
impious; so that the former experience the efficacy of the gospel, but
the latter derive no benefit from it (III,24,17).
God wills the salvation only of His elect, and never does Calvin
teach that any favor goes out to the wicked in the preaching.
Calvin writes very little concerning the second point. He writes only
that God restrains the outward deeds of the wicked, but never says that
God does this in His favor towards them, nor that He restricts the
corruption of the heart so that the good in natural man can come out.
The third point, that by the work of the Spirit the unregenerate is
able to do civil good, is in violent contrast to what Calvin says.
First, Calvin claims that we have nothing of the spirit except by
regeneration (III,3,1). This stands in contradiction to what the third
Second, Calvin says that we may as well try to draw oil from a stone
than expect good works from a sinner (III,15,7).
Concerning the works of wicked men which are apparently good,
Calvin also has something to say. Commenting on a passage by Augustine,
Calvin writes: "Here he avows, without any obscurity, that for which
we so strenuously content --that the righteousness of good works depends
on their acceptance by the Divine mercy" (III,18,5).
Finally, Calvin says:
This being admitted will place it beyond all doubt, that man is not
possessed of free will for good works, unless he be assisted by grace,
and that special grace which is bestowed upon the elect alone in
regeneration. For I stop not to notice those fanatics, who pretend
that grace is offered equally and promiscuously to all (II,2,6; see
also II,2:13 & 18; and III,15,7).
A Brief Declaration of Principles of the Protestant Reformed
Churches in America
A brief Exposition of the Confessions Regarding Certain Points of
Doctrine as Maintained by the Protestant Reformed Churches
Adopted by the Synod of 1951
DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES, to be used only by the Mission
Committee and the missionaries for the organization of prospective
churches on the basis of Scripture and the Confessions as these have
always been maintained in the Protestant Reformed Churches and as
these are now further explained in regard to certain principles.
The Protestant Reformed Churches stand on the basis of Scripture as
the infallible Word of God and of the Three Forms of Unity. Moreover,
they accept the liturgical forms used in the public worship of our
churches, such as:
Form for the Administration of Baptism, Form for the Administration
of the Lord's Supper, Form of Excommunication, Form of Readmitting
Excommunicated Persons, Form of Ordination of the Ministers of God's
Word, Form of Ordination of elders and Deacons, Form for the
Installation of Professors of Theology, Form of Ordination of
Missionaries, Form for the Confirmation of Marriage before the Church,
and the Formula of Subscription.
On the basis of this Word of God and these confessions:
I. They repudiate the errors of the Three
Points adopted by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church of
Kalamazoo, 1924, which maintain:
A. That there is a grace of God to all men, including the
reprobate, manifest in the common gifts to all men.
B. That the preaching of the gospel is a gracious offer of
salvation on the part of God to all that externally hear the gospel.
C. That the natural man through the influence of common grace
can do good in this world.
D. Over against this they maintain:
1. That the grace of God is always particular, i.e., only for
the elect, never for the reprobate.
2. That the preaching of the gospel is not a gracious offer of
salvation on the part of God to all men, nor a conditional offer to
all that are born in the historical dispensation of the covenant, that
is, to all that are baptized, but an oath of God that He will
infallibly lead all the elect unto salvation and eternal glory through
3. That the unregenerate man is totally incapable of doing any
good, wholly depraved, and therefore can only sin.
For proof, we refer to Canons I,A.,6-8:
Art. 6. That some receive the gift of faith from God, and others
do not receive it proceeds from God's eternal decree, "for known unto
God are all his works from the beginning of the world," Acts 15:18.
"Who worketh all things after the counsel of his will," Eph. 111.
According to which decree, he graciously softens the hearts of the
elect, however obstinate, and inclines them to believe, while he
leaves the non-elect in his judgment to their own wickedness and
obduracy. And herein is especially displayed the profound, the
merciful, and at the same time the righteous discrimination between
men, equally involved in ruin; or that decree of election and
reprobation, revealed in the Word of God, which though men of
perverse, impure and unstable minds wrest to their own destruction,
yet to holy and pious souls affords unspeakable consolation.
Art. 7. Election is the unchangeable purpose of God, whereby,
before the foundation of the world, he hath out of mere grace,
according to the sovereign good pleasure of his own will, chosen, from
the whole human race, which had fallen through their own fault, from
their primitive state of rectitude, into sin and destruction, a
certain number of persons to redemption in Christ, whom he from
eternity appointed the Mediator and Head of the elect, and the
foundation of salvation.
