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Our Present Controversy in the Light of History

It is important to bear in mind that a heretic is one that opposes one or more fundamental tenets authorized by the Church to which a heretic belongs.

In the light of that definition it must be emphasized that those who will not submit to the teaching authorized by our Church are heretics. They are such on three counts:

First of all because they oppose the Three Forms of Unity by their conditional theology; by their promise to all upon condition of faith. In this conditional theology that speaks of a promise to all upon condition of faith they clearly conflict with the Three Forms of Unity. Thus they are heretics.

Secondly, because in this conditional theology they subscribe to the doctrine of the Three Points of 1924. It is especially the First Point to which they thus subscribe by implication. Fact is, that they make it worse. The First Point of 1924 teaches that, according to Scripture and the Confessions, there is a well-meant offer of salvation, with the intent to save, for all who hear the gospel. How twenty-five years later men could arise and teach a general conditional promise is really an amazingly sad phenomena. And it is a rather striking and noteworthy fact, that when once they have thus said something about God’s promise to all upon condition of faith, then they must also say, and did say, something about man. It is this: man must fulfill a pre-requisite act of faith to enter into the Kingdom. And thus they have again by implication subscribed to the teaching of the Christian Reformed Churches as expressed in Points II and III of 1924, which teach that man can perform good deeds, civic righteousness by virtue of common grace which restrains sin in the heart of the unregenerate man. And thus the proponents of the conditional theology are heretics and nothing less.

Thirdly, because they militate against the Declaration of Principles of the Synod of the Protestant Reformed Churches of 1950 and 1951.*

On all these counts the men who teach a conditional general promise and that there is a pre-requisite act of faith to enter into the Kingdom are heretics.

Now it is, of course, very necessary to view this heresy in the light of the history of all ages. This means that we must not simply notice this heresy as a factor by itself, but that we must look at it in the light of the history of all ages.

When we say the history of all ages, we must understand that we mean the history of the Church of all ages. And even here again we must limit the subject to the history of the Doctrine of the Church of all ages. And again, we must limit the subject to the specific doctrine, the most fundamental doctrine of God and man; the development of the doctrine of the relationship of God to man and of man to God. And then we must understand that the history of the church must not simply be viewed as the works and activities of man, but most emphatically as it is the work of God. The development of the history of Dogma is the Spirit of God guiding and leading His Church into all the truth.

 It is our conviction that in this study we will needs come to the conclusion the Holy Spirit has led the whole of the Church so that we may stand squarely in the truth of sovereign grace and predestination. For at bottom that is the central and all-controlling truth of Scripture.

We would consider four points with you:

First of all, we would notice with you that the doctrine of predestination in the history of doctrine is a most fundamental tenet and truth. It should be observed, however, that the doctrine of predestination was not the first point of controversy in the Church. In the first and second centuries there were other points of doctrine which were controverted by heretics. There were the doctrines of the Trinity and of the Son of God as the Incarnated Word, particularly as to His Divinity and the relationship of the two natures to Christ as well as the relationship of the Holy Spirit to the Father and to the Son. It was not till the fourth century that the doctrine of predestination gained the attention of the Church. When we think of this controversy the names of Augustine and Pelagius come to mind. They lived in the latter part of the fourth century and in the first part of the fifth century.

The controversy dealt with the Scriptural teaching concerning man; his creation, image of God, the fallen state, total depravity. Now Pelagius denied that man was created good and also that man had fallen. Man could be saved by keeping the law. In fact, some had really accomplished this in the Old Testament. It was against this that Augustine militated and he was instrumental that Pelagius was condemned as a heretic. Now the noteworthy and the remarkable fact is that Augustine in this battle concerning the doctrine of man, found his strength and weapons in the doctrine of God’s sovereign and unchangeable predestination! It is true that he pointed out that the so-called virtues of the heathen were simply glittering sins. But the more he thought into the problem of man the more he found that at bottom it is a question of predestination. One cannot talk about man without saying something about God. Predestination is the foundation of the doctrine of total depravity.

For this means that all is of the free and sovereign grace of God. We must in our confession leave God to be God! The moment you say that God elected and reprobated, man is absolutely in the power of God. This Augustine clearly grasped. And the older Augustine became the more he emphasized this truth. He emphasized the twofold predestination, both election and reprobation. This is fundamental and basic for the truth of the relationship of man to God and of God to man.

For many centuries the Church was Semi-pelagian. It was not till the ninth century that we have the lone figure of Gottschalk. He too insisted very strongly on the twofold predestination. For this teaching he was despised, persecuted, and put in prison where he died broken in body yet strong in his faith.

The next figure who taught the twofold predestination is Calvin. He really returned to Augustine. In fact, it is Calvin who really developed this teaching of predestination. He developed it in connection with the sovereign grace of free justification without works of law that we perform.

The next step is that of the Synod of Dordt over against the Remonstrants who denied the Five Points of Calvinism. It is in the Canons of Dordt that Calvin’s teaching of the double predestination comes to its own against those who resurrected the Pelagian heresy out of hell!

Our point is that always if you say something about man you must also say something about God. The moment you deny the eternal and sovereign predestination of God, and that election is the fountain of salvation, the heart of the Church and the gospel, at that moment you make faith a pre-requisite work. You cannot then any longer speak of faith as a means and instrument whereby God works out His predestination in our hearts. Then our act of faith becomes a pre-requisite to enter the Kingdom, rather than a means and instrument whereby we lay hold on all the blessings merited for us in Christ our Lord.

The two go hand in hand: what we confess of God’s predestination and our confession concerning man.

And always the struggle in the Church is to continue to confess God to be God in our salvation. The history of dogma teaches us that we must be very alert on this point. We must stand in the faith. We must be watchful unto prayer on this point. The thief must not overtake us. The heritage that is ours we must keep. We must hold what we have that no one take our crown.

*It should be borne in mind that the Declaration of Principles does express the principles of the Protestant Reformed Churches as to what we believe concerning the promise of God. However, this is to be used only in the organization of churches, and may not be raised to the level of the Three Forms of Unity. One’s orthodoxy is not measured by the Declaration of Principles but by the Three Forms of Unity. Such also Classis East did when confronted with the “Statements” of Rev. H. De Wolf.