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Geerhardus Vos: Confessional Revision

Danny E. Olinger

William Henry Green’s death on February 10, 1900, marked the end of an era at Princeton Seminary. The 1851 General Assembly had appointed the twenty-four-year-old Green, then pastor of Central Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, as Oriental and Old Testament professor. Over the next five decades, Green served at Princeton with Archibald Alexander and Joseph Allison Alexander at the end of their ministries, with Charles Hodge in the prime of his ministry, and then with Benjamin Warfield and Geerhardus Vos at the start of their service.

Green’s impact upon Vos was undeniable. He not only had recommended the publication of Vos’s first book in 1885, The Mosaic Origin of the Pentateuchal Codes, but also had recruited Vos personally to fill the inaugural chair of Biblical Theology at Princeton. Charles Augustus Briggs, Union Seminary’s choice in 1890 to fill their chair of Biblical Theology, had maintained that the modern exegesis of the Bible had exposed the deficiencies of the traditional Presbyterian views on systematic theology, Scripture, and confessional Calvinism. Green believed the man needed for the new position of Biblical Theology at Princeton was someone with exegetical and philosophical ability, yet committed to the cause of Scripture and confessional Calvinism. In Green’s judgment, Vos stood above everyone else, and Princeton should not be satisfied with anything less than his acceptance of the position.[1]

When Vos finally relented to Green’s pursuit and accepted Princeton’s offer in May 1893, Green and Warfield had been fully engaged with Briggs for the previous five years. In 1888 the Princeton faculty had elected Warfield, who had just finished his first year teaching at Princeton, to serve with Briggs as co-editor of The Presbyterian Review.[2] The co-editing arrangement between Warfield and Briggs lasted less than a year. Warfield resigned after objecting to the content and tone of Briggs’s report on the 1889 General Assembly that would appear in the October 1889 issue of the Review.[3]

What had upset Warfield was Briggs’s negative reaction to the work of the Committee to Revise the Proof-texts of the Church’s Standards that had been erected the previous year. Briggs noted with concern that Green was the only Old Testament exegete on the Committee. He also lamented that Green was joined by two other conservative New Testament exegetes. It would have been wiser, Briggs argued, for the Assembly to have added “recognized exponents” of the newer exegesis.[4]

Warfield also did not like Briggs’s commentary on whether the Church should revise its Confession of Faith. Fifteen of the two hundred and nine presbyteries in the Presbyterian Church had sent overtures to the 1889 Assembly to revise the Confession of Faith. The assembly answered with two questions for the presbyteries: (1) Do you desire a revision of the Westminster Confession of Faith? and (2) if so, in what respects and to what extent?[5]

Those in favor of revision cited a dissatisfaction with what they thought was the overly Calvinistic teaching of Chapter III, “Of God’s Eternal Decree” and Chapter X, “Of Effectual Calling.” There was also a perceived lack of emphasis upon the love of God and human responsibility. Briggs thought it was hard to determine exactly how far the movement for revision had gone in the church, but he believed he knew which side had the momentum. He wrote:

The opposition to the motion in the Assembly was so slight, and the action itself was so hearty, that it would appear that the movement has already assumed great dimensions, especially among the younger and more silent members of the Presbyteries, and that the leaders of the Church have come to recognize the fact.[6]

Still a professor at the Theological School in Grand Rapids at the time, Vos’s reaction to what had happened at the 1889 General Assembly was one of alarm. He wrote Abraham Kuyper that he believed that the Reformed faith was in the balance with a potential revision. “The issue is whether she will officially remove the Calvinistic doctrine of election from the symbols of Westminster and replace them with Arminian formulas.”[7] Vos then added that he believed there was a side in the Presbyterian Church that would resist the revision, but he was afraid “that side is in the minority and only time will tell how deeply it is rooted in the Reformed faith.”[8]

The same day that Vos wrote Kuyper, he also wrote Herman Bavinck and expressed the same concern. “If the revision movement goes on as it began, then the symbols of Westminster will be changed in an Arminian tone and I fear that the right wing will put up with it. The Presbyterian Church finds itself in a very critical period.”[9]

At the 1890 General Assembly, which met at Saratoga, New York, the responses of the presbyteries to the two questions regarding a potential revision of the Confession of Faith were reported. One hundred and thirty-four presbyteries favored a revision, including twenty-five presbyteries who even presented models of a new creed. Sixty-eight presbyteries answered that they were entirely satisfied with the Confession of Faith. Sixty-seven other presbyteries insisted that no changes should be made that would impair the system of doctrine taught in the confession.[10]