This elect number, though by nature neither better nor more
deserving than others, but with them involved in one common misery,
God hath decreed to give to Christ, to be saved by him, and
effectually to call and draw them to his communion by his Word and
Spirit, to bestow upon them true faith, justification and
sanctification and having powerfully preserved them in the fellowship
of his Son, finally, to glorify them for the demonstration of his
mercy, and for the praise of his glorious grace; as it is written,
"According as he hath chosen us in him, before the foundation of the
world, that we should be holy, and without blame before him in love;
having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ
to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise
of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the
beloved," Eph. 1:4,5, 6. And elsewhere: "Whom he did predestinate,
them he also called, and whom he called, them he also justified, and
whom he justified, them he also glorified." Rom. 8:30.
Art. 8. There are not various decrees of election, but one and
the same decree respecting all those, who shall be saved, both under
the Old and New Testament: since the Scripture declares the good
pleasure, purpose and counsel of the divine will to be one, according
to which he hath chosen us from eternity, both to grace and glory, to
salvation and the way of salvation, which he hath ordained that we
should walk therein.
Art. 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.
The Canons in II, 5 speak of the preaching of the promise. It
presents the promise, not as general, but as particular, i.e., as for
believers, and, therefore, for the elect. This preaching of the
particular promise is promiscuous to all that hear the gospel with the
command, not a condition, to repent and believe.
Art. 6. Who use the difference between meriting and
appropriating, to the end that they may instill into the minds of the
imprudent and inexperienced this teaching that God, as far as he is
concerned, has been minded of applying to all equally the benefits
gained by the death of Christ; but that while some obtain the pardon
of sin and eternal life, and others do not, this difference depends on
their own free will, which joins itself to the grace that is offered
without exception, and that it is not dependent on the special gift of
mercy, which powerfully works in them, that they rather than others
should appropriate unto themselves this grace. For these, while they
feign that they present this distinction, in a sound sense, seek to
instill into the people the destructive poison of the Pelagian errors.
For further proof we refer to the Heidelberg Catechism, III,8, and
Q. 8. Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable
of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness?
A. Indeed we are; except we are regenerated by the Spirit of
Q. 91. But what are good works?
A. Only those which proceed from a true faith, are performed
according to the law of God, and to his glory; and not such as are
founded on our imaginations, or the institutions of men.
And also from the Netherlands Confession, Article XIV:
Art. XIV. We believe that God created man out of the dust of the
earth, and made and formed him after his own image and likeness, good,
righteous, and holy, capable in all things to will, agreeably to the
will of God. But being in honor, he understood it not, neither knew
his excellency, but willfully subjected himself to sin, and
consequently to death, and the curse, giving ear to the words of the
devil. For the commandment of life, which he had received, he
transgressed; and by sin separated himself from God, who was his true
life, having corrupted his whole nature; whereby he made himself
liable to corporal and spiritual death. And being thus become wicked,
perverse, and corrupt in all his ways, he hath lost all his excellent
gifts, which he had received from God, and only retained a few remains
thereof, which, however, are sufficient to leave man without excuse;
for all the light which is in us is changed into darkness, as the
Scriptures teach us, saying: The light shineth in darkness, and the
darkness comprehendeth it not: where St. John calleth men darkness.
Therefore we reject all that is taught repugnant to this, concerning
the free will of man, since man is but a slave to sin; and has nothing
of himself, unless it is given from heaven. For who may presume to
boast, that he of himself can do any good, since Christ saith, No man
can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him? Who
will glory in his own will, who understands, that to be carnally
minded is enmity against God? Who can speak of his knowledge, since
the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God? In
short, who dare suggest any thought, since he knows that we are not
sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves, but that
our sufficiency is of God? And therefore what the apostle saith ought
justly to be held sure and firm that God worketh in us both to will
and to do of his good pleasure. For there is no will nor
understanding, conformable to the divine will and understanding, but
what Christ hath wrought in man; which he teaches us, when he saith,
Without me ye can do nothing.
Once more we refer to Canons III-IV, A, 1-4:
Art. 1. Man was originally formed after the image of God, His
understanding was adorned with a true and saving knowledge of his
Creator, and of spiritual things; his heart and will were upright; all
his affections pure; and the whole man was holy; but revolting from
God by the instigation of the devil, and abusing the freedom of his
own will, he forfeited these excellent gifts; and on the contrary
entailed on himself blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity and
perverseness of judgment, became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in
heart and will, and impure in his affections.
Art. 2. Man after the fall begat children in his own likeness. A
corrupt stock produced a corrupt off-spring. Hence all the posterity
of Adam, Christ only excepted, have derived corruption from their
original parent, not by imitation, as the Pelagians of old asserted,
but by the propagation of a vicious nature.
