Single Or Double Track Theology?
This editorial is a continuation of the article I wrote on Luke 6:33. I wrote the first part under number “1,” as the negative part of my interpretation. Now I explain the positive part under number “2.”
The question is:
First: what is good?
Secondly: what good do sinners do?
As to the first question, the answer, in general, is: Good, in the true ethical and spiritual sense of the word, is that which is in harmony with the law of God. Nothing else is good. Besides, to answer the question what is good, we must not simply refer to the ten commandments, which are almost entirely negative, but we must consult the principle of the law to which our Lord Jesus Christ refers in answer to a question asked of Him by a lawyer. We may find this in Matt. 22:34-40:
“But when the Pharisees had heard that he had put the Sadducees to silence, they were gathered together. Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying; Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
This is also the teaching of the Heidelberg Catechism. Introducing “The Third Part—Of Thankfulness,” the Catechism teaches in Question and Answer 86:
“Since then we are delivered from our misery, merely of grace, through Christ, without any merit of ,ours, why must we still do good works?
“Because Christ, having redeemed and delivered us by his blood, also renews us by his Holy Spirit, after his own image; that so we may testify by the whole of our conduct, our gratitude to God for his blessings, and that he may be praised by us; also, that every one may be assured in himself of his faith, by the fruits thereof; and that, by our godly conversation, others may be gained to Christ.”
And in Lord’s Day XXXIII, Question and Answer 91, the Catechism defines good works as follows:
“But what are good works?
“Only those which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to his glory; and not such as are founded on our “imaginations, or the institutions of men.”
Such, then, is the teaching of the Catechism in answer to the question: what is good? Nothing is good except that which is performed from the root of faith because only by faith can we love God; by nature we hate Him. Nothing is good except that which is in harmony with the law of God, because the law, principally, demands that we love God. Nothing is good, except that which is consciously performed to the glory of God.
All the rest is sin and nothing else.
But not only the Catechism, but also the Netherland Confession confesses the same truth. I will quote a few excerpts from Article 24 of this Confession:
“Therefore it is so far from being true, that this justifying faith makes men remiss in a pious and holy life, that on the contrary without it they would never do anything out of love to God, but only out of self-love or fear of damnation . . . Which works, as they proceed from the good root of faith, are good and acceptable in the sight of God, forasmuch as they are all sanctified by his grace . . . For it is by faith in Christ that we are justified, even before we do good works; otherwise they could not be good works, anymore than the fruit of a tree can be good, before the tree itself is good.”
Also in this article of the Confession it is stated clearly that nothing is good that does not spring from the root of faith, unless we would call that good which is motivated by “self-love or fear of damnation.”
Of course, also the Canons speak, in. chapters III-IV of the good that natural man can do, or rather of the fact that he can do no good whatsoever.
It is true, as I have said before, that the learned committee of the Synod of 1924 also quoted from the Canons to prove that the natural man can do good. They quoted from Canons III, IV, Art. 4. It is striking that, whether innocently or purposely (I think the latter), they quoted only the first part of the article. In the first part the Canons speak of the remnants of natural light by which the natural man has some regard for virtue, good order in society, etc. But in the rest of the article it plainly condemns the theory that, even with this natural light, the natural man can do good. For there we read:
“But so far is this light of nature from being sufficient to bring him to a saving knowledge of God, and to true, conversion, that he is incapable of using it aright even in things natural and civil. Nay further, this light such as it is, man in various ways renders wholly polluted, and holds, it in unrighteousness, by doing which he becomes inexcusable before God.”
Can the natural man do good?
Not according to the Canons.
As To Total Depravity
Recently I preached on the subject of “Total Depravity” in connection with Lord’s Day III of the Heidelberg Catechism. About the same time; I received, from a friend in South Holland, a copy of a paper or magazine recently published in the Netherlands, in which occurred an article on the same subject.
The writer of this article makes the observation that “If there is one point, on which the Reformed are being emphatically attacked it is the truth of the total depravity of man.”
