We begin with the question: What do we mean by the expression `appropriation of salvation'? Prof. Velema has given a good usable definition: by "appropriation of salvation we are especially concerned with the answer to the question how a person becomes and continues to be a partaker of salvation."
By this we mean that, in the discussion of this topic, the emphasis is mostly on the question how a person becomes a partaker of salvation. We must certainly not lose sight of the other aspect. Besides, in the next paragraph it will become clear that our creeds do not use the word "appropriation" merely in connection with justification by faith, but also in connection with the strengthening of faith (for instance, in relation to the Lord's Supper). The concept thus covers the whole of the life of faith.
2. About the word "appropriation"
It is noteworthy that the word "appropriation" only appears a few times in the confessional standards.
As far as the Belgic Confession is concerned, we are thinking of Article 22, which begins as follows:
The word is also used in Article 35 in connection with the Lord's Supper:
There is just one more place, namely, in Lord's Day 23 of the Heidelberg Catechism (H.C.), in Question and Answer 61, where, in connection with justification by faith, the church confesses:
In relation to these statements in the creeds Professor Trimp [Reformed-Liberated] made the comment that these references to appropriation must be seen primarily as the work of believers. Later he indicates that the appropriation can also be attributed to the Holy Spirit. He sees this happening in the classic Form for Baptism, in which it is said that the Holy Spirit by baptism assures us,
It is indeed possible to speak of the Holy Spirit in distinction from the believer as subject of this appropriating work. Professor Trimp is also correct when he states that the creeds in the portions cited above emphasize that we appropriate salvation in Christ by faith. However, here two remarks need to be added.
First, our Confessions always present a close connection between true faith and the Holy Spirit (cf. for example, H.C., L.D. 7, Q.A.21; L.D. 25, Q.A. 65.). Thus, when it speaks about the appropriation of salvation by faith, it is rooted in the appropriating work of the Holy Spirit! This comes out very clearly in the above cited phrase in the Belgic Confession, Article 22:
Secondly, our Confessions also speak explicitly about the Holy Spirit as subject of the appropriation of salvation. In fact, alongside the word "appropriation" in the Confessions, there appears the corresponding expression "participation".4 At various times it is emphatically stated that it is the Holy Spirit Who makes believers partakers of Christ. For that we can refer, for example, to the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord's Day 20, Q.A.53 and Lord's Day 29, Q.A.79:
We may conclusively say that the appropriation of salvation is primarily attributed to the Holy Spirit. It can also be said that believers appropriate salvation to themselves by faith which is the fruit of the work of the same Spirit.
3. The Distinction
It is important to notice in what connection the creeds speak of the appropriation of salvation. It would be possible to point to several such connections; for example, the trinitarian context in which it is placed. We could speak of the well-known distinction between the accomplishment and application of salvation, or--as it could also be expressed--the accomplishment and administration of salvation.
By means of this distinction in the concept of salvation it is emphasized that the salvation which Christ has accomplished for us is also applied to us by the Spirit of Christ. It should be evident that these two elements are closely connected and interrelated with each other. Yet we must not allow them to be confused, and therefore it is important to keep them clearly distinguished.
The words "accomplishment" and "application" appear in such a combination in the Canons of Dort, Head II, Rejection 6. The matter expressed by both concepts comes up in various other formulations.
Of the many instances we point to the following. In the Heidelberg Catechism, L.D.6, Q.A.17, we read that Christ is divine that He "might obtain for, and restore to us, righteousness and life."
In L.D.17, Q.A.45, it is said that Christ by His resurrection has conquered death "in order that He might make us partakers of that righteousness which he had purchased for us by His death.
This distinction comes out very clearly in L.D.23, Q.A.60 & 61. In the first answer we read that God "only of mere grace, grants and imputes to me, the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ", while in the next answer it is said "that I cannot receive and apply the same to myself any other way than by faith only." The believer says here that what God in Christ grants and imputes to him, becomes his righteousness before God by personal appropriation. Thus imputation and appropriation are closely related to each other. Yet they must not be identified with each other. The gracious imputation calls for a believing appropriation.