Art. 3. Therefore all men are conceived in sin, and by nature
children of wrath, incapable of saving good, prone to evil, dead in
sin, and in bondage thereto, and without the regenerating grace of the
Holy Spirit, they are neither able nor willing to return to God, to
reform the depravity of their nature, nor to dispose themselves to
Art. 4. There remain, however, in man since the fall the
glimmerings of natural light, whereby he retains some knowledge of
God, of natural things, and of the differences between good and evil,
and discovers some regard for virtue, good order in society, and for
maintaining an orderly external deportment. But so far is this light
of nature from being sufficient to bring him to a saving knowledge of
God, and to true conversion, that he is incapable of using it aright
even in things natural and civil. Nay further, this light, such as it
is, man in various ways renders wholly polluted, and holds it in
unrighteousness, by doing which he becomes inexcusable before God.
II. They teach on the basis of the same
A. That election, which is the unconditional and unchangeable
decree of God to redeem in Christ a certain number of persons, is the
sole cause and fountain of all our salvation, whence flow all the
gifts of grace, including faith. This is the plain teaching of our
confessions in the Canons of Dordrecht, I,A,6,7. See above.
And in the Heidelberg Catechism XXI, 54, we read:
Q. 54. What believest thou concerning the "holy catholic church"
A. That the Son of God from the beginning to the end of the
world, gathers, defends, and preserves to himself by his Spirit and
Word, out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting
life, agreeing in true faith; and that I am and forever shall remain a
living member thereof.
This is also evident from the doctrinal part of the Form for the
Administration of Baptism, where we read:
For when we are baptized in the name of the Father, God the
Father witnesseth and sealeth unto us that he doth make an eternal
covenant of grace with us, and adopts us for his children and heirs,
and therefore will provide us with every good thing, and avert all
evil or turn it to our profit. And when we are baptized in the name of
the Son, the son sealeth unto us, that he doth wash us in his blood
from all our sins, incorporating us into the fellowship of his death
and resurrection, so that we are freed from all our sins, and
accounted righteous before God. In like manner, when we are baptized
in the name of the Holy Ghost, the Holy Ghost assures us, by this holy
sacrament, that he will dwell in us, and sanctify us to be members of
Christ, applying unto us, that which we have in Christ, namely, the
washing away of our sins, and the daily renewing of our lives, till we
shall finally be presented without spot or wrinkle among the assembly
of the elect in life eternal.
B. That Christ died only for the elect and that the saving efficacy
of the death of Christ extends to them only.
This is evident from the Canons, II,A,8:
Art. 8. 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
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 and blemish to the enjoyment of glory in his own presence
This article very clearly teaches:
1. That all the covenant blessings are for the elect alone.
2. That God's promise is unconditionally for them only: for God
cannot promise what was not objectively permitted by Christ.
3. That the promise of God bestows the objective right of salvation
not upon all the children that are born under the historical
dispensation of the covenant, that is, not upon all that are baptized,
but only upon the spiritual seed.
This is also evident from other parts of our confessions, as, for
Heidelberg Catechism XXV, 65-66:
Q. 65. Since then we are made partakers of Christ and all his
benefits by faith only, whence doth this faith proceed?
A. From the Holy Ghost, who works faith in our hearts by the
preaching of the gospel, and confirms it by the use of the sacraments.
Q. 66. What are the sacraments?
A. The sacraments are holy visible signs and seals, appointed of
God for this end, that by the use thereof, he may the more fully
declare and seal to us the promise of the gospel, viz., that he grants
us freely the remission of sin, and life eternal, for the sake of that
one sacrifice of Christ, accomplished on the cross.
If we compare with these statements from the Heidelberger what was
taught concerning the saving efficacy of the death of Christ in Canons
II,A,8, it is evident that the promise of the gospel which is sealed
by the sacraments concerns only the believers, that is, the elect.
This is also evident from the Heidelberg Catechism XXVII, 74,
Q. 74. Are infants also to be baptized?
A. Yes: for since they, as well as the adult, are included in
the covenant and church of God; and since redemption from sin by the
blood of Christ, and the Holy Ghost, the author of faith, is promised
to them no less than to the adult; they must therefore by baptism, as
a sign of the covenant, be also admitted into the Christian church;
and be distinguished from the children of unbelievers as was done in
the old covenant or testament by circumcision, instead of which
baptism is instituted in the new covenant.
That in this question and answer of the Heidelberger not all the
children that are baptized, but only the spiritual children, that is,
the elect, are meant is evident. For:
a. Little infants surely cannot fulfill any conditions. And if the
promise of God is for them, the promise is infallible and
unconditional, and therefore only for the elect.
b. According to Canons II,A,8, which we quoted above, the saving
efficacy of the death of Christ is for the elect alone.
c. According to this answer of the Heidelberg Catechism, the Holy
Ghost, the author of faith, is promised to the little children no less
than to the adult. And God surely fulfills His promise. Hence, that
promise is surely only for the elect.