After the conclusion of the assembly, Vos updated Kuyper on what had happened. Rather than revise the Confession of Faith, the assembly erected a special committee to answer the objections raised against the teaching of the confession. The assembly instructed the committee that the Calvinistic character of the Confession of Faith had to stay intact. Vos, however, was not comforted by this safeguard. In words that reflected a knowledge of Charles Hodge’s position regarding the short-sidedness of the reunion on the part of Old School Presbyterians following the Civil War, Vos wrote:

In my opinion, however, that does not matter much. It is not easy to say how strict or broad the term “Calvinistic System” has to be taken. Some are (though themselves orthodox) broad-minded enough to include Amyraldianism in it. Also the terms “spirit of the Confession” and “system of doctrine” are used so often in all kinds of ways in the last years, even at the signing of the creed, and they are interpreted and practiced so freely, that such a phrase, added as a restriction with the revision assignment, cannot inspire much confidence. In 1871, when after a separation of thirty-four years the reunion between Old School and New School occurred, the following three points were removed: (1) universal or individual redemption; (2) direct or indirect imputation of Adam’s guilt; (3) moral or natural impotence of fallen man. At that time they permitted a non-Reformed way of thinking to exist within the church, and what they have justified in principle they will not be able to stop in its consequences.[11]

Part of the reason that Vos was informing Kuyper about what had happened was that Kuyper a few months earlier had sent his article, “Calvinism and Confessional Revision,” to Vos to translate for publication in the Presbyterian and Reformed Review.[12] After Vos began working on the translation, it was clear that the article exceeded the allotted word count that Warfield as the editor had set. When Warfield received the finished translation, he told Vos that it would be impossible for the Review to print so long a paper. Warfield asked Vos if he would approach Kuyper about the difficulty, and to see if Kuyper would give Vos permission to condense the article.

What Vos preferred was that Kuyper would let him know which parts could be shortened or eliminated. Still, Vos did give his opinion to Kuyper on what he deemed essential to the paper. “If I may say something in this regard, I would like to remark that the answer on the fourth question ought to stay and also that I would frown upon a change in the more theoretical and abstract part in the whole article.”[13]

Kuyper’s fourth question asked, “To what conditions is the revision of these symbols, in the case of a progressive development of Calvinism, to be bound?”[14] In the answer, Kuyper rehearsed the debate about revision that had occurred between the Calvinists and the Arminians at the 1618 Synod of Dordt. Neither side at Dordt questioned the right to revise the creeds. The question concerned the manner. The Arminians argued that confessions were human products that could be amended at any time. The Calvinists maintained that the Lord in his providential governing of all things had created more than an ordinary movement in the life of his church. The Synod of Dordt agreed with the Calvinist position and added that any complaint against the confession must be made on the basis of the Word of God. If it were found that the Word and confessions differed, then the churches must enter into revision in order that the sovereign rights of the Word of God over the confessions might continue intact and inviolable.[15]

Kuyper expanded upon Dordt’s ruling and said that four conditions must be met for revision of a Reformed confession on the ground of a richer spiritual development. First, there must be a richer unfolding of the Calvinistic principle; second, there must be near unanimous testimony of the churches for revision; third, Calvinistic theology must furnish the churches with the means for revision; and, fourth, the foreign Reformed churches must also be agreed.

Kuyper did not believe these conditions for revision in Europe at the current time were satisfied. He wrote, “If anything then this is certain, that the most recent development of theology, starting from Schleiermacher, does not carry out the Calvinist principles at all.”[16] The time for a revision “will not arrive until after our Churches shall have succeeded in purifying their atmosphere of heterogeneous elements.”[17] Kuyper also indicated that he would also feel duty bound to dissuade those in America in favor of revising the Westminster Confession.

As Vos was corresponding with Kuyper about the potential confessional revision, he was also finishing his Reformed Dogmatics. In it Vos wrote about the importance of creeds for the church and warned against rash revisions that would change what a church taught.