Finally, we refer to L.D.27, Q.A.74, where a similar distinction comes up in connection with covenant and baptism. There it is said of the children of the congregation that "redemption from sin by the blood of Christ, and the Holy Spirit, the author of faith, is promised to them no less than to the adult."
The word "promised" can also be rendered "granted in the promise". What is granted (geschonken) in the promise we partake of by faith. The distinction intended here comes out most forcefully in the words "granting and partaking."
This summary overview helps us to see that this distinction, which comes to its sharpest formulation in the words granting and partaking, is based in our confessions. Those who would--for example, by way of a rejection of the subjective-objective framework--go so far as to refuse to honour this distinction and would allow the partaking to be absorbed into the granting, would shortchange our confessions.
4. Spirit and Word
The Word of God is the means by which the Holy Spirit brings about the appropriation of a person's salvation. This is confessed very clearly in the answer to the question, "Where does faith come from?" "From the Holy Spirit, who works faith in our hearts by the preaching of the Gospel" (H.C., L.D.25, Q.A.65).
How this relationship between Spirit and Word is to be understood has been a long-standing point of controversy. The viewpoint of our Reformed Confession can be typified by means of two prepositions: the Spirit works by and with the Word (per verbum et cum verbo). In the expression "by the Word" (per verbum) there is an emphasis on the close relationship between the Spirit and Word. We may not separate the Spirit from the Word, as is done in various forms of mysticism. The Holy Spirit does not work without the Word, nor is the Word by-passed, but He makes use of the Word as His instrument. At the same time it may be said that the Spirit works "with the Word" (cum verbo). Here special emphasis is placed on the sovereignty of the Spirit, Who may always work by means of the Word, but not always in the same manner. We could also say that the latter formulation calls attention to the special work of the Spirit with the Word.
It is well-known that on this point there is a difference of viewpoint between the Lutheran and Reformed churches. This difference actually did not exist yet between Luther and Calvin. We find the origin in the controversy about the Word as a means of grace, which is known as the Rahtmann controversy (± 1625). Since that time Lutheran orthodoxy tended toward a one-sided emphasis on the position that the Holy Spirit works by the word (per verbum). The Reformed objection to this was that the Word too easily gained a magical power because the Spirit "automatically" makes the Word effectual. But the Spirit does not allow Himself to be locked within the confines of the Word. He makes the Word effective if and when He pleases. Thus it is characteristic of a Reformed point of view that it emphasizes both that the Holy Spirit works by the Word and with the Word.
In our Confession both aspects come out clearly. Accordingly, it is emphatically said in various places that the Spirit works by the Word. In this connection we think of the words just quoted in H.C., L.D.25, Q.A.65, where we read that the Spirit works "by (per) the preaching of the Gospel..." and Canons of Dort III/IV, Article 17: "For grace is conferred by means of (per) admonitions."
As we have seen, the phrase "with the Word" (cum verbo) is intended to defend that the Spirit is sovereign when He uses the Word. This aspect comes out clearly especially in one or two passages of the Canons of Dort; we are thinking primarily of C.D. III/IV, Art.11 & 12:
The fact that the regenerating effect of the preaching is not the result of a general enlightenment or "moral suasion," but is a special work of the Holy Spirit, is even more clearly laid out in C.D. III/IV, Rejection 7:
To summarize we could say that, on the one hand, our Confession places a close connection between the Spirit and Word. Under no condition may they be separated, for the Spirit works by the Word. At the same time, we may not disregard the teaching of the Canons of Dort that the Holy Spirit, Who is pleased to bind Himself to the Word, is still completely sovereign.
