Book Reviews

Secession, Doleantie, and Union: 1834-1892, by Hendrik Bouma. Tr. Theodore Plantinga. Appendixes by Theodore Plantinga and Peter Y. De Jong. Neerlandia, Alberta, Canada/Pella, Iowa, U.S.A.: Inheritance Publications, 1995. 302pp. $13.90 (paper). [Reviewed by the editor.]

The availability in English of a reliable account of the union efforts of the Afscheiding ("secession") and Doleantie ("grieving") churches from 1886-1892 is noteworthy. This history of the contact and negotiations between the two Reformed bodies in the Netherlands that culminated in the united synod in Amsterdam on June 17, 1892 is informative, instructive, and moving.

Yes, moving. For Christian Reformed, Protestant Reformed, Canadian Reformed, Free Reformed, and other readers in North America, this is family history. And the family was Christ's church, acted upon and acting by the catholic impulse of the Word and Spirit of her Head. 

At the third provisional synod of the Doleantie churches in The Hague, after agreement had been reached on vital issues of union and after powerful speeches by Abraham Kuyper, president of the Doleantie synod, and by J. vanAndel, deputy of the Afscheiding churches, van Andel extended the right hand of fellowship to Kuyper. A spontaneous "Amen" sounded from the packed West Church. The "Amen" "sealed the bond between the two groups of churches which had been established by God" (p. 177).

Present at the united synod in 1892 was the aged Simon vanVelzen, last living "father of the Secession of 1834." Too old to speak to the huge assembly (he had to be carried into the church building), vanVelzen had his son tell the first general synod of the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (new name of the united churches) and the throng of saints that the union was "the 'fulfilment of the great wish of his heart' ... that all God's children might be able to live together as brothers" (pp. 210, 211).

The churches wrestled with several important issues as they sought each other in the truth. One was the proper principle of church reformation. The Afscheiding churches insisted that the principle was separation from the apostate State church as a false church.

Another principle was the basis of union. The Afscheiding churches urged union "on the basis of unity in the Reformed confessions and in Reformed church government." Under Kuyper's influence, the Doleantie churches had put forward an "Act of Union" that was speculative and philosophical. The Afscheiding position prevailed.

Yet another point of difference, not settled at the union of 1892, concerned the place of theological training in the church. The Doleantie argued for theological training in a university (the Free) separate from church control. The Afscheiding contended for the seminary as the school of the churches.

One of the special virtues, and benefits, of this history is its use of synodical decisions and official reports in relating developments.

It is annoying that periodically the author, evidently a minister of the "Liberated" Reformed Churches (no information on the author is given), grinds an axe for these churches (see pp. 58, 104, 105).

The appendixes by Theodore Plantinga and Peter Y. De Jong are appropriate and valuable. Plantinga briefly considers the churches that stayed out of the union of 1892, the Christian Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and the Free Reformed Churches in North America. Dr. De Jong gives historical background of the union in the events of the Secession of 1834 and of the Doleantie of 1886, including the apostasy in the Netherlands before 1834.

Regrettable is De Jong's passing, but deliberate, criticism of Simon vanVelzen, a leading minister of the Secession of 1834: "... whose zeal for the Reformed faith was not always exercised without blemish" (p. 248). vanVelzen was the soundest, firmest, and most fiery of the ministers of the Secession. It is this kind of advocacy of the Reformed faith, particularly the sovereignty of grace, and this kind of Reformed minister that make the agony of a Secession or a Doleantie every 50 or 100 years unnecessary.

The Reformed reader who enters into the spirit of this history will close the book with a sense of overwhelming grief at the present spiritual condition of the churches of the history — the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN). In 100 years this denomination of van Velzen and Kuyper has become the churches of Harry Kuitert, who praises doubt of all doctrines, and of the official approval of homosexuality, not only the depraved nature but also the vile practice.

Sad, inexpressibly sad.

"Lord Jesus Christ, preserve and gather — in the unity of the truth — Thy little flock!"

Saved By Grace: A Study of the Five Points of Calvinism, by Ronald Cammenga and Ronald Hanko. Grand Rapids, Michigan: The Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1995. 257pp. $10.95 (paper). [Reviewed by Pastor Arie denHartog.]