The same is taught in the Netherlands Confession, Articles
XXXIII-XXXV. In Article XXXIII we read:
Art. XXXIII. We believe, that our gracious God, on account of
our weakness and infirmities hath ordained the sacraments for us,
thereby to seal unto us his promises, and to be pledges of the good
will and grace of God toward us, and also to nourish and strengthen
our faith; which he hath joined to the Word of the gospel, the better
to present to our senses, both that which he signifies to us by his
Word, and that which he works inwardly in our hearts, thereby assuring
and confirming in us the salvation which he imparts to us. For they
are visible signs and seals of an inward and invisible thing, by means
whereof God worketh in us by the power of the Holy Ghost. Therefore
the signs are not in vain or insignificant, so as to deceive us. For
Jesus Christ is the true object presented by them, without whom they
would be of no moment.
And from article XXXIV, which speaks of holy baptism, we quote:
Art. XXXIV. We believe and confess that Jesus Christ, who is the
end of the law, hath made an end, by the shedding of his blood, of all
other sheddings of blood which men could or would make as a
propitiation or satisfaction for sin: and that he, having abolished
circumcision, which was done with blood, hath instituted the sacrament
of baptism instead thereof; by which we are received into the Church
of God, and separated from all other people and strange religions,
that we may wholly belong to him, whose ensign and banner we bear: and
which serves as a testimony to us, that he will forever be our
gracious God and Father. Therefore he has commanded all those, who are
his, to be baptized with pure water, "in the name of the Father, and
of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost"; thereby signifying to us that as
water washeth away the filth of the body, when poured upon it, and is
seen on the body of the baptized, when sprinkled upon him; so doth the
blood of Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost, internally sprinkle
the soul, cleanse it from its sins, and regenerate us from children of
wrath, unto children of God. Not that this is effected by the external
water, but by the sprinkling of the precious blood of the Son of God;
who is our Red Sea, through which we must pass, to escape the tyranny
of Pharaoh, that is, the devil, and to enter into the spiritual land
of Canaan. Therefore the ministers, on their part, administer the
sacrament, and that which is visible, but our Lord giveth that which
is signified by the sacrament, namely, the gifts and invisible grace;
washing, cleansing and purging our souls of all filth and
unrighteousness; renewing our hearts, and filling them with all
comfort; giving unto us a true assurance of his fatherly goodness;
putting on us the new man, and putting off the old man with all his
Article XXXIV speaks of holy baptism. That all this, washing and
cleansing and purging our souls of all filth and unrighteousness, that
renewal of our hearts, is only the fruit of the saving efficacy of the
death of Christ and therefore is only for the elect is very evident.
The same is true of what we read in the same article concerning the
baptism of infants:
Art. XXXIV. And indeed Christ shed his blood no less for the
washing of the children of the faithful, than for adult persons; and
therefore they ought to receive the sign and sacrament of that, which
Christ hath done for them; as the Lord commanded in the law, that they
should be made partakers of the sacrament of Christ's suffering and
death, shortly after they were born, by offering for them a lamb,
which was a sacrament of Jesus Christ. Moreover, what circumcision was
to the Jews, that baptism is to our children. And for this reason Paul
calls baptism the circumcision of Christ.
If, according to Article 8 of the Second Head of Doctrine, A, in
the Canons, the saving efficacy of the death of Christ extends only to
the elect, it follows that when in this article of the Netherlands
Confession it is stated that "Christ shed his blood no less for the
washing of the children of the faithful than for the adult persons,"
also here the reference is only to the elect children.
Moreover, that the promise of the gospel which God signifies and
seals in the sacraments is not for all is also abundantly evident from
Article XXXV of the same Netherlands Confession, which speaks of the
holy supper of our Lord Jesus Christ. For there we read:
Art. XXXV. We believe and confess, that our Savior Jesus Christ
did ordain and institute the sacrament of the holy supper, to nourish
and support those whom he hath already regenerated, and incorporated
into his family, which is his Church.
In the same article we read:
Further, though the sacraments are connected with the thing
signified, nevertheless both are not received by all men; the ungodly
indeed receives the sacrament to his condemnation, but he doth not
receive the truth of the sacrament. As Judas, and Simon the sorcerer,
both indeed received the sacrament, but not Christ, who was signified
by it, of whom believers only are made partakers.