A church, if one wishes to reason in the abstract, can exist without confessional documents, and has existed without such. These, however, were exceptional situations. It is impossible to guide someone though Scripture in its entirety or to ask him his opinions concerning the whole of Scripture. The essential things must be gathered together in order that the church may show how it understands Scripture in the light of the Spirit. The authority of these creeds is always bound to Scripture; they are susceptible to improvement, but may not be lightly revised, inasmuch as they are not a compendium of theology but the ripe fruits of the spiritual developments of the church, sometimes obtained through a long struggle. A true revision does not tear down the old but explains and confirms it and further illumines it in connection with new times and circumstances. But it remains true that the Scripture is the norma normans [norming norm]. The confession the norma normata [normed norm].[18]

The revisionist movement slowed greatly the next year when Briggs became embroiled in controversy over his decidedly modern views regarding the inspiration and authority of Scripture. The 1891 General Assembly vetoed his appointment to the Chair of Biblical Theology at Union Seminary by a 449 to 60 vote. Two years later, Briggs was brought to trial and suspended from the ministry by the 1893 General Assembly. At the same assembly, none of the proposed twenty-eight amendments to the Confession of Faith received the necessary two-thirds majority vote for approval.

Although things were quiet in the Presbyterian Church regarding revision for the rest of the decade, the fact that eighteen of the twenty-eight overtures for amendment had been supported by a majority of presbyteries indicated that the issue was not going to fade away.[19] A little more than three months after the death of Green, who had been the unquestioned leader of the conservative opposition to the revision in the early 1890s, the issue rose again at the 1900 General Assembly. Thirty-seven of the 252 presbyteries sent overtures for revision to the Confession of Faith. In response, the assembly appointed a “Committee of Fifteen” to study the issue, receive recommendations from the presbyteries, and to report to the 1901 General Assembly. Benjamin Harrison, who had served as the twenty-third president of the United States, and standing Supreme Court justice John Harlan, were appointed to the Committee of Fifteen, as was Benjamin Warfield. Warfield, however, declined the opportunity to serve on the committee. He declared it grieved him to see the Presbyterian Church “spending its energies in the vain attempt to lower its testimony to suit the ever-changing sentiment of the world around it.”[20]

Once organized, the Committee of Fifteen sent four questions to the presbyteries:

  1. Do you desire a revision of our Confession of Faith? or
  2. Do you desire a supplemental explanatory statement? or
  3. Do you desire to supplement our present Doctrinal Standards with a briefer statement? or
  4. Do you desire the dismissal of the whole subject?

The Biblical Importance of the Doctrine of Preterition

Vos immediately wrote on the subject for The Presbyterian, whose editorial leadership opposed the revision.[22] The topic he chose was “The Biblical Importance of the Doctrine of Preterition.” The doctrine of preterition concerns the non-election of individuals to salvation. The proposed revisions, defining God as a God of love only, would remove preterition from the confession.

In the article’s opening lines, Vos made clear why he believed the revision movement did not bode well for the future of the Presbyterian Church. Those urging revision were not making a serious appeal to the Scriptures for the changes proposed. He stated, “One of the gravest symptoms of the revision movement in the Presbyterian Church today consists in the absence of serious appeal to scriptural authority for the changes of confessional statement that are advocated.”[23] Public sentiment, and not the infallible Word of God, had assumed the role of the recognized rule of faith. Vos argued:

Consequently there is reason to fear that the spirit in which revision is sought forebodes greater evil to the church than any material modifications of the creed to which revision may lead. Even if the Calvinistic system of doctrine embodied in our standards were seriously mutilated in result of the present movement, so long as the great body of believers feel themselves in conscience bound to yield unquestioning faith to the Bible, there is always hope for a rehabilitation of the principles temporarily abandoned. But when once the sense of allegiance to the Word of God as the only authoritative rule of faith has become weakened, or, while still recognized in theory has ceased to be a living force in the minds of believers, then the hope of a return to the truth once forsaken is reduced to a minimum.[24]

To prove his point, Vos explained the modern dislike of the doctrine of preterition. This doctrine was thought by many to be only a logical inference and not part of biblical teaching. Vos not only argued that it was a biblical teaching, but also presented three reasons why it was essential to the system of doctrine.

First, the Bible subsumes all things under the sovereign decree of God. The unbelief on the part of some in rejecting the gospel is as much the subject of the divine decree as the faith by which others believe the gospel and are saved.

