Rutherford vs Hoeksema – “The Preached Covenant”

One of the many helpful chapters in Samuel Rutherford – An Introduction to his Theology is Sherman Isbell’s “Samuel Rutherford and the Preached Covenant”.  In this chapter Isbell accurately sets out Rutherford’s covenant thought (against the background of earlier covenant theology) and in drawing contemporary application sets him is sharp contrast to Herman Hoeksema. I don’t have time to go through the chapter in detail on the blog (maybe one day!) or set out Isbell’s arguments but I will quote his conclusion that:

“Hoeksema’s variance with the Westminster standards may be seen on many points of doctrine. But more that disagreement on a number of individual points, there is a systemic contrast. His opposition to the free offer is not incidental to his theology, but is integral to his wide-ranging reconstruction of covenant theology.”

Supporters of Hoeksema need to recognise that he is not a faithful representative of the system of Reformed though contained in the Westminster Standards.

36 Responses to “Rutherford vs Hoeksema – “The Preached Covenant””

  1. reformedcovenanter Says:

    Thanks for pointing this out. I have heard recently that one of Herman Hoeksema’s disciples has published a book arguing that a conditional covenant of grace is the “heresy” at the root of the Federal Vision. Strange that the Westminster Standards also teach this “heresy”.

    Daniel Ritchie

  2. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Yes, they would not like Rutherford’s Covenant of Life Opened!

  3. Andrew Koerner Says:

    The “disciple” of Hoeksema referenced above is David Engelsma. As he points out in his book, “Federal Vision: Heresy at the Root”, there is a great difference between the use of the term “condition” in the Westminster Catechism and that employed by the Federal Vision heretics. The WC speaks of faith as the condition of the covenant in the sense that it is the means whereby God infuses spiritual life into the elect. In this sense, the term “condition” was also employed by Turretin and Ursinus. However, it ought to be remembered what they themselves said about their own use of the term, namely, that they were really using it improperly, since the word’s normal reference is to the performance of an action in order to obtain a result. This latter meaning is exactly that which the Federal Vision men embrace in their theology, teaching that faith is a condition of the covenant and of salvation. According to them, fulfilling that condition merits favor with God, while refusing to fulfill it earns His divine wrath – in other words, salvation is by works after all!
    That Hoeksema’s covenant doctrine should be at odds with the Westminster Standards ought to surprise no one, since Hoeksema is from the Dutch Reformed tradition, which holds not to the WS but to the Three Forms of Unity. One of these forms, the Canons of Dordt, proves decisively in several places that Hoeksema’s covenant theology is in line with the historic Reformed faith and that all conditional theology is born of the teachings of Pelagius and Arminius. For example, under the fifth head, in the rejection of errors section we read: “The true doctrine having been explained, the Synod rejects the errors of those who teach that the perseverence of the true believers is not a fruit of election, or a gift of God, gained by the death of Christ, but a condition of the new covenant, which (as they declare) man before his decisive election and justification must fulfill through his free will.”

  4. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Dear Andrew

    I agree with your desire to defend Reformed theology and to critique the Federal Vision. However, the PRC theology is not the answer. I should say have not read Engelsma’s book. (I have read his work on Hyper-Calvinism which did not encouraged me to pursue his other writings.)

    I entirely agree that faith is not “meritorious”. With James Durham I say, “And in this respect faith is called the condition of the Covenant: because it is upon this condition that Justification is offered to us therein; and upon this condition, God becometh our God, and Christ our Righteousness: and it is also called the instrumental cause of our Justification … Faith … doth receive Him … and … by this receiving, He becometh our righteousness, upon which our Justification is grounded.” And again, “Faith is called the condition of the Covenant of Grace; because it supplieth that place … which ordinarily a condition hath, that is proposed in making of a mutual bargain…” All the while confessing “…if faith be the condition upon which Christ becometh our Righteousness, Then it is Christ who is our Righteousness, and not Faith…” This, I would say, is the Westminster definition of “condition”.

    I would query the wide distinction you draw between the 3 Forms and the Westminster Standards. In any event to “be at odds with the Westminster Standards” is itself not a happy position to be in.

    Rutherford would entirely agree with your quotation from Dort stating that “These, who in all points, as it this, make this new Covenant a Covenant of Works, contend that faith as enduring to the end, must be the condition of the new Covenant … But faith as lively and sincere is the condition of the Covenant, the nature and essence of faith is to continue to the end, but continuance to the end is an accidental condition of this only efficient condition of the Covenant…”

    To your point that “all conditional theology is born of the teachings of Pelagius and Arminius” I would state with David Dickson that “there is a vast difference between a conditional Decree of God, and a Decree for bringing about God’s Purpose, by offering Peace unto Men upon a Condition … a Decree to offer Peace, upon Condition of Believing in Christ, is a wise mean both of hiding and executing His own secret Decree”.

    I think the key is that we hold with Samuel Rutherford, that “…the Reprobate in the Visible Church, be so under the Covenant of Grace, as some promises are made to them, and some mercies promised to them conditionally, and some reserved speciall promises of a new heart, and of perseverance belong not to them. For all the promises belong not in the same way, to the parties visibly and externally, and to the parties internally and personally in Covenant with God. So the Lord promiseth life and forgiveness shall be given to these who are externally in the covenant, providing they believe, but the Lord promiseth not a new heart and grace to believe, to these that are only externally in the covenant. And yet he promiseth both to the elect.
    Hence the Covenant must be considered two ways, in abstracto and formally, in the letter as a simple way of saving sinners, so they believe, so all within the Visible Church are in the Covenant of Grace, and so it contains only the will of precept. 2. In the concrete, as the Lord carries on the Covenant in such and such a way, commensurably with the decrees of Election and Reprobation; As the Lord not only promises, but acts and ingraves … so the Elect only are under the Covenant of Grace.”

    There are some fine reformed theologians who have had difficulties with the language of “conditions” e.g. Thomas Boston (and even Durham uses the term out of deference to common theological usage). However, they did not, as Isbell argues persuasively that Hoeksema does, abandon the substance of the “preached covenant” outlined by Rutherford.

  5. Andrew Koerner Says:

    Dear Donald,

    Thank you for taking the time to read my response to your post.

