The “Third Point” adopted by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church of 1924, reads as follows:
“Relative to the third point, which is concerned with the question of civil righteousness as performed by the unregenerate, Synod declares that according to Scripture and the Confessions, the unregenerate, though incapable of doing any saving good, can do civil good. This is evident from the quotations from Scripture and from the Canons of Dordrecht, III, IV, 4, and from the Netherland Confession Art. 36, which teach that God, without renewing the heart, so influences man that he is able to perform civil good; while it also appears from the citations from Reformed writers of the most flourishing period of Reformed theology, that our Reformed fathers from ancient times were of the same opinion.”
What does the committee of the schismatics that convened with the committee of the Christian Reformed Church for the purpose of discussing what could be done towards a reunion, have to, say about this?
We will quote them.
“1. We agree that the natural man does at times that which is according to the letter of the law, in varying degrees shows regard for virtue and good deportment (Canons III, IV, 3). We are willing to call this civic or relative good. We do this in view of the fact that Art. 14 (its heading) ; Canons III, IV, 3, and also IV, B, IV use the terms ‘truly good, ‘ ‘saving good,’ and ‘spiritual good,’ thus evidently distinguishing saving good from other good.
“2. The difficulty lies here:
“a. That the good works of the natural man in Point III are lifted out of their qualifying context when Canons III, IV, 4 is not quoted in full. Hence, the antithesis between regenerate and unregenerate in respect to their works is not expressed. We do not doubt (judging from the appended Testimony) that the antithesis is presupposed, but we believe that Canons III, V, 4 ought to be quoted in its entirety to escape the danger of compromising the antithesis, especially when there is reference to the good that the unregenerate sinners do.
“b. Since the call of the gospel is not from a state of already doing good to a state of doing more good works, but from a state of disobedience to obedience (Tit. 3:3), from darkness to light (I Peter 2:9), as well as from death to life (Eph. 2:1-6), therefore the relative good of the unregenerate is such that except he repent he shall fall into the judgment of Christ (Matt. 7:23).
“c. We repudiate the ‘social gospel’ which is content with an outward reform, and we hold that the natural man is neither able nor willing to dispose himself to reformation (Canons III, IV, 3), and only such works as proceed from the good root of faith are acceptable to God since they are sanctified by His grace (Art. 24, Lord’s Day 33).
“3. Therefore, we propose a reformulation somewhat as follows:
“Concerning the so-called civic righteousness of the unregenerate, it appears from Scripture and the Confessions that such good is performed by them. This civic good, although acceptable to us and beneficial to society in various ways, and in certain instances characterized by Scripture as ‘good’ and ‘right’ (II Kings 10:29, 30; Luke 6:33), but in as far as it is not done from the root of faith, neither according to the law of God, nor to God’s glory, is sinful. Moreover this does not in the least change the sinner’s depravity, neither the need for repentance from dead works, nor does it enable him to turn to God.”
On this we make the following remarks:
1. It is evident that the schismatics, although there is a good deal of confusion and, perhaps, attempts to compromise and juggling with terms in the above quotations, principally adopt the “Third Point.” They too, speak of “civic good.” They too, adopt the distinction between natural or civic and spiritual or saving good. They appeal even to the confessions for this distinction. Even to the heading of Art. 14 of the Netherland Confession they refer which speaks of man’s incapacity to perform what is truly good. They draw this inference in spite of the fact that the article itself states very emphatically that the natural man is perverse and corrupt in all his ways and that all the light that is in him is darkness. They also refer to the expression “saving good” and draw the inference that the Confessions also knew of another good, although it is very plain from the context that this was not in the mind of our fathers at all: they simply opposed the Arminians. That this is true is clearly evident from a further reference to the Canons, namely, III, IV, 4, to which they also appeal. There we read: “Who teach: That the unregenerate man is not really nor utterly dead in sin nor destitute of all powers unto spiritual good but that he can yet hunger and thirst after righteousness and life.” From this it is evident that it was the Arminians that taught that the natural man could still do spiritual good, that our fathers opposed them, and that the distinction between natural and saving good was not before their mind at all. At any rate, it is evident that the schismatics principally adopt the “Third Point” and the distinction between natural and spiritual good.