It follows from this that both the sacraments, as well as the
preaching of the gospel, are a savor of death unto death for the
reprobate, as well as a savor of life unto life for the elect. Hence,
the promise of God, preached by the gospel, signified and sealed in
both the sacraments, is not for all but for the elect only.
And that the election of God, and consequently the efficacy of the
death of Christ and the promise of the gospel, is not conditional is
abundantly evident from the following articles of the Canons.
Canons I, A, 10:
Art. 10. the good pleasure of God is the sole cause of this
gracious election; which doth not consist herein, that out of all
possible qualities and actions of men God has chosen some as a
condition of salvation; but that he was pleased out of the common mass
of sinners to adopt some certain persons as a peculiar people to
himself, as it is written, "For the children being not yet born
neither having done any good or evil," etc., it was said (namely to
Rebecca): "the elder shall serve the younger; as it is written, Jacob
have I loved, but Esau have I hated." Romans 9:11-13. "And as many as
were ordained to eternal life believed." Acts 13:48.
In Canons I, B, 2, the errors are repudiated of those who teach:
Art. 2. That there are various kinds of election of God unto
eternal life: the one general and indefinite, the other particular and
definite; and that the latter in turn is either incomplete, revocable,
non-decisive and conditional, or complete, irrevocable, decisive and
And in the same chapter of Canons I, B, 3, the errors are
repudiated of those who teach:
Art. 3. That the good pleasure and purpose of God, of which
Scripture makes mention in the doctrine of election, does not consist
in this, that God chose certain persons rather than others, but in
this that he chose out of all possible conditions among which are also
the works of the law), or out of the whole order of things, the act of
faith, which from its very nature is undeserving, as well as its
incomplete obedience, as a condition of salvation, and that he would
graciously consider this initself as a complete obedience and count it
worthy of the reward of eternal life….
And in the same chapter of Canons I, B, 5, the errors are
repudiated of those who teach that:
Art. 5. ...faith, the obedience of faith, holiness, godliness
and perseverance are not fruits of the unchangeable election unto
glory, but are conditions, which, being required beforehand, were
foreseen as being met by those who will be fully elected, and are
causes without which the unchangeable election to glory does not
Finally, we refer to the statement of the Baptism Form:
And although our young children do not understand these things,
we may not therefore exclude them from baptism, for as they are
without their knowledge, partakers of the condemnation in Adam, so are
they again received unto grace in Christ....
That here none other than the elect children of the covenant are
meant and that they are unconditionally, without their knowledge,
received unto grace in Christ, in the same way as they are under the
condemnation of Adam, is very evident.
C. That faith is not a prerequisite or condition unto salvation,
but a gift of God, and a God-given instrument whereby we appropriate
the salvation in Christ. This is plainly taught in the following parts
of our confessions:
Heidelberg Catechism VII, 20:
Q. 20. Are all men, then, as they perished in Adam, saved by
A. No; only those who are engrafted into him, and receive all
his benefits, by a true faith.
Netherlands Confession, Article XXII:
Art. XXII. We believe that, to attain the true knowledge of this
great mystery, the Holy Ghost kindleth in our hearts an upright faith,
which embraces Jesus Christ, with all his merits, appropriates him,
and seeks nothing more besides him. For it must needs follow, either
that all things, which are requisite to our salvation, are not in
Jesus Christ, or if all things are in him, that then those who possess
Jesus Christ through faith, have complete salvation in him. Therefore,
for any to assert, that Christ is not sufficient, but that something
more is required besides him, would be too gross a blasphemy; for
hence it would follow, that Christ was but half a Savior. Therefore we
justly say with Paul, that we are justified by faith alone, or by
faith without works. However, to speak more clearly, we do not mean,
that faith itself justifies us, for it is only an instrument with
which we embrace Christ our Righteousness. But Jesus Christ, imputing
to us all his merits, and so many holy works which he has done for us,
and in our stead, is our Righteousness. And faith is an instrument
that keeps us in communion with him in all his benefits, which, when
become ours, are more than sufficient to acquit us of our sins.
Confer also Netherlands Confession, Articles XXXIII-XXXV, quoted
Again, confer Canons of Dordrecht II, A, 8, quoted above.