    In your reply to me, you state that Protestant Reformed theology is not the answer to the Federal Vision. I would ask that you clearly demonstrate that this is indeed the case, especially with regard to the Protestant Reformed doctrine of the covenant. Is the PR covenant doctrine so far removed from Scripture and the Reformed confessions that it should not even be considered a legitimate opponent of the Federal Vision? Also, I assume that you agree with the above post of reformedcovenanter, which implies that the doctrine of a conditional covenant does not in fact lie at the root of the federal vision. If this is your view also, then what would you say lies at the root of the federal vision?

    Let me address something from my last post that may have been unclear. I hope I did not leave the impression that I was saying that Hoeksema’s theology is fundamentally at odds with Westminster, i.e. in every respect. If I left this impression, I apologize. Hoeksema’s theology is certainly at odds with Westminster on specific doctrinal points, especially the covenant of works and the issue of divorce and remarriage. However, Hoeksema’s theology is not fundamentally different from the overall theology of Westminster. The few disagreements he has are Biblical, and do not, in my view, put him in the camp of the hyper-Calvinists, as many slanderously charge. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that there are differences between the Westminster Standards and the Three Forms of Unity. Westminster makes statements on several points about which the Three Forms are silent. For example, I know of no instance where the Three Forms advocate a covenant of works. Therefore, the Dutch Reformed are not confessionally bound to teach this doctrine.

    You also challenge my statement concerning conditional theology. I believe that it is Arminian to preach this way: “God promises each and every one of you that if you believe, you will be saved.” Such a statement makes salvation dependent upon the faith and repentence of the sinner and also makes a general promise of salvation to every single person in the audience, elect as well as reprobate. I have not read the writings of Dickson and Rutherford which you quote in this regard, and so I do not know the context in which they are speaking. But if my position is unclear, I provide this quote from Herman Hanko’s syllabus, “History of the Free Offer”: ‘…when one makes the promise of the gospel dependent upon the conditions of faith and repentance, one separates faith and repentance from salvation and makes them prerequisites to salvation. But if they are not a part of salvation, then they are the work of man. One cannot have it both ways. Either faith and repentance are part of the promise, worked sovereignly and irresistibly through the gospel, or they are conditions to the promise, therefore not a part of the promise, and thus the work of man.’ That is what I am talking about when I speak of conditional theology.

    Finally, you criticize Hoeksema for abandoning the “preached covenant” as taught by Rutherford. Again, not having read the work of Rutherford which you reference, I cannot precisely define the “preached covenant.” Nevertheless, I will say (as few are willing to admit) that God gave Herman Hoeksema a keen intellect, and that Hoeksema, by means of that intellect, was able to detect serious weaknesses in Reformed theology which previous theologians either did not see or ignored. He not only criticized these weaknesses, but he also made positive contributions and insights in order to strengthen the walls of the Reformed faith, especially with regard to the doctrine of the covenant. This work of Hoeksema is summarized by the well-known adage: “Reformed and always reforming.” Herman Hoeksema was Reformed.

  6. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Dear Andrew

    The PRC certainly oppose the FV, which is a good thing. And we hold so many great truths in common. But the PRC distinctives, I believe, are unhelpful, and indeed contrary to Scripture and Reformed theology.

    I would not claim to be familiar enough with the federal vision to identify the “root cause” of their theology. But insofar as the teachings of Durham, Dickson and Rutherford on “conditions” are standard Reformed thought they cannot be the driving factor in any departure from Reformed doctrine.

    I have to confess I cannot understand how you can say that it is Amrinian to preach “God promises each and every one of you that if you believe, you will be saved.” As Samuel Rutherford said in the quote above “So the Lord promiseth life and forgiveness shall be given to these who are externally in the covenant, providing they believe…” This, I think, is what Isbell notes in his article – the PRC have a different understanding of Arminian to Westminster Divines. And this I believe points to a much larger, and more fundamental difference that the few points you identify above.

    The problem with Hanko’s statement is that it is not either/or, but both/and. Thus the Rutherford quote again “So the Lord promiseth life and forgiveness shall be given to these who are externally in the covenant, providing they believe, but the Lord promiseth not a new heart and grace to believe, to these that are only externally in the covenant. And yet he promiseth both to the elect.”

    It is definitely worth reading Rutherford’s Covenant of Life Opened and Dickson’s Thereputica Sacra. They express things better than I do!

    Every blessing

    PS I would strongly argue that Herman Hanko’s book is not a faithful representation of the history of Reformed thought on the free offer!

  7. Andrew Koerner Says:

    Dear Donald,

    Could you please demonstrate from Scripture that Protestant Reformed theology is incorrect? You make a serious charge, and ought to give evidence for it.

    As for the Federal Vision, I would strongly encourage you to read Engelsma’s book on the matter, which shows that a wrong view of the covenant is the root of the heresy. But in the meantime, I leave you with two things to consider: 1) “Federal” in the Federal Vision comes from the Latin word “foedus” which means, “covenant.” Thus, the Federal (Covenant) Vision is a body of teachings which centers on the doctrine of the covenant. 2) The book by Norman Shepherd which really ignited the entire Federal Vision controversy, “The Call of Grace”, has this interesting subtitle: “How the Covenant Illumines Salvation and Evangelism.” This shows that at the heart of Shepherd’s heretical book (and theology) is the doctrine of the covenant.

    The quotation I gave previously, “God promises each and every one of you that if you believe, you will be saved,” is actually taken right out of Protestant Reformed history. As you may know, in 1953 there was a schism in the churches centering on the doctrine of the covenant. Many ministers and laypersons favored the conditional covenant views of Klaas Schilder of the Netherlands. One of the ministers in this category was Hubert DeWolf, who uttered from the pulpit the very words which I quoted above. That statement was condemned by his consistory, and he was suspended from office. It may well be that Rutherford, in his day, might have approved of that statement, even with respect to the covenant, since the church of that day did not have such a clear understanding of that doctrine. However, heretics in every age cloak their heresies with language that sounds Reformed, but that actually is not upon closer examination. I maintain what I said earlier about this statement. If one thinks carefully about it, one realizes that it is saying that God actually promises salvation to the reprobate, and that is a lie! Salvation is for the elect alone. Incidentally, the men of the Federal Vision have openly expressed agreement with the covenant theology of Schilder.