2. This is also evident from their own re-formulation of the “Third Point.” For there they refer to the same texts which also the Synod of 1924 quoted in support of this point. They refer to II Kings 10:29, 30 and to Luke 6:33. In these passages, according to them, Scripture characterizes the works of the natural man as “good” and “right” although, according to them it is, nevertheless, sinful. Although this civic good may be acceptable to us, it is not such before God.
Let us look for a moment at these passages. How is it possible that something is right and good and yet sinful? In II Kings 10:29, 30 we read: “howbeit from the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, Jehu departed not from after them, to wit the golden calves that were in Bethel and that were in Dan. And the Lord said unto Jehu, Because thou hast done well in executing that which is right in mine eyes and hast done unto the house of Ahab according to all that was in mine heart, thy children of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.”
What do these words mean? They certainly do not mean, as the schismatics interpret them, that what Jehu did was acceptable to us or to man but not to God. The text expresses exactly the opposite. It was the Lord that said to Jehu, either directly or through a prophet, that he had done well, that he had done that which was right in the eyes of the Lord and according to all that was in his heart. What then? Do they, after all, signify that there was an operation of the Holy Spirit on the heart and mind of Jehu so that sin in him was restrained and thus he was improved so that he could do well and right? Also this is contradicted by the text in the strongest terms. For we read that Jehu did not depart from the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. He still worshipped the golden calves. And this he did in spite of the fact that he knew Jehovah and was well aware of the fact that the worship of the golden calves was an abomination to the Lord. And, therefore, the interpretation which the Synod of 1924 attached to these words, cannot possibly be right.
We must find an interpretation, therefore, that does justice to the entire text. We must explain, in other words, how it is possible that the Lord can judge that Jehu was a wicked man who lived wickedly and, at the same time that he did well and right in the sight of the Lord.
The answer is simple.
Jehu did neither spiritually nor morally nor ethically well and right, but he did well in executing the command of the Lord in extinguishing the house of Ahab and, too, not for the Lord’s sake but for his own. Jehu had many talents and great ability. He was an able leader and general and, besides, he was very zealous, not for the Lord but for himself. .He, therefore, saw in the command of the Lord an opportunity for his own exaltation. Many a wicked man has talents and ability which he uses in the service of sin. A man may be a good business man, so that he handles all his affairs well. In that case, not only we, but also the Lord judges that he does well and right. But he may, nevertheless, care only for his own advancement and nothing for the Lord. In that case, he sins while doing well. A man may be a good mechanic and even invent a new machine. Again, in that case, the Lord as well as his fellowman judges that he does well. But if he employs all his talents and powers for his own glory or for some other sinful purpose, he sins while doing well. For all this no restraint or improving influence of the Holy Spirit is necessary at all.
This fits exactly the case of Jehu. He was, evidently, a wicked man, who cared not for Jehovah or His precepts. This, as we said before, is emphasized in the text. Moreover, he was also a very able man, a man that was fit to execute the command of the Lord concerning the house of Ahab. What he did, he accomplished quite thoroughly. But although, in this respect he did extremely well, yet in all this he sinned. That this is true is evident from the text itself which mentions that he did not depart from the sin of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. But this is also clearly proved by the statement in Hos. 1:4: “And the Lord said unto him, Call his name Jezreel, for yet a little while and I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and I will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel.” In other words, for the very thing which Jehu did well he was punished as a matter of blood guiltiness.
As to the text to which also the Synod of 1924 as well” as the schismatics refer, Luke 6:33, that is no proof at all for either the restraint of sin or for any good that a sinner may do. The text reads as follows: “And if ye do good to them that do good to you, what reward have ye? for sinners also do even the same.” It appears that the Synod of 1924 and also the schismatics were led astray by the very sound of the word “good” and concluded that here there was a clear proof that the sinner can do good works. But the text teaches the very opposite: it teaches very clearly that when sinners do good they sin. Only then we must not be led astray by the mere sound of the word “good.” The term here, evidently, does not have the meaning of good in the moral sense of the word. It refers to good in the sense of benefit. Sinners do not do good, but they benefit others. Moreover, when sinners do good in that sense of the word, when they benefit others, they sin; they are influenced by sinful motives. The Lord very plainly expresses this: sinners do good to them that do good themselves. In other words, they do good in the expectation of a reward. Is this good in the moral, ethical sense of the word? Not at all. It is mere sinful selfishness. And the Lord warns His disciples not to do good in the same sense that sinners do.
But, I repeat: in principle the schismatics also adopted the “Third Point.”