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The Time Around 1924

I was requested by the Beacon Lights staff to express some of my impressions as a youth on the common grace controversy in the Christian Reformed Churches in the year 1924. With this request, I hereby comply.

So then I must go back fifty years and in mind am again a youth.

Fifty years ago! It doesn’t seem realistic and yet it is a fact. We fly along with time. By birth I am a son of the Christian Reformed Church, having been baptized, made confession of my faith, and instructed in the Christian religion therein.

Allow me to briefly relate how I as a youth, by God’s Providence, became a member of the Protestant Reformed Church.

Prior to the common grace controversy there was much debating and discussion of the Covenant of Grace. Many held to the idea that God’s covenant promise of salvation is for all children of believing parents, conditioned by acceptance and faith. Now with this covenant conception, as taught in the church, my father had difficulty accepting this as being Reformed; until he read and studied Rev. H. Hoeksema’s views, who at this time was editor of the department “Our Doctrine” in the Banner, and who wrote extensively against this conception. He maintained that according to Scripture and the Confessions, the covenant promise in baptism is not conditional, but particular; only for the elect and never for the reprobate.

Now when the common grace controversy arose and the Synod of the Christian Reformed Churches in 1924 formulated and adopted the famous three points of common grace it became clear that the first point was principally the same as the erroneous conception of the covenant, only here it was applied to the preaching of the Gospel.

Briefly the first point teaches that in the preaching of the Gospel, God well meaningly offers salvation to all who hear, again conditioned by acceptance and faith. Over against this Rev. Hoeksema maintained according to Scripture and Confessions that the preaching of the Gospel is not a gracious offer to all who hear but is particular i.e. for the elect only and never for the reprobate. And he also maintained that the Gospel ought to be proclaimed to all persons promiscuously and without distinction to whom God wills to send it.

During the controversy, there was much confusion as is the case with all controversies, but after hearing the pros and cons and discussing the issues in the home and with friends who were of a like mind with us, we became convinced the church was in error.

We ourselves discovered we were holding to a two track theology. On the one hand, the Reformed view and on the other the Arminian and Pelagian. An example of this was the songs we as young people sang in our Young people’s societies and at various programs. Many of these were pure Arminian such as: “Throw Out the Life Line”, “Whosoever Will”, “Jesus is Tenderly Calling” and more. We were never rebuked or admonished for this but certainly should have been.

Now in our debating and discussions on the three points of common grace with fellow Christians it became evident that Arminianism had taken deep root, and many accepted this false doctrine of free-willism. We must remember there was also at this time the influence of false preachers. There was the so-called evangelist Billy Sunday who traversed across the land “saving souls” by the thousands and likewise the would be street corner preachers who hawked Jesus Christ as a Saviour for all men. Many were deceived even as they are today. Also there was a spirit of apathy. People in general were disinterested. It was asked “how can the church be doctrinally in error and a few ministers be right”?

Now from the church political aspect our impression was that it was very bad. Consider how deplorable and the unscrupulous manner faithful ministers of the Gospel, concerning whom Synod of 1924 declared to be fundamentally reformed, were treated by Classis East and West, who took it upon themselves to discipline, depose, and expel faithful office-bearers of Jesus Christ from the church. I cannot go into detail concerning this evil deed, but young people and anyone in fact who has not read this history, I urge you to do so. It is found in the book The History Of The Protestant Reformed Churches. Know the history and doctrine of your church. You will be amazed as I was in 1924 and ask, how was it possible for ministers and office-bearers to perpetrate such actions.

Well, the cry was they must go, but how? A way was found, and so there was no room in the Christian Reformed Churches for those who would not subscribe to the Arminian three points of 1924. Faithful ministers and office-bearers whose only purpose was to preserve truth and justice were cast out and that without a hearing or opportunity to defend themselves. A sad history indeed.

So, we too could not subscribe to the three points and so left the mother church. We were saddened by the breach that was made and which has not been healed after fifty years.

Nevertheless, we thank God for having given us men, ministers of the gospel who so unflinchingly and without compromise defended the Reformed faith so that even today after fifty years the truth of the Word of God can still be heard from our pulpits, on the mission field, taught in our seminary, and also be means of radio and printed page. May we by God’s grace continue to be faithful to the Reformed faith.

We thank God for His covenant faithfulness shown toward us these past fifty years. To Him alone be the glory.