    You say that the theology of the PRC has a different understanding of what constitutes Arminianism than the Westminster divines. I believe that the Protestant Reformed understanding of Arminianism is the same as that of the Synod of Dordt. Do you believe, then, that the Synod of Dordt and the Westminster Assembly understood Arminianism differently?

    As for Hanko’s statement, I fail to find fault with it. To my mind he is rather plainly showing the difference between Calvinism and Arminianism.

    Finally, on a more positive note, I wish to say that, despite our differences, I am glad that you at least recognize that the FV is heresy. Indeed, it is the most dangerous threat to face the church in many years. I hope that you will continue to study these issues and fight this heresy.

    Andrew Koerner

  8. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Dear Andrew

    I’m afraid I don’t have the time (or space in a blog comment!) at the moment to lay out what I see as the problematic elements of the PRC distinctives. For this I apologize, but instead I would suggest a consultation of:

    A.C. de Jong, The Well-Meant Gospel Offer: The Views of H. Hoeksema and K Schilder, (Franeker: T. Wever, 1954)
    Ken Stebbins, Christ Freely Offered (Lithgow, Australia: Covenanter Press, 1996)
    David Silversides, The Free Offer: Biblical and Reformed (Kilsyth: Marpet Press, 2005)
    D.B. McWilliams, Herman Hoeksema’s Theological Method. Ph.D. Diss., University of Wales, Lampeter.

    David Silversides, “The Doctrine of Conversion in the Westminster Standards.” Reformed Theological Journal 9 (November 1993): 62-84.
    R. Scott Clark, “Janus, the Well-Meant Offer, and Westminster Theology,” in The Pattern of Sound Doctrine: Systematic Theology at the Westminster Seminaries (ed. David VanDrunen; Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004), 149-180.

    I realise you may have read these, but I think they make a convincing case. Also standard Reformed texbooks e.g. Berkhof!

    Yes, I am aware of that episode in PRC history. It is to me unspeakably sad that a Reformed denomination would condemn an eminently scriptural way of speaking. However, from what I know of Schilder (unlike Hoeksema, whom I have read extensively, my knowledge of Schilder is second hand) his own theology was not without its problems.

    Yes, the Westminster Standards and Dort share a common soteriology and a shared understanding of what constitutes Arminianism. So when Isbell states Hoeksema has a different understanding of Arminianism to Westminster, by definition that entails he had a different understanding to Dort. When one defines “Arminian” in such a way as to call virtually the entire Reformed tradition “Arminian” it is clearly a suggestion that our definition is awry.

    Perhaps the best way to advance this discussion is for you to read the works by Rutherford and Dickson and then for us to resume this debate? In return I am happy to read any books (within reason) you suggest.

    Every blessing

  9. Andrew Koerner Says:

    Dear Donald,

    I would be interested to know how Hoeksema’s definition of Arminianism is any different than that of Dordt. In the meantime, I think it would indeed be worthwhile for me to read the books by Rutherford and Dickson. However, like you, I will shortly be pressed for time, as I resume school next week, so these matters may have to rest a while. Nevertheless, I believe that our discussion has been profitable. Thanks again for taking the time to read and respond to my comments.


  10. Andrew Koerner Says:

    Dear Donald,

    Below is the web address of an interview with Prof. Engelsma about his book on the Federal Vision (several other interviews are also at this address). I think you may find his comments interesting, especially as they relate to the root of the FV.


  11. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Thanks – I will certainly listen to these.


  12. David Silversides Says:


    Just came across this discussion. I heartily agree that eternal unconditional decrees fulfilled by means of conditional promises addressed to all in time is not Arminianism. Arminianism and Amyrauldianism teach conditional decrees and this is why both these errors are incompatinble with the absolute sovereignty of God. The condional promise to all the children of the covenant is surely what lies behind the confidence expressed in Article 17 of the Canons of Dort – a confidence which Hoeksema flatly denied (‘Believers and Their Seed’ pp.158f.). All our children are in the covenant and not just in the ‘sphere of the covenant’ – though the reprobate, in due time, break the covenant through unbelief. If you read Hoeksema on the subject of covenant-breaking, you will see that he argues exactly as a baptist would in trying to show that this is a purely OT concept and that OT references to it are all to do with something other than the covenant of grace.

    Faith is a condtion OF the covenant when the Gospel is preached to those outside and a condition IN the covenant as it is preached to those within. God effectually ensures that the elect outside ‘take hold of the covenant’ and the elect inside ‘keep the covenant’.

    Conditionalism is abused by the federal visionists. Why blame conditionalism for FV error? Why not rather point out their foundational error in denying the distinction between the Covenant of Works and the Covenant of Grace – an error which the PRC theology shares with them.

    Warm Christian greetings,

    David Silversides

  13. Donald John MacLean Says:

    Dear Rev. Silversides

    Many thanks for your comment and for the points you outline – helpful indeed!

    Every blessing
    Donald John

  14. Nuno Pinheiro (Portugal) Says:

    Dear Rev. David Silversides,

    I can’t understand how that break of covenant can be in harmony with Romans 9 where the position of Paul’s teaching is pointing directly to God’s Eternal Decree aplied in time and although hiden (or unreveled) from us for a period of time. Can you explain it to me?

    Other thing that as a confessional presbyterian I struggle is Herman Hoeksema’s objection over the covenant of works. Where in Scripture can we deduce a promisse to Adam of life, that is, a perfected and eternal life as we are promised by Christ? Shall we stand with Confessions regardless of what Scripture says, or do we have a back up to this doctrine in Scripture?

    What do you mean when you say Herman Hoeksema has a baptistic argument in such a thing as to the covenant? If Herman Hoeksema difers from reformed tradition is it per si heresy, or should it be judged by Scripture.

    I am sincere to wait a scriptural teaching in my questions.

    In Christ’s love,

  15. David Silversides Says:

    Dear Brother,

    I appreciate your concern for Biblical truth very much. Let me say immediately that I have never regarded Herman Hoeksema or any of the PRC brethren as heretics, but I do regard them as significantly in error on several points (and they me likewise). Also, yes I do believe we have to prove even the doctrines of the Reformed Confessions from Scripture.