Second, the particular terms found in Scripture regarding the divine decree that speak to the bypassing of some are as strong and unequivocal as those used in regard to the salvation of the elect. It was God acting in result of his eternal will, not his willing in advance of his temporal act.

Third, election brings into view the understanding that there is a discrimination implied in the divine choice of some to eternal life. This idea cannot be completed without positing at the same time the doctrine of preterition. Vos wrote, “For this reason it is an utterly futile endeavor to attempt to construe a formula which shall adequately reproduce the scriptural doctrine of election, and yet leave unexpressed the correlated doctrine of preterition.”[25]

In closing, Vos stressed the practical importance of this doctrine in the exaltation of the grace of God. It impresses upon believers “the conviction of the absolutely gracious character of their redemption.”[26] Salvation is of God. It has nothing to do with anything meritorious in man. Rhetorically, Vos asked, “Can it be safe for any church to erase from her creed a mode of expressing the divine grace, which God Himself has used to instruct us, on the plea that she deems its use unpopular and inexpedient? Shall man be wiser than God?[27]

1901 General Assembly

When the 1901 General Assembly convened that May in Philadelphia, the Committee of Fifteen reported. The majority report of the committee recommended a comprehensive revision that included both amendments to the Confession of Faith and a new brief statement of faith to stand side by side with the Confession of Faith and Larger and Shorter Catechisms.

The minority report of the committee was in favor of revision, but only to specific chapters of the Confession of Faith. It sought to eliminate those statements that a majority of Presbyterians found objectionable, but without harm to the system of doctrine.

When the three-day debate on the floor of the assembly opened, those opposing revision of the Confession of Faith moved a resolution to dismiss. The motion to dismiss was defeated by a margin of three to one in a standing vote. The recommendation of the minority report then became the main motion. In the final session before recess on Saturday, May 25, it was defeated as 230 men voted for it and 270 men against it.[28]

On Monday when the assembly resumed, a substitute was moved in the place of the adoption of the recommendations of the majority report. The substitute was that the assembly appoint a committee to prepare for the next assembly a brief statement of the Reformed Faith, prepare amendments of Confession of Faith Chapter III (Of God’s Eternal Decree), Chapter X (Of Effectual Calling), chapter XVI (Of Good Works), chapter XXII (Of Lawful Oaths and Vows) and chapter XXV (Of the Church), and add new statements concerning the love of God for all men, missions, and the Holy Spirit. The substitute closed with the statement, “It being understood that the revision shall in no way impair the integrity of the system of doctrine set forth in our Confession and taught in Holy Scriptures.”[29] The substitute passed overwhelmingly.

The Scriptural Doctrine of the Love of God

As the members of the Presbyterian Church received the news of the action of its general assembly that summer, Vos was preparing for the opening convocation address for the ninetieth session of Princeton Theological Seminary. In the address, “The Scriptural Doctrine of the Love of God,” Vos exposed the confessional revisionists’ lack of appeal to Scripture. According to Vos, the revisionists possessed an exegetical shallowness that resulted in a non-biblical understanding of the divine attribute of the love of God. Sadly, in the modern church there had developed “a widespread demand that God’s love, and nothing but his love, shall be made the keynote of every message Christianity has to bring to the world.”[30]

Vos attributed this mindset to a shift among Christians from an emphasis on the intellect to an emphasis on the will and emotion. In previous generations, knowing God was tied to glorifying God, which was why “the natural tendency was to make this knowledge as comprehensive and as many-sided as possible—to have it mirror the full content of the divine nature, and not merely a single one of its perfections.”[31] Whatever faults may be charged against the intellectualism of the church when orthodoxy reigned supreme, that is, when the Westminster Standards were produced in the seventeenth century, the church at least appreciated the infinite complexity and richness of God.

The music of that theology may not always please modern ears, because it seems lacking in sweetness; but it ranged over a wider scale and made better harmonies than the popular strains of today. On the other hand, it is plain that, where the religious interest is exclusively concentrated upon the will, and entirely exhausts itself in attempts at solving the concrete, practical problems of life, no strong incentive will exist for reflecting upon any other aspect of the nature of God than His love, because all that is required of God is that He shall serve as the norm and warrant for Christian philanthropic effort.[32]

He then added the ominous note, “It is a well-known fact that all heresy begins with being a partial truth. So it is in the present case.”[33]

Vos realized after this initial trumpet blast that the objection would be that no one could possibly argue against the belief that God is love. He assured his audience that he was not denying the importance of the love of God. But, it was possible to overemphasize the love of God to the neglect of other biblical doctrines, especially the sense of sin and the necessity of Christ’s substitutionary atonement and justification.