In Canons III-IV, A, 10, 14 we read:
Art. 10. but that others who are called by the gospel, obey the
call, and are converted, is not to be ascribed to the proper exercise
of free will, whereby one distinguishes himself above others, equally
furnished with grace sufficient for faith and conversions, as the
proud heresy of Pelagius maintains; but it must be wholly ascribed to
God who as he has chosen his own from eternity in Christ, so he
confers upon them faith and repentance, rescues them from the power of
darkness, and translates them into the kingdom of his own Son, that
they may show forth the praises of him, who hath called them out of
darkness into his marvelous light; and may glory not in themselves,
but in the Lord according to the testimony of the apostles in various
Again, in the same chapter of Canons, Article 14, we read:
Art. 14. Faith is therefore to be considered as the gift of God,
not on account of its being offered by God to man, to be accepted or
rejected at his pleasure; but because it is in reality conferred,
breathed, and infused into him; or even because God bestows the power
or ability to believe, and then expects that man should by the
exercise of his own free will, consent to the terms of salvation, and
actually believe in Christ; but because he who works in man both to
will and to do, and indeed all things in all, produces both the will
to believe, and the act of believing also.
III. Seeing then that this is the clear teaching of
A. We repudiate:
1. The teaching:
a. That the promise of the covenant is conditional and for all that
b. That we may presuppose that all the children that are baptized
are regenerated, for we know on the basis of Scripture, as well as in
the light of all history and experience, that the contrary is true.
For proof we refer to Canons I, A, 6-8; and the doctrinal part of
the Baptismal Form:
The principal parts of the doctrine of holy baptism are these
First, That we with our children are conceived and born in sin,
and therefore are children of wrath, in so much that we cannot enter
into the kingdom of God, except we are born again. This, the dipping
in, or sprinkling with water teaches us, whereby the impurity of our
souls is signified, and we admonished to loathe, and humble ourselves
before God, and seek for our purification and salvation without
Secondly, Holy baptism witnesseth and sealeth unto us the
washing away of our sins through Jesus Christ. Therefore we are
baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy
Ghost. For when we are baptized in the name of the Father, God the
Father witnesseth and sealeth unto us, that he doth make an eternal
covenant of grace with us, and adopts us for his children and heirs,
and therefore will provide us with every good thing, and avert all
evil or turn it to our profit. And when we are baptized in the name of
the Son, the Son sealeth unto us, that he doth wash us in his blood
from all our sins, incorporating us into the fellowship of his death
and resurrection, so that we are freed from all our sins, and
accounted righteous before God. In like manner, when we are baptized
in the name of the Holy Ghost, the Holy Ghost assures us, by this holy
sacrament, that he will dwell in us, and sanctify us to be members of
Christ, applying unto us, that which we have in Christ, namely, the
washing away of our sins, and the daily renewing of our lives, till we
shall finally be presented without spot or wrinkle among the assembly
of the elect in life eternal.
Thirdly, Whereas in all covenants, there are contained two
parts: therefore are we by God through baptism, admonished of, and
obliged unto new obedience, namely, that we cleave to this one God,
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; that we trust in him, and love him with
all our hearts, with all our souls, with all our mind, and with all
our strength; that we forsake the world, crucify our old nature, and
walk in a new and holy life.
And if we sometimes through weakness fall into sin, we must not
therefore despair of God's mercy, nor continue in sin, since baptism
is a seal and undoubted testimony, that we have an eternal covenant of
grace with God.
The Thanksgiving after baptism:
Almighty God and merciful Father, we thank and praise thee, that
Thou hast forgiven us, and our children, all our sins, through the
blood of thy beloved Son Jesus Christ, and received us through thy
Holy Spirit as members of thine only begotten Son, and adopted us to
be thy children, and sealed and confirmed the same unto us by holy
baptism; we beseech thee, through the same Son of thy love, that Thou
wilt be pleased always to govern these baptized children by thy Holy
Spirit, that they may be piously and religiously educated, increase
and grow up in the Lord Jesus Christ, that they may then acknowledge
thy fatherly goodness and mercy, which Thou hast shown to them and us,
and live in all righteousness, under our only Teacher, King and High
Priest, Jesus Christ; and manfully fight against, and overcome sin,
the devil and his whole dominion, to the end that they may eternally
praise and magnify thee, and thy Son Jesus Christ, together with the
Holy Ghost, the one only true God. Amen.
The prayer refers only to the elect; we cannot presuppose that it
is for all.
2. The teaching that the promise of the covenant is an objective
bequest on the part of God giving to every baptized child the right to
Christ and all the blessings of salvation.
B. And we maintain:
1. That God surely and infallibly fulfills His promise to the
2. The sure promise of God which He realizes in us as rational and
moral creatures not only makes it impossible that we should not bring
forth fruits of thankfulness but also confronts us with the obligation
of love, to walk in a new and holy life, and constantly to watch unto
All those who are not thus disposed, who do not repent but walk in
sin, are the objects of His just wrath and excluded from the kingdom
That the preaching comes to all; and that God seriously commands to
faith and repentance, and that to all those who come and believe He
promises life and peace.
a. The Baptism Form, part 3.
b. The Form for the Lord's Supper, under "thirdly":
All those, then, who are thus disposed, God will certainly
receive in mercy, and count them worthy partakers of the table of his
Son Jesus Christ. On the contrary, those who do not feel this
testimony in their hearts, eat and drink judgment to themselves.