    It is not contrary to the absolute decrees of God as taught in Rom 9 to say that the Lord fullfills those decrees through conditional promises sent to men in time. Conditional promises addressed to men does not deny that the response of each individual addressed is infallibly and unchangeably decreed by God. (Deut 28:1&15, Psalm 95:7). The Westminster Cofession is not afraid to use the term ‘condition’ in regard to the Covenant of Works, even though the same Confession makes it quite clear that God had decreed that Adam would fall.

    The reality of the covenant of works is seen in the fact that whereas Gen 1 uses God, the covenant name of Jehovah is used when the Lord speaks to man in ch 2 (similarly to Psalm 19 where ‘God’ is used in relation to general revelation and then ‘Jehovah’ from v.7 in relation to special or verbal revelation). 1 Cor 15:46 contrasts Adam’s body (even before the Fall) with the resurrection body – the contrast is not between the physical and spiritual, but the temporariness of the state of Adam’s body compared to the resurection state which is fitted to be the eternal habitation of the Holy Spirit. The temporariness of Adam’s body even before the Fall suggests the promise of something more glorious and eternal.

    Hoeksema’s doctrine of the Covenant is like that of Calvinistic baptists in two respects:

    1. It does not tell us anything about a particular child – whether that child is in the covenant or only in the ‘sphere of the covenant’ is not known – so there are no known covenant children and the promise is simply to save the elect children – with which a Calvinistic Baptist would agree. The distinctive position of the children, on this view, rests only on the position of the children in the church and the administration of the covenant sign, not on the covenant itself.

    2. The failure to take the concept of covenant-breaking over into the NT when there is no reason to do otherwise is a concession to Baptist hermeneutic in regarding specific NT proof as necessary OR regarding the covenant broken in the OT as something other than the covenant of grace.

    Please excuse this hasty response but I am away this weekend and wanted to say something before I go but would bve glad to continue the correspondence on return, God willing.

    Warmly in Christ,

    David Silversides.

  16. David Silversides Says:

    P.S. This is a link to an audio address in case it may be of interest in clarifying our position on Covenant children.

  17. Nuno Pinheiro (Portugal) Says:

    Dear Rev. Silversides,

    Thank you for your answer and I will look it carefully and hear the audio too.

    I have a situation in Portugal so serious regarding the state of the church of Christ that, although I understand and even agree that it must for the sake of the church to maintain a zelous for truth at any level or degree, makes me think why we see arguments stream to minimize or despise some brethren that show in their lifes for almost a century now what is to believe in a certain way that is very well fundamented in Scripture and have a testemony of faithfullness to reformed tradition and more even to develope in harmony with those positions (we don’t see this in CRC, etc.).

    What seems to me somehow clear when we talk on common grace, conditional covenant, free-offer of the gospel, baptismal regeneration, mass, etc., is a link that unites the external with the internal substance (this is my simple reasoning and without comparing exactly these terms, I hope I can use this and be understood the point I want to make).

    I will read and listen to see if my idea that to harmonize conditional covenant with Romans 9 is or is not to say that although God hated Esau from the womb God had at the same time a covenant of love and grace with him promising both childs the same good and bringing on their both heads the same treats of the covenant. Is not this leaving to each one of this twins the decisive question of who will and who will not maintain the covenant?

    Better study carefully these matters you sent to me and once more try to understand them in a supralapsarian perspective of mine.

    May God bless us with mercy and grace and understanding of His holy ways, remembering we are dust.

    With love in Christ,

  18. Andrew Koerner Says:

    Dear Rev. Silversides,
    I am curious to know how you square the doctrine of a conditional covenant with passages such as Ezekiel 16. This passage clearly demonstrates that God both makes and keeps the covenant, for all His people can ever do by nature is sin and wallow in their own spiritual filth and depravity. Especially the last few verses bring this out. Israel has forsaken God and played the harlot, but God says, “Nevertheless I will remember my covenant with thee in the days of thy youth, and I will establish unto thee an everlasting covenant” (vs. 60). Israel has not even the desire to obey God’s covenant. Only when Jehovah in His mercy and love has compassion on Israel and leads her to repentence does she see the foolishness of her ways and turn again to God (vv.61-63). Israel’s salvation, from beginning to end, is of God. Man cannot fulfill the conditions of the covenant, because all he can ever do by nature is sin and fall short of the glory of God. God has fulfilled all the conditions of the covenant in His Son Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9). Therefore, the good works which the elect perform are not conditions unto their salvation, but the fruits of their being joined to Jesus Christ, as taught in Ephesians 2:10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” Moreover, in the Canons of Dordt, Head II, Rejection of Errors 3 and 4, we find proof that the fathers of the Synod specifically opposed the notion of a conditional covenant. God in no way depends on the sinner to fulfill the conditions of the covenant. If that were the case, salvation, in the end, would be in the power of man to accomplish.

    Andrew Koerner

    • David Silversides Says:

      Apologies for the delay in replying. There is no debate about the fact that man, by nature, is dead in trespasses and sins and cannot repent and believe except by God efficaciously regenerating the heart – something God only does in the elect. God alone makes his covenant effective by enabling the elect seed to keep it through faith in Jesus Christ. The point at issue is whether, in the outworking of God’s eternal decree, he makes a covenant with all the children of believers – promising mercy and forgiveness to those who keep the covenant and threatening greater judgement on the greater guilt than ever of those who break it. The elect are enabled by the Holy Spirit to keep it and the reprobate are not. Deut 31:16 & 20, Jer 11:10 & 31:32, Psalm 78:10 have to have meaning. The older Scottish theologians generally distinguished between the Covenant of Redemption within the Godhead with Christ representing the elect on the one hand and the outworking of that Covenant of Redemtion, in time, through the Covenant of Grace made with men on the other. In the latter, Christ is not a party, but the Mediator and God enters into Covenant with believers and all their seed, but only the elect keep the covenant, by the efeectual grace of God. On Canons of Dordt 1:17, Homer Hoeksema quotes, disapprovingly, the Dutch Reformed theologians Polyander, Thysius and Walleus saying, “…we conclude that the children of believers who die in their infancy must be reckoned among the elect, since the are graciously delivered from this life by God before they have broken the conditions of the covenant” (‘The Voice of Our Fathers’ p.272).Waleus was one of the six men appointed to work on the Dutch Staten Bible and annotations. The Westminster Confession 7:3 states both the conditional promise to all and the unconditional undertaking of God to effectually call only the elect – “…the Covenant of Grace: whereby he freely offereth unto sinners life and salvation by Jesus Christ, requiring of them faith in him, that they may be saved; and promising to give unto all those that are ordained unto life his Holy Spirit, to make them willing and able to believe”.Greetinge, David Silversides.