Although the assembly had taken pains to assure members of the church that proposed revision would not harm the integrity of the confession’s system of doctrine, Vos believed this was an empty claim if the love of God were made the supreme maxim. There would be not only a displacement of the previous balance of the truth, but also a continuing endeavor to justify this new belief by a corresponding reconstruction in time of the entire system of doctrine.

Vos illustrated how this was the case with Ritschlian theology, which Vos believed was responsible for the push among liberal Presbyterians for a revision of the traditional formulations. The primacy of the love of God and the restriction of religion to the will are the supreme tenets to whose sway the religious consciousness is made subject. The content of theology would inevitably turn from what God has objectively and supernaturally revealed concerning himself to what can enter into man’s subjective religious experience. The old names for the attributes of God are retained, but the content has been changed. The omnipresence of God means that God’s love can help anyone anywhere. Righteousness becomes the consistency of God’s love in saving. The kingdom of God ceases to be a kingdom of redemption, but rather is the totality of the moral relationships that the divine love prescribes for us.

The older theology was exceedingly careful in how it handled the doctrine of the love of God. The primordial love that existed among the Trinity was distinguished from the ectypical love that went out to the creatures. The manifestation of God’s love in saving his own, “rising in its absoluteness and sovereignty above every possibility of being either originated or checked or extinguished by aught in the creature,”[34] was upheld in its uniqueness against other manifestations of God’s love of a more common character.

Given the concrete significance that these issues had assumed in the confessional crisis, Vos declared that it would not seem amiss to review the scriptural doctrine of the love of God. Looking first at the Old Testament teaching, Vos stated that up to the book of Deuteronomy, no explicit use is made of the word love to designate the attitude of God toward his own. This did not mean, however, that the concept was wanting.

Man is said to have been made in the image of God, and obviously the underlying idea is that in his very constitution he is adapted and designed for communion with God. The entire mode of God’s seeking our first parents immediately after the fall reveals the most tender care and solicitude. In the promise that enmity will be put between the serpent and the woman and their respective seeds, the pledge of friendship with Him who puts this enmity is implicitly contained.[35]

This pledge of friendship was seen in God’s love for his chosen people, Israel. The book of Deuteronomy in particular put special emphasis upon the elective character of this love. It was not so much that God loves his people, but that God had set his love upon them to the exclusion of all other nations. This love springs from God independently of any qualities, ethical or otherwise, inherent in Israel. This is why Israel is exhorted to love God alone.

But, the Old Testament witness did not reduce the character of God to terms of his love for the creature. He was also a consuming fire. If God did not punish sin, he would not be himself, since his righteousness and wrath are necessary elements in his nature. From the Law to the Prophets in the Old Testament, the love of God was never allowed to swallow up God’s righteous justice.

In the New Testament, the teaching of the love of God occupied a central and controlling place, but not so as the other attributes of the divine character were reduced to the element of love. “While Jesus invites us to love the heavenly Father, He, on the other hand, also exhorts us to fear the God who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell.”[36] Vos concluded that as long as the church recognized the doctrine of eternal punishment as an integral part of Jesus’s message, then it will also have to admit that he knows of a relation between God and man determined by the principle not of love, but of justice.

Nevertheless, the theme of the gracious love of God was a principle theme of Jesus’s preaching. In order to appreciate why Jesus made it central, Vos stated that the historical circumstances must be understood. In Judaism, religion had been put on the basis of a commercial exchange with God. Over against this misuse it was necessary to awaken in man the fact that God is personally interested in man, and lovingly gives himself to man, and desires to be loved in return. “By taking our Lord’s gospel out of its historic environment and by refusing to construe it in harmony with the larger movement of revelation as a whole, we may be easily led to impute to Him principles which He would have repudiated.”[37]

Vos continued, stating that, from a biblico-theological point of view, Paul did not see the love and righteousness of God as mutually exclusive. “On Christ as the substitute of sinners the love and righteousness of God terminated in perfect harmony, both so far as God and the Saviour’s own religious appreciation were concerned.”[38]