Therefore, we also, according to the command of Christ and the
Apostle Paul, admonish all those who are defiled with the following
sins, to keep themselves from the table of the Lord, and declare to
them that they have no part in the kingdom of Christ; such as all
idolaters, all those who invoke deceased saints, angels, or other
creatures; all those who worship images; all enchanters, diviners,
charmers, and those who confide in such enchantments; all despisers of
God, and of his Word, and of the holy sacraments; all blasphemers; all
those who are given to raise discord, sects and mutiny in Church or
State; all perjured persons; all those who are disobedient to their
parents and superiors; all murders, contentious persons, and those who
live in hatred and envy against their neighbors; all adulterers,
whoremongers, drunkards, thieves, usurers, robbers, gamsters,
covetous, and all who lead offensive lives.
All these, while they continue in such sins, shall abstain from
this meat (which Christ hath ordained only for the faithful), lest
their judgment and condemnation be made the heavier.
c. The Heidelberg Catechism XXIV, 64; XXXI, 84; XLV, 116:
Q. 64. But doth not this doctrine make men careless and profane?
A. By no means: for it is impossible that those, who are
implanted into Christ by a true faith, should not bring forth fruits
Q. 84. How is the kingdom of heaven opened and shut by the
preaching of the holy gospel?
A. Thus: when according to the command of Christ, it is declared
and publicly testified to all and every believer, that, whenever they
receive the promise of the gospel by a true faith, all their sins are
really forgiven them of God, for the sake of Christ's merits; and on
the contrary, when it is declared and testified to all unbelievers,
and such as do not sincerely repent, that they stand exposed to the
wrath of God, and eternal condemnation, so long as they are
unconverted: according to which testimony of the Gospel, God will
judge them, both in this, and in the life to come.
Q. 116. Why is prayer necessary for Christians?
A. Because it is the chief part of thankfulness which God
requires of us: and also, because God will give his grace and Holy
Spirit to those only, who with sincere desires continually ask them of
him, and are thankful for them.
Canons III-IV, A, 12, 16, 17:
Art. 12. And this is the regeneration so highly celebrated in
Scripture, and denominated a new creation: a resurrection from the
dead, a making alive, which God works in us without our aid. But this
is in no wise effected merely by the external preaching of the gospel,
by moral suasion, or such a mode of operation, that after God has
performed his part, it still remains in the power of man to be
regenerated or not, to be converted, or to continue unconverted; but
it is evidently a supernatural work, most powerful, and at the same
time most delightful, astonishing, mysterious, and ineffable; not
inferior in efficacy to creation, or the resurrection from the dead,
as the Scripture inspired by the author of this work declares; so that
all in whose heart God works in this marvelous manner, are certainly,
infallibly, and effectually regenerated, and do actually believe.
Whereupon the will thus renewed, is not only actuated and influenced
by God, but in consequence of this influence, becomes itself active.
Wherefore also, man is himself rightly said to believe and repent, by
virtue of that grace received.
Art 16. But as man by the fall did not cease to be a creature,
endowed with understanding and will, nor did sin which pervaded the
whole race of mankind, deprive him of the human nature, but brought
upon him depravity and spiritual death; so also this grace of
regeneration does not treat men as senseless stocks and blocks, nor
takes away their will and its properties, neither does violence
thereto; but spiritually quickens, heals, corrects, and at the same
time sweetly and powerfully bends it; that where carnal rebellion and
resistance formerly prevailed, a ready and sincere spiritual obedience
begins to reign; in which the true and spiritual restoration and
freedom of our will consist. Wherefore unless the admirable author of
every good work wrought in us, man could have no hope of recovering
from his fall by his own free will, by the abuse of which, in a state
of innocence, he plunged himself into ruin.
Art. 17. As the almighty operation of God, whereby he prolongs
and supports this our natural life, does not exclude, but requires the
use of means, by which God of his infinite mercy and goodness hath
chosen to exert his influence, so also the before mentioned
supernatural operation of God, by which we are regenerated, in no wise
excludes, or subverts the use of the gospel, which the most wise God
has ordained to be the seed of regeneration, and food of the soul.