      • Andrew Koerner Says:

        Dear Rev. Silversides,
        I do not own a copy of Hoeksema’s commentary, and therefore do not know where the quotation of Polyander, Thysius, and Walleus originates. Can you tell me the source? At any rate, it is evidently from elsewhere than the Canons themselves, and thus is not a confessionally binding statement on the Reformed churches. It clearly militates against the teaching of Romans 9:11-13, which proves that Esau was reprobate before he was born. Also, although I have not researched this, it seems unlikely to me that Gomarus, the champion of orthodoxy at the Synod of Dordt, would have endorsed the statement of those three men. I know that there was not perfect doctrinal agreement among all the delagates (just as at the Westminster Assembly), and it seems that those men would have been at odds with Gomarus, a strong supralapsarian.

        Andrew Koerner

  19. David Silversides Says:

    Dear Andrew, The point of the quotation is to show the only ground of the confidence expressed in Canons 1:17, “Since we are to judge of the will of God from his Word, which testifies that the children of believers are holy, not by nature, but in virtue of the covenant of grace, in which they, together with the parents, are comprehended, godly parents have no reason to doubt of the election and salvation of their children, whom it pleaseth God to call out of this life in their infancy”. Hoeksema (both Herman & Homer) do give reason to doubt because the PRC position is that only the elect are in the covenant and we have no way of knowing who they are. The PRC doctrine of the covenant tells you nothing about any particular infant. The correct footing of this statement of the Canons is that the Covenant is made with all the children of believers in that they are brought up under a conditional promise that God will be their God provided they do not break the covenant through unbelief (Psalm 95:7-8). The Covenant child taken in infancy has not broken the covenant so God’s Word stands – He is their God. From this fact of God’s Word, we go on to derive that they must have been regenrated by the Spirit while in this world, having been unconditionally elected in Christ before the foundation of the world. We conclude that the elect among the Covenant seed are either regenerated and taken ro glory in infancy or regerated earlier or later and allowed to live to years when that new nature shows itself in faith and life; whereas the reprobate seed are all allowed to live to years and manifest their true condition in unbelief (like Ishmael & Esau). This is entirely consistant with Romans 9 and the doctrine of unconditional election since all that takes place is according to the sovereign decree of God.

    Herman Hoeksema states, “The Canons are more definitely infralapsarian (Ref Dogmatics p.163); “The Canons, therefore, present very decidedly, the infralapsarian viewpoint. However, it must not be forgotten that the Reformed fathers never condemned the supralapsarian standpoint…” Ref Dog p.164). The Dutch Annotations state, “That God hath appointed his Son for a Mediator, and promiseth eternal life upon condition that we believe in him; and is called the Covenant of Grace…” (In ‘The Argument of the New Testament’). Rutherford was a supralapsarian, but believed God showed love to the reprobate in this life and gives conditional promises addressed to all and saw no conflict in either of these things with the truth of God’s absolute decrees. Christian greetings, David Silversides

    • Andrew Koerner Says:

      Dear Rev. Silversides,
      The problem I see with a conditional covenant, which includes all infants of believers, is that it means that all these infants start out as elect, but whether or not they stay elect depends on their fulfillment of conditions. Those who fail to keep the covenant manifest themselves as being reprobates. My question is, if they manifest themselves to be reprobates in later life, then were they not reprobates to begin with, even in their mother’s womb? What if they had died before birth – would they not still have perished everlastingly? If I am misunderstanding your position, please forive me and show me my wrong, but to my mind, what you have stated concerning the covenant comes perilously close to denying the perseverance of the saints, because it seems to teach that all infants of believing parents start out as elect, while some later fall away from that and lose their salvation.
      Also, your interpretation of Psalm 95:7-8 does not seem to take into account Romans 9:18, which proves that ultimately it is God who hardens the hearts of the reprobate. If Psalm 95 is understood apart from that, then we are saying that the hardening of the heart is an action performed entirely by the reprobate person, and that hardening then becomes the condition upon which God declares them reprobate, as though He must wait on the will of man before determining His next move.
      Lastly, although I was aware of the fact that the Canons are infralapsarian, I did not know that Samuel Rutherford was supralapsarian. However, I find it hard to believe that Rutherford taught that God loves the wicked in this life, especially if by love you mean grace. This militates against the Westminster Confession, 16:7, which says that even the best works of the ungodly cannot merit them God’s favor.

      In Christian Love,
      Andrew Koerner

      • David Silversides Says:

        Thank you Andrew. Let me clarify as follows: The elect were always elect from eternity and the reprobate were and are always reprobate. There is no crossing over whatever from one to the other. Psalm 95 is speaking pf human responsibilty to receive the truth, not of any natural ability which man does not have. I abhor the FV notion of a temporary election.

        However, the covenant of grace made with man on earth is made with believers and all their children in that they are all brought up under the promise oof God in Psalm 95. The reprobate do, without exception, harden their hearts in fulfillment of the decree of God and so break the covenant. The elect do, without exception (being efficaciously renewed by the Holy Spirit), receive the truth in faith and thus keep the covenant and God is their God for ever. (Those elect covenant chidren who die in infancy are renewed by the Holy Spirit, even though there is not opportunity for that to be manifest in faith and life. The general promise to all, however, is the ground upon which we can regard all covenant children dying in infancy as saved (since the covenant is not broken) and if saved, this can only be as the result of God having included them in his elect before the world was made).

        “For there (i.e. in Rom 9:8), the promise is not taken generally for that outward word, by which God conferred his favour upon the reprobate as upon the elect; but must be restricted to that efficacious calling, which he inwardly seals by his Spirit. And that this is the case, is proved without difficulty; for the promise by which the Lord had adopted them all as children, was common to all: and in that promise, it cannot be denied, that eternal salvation is offered to all. What, therefore, can be the meaning of Paul, when he denies that certain persons have any right to be reckoned among the children, except that he is no longer reasoning about the externally offered grace, but about that of which only the elect effectually partake? Here, then, a twofold class of sons presents itself to us, in the church; for since the whole body of the people is gathered together into the fold of God, by one and the same voice, all without exception, are, in this respect, accounted children; the name of Church is applicable in common to them all: but in the innermost sanctuary of God, none others are reckoned the sons of God, than they in whom the promise is ratified by faith. And although the difference flows from the fountain of gratuitous election, whence also faith itself springs; yet, since the counsel of God is in itself hidden from us, we therefore distinguish the true from the spurious children, by the respective marks of faith and of unbelief.” (Calvin’s Commentary on Gen 17:7).