Rather than lessening the doctrines of predestination and election as some revisionists proposed in order to accommodate the love of God, Vos argued that the scriptural doctrine of the love of God was closely connected to these doctrines. God’s electing choice was rooted in love, which was why it was “impossible to maintain that the decree of predestination has no bearing whatever on the question of the love of God, as if from the totality of mankind he selected certain persons to be saved with a choice resting on ground unknown.”[39]

Vos finished the address with a warning of what would happen if the Presbyterian Church revised its Confession of Faith to introduce the doctrine of the universal redemptive love of God. First, it would lessen God’s special love for his people. It is this form of love, not God’s general benevolence, that the Bible everywhere emphasizes and magnifies. Secondly, the Scripture did not teach that God’s love for those intended to become his own was the same as his love for wider groups of humanity. Every revision that would obscure this fundamental distinction ought to be at the outset rejected as unbiblical. “The divine love for the elect is different not only in degree but specifically from all the other forms of love, because it involves a purpose to save, of which all the other forms fall short.”[40]

Vos argued that if the Presbyterian Church wanted to go in the Amyraldian direction of ascribing to God a universal redemptive love, then it should understand the consequences.[41] Amyraldianism made the special relation of God to the elect a secondary consideration. The love of God for his own becomes an afterthought and loses the better part of its value. Vos urged the greatest caution with any revision of the Confession of Faith that would give confessional expression to the Amyraldian doctrine. He said:

The fact that the one historic attempt to reduce the principle we have been considering to a theological formula has been a signal failure, ought to fill the church of today with great humility and make her proceed with extreme caution in the task which, wisely or unwisely, she has set herself; the more so since, as we have seen, the air is rife with extravagant unCalvinistic, unscriptural notions on the subject.[42]

Vos closed with the admonition to the Princeton students that the church must preach the good news to all, but the church must also never forget that the secret things belong to the Lord. Those things which are revealed belong to believers and their children and are to be obeyed.

Three months after the address, it appeared as the lead article in the January 1902 issue of the Presbyterian and Reformed Review. Still, it was apparent that the momentum in the Presbyterian Church was for some sort of change to the Confession of Faith. When the general assembly gathered in New York City on May 15, 1902, the excitement over the report of the Special Committee on the Revision to the Confession of Faith was topped only by the appearance of President Theodore Roosevelt. Addressing the assembly at Carnegie Hall in celebration of one hundred years of organized Presbyterian home missions activity, President Roosevelt, a member of the Dutch Reformed Church, recalled his own personal affiliation and affection for the Presbyterian Church having attended the Madison Square Presbyterian Church in New York City until the age of sixteen.[43]

The assembly determined to send to the presbyteries eleven overtures for approval, including a declaratory statement that addressed chapter 3, “Of God’s Eternal Decree” and chapter 10, “Of Effectual Calling,” and adding two new chapters, “Chapter 34: Of the Holy Spirit” and “Chapter 35: Of the Love of God and Missions.” The recommendations also included textual changes regarding the sin of refusing to take an oath, the good works of the unregenerate, and the labelling of the Pope as the antichrist.

The declaratory statement did what Vos had warned against. The statement explained that chapter 3, “Of God’s Eternal Decree” was not in conflict with the teaching that God loves all mankind. It also said that the phrase “elect infants” in chapter 10, “Of Effectual Calling,” should not be understood as teaching that there were infants who die in infancy who are lost. The added chapter 35 also expressed what Vos believed was contrary to the teaching of the Word of God, the belief that God loved all mankind.

The presbyteries responded with approval to the eleven overtures, and the revisions were adopted by the 1903 General Assembly. Having lost the fight, Vos did not comment upon the revisions either in correspondence or his writings. His attention had turned to finishing the book that would prove to be perhaps his most popular work, The Teaching of Jesus Concerning the Kingdom of God and the Church.

Endnotes

[1] Green wrote to Vos, “We feel that interests of the utmost consequence to religion and to the church are in jeopardy. If it were not for the present theological crisis and the position that Princeton holds before the church, the case would be very different. If it was the mere question of the temporary prosperity or abasement of the Seminary—and other seminaries would do Princeton’s work, the case would be different. But as matters stand, if Princeton goes down, the cause of orthodox theology and evangelical religion will receive a heavy blow. This is the reason that such grave issues hang upon your decision and that we cannot regard the possibility of your adhering to your declinature with any equanimity. If you could be brought to see the real situation of things and how much depends upon your acceptance, I think you could not hesitate for a moment. I must renew my earnest request that you will not decide adversely without coming to Princeton and allowing us to put the case before you in the proper light.” Letter, William Green to Geerhardus Vos, March 19, 1892, in The Letters of Geerhardus Vos, James T. Dennison Jr., ed. (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2005), 31.