Wherefore, as the apostles, and teachers who succeeded them, piously
instructed the people concerning this grace of God, to his glory, and
the abasement of all pride, and in the meantime, however, neglected
not to keep them by the sacred precepts of the gospel in the exercise
of the Word, sacraments and discipline; so even to this day, be it far
from either instructors or instructed to presume to tempt God in the
church by separating what he of his good pleasure hath most intimately
joined together. For grace is conferred by means of admonitions; and
the more readily we perform our duty, the more eminent usually is this
blessing of God working in us, and the more directly is his work
advanced; to whom alone all the glory both of means, and of their
saving fruit and efficacy is forever due. Amen.
Canons III-IV, B, 9:
Art. 9. Who teach: that grace and free will are partial causes,
which together work the beginning of conversion, and that grace, in
order of working, does not precede the working of the will; that is,
that God does not efficiently help the will of man unto conversion
until the will of man moves and determines to do this. For the ancient
Church has long ago condemned this doctrine of the Pelagians according
to the words of the Apostle: "So then it is not of him that willeth,
nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy," Romans 9:16.
Likewise: "For who maketh thee to differ? and what hast thou that thou
didst not receive?" I Corinthians 4:7. And: "For it is God who worketh
in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure," Phillippians
Canons V, A, 14:
Art. 14. And as it hath pleased God, by the preaching of the
gospel, to begin this work of grace in us, so he preserves, continues,
and perfect it by the hearing and reading of his Word, by meditation
thereon, and by the exhortations, threatenings, and promises thereof,
as well as by the use of the sacraments.
Netherlands Confession, Article XXIV:
Art. XXIV. We believe that this true faith being wrought in man
by the hearing of the Word of God, and the operation of the Holy
Ghost, doth regenerate and make him a new man, causing him to live a
new life, and freeing him from the bondage of sin. Therefore it is so
far from being true, that this justifying faith makes men remiss in a
pious and holy life, that on the contrary without it they would never
do anything out of love to God, but only out of self-love or fear of
damnation. Therefore it is impossible that this holy faith can be
unfruitful in man: for we do not speak of a vain faith, but of such a
faith, which is called in Scripture, a faith that worketh by love,
which excites man to the practice of those works, which God has
commanded in his Word.
Which works, as they proceed from the good root of faith, are
good and acceptable in the sight of God, forasmuch as they are all
sanctified by His grace: howbeit they are of no account towards our
justification. For it is by faith in Christ that we are justified,
even before we do good works; otherwise they could not be good works,
any more than the fruit of a tree can be good, before the tree itself
Therefore we do good works, but not to merit by them, (for what
can we merit?) nay, we are beholden to God for the good works we do,
and not he to us, since it is he that worketh in us both to will and
to do of his good pleasure. Let us therefore attend to what is
written: when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded
you, say, we are unprofitable servants; we have done that which was
our duty to do. In the meantime, we do not deny that God rewards our
good works, but it is through his grace that he crowns his gifts.
Moreover, though we do good works, we do not found our salvation
upon them; for we do no work but what is polluted by our flesh, and
also punishable; and although we could perform such works, still the
remembrance of one sin is sufficient to make God reject them. thus
then we would always be in doubt, tossed to and fro without any
certainty, and our poor consciences continually vexed, if they relied
not on the merits of the suffering and death of our Savior.
3. That the ground of infant baptism is the command of God and the
fact that according to Scripture He established His covenant in the
line of continued generations.
IV. Besides, the Protestant Reformed Churches:
Believe and maintain the autonomy of the local church.
For proof we refer to the Netherlands Confession, Article XXXI:
Art. XXXI. We believe, that the ministers of God's Word, and the
elders and deacons, ought to be chosen to their respective offices by
a lawful election by the Church, with calling upon the name of the
Lord, and in that order which the Word of God teacheth. Therefore
every one must take heed, not to intrude himself by indecent means,
but is bound to wait till it shall please God to call him; that he may
have testimony of his calling, and be certain and assured that it is
of the Lord. As for the ministers of God's Word, they have equally the
same power and authority wheresoever they are, as they are all
ministers of Christ, the only universal Bishop, and the only Head of
the Church. Moreover, that this holy ordinance of God may not be
violated or slighted, we say that every one ought to esteem the
ministers of God's Word, and the elders of the church, very highly for
their work's sake, and be at peace with them without murmuring, strife
or contention, as much as possible.
Church Order, Article 36:
Art. 36. The classis has the same jurisdiction over the
consistory as the particular synod has over the classis and the
general synod over the particular.
Only the consistory has authority over the local congregation.
Church Order, Article 84.
Art. 84. No church shall in any way lord it over other churches,
no minister over other ministers, no elder or deacon over other elders
The Form for the Installation of Elders and Deacons:
"...called of God's Church, and consequently of God himself...."
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Last modified, 12-Jan-1997