        I’ll try to look out some Rutherford.

        Warm Christian greetings,
        David Silversides.

      • David Silversides Says:

        “We are hence taught to acknowledge no love to be in God, which is not effectual in doing good to the creature; there is no lip-love, no raw well-wishing to the creature which God doth not make good: we know but three sorts of love, that God has to the creature, all the three are like the fruitful womb; there is no miscarrying, no barrenness in the womb of divine love;

        1. He loves all that he has made; so far as to give them a being, to conserve them in being so long as he pleaseth: he had a desire to have Sun, Moon, Stars, Earth, Heaven, Sea, Cloud, Air; he created them out of the womb of love, and out of goodness, and keeps them in being…

        2. There is a second love and mercy, in God, by which he loves all Men and Angels; yea, even his enemies, makes the Sun to shine on the unjust man, as well as the just, and causes dew and rain to fall on the orchard and fields of the bloody and deceitful man, whom the Lord abhors; as Christ teacheth us, (Matt. 5:43-48). Nor doth God miscarry in this love, he desires the eternal being of damned angels and men; he sends the Gospel to many reprobates, and invites them to repentance and with longanimity and forbearance suffereth pieces of froward dust to fill the measure of their iniquity, yet does not the Lord’s general love fall short of what he willeth to them.

        3. There is a love of special election to glory; far less can God come short in the end of this love…” (Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself by Samuel Rutherford, p.476f or p. 440f depending on which edition).

      • Andrew Koerner Says:

        Dear Rev. Silversides,
        Thank you for clarifying your position. However, I still do not like the idea of infants going to heaven because of the fact that they never had a chance to keep or break the covenant. Although you try to reconcile it with God’s sovereignty, it seems like an inconsistent position, because it still leaves room for human merit. In the quotation you give of Calvin, I will not deny that he seems to favor your view of the covenant. However, Calvin never fully developed a doctrine of the covenant, as that was not one of the main issues of his day. Therefore, there are inconsistencies in his writings on this subject, especially in his commentaries. I believe it is in his Jeremiah commentary that he rather strongly denies the teaching of a conditional covenant and speaks of the covenant as being unilateral. I would have to say a similar thing regarding Rutherford. The reason I say this is that he had a strong influence in the Westminster Assembly, which produced the article I referenced earlier. That article (16:7) rather emphatically denies a common grace of God shown to the reprobate. So I think this was an issue that Rutherford did not fully develop in his theology, for if he were a strong believer in common grace, he would have objected to that article.
        I will admit that I do not like the wording Rutherford uses when he says that God “desires the eternal being of damned angels and men…and invites them to repentance”. If by that statement he meant that God sincerely desires the salvation of reprobate men and angels, then I must disagree with him. Moreover, I am inclined to think that this is a point on which the Reformers in the British Isles and on the Continent were not in perfect harmony. I quote as an example Jerome Zanchius: “Now if God invited all men to come to Him, and then shut the door of mercy on any who were desirous of entering, His invitation would be a mockery and unworthy of Himself; but we insist on it, that He does not invite all men to come to Him in a saving way…”; “Since, as was lately observed, the determining will of God being omnipotent cannot be obstructed or made void, it follows that He never did, nor does He now, will that every individual of mankind should be saved. If this was His will, not one single soul could ever be lost (for who hath resisted His will?), and He would surely afford all men those effectual means of salvation, without which it cannot be had” (Jerome Zanchius, “Absolute Predestination”).

        In Christ,
        Andrew Koerner

      • David Silversides Says:

        Hello, Andrew. Covenant infants, who die in infancy, do not merit Heaven by not breaking the Covenant any more than faith merits Heaven for adult believers. Such infants go to Heaven because chosen in Christ from eternity, sovereignly regenerated in time and through Christ’s merits alone. But God has so ordered His covenant with men on earth that godly bereaved parents can be as sure of their departed infants’ salvation as they can of their own – the very point that the Canons are making; God’s Word gives them this ground of confidence. Nothing ‘just happens’ – all is decreed, including which parents a child is born to and how long he lives. This is no different freom His ordaining when and how elect adults outside the visible church shall hear the Gospel and be effectually called.

        Calvin believed in a covenant that includes both conditional promises to more people than the elect and unconditional promises that He will enable the elect only to embrace those promises. It is hardly surprising if he speaks of God’s unilaterally making the Covenant effectual in the elect when commenting on Jer 31 since that is what the passage is speaking of and the fact that covenant-breaking will not be he dominant feature under the new administration (following Christ’s coming into the world) that it was in the Old. What covenant do you think was broken in Jer 31:32?

        Perhaps you could refernce the Zanchius so that I can see it in context. God certainly does not shut the door on any desirous to come – or even those not desirous to come – since the impediment does not lie in the outward call of the Gospel but in the depravity and natural ability of the heart to want to come to Christ – a state which only God, in sovereign grace, can change if He pleases. It is not clear in the first quotation whether Zanchius is speaking of the outward call. I have no difficulty in agreeing with the second quotation as it is speaking of God’s determining will which is always fulfilled (Daniel 4:35, Eph 1:11) compared to His preceptive will which is not (Matt 7:21 & 12:50).

        Brotherly greetings, David Silversides.