[2] A decade earlier, Briggs had encouraged Union’s President William Adams to write Archibald Alexander Hodge at Princeton to see if the two schools could show solidarity in the Presbyterian Church by producing a common review. Hodge agreed to the proposal, and The Presbyterian Review was started in 1880 with one editor being from Princeton and the other from Union. See, David B. Calhoun, Princeton Seminary, Volume 2 (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1996), 83–84.

[3] After Warfield resigned, Briggs also resigned, and Union Seminary recommended the dissolution of The Presbyterian Review. The Princeton faculty agreed.

[4] Charles Augustus Briggs, “Editorial Notes: The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America,” in the Presbyterian Review 10, no. 39 (1889): 465.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 466. What Briggs did not reveal in his commentary was his own stance on the issue, which he had made public in his book published earlier that year, Whither? A Theological Question for the Times. He argued that Presbyterians, particularly Warfield and A.A. Hodge at Princeton, had departed from the teaching of the Westminster Standards and put in its place the false teaching of “orthodoxism.” See, Charles A. Briggs, Whither? A Theological Question for the Times (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1889).

[7] Geerhardus Vos to Abraham Kuyper, February 1, 1890, in Dennison, Letters, 135.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Letter, Geerhardus Vos to Herman Bavinck, February 1, 1890, in Dennison, Letters, 132.

[10] Benjamin Warfield, “Editorial Notes: The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America,” in Presbyterian and Reformed Review 1, no. 3 (1890): 490.

[11] Letter, Geerhardus Vos to Abraham Kuyper, July 12, 1890, in Dennison, Letters, 141. For the issues involved in the reunion and Charles Hodge’s role, see, D.G. Hart and John R. Muether, “Turning Points in American Presbyterian History: Part 7: The Reunion of 1869,” in New Horizons in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, Vol. 26, No. 7 (July, 2005): 10–11.

[12] Vos mentioned to Herman Bavinck in his May 13, 1890 letter that he had received Kuyper’s large paper, “Calvinism and Revision” (originally titled). See, Dennison, Letters, 153.

[13] Letter, Geerhardus Vos to Abraham Kuyper, October 27, 1890, in Dennison, Letters, 144.

[14] Warfield eventually changed his mind about the length and published the article at its submitted length. Abraham Kuyper, “Calvinism and Confessional Revision,” Presbyterian and Reformed Review 2, no. 7 (July 1891): 371.

[15] Ibid., 393.

[16] Ibid., 395.

[17] Ibid., 398.

[18] Geerhardus Vos, Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 5, Ecclesiology, the Means of Grace, Eschatology, trans. and ed. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. et al. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), 41.

[19] Lefferts A. Loetscher, The Broadening Church (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1957), 83.

[20] Ibid., 84. Warfield’s replacement on the committee was Henry Van Dyke, a revision advocate and later opponent of J. Gresham Machen during the Presbyterian controversy.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Geerhardus Vos, “The Biblical Idea of Preterition,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, ed. Richard B. Gaffin Jr. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1980), 412.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid., 414.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] DeWitt, “Ecclesiastical Notes: The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.,” in Presbyterian and Reformed Review 12, no. 48 (1901): 676.

[29] Ibid., 677.

[30] Geerhardus Vos, “The Scriptural Doctrine of the Love of God,” in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation, 425.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid., 425–26.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid., 428.

[35] Ibid., 429–30.

[36] Ibid., 441.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid., 447.

[39] Ibid., 454.

[40] Ibid., 456.

[41] Moise Amyraut (1596–1664) taught that God loved all humanity and sent his Son, Jesus, to die for the sins of all. But, Amyraut also taught only those who accept the offer of the gospel in faith and repentance are actually saved.

[42] Ibid., 457.

[43] Henry Minton, “Ecclesiastical Notes: The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.,” in Presbyterian and Reformed Review 13, no. 52 (1902): 620.

Danny E. Olinger is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as the General Secretary of the Committee on Christian Education of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. Ordained Servant Online, March 2017.

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