1. Bij de toe‘igening van het heil gaat het speciaal om het antwoord op de vraag hoe de mens deel krijgt en deel houdt aan het heil." W.H. Velema, De toe‘igening van het heil in de prediking, in W.H. Velema (ed.) Delen in het heil, (Kampen, 1989), (referred to below as simply, Delen), p.41. J.H. Velema, Wie zijn wij? (Amsterdam, 1992), p.85 gives a description which is more to the point, but in the same line: "By the appropriation of salvation we understand the work of God's Spirit by which the sinner gains and maintains participation in the redemption which Christ has accomplished."
2. Using the text of the Creeds found in The Psalter, (Grand Rapids, 1991, NRC Edition), pp.1-117.
3. Trimp, C. De toe‘igening van het heil in het perspectief van historie en konfessie, in Velema (ed.) Delen in het heil, p.27 ff.
4. In the word usage of the creeds the word "participation" corresponds with "appropriation" in more than one way. The Holy Spirit can not only be spoken of as working appropriation, but also as making us partakers. On the other hand, we read not only of "appropriating to myself by faith," but also of "partaking by faith" (cf. H.C., L.D.12, Q.A.32--"partaker of His anointing by faith"--and L.D.25, Q.A.65--"we are made partakers of Christ and all His benefits by faith only").
5. We must make it clear that the position of Trimp actually comes down to the same thing. Cf. Velema (ed.) Delen, p.29: "We must always begin with God and with the question how He desires to come to us."
6. The two latter terms were the preferred usage of Prof. W. Kremer in his plea for trinitarian preaching. See for example, his: Priestelijke Prediking (Amsterdam: Ton Bolland, 1976) pp. 23, 100. Though Kremer does interchange the term "the administration of salvation" with "application of salvation" (see: p.72).
7. It is actually striking that in every question of the Heidelbeg Catechism relating to Baptism there is a reference to the blood and Spirit of Christ as the source of our cleansing. This distinction is obviously of great significance especially in relation to Baptism.
8. The inaugural address of Professor L.H. Vander Meiden, De Bijzondere Geesteswerking met het Woord (Dordrecht, 1949) is still significant here.
9. Hermann Rahtmann (+1628) was a minister in Danzig, Germany, who published a treatise in which he taught that the Word had no power in itself to convert people, unless the Holy Spirit applied grace along with it. In reaction to this virtually all Lutheran theologians opposed him and developed what was presented as the true Lutheran dogma, teaching that God's Word contained the converting power of the Holy Spirit in itself, that this power was applied to it by divine dispensation and is inseparably bound to the Word. (Cf. Bavinck, Herman, Het Woord als Genademiddel, in Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, IV, p.437. [English readers will note with interest that this formidable work of Bavinck is being translated, P.V.])
10. What Prof. Van Genderen writes in J. Van Genderen en W.H. Velema, Beknopte Gereformeerde Dogmatiek, (Kampen: J.H. Kok, 1992), pp. 695 ff. is significant for this whole section. [This work is also in the process of being translated into English, P.V.]
11. These sections of the Canons of Dort have had a very important function in the official discussions between the deputies of the Christelijke Gereformeerde (corresponding with Free Reformed) and the Gereformeerde-Vrijgemaakt (corresponding with Canadian/American Reformed) Churches. See the Acta van de generale synode der Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland, 1962, pp.241-243. Among other things, the point of departure in this discussion is of special significance: "We asked: Is not the central difference in the different understanding of this relationship (namely, of Word and Spirit)? The answer given was that the Word is the organ (orgaan) of the Holy Spirit. It was strongly stressed that the confessions speak of the Holy Spirit as working by, but not with, the Word. Appropriation has its place in the preaching." Compare this latter perspective with that of C. Trimp, Klank en Weerklank, ["Sound and Echo"] (Barneveld, 1989), p.129: "every sermon is actually from begining to end appropriation work."
12. About the close connection between the Spirit and the Means of Grace the Canons of Dort also say: "... so even to this day, be it far from either instructors or instructed to presume to tempt God in the church by separating what He of His good pleasure hath most intimately joined together" (C.D., III/IV, Art.17).