      • Andrew Koerner Says:

        Dear Rev. Silversides,
        First, I will try to give you the context of the quotes from Zanchius.
        Both quotations come quite early in the treatise. They are found under Zanchius’ initial observations concerning the will of God. The first quotation comes from the first subheading of Position 4. It is my own belief that Zanchius here refers to the inward call. I base this on the phrase “in a saving way.” God certainly calls all men without exception to repent and believe, and all hear the external call, but only the elect, chosen from eternity, hear the inward call, and are thereby called to God in a saving way.The second quotation is from Position 8, consisting of the first full paragraph.
        Regarding Jeremiah 31:32, I would say that the covenant of grace was in view, for although Christ was not manifested as yet, the types and shadows of the Old Testament nevertheless pointed to Him. Those who rebelled against God in the wilderness blasphemed against His gracious covenant of friendship in Christ,
        for they desired to be the friends of the world (Egypt) rather than the friends of God. Nevertheless, the reprobates in Israel were never the recipients of God’s covenant blessings, but were only outwardly members of the covenant (Romans 9:6).
        I am not so sure about your interpretation of Calvin’s doctrine of the covenant, but I do admit that he made statements from time to time that were in harmony with your covenant view. Nevertheless, as I said before, Calvin was inconsistent on this, because the doctrine of the covenant was not at the heart of the battle in his day. Although I imagine you may have read it, Prof. Engelsma gave
        a rather lengthy analysis of Calvin’s doctrine of the covenant in the
        April 2010 issue of the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal. I
        believe it has since made its way into book form. If you have not yet read it, I would encourage you to do so.

        In Christ,
        Andrew Koerner

      • David Silversides Says:

        Thanks, Andrew. I’ve checked the Zanchius. I agree he is speaking of the inward call and have no problem with it or the other quotation as I said last time. “All those whom God has predestinated unto life, and those only, he is pleased, in his appointed and accepted time, effectually to call…” (West. Conf. 10:1).

        I don’t think Calvin was incosistent at all, he simply did not hold to the PRC presuposition that conditional promise must be a concession to Arminianism. This is not the case. To quote from my own book on the subject:

        “More broadly, it is not incompatible with the absolute sovereignty of God over all his creatures and all their actions, for God to say what he will do if someone acts in a particular way, since this does not contradict the fact that God has decreed what they actually will do. For example, Deuteronomy 28:1, 15 contain an ‘if’ of conditionality, not of uncertainty of the divine decree. God even sometimes says what he would have done if a person or people had acted differently (2 Kings 13:18f., Psa. 81:13-16, 1 Sam. 13:13f.. All that God could possibly have decreed to happen, as well as what he has unchangeably actually decreed, is always before his infinite mind.” (Free Offer: Biblical & Reformed p.61ff.).

        If it is the covenant of grace that is in view in Jer 31:32, how could it be broken by the reprobate if they were never in it nor had any promises addressed to them? Heb 4:2 tells us they fell in the wilderness because of unbelief of the Gospel and warns the NT Church against following their example and employs Psalm 95 for that purpose (see Heb 3:10-19). In Christ, David Silversides

      • Andrew Koerner Says:

        Dear Rev. Silversides,
        First of all, I struggle to understand how the free offer of the gospel can be reconciled with the quotations from Zanchius. When Zanchius says that God does not invite all men to come to Him “in a saving way”, he means that God is not gracious to all who hear the preaching of the gospel. Yet, the free offer teaches that in the preaching, God is indeed gracious to all who hear, elect and reprobate alike. How can this be? Is not the preaching of the gospel a savor of life unto life for the elect and a savor of death unto death for the reprobate? Maybe you have a different understanding of what the offer teaches. My understanding of it comes largely from studying the teaching of the Christian Reformed Synod of 1924 in its first point of common grace. But if the Presbyterian conception of the offer is fundamentally different, please show me.
        Secondly, with respect to covenant breaking, let me say first of all that I hope you do not expect me to think that Jeremiah 31:32 refers to a covenant of works, the very existence of which I reject. The passage refers to the covenant of grace. The covenant breakers in the wilderness were indeed in the sphere of the covenant (for they were “of Israel” according to Romans 9:6), and were indeed required to keep that covenant. However, the covenant was only revealed to them – they were not recipients of its blessings, for then God would have been showering the reprobate with His love and grace (a notion that is strongly repudiated by Psalm 73 and Proverbs 3:33). When the reprobate, hardened in God’s sovereignty, despise God’s covenant, they must be seen as covenant breakers, for they refuse to walk in God’s ways, which are absolutely foreign to them. Only God’s elect seed (“Israel”) are recipients of God’s covenant blessings, one of which is that they keep the covenant by God’s grace.

        Cordially in Christ,
        Andrew Koerner

  20. David Silversides Says:

    Andrew, I thought we both understood the Zanchius to be referring to the effectual call which is confined to the elect. If he were referring to the Gospel preached as not including an invitation to all who here, then I would disagree and so would Calvin.

    I think, rather than clog up Donald’s blog any further, if you would like me to send a copy of my book on the subject I would be happy to do so if you let me have your address by emailing me on I suggest this as you raise most of the distinctives of the PRC and it would take too much space to enter into them here. Suffice to say that I do not think that any of the PRC distinctives were held by Calvin or that anyone with PRC views can subscribe the Westminster Confession and Catechisms. Though less obviously, I don’t think that the PRC view is really that of the Three Forms of Unity either. Their doctrines of Covenant as Relationship, eternal justification. anti-common grace/free offer stand together as a system. The presupposition that absolute predestination rules out Divine kindness being shown to the reprobate in this life is unwarranted and does not have Scriptural support. This is not meant unkindly but it is my honest assessment.

    In Christ,

    David Silversides.

    • Nuno Pinheiro (Christian Presbyterian Church of Portugal) Says:

      Dear Rev. Silversides,

      First of all, I ask you to understand my words as someone that has great regard for the truth of God and that also humbly present my toughts here before brethren that are more deeply aquanted with reformed teology and in your respect as a Minister of Christ.

      I have to admit that when I first read Hanko, Engelsma and Hoeksema’s articles I was very impressed by the depth and clarity of their expositions. This men apointed me to dig deeper into the Scripture and also into the reformed confessions than I has before. This also included an increasing will to study and get as much reformed literature as I could from the reformation period, as Calvin’s Institutes and Turretin’s Institutes, as well as commentaries of our creeds (even those that professed Common Grace believes as Williamson does). One of the things I admire mostly in PRC distinctives is the solid fundamentation on Scripture and that they clearly answer all objections and never run from debate. They have books and more books on each subject (confrontation and exposition of errors should be simple), they do have also their commentaries on Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dort as you surely know – this should be quite easy to expose also their aleged departure from these reformed creeds and correction of their errors with the following apealing to debate and repentance!