The Reformed believer never tires of the study of the doctrines of grace. He feels constrained out of love for God to testify of these great truths before the world. He believes that these glorious doctrines stand at the very heart of the gospel. They are not mere minor truths which if one denies he can still be called a credible Christian. They are foundational truths to the whole of the gospel. For this reason we rejoice at the publication of another treatise on these great doctrines by two of my colleagues in the ministry.

Many books have been written on the doctrines of grace, and one might therefore say that there is no need of yet another. The justification for such a treatise however is first of all what we have stated above. Also, over the years, even in the Reformed and Presbyterian Churches, there have arisen new interpretations of these doctrines that have, we believe, been serious compromises, not the least of these being the propagation of the false teachings of common grace and the well-meant offer of the gospel.

The excellence of this new book Saved By Grace is first of all that it is replete with scriptural quotations. The authors succeed in demonstrating beyond doubt that the doctrines of grace are indeed the teaching of the Scriptures. These doctrines are taught throughout the Scriptures and are central to them. In many instances brief expositions are given to explain specifically what the cited passages have to say about the doctrines of grace. If I would have any criticism of these parts of the book, I would only say that some of the more difficult passages could have received more detailed treatment. I realize however that one is always constrained to be as concise as possible in order not to discourage the average reader.

A second excellent feature of this book is that it begins with a chapter on the sovereignty of God. The authors show in this chapter how the truth of the absolute sovereignty of God underlies all the doctrines of grace. The doctrine of God's absolute sovereignty divides between true and false religion.

The God Whom we must know is a sovereign God. Knowledge of God begins with the affirmation of faith that God is and that God is sovereign. Since God is, He is Sovereign. If He is God, He must also be a sovereign God. If God is not sovereign, the inescapable implication is that He is not God. This is the great issue that divides true religion from false religion! This is the great issue that separates the true church of Jesus Christ in the world from the false apostate church! This is the issue that distinguishes faith from unbelief: the sovereignty of God!

The excellence of this book in the third place is that it sets forth the doctrines of grace boldly and unashamedly. It makes no compromise of these doctrines at the points where they are offensive to the natural man and even to modern-day Christendom. It boldly maintains double predestination and refutes the commonly defended error of the well-meant offer of the gospel.

Also very helpful is that this book, in connection with each of the five doctrines, answers the commonly-heard objections to the doctrine of the Word of God and the major heresies that over the years have arisen in the church in an attempt to oppose the truth of God. There is a great need always for Christians to remember the heresies of the past in order that we do not fall again into the same errors. The right understanding of the truth comes through its clear distinction from false doctrine. The condemnation of false doctrine, as unpopular as this might be in today's church world, is absolutely necessary in defense of the truth.

There are three other features of the book that we greatly appreciate. The first is that each chapter gives a statement of how the particular doctrine of grace being treated relates to the other five. This shows how the doctrines of grace form a glorious unity. One cannot deny the one without also denying the others. There have always been those who claim to be "three point" or "four point" Calvinists. This is, however, an impossibility. All the doctrines of grace are aspects of the one central truth of the sovereignty of God in the salvation of men. Each chapter also includes a short section on the practical significance of the doctrine to the life of the Christian. The right confession and defense of the doctrines of God's Word requires that we see the practical implications of these doctrines for the faith and life of the child of God. The doctrines of grace are the living truth of God, in which we find our solid comfort and joy, and in which we glory day by day. There is a lengthy appendix to the main body of the book which lists statements from the great Reformed Confessions which relate immediately to the doctrines of grace.

Finally this book is accompanied with a short study guide ($3.95) to help promote the study of the doctrines of grace in the church.

We commend Pastors Cam-menga and Hanko for writing this book. It is our hope and prayer that it may be greatly blessed of the Lord in the church as an aid for God's people in a life-long meditation on the wonders of the amazing grace of God. Also we hope that this book will be useful for Reformed believers in fulfilling their calling to defend and to testify of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the glory of God and the salvation of His people.