      I agree they have a system of theology, and I even go further to say that this system is very calvinistic and in a deeper level than most of contemporary calvinists in a way that they don’t follow the man but the God of Calvin – as Calvin did with Agustine and others in the orthodox tradition and line of history. Hoeksema wrote a Reformed Dogmatics and it is not dubious in meaning but frontal in pointing out the disagreements with many of the famous court of Reformed Theology. So, this is not the tactics of an wolf that disguise in the shadows or the walk of those that love darkness and are children of the night.

      I don’t think either that they need my defense or even delight in it or in other person that agrees with them, and even I don’t feel I am really the most indicated person to do it well. But almost a century later of the controversy of Common Grace (a term that has multiple definitions and don’t include necessarilly Free Offer) I feel that it is about time someone replies to Hoeksema’s pamphlet Triple Breach and stop apealing anacronicly to Calvin’s portions of the Institutes where the chapters deal under the theme of Providence to talk of a love and grace of God for the reprobate.

      When you affirm that “The presupposition that absolute predestination rules out Divine kindness being shown to the reprobate in this life is unwarranted and does not have Scriptural support” are you forgeting that Calvin states that “Let him, therefore, who would beware of such unbelief, always bear in mind, that there is no random power, or agency, or motion in the creatures, who are so governed by the secret councel of God, THAT NOTHING HAPPENS BUT WHAT HE HAS KNOWINGLY AND WILLINGLY DECREED.”? (ICR, book 1, ch 16.3) This means that the same love God has in eternity for those He elected to salvation, God manifests in time in His children of His love! And it means also that the majesty of God’s justice to punish evil doers, son’s of wrath (AS OUR BIBLE PUTS IT) manifests His disgust for sin in time as well in His eternal decree. Calvin says “providence consists in action”, so we can put here rain, sun, air, and every other micro and macro thing that is essencial to every creature to live. Can these good things carry in themselves the intentions of the Almighty? Can these things be viewed in such a selective way that we don’t see that they can also drawn, make skin cancer, blow intire cities? Can we then say to the victims in spite of their faith in Christ that this was a manifestation of God’s hatred from them? Can we walk the walk and talk the talk that we have a Common Disgrace in the world also? Can we sin against God and say that His majesty never hates, never angers, never punishes, that He never destroy out of His love? Can we keep the theory and apply it to both sides of the coin?

      I am not saying, and as far as I know none of the PRC advogates say that we don’t have common benefits from God – we sure all do! Just being alive is one great proof! But, does Scripture reveals that God has the same end for every common means that He bestows upon man? How can we say that if Christ Himself said “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloke for their sin.” as a clear proof that the Major Gift of all gifts, the Son of God was given to all but with different end in view! Christ is saying that some will get even more debtfull to God because of His coming and speaking to them!

      So I conclude saying that even Turretin clarifies more deeply what is Goodness, Love and grace of God in such a way that he puts grace above all the others stating that “rebelious servants, who so far from deserving it, are on the other hand most worthy of hatred and punishment”. And Turretin also clears very well about the preaching of the gospel (let me use the same verse of John 15 used above to ascribe to this theme also the same conclusion in regard to a delusion on the intention of God to save the reprobate), as Paul puts it in 2 Cor 2:15-16, that is a sweet savour of christ tin them that are saved and savour of death unto death to them that perish.

      Who is sufficient for these things?

      PRC has almost a century of testemony of preaching the faithful gospel of Jesus Christ, in radio programs, magazines, debates, books (that I still receive as gifts even today without deserving even one of them), articles, translations, internet, etc. Can we call them atrofied by Hiper-Calvinism? Can we acuse them of being anabaptists and sterilized by a theology that restrains them as church to accomplish the great comission? Are those that acuse them in good spirit regarding them as a brother that is in error?
      Sometimes, regarding all that is said, I don’t understand and fear that they are not!

      That God allows us to live in peace and trough His grace walking aconding to the musure of what we were called to know and understand of Him and His marvelous work in the world.

      May the Lord bless you and help you fulfill your call as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

      Yours in Christ,
      Nuno Pinheiro

  21. Gavin Vermeulen Says:

    Would you consider the Sum of Saving Knowledge then to be dissimilar to the Canons of Dordt or on the whole in accord?

  22. Andrew Koerner Says:

    The Sum of Saving Knowledge is more than dissimilar to the Canons of Dordt. Indeed, it militates against the Canons when it teaches that God’s covenant is a bargain. That is downright reprehensible, and the Canons, especially the Rejection of Errors under Head 2, will have none of that sort of language. Although the vast majority of Presbyterians will object to my analysis, there are those who have seen the Sum in a different light. For example, Scottish Presbyterian theologian C.G. M’Crie soundly condemned the Sum’s view of the covenant in his book, “The Confessions of the Church of Scotland: Their Evolution in History”. Thankfully, the Sum of Saving Knowledge does not have confessional status, and is therefore binding on no one of Reformed or Presbyterian persuasion.

    Andrew Koerner

  23. Kirk Says:

    Throwing my limited knowledge out there. Hoeksema did not reject I don’t think the “free-offer” of the gospel in the sense that it must be preached to all without discrimination. However, He did reject it in the sense that the gospel call was actually God calling the reprobate. There is a difference between the general calling of the gospel which demands faith and repentance by all and the effectual calling of the gospel which by the Spirit produces faith/repentance. With that I have agreed with Andrew Koerner. Also there are probably a list of supralapsarians who did hold to a form or another view of conditional covenant. Kersten is probably one. Anyways I know that Engelsma says that there are means to the covenant and so to say that the covenant is unconditional does not take away the means of the covenant.

  24. kenschristmastrees Says:

    if u believe and trust in Christ you will go to Heaven,but if you don’t believe and trust in Christ you will go to hell—y is it that most all people of this age that preach the first part of this statement seldom,if ever, preach the second part of the statement, that would be equally true, if the first part of the statement were true?

  25. kenschristmastrees Says:

    i recently heard hoeksema’s sermon on the philippian jailer{what must I do to be saved} and in this sermon I thought he said Paul was al ready saved and converted before his apparent miraculous “conversion” recorded in Acts when Christ spoke to him.If this were true does Hoeksema think Paul was saved as he was killing Christians??

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