This may very well be true, especially if we consider that the truth of total depravity stands in the closest connection with the doctrine of predestination. The latter doctrine teaches that God from all eternity chose some men to eternal life while He rejected others. On this is, of course, based the doctrine of sovereign grace, according to which, with regard to his salvation, man does absolutely nothing. He can do nothing good. Many so-called preachers of the gospel, while they apparently teach that man is totally depraved, nevertheless claim that man can pray. By this they overthrow all they may have said before of the doctrine of total depravity. The natural man can do no good, least of all can he pray.
In the course of time, many theologians have attempted to circumvent this very unpopular truth and corrupted it.
Pelagius, who lived at the same time as Augustine, was an out and out denier of this truth. He taught that, even as righteousness was not a matter of the nature of man, but only a matter of the act, so is sin. It, too, is a matter of the act. And if you would ask him how it happens that all men sin, he would explain this by the theory of imitation. The Semipelagians, chiefly represented by the Roman Catholics, make a distinction between the nature, of man as such and that nature with the addition of the image of God. Man was not only created good, but in. addition to this naturally good nature, Gods also gave him His own image. Now, when man fell, he retained his naturally good nature, but he lost the image of God. The result is, according to them, that lie can do no spiritual good, but he can, nevertheless, do much natural good in this world. Also this is, of course, a denial of total depravity.
The theory of common grace, as developed by Dr. Kuyper Sr., and as also adopted by the Christian Reformed Synod of 1924 in the well-known Three Points, is very similar to the Semipelagian theory in as far as the actual result is concerned. Only they arrive at this result in a different way. They do not teach that after-the fall man remained naturally good though he lost the image of God, but that he would 1 have become totally depraved and,, in fact, would have died and immediately gone to hell, if God had not restrained sin. But God checked the power of sin in Adam’s nature and the result is that man, after the fall, can still do much good in the natural sense of the word. That this is only another way of denying total depravity ought to be evident to all that can read and understand.
Now, what do the Scriptures and the Confessions say about this matter?
But the entire Bible is full of texts that speak of man as being by nature totally depraved. Take, for instance,Rom. 3:9 ff.:
“What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Notice that in these verses three facts are mentioned:
1. The act of sin.
2. That the act of sin is rooted in the corrupt nature.
3. That sin is universal.
“And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in times past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature children of wrath, even as others.”
The Reformed Confessions everywhere teach the same truth.
The Heidelberg Catechism has it in Lord’s Day III, questions and answers 7 and 8:
“Whence then proceeds this depravity of the human nature?
“From the fall and disobedience of our first parents, in Paradise; hence, our nature is become so corrupt, that we are all conceived and born in sin.
“Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness?
“Indeed we are; except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.”
As to the Belgic Confession, in Art. 14 we read:
“For the commandment of life, which he had received, he transgressed; and by sin separated himself from God, who was, his true life, having corrupted his whole nature; whereby he became liable to corporal and spiritual death, And being thus become wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all his ways, he hath lost all his excellent gifts, which he had received from God, and only retained a few remains thereof, which, however, are sufficient to leave man without excuse, for all the light which is in us is changed into darkness, as the Scriptures teach us, saying: The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not: where St. John calleth men darkness. Therefore we reject all that is taught repugnant thereto concerning the free will of man, since man is but a slave to sin; and has nothing of himself, unless it is given him from heaven.” Cf. also Art. 15.
As we might expect, the Canons of Dordrecht also emphasize this truth over against the Remonstrants. From them we quote the following:
“Man was originally formed after the image of God . . . but revolting from God by the instigation of the devil, and abusing the freedom of his own will, he forfeited these excellent gifts; and on the contrary entailed on himself blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity and. perverseness of judgment, became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in all his affections.”
And, after the fathers of Dordt inserted an article on original sin and universal depravity, they continue in Art. 3 as follows:
“Therefore all men are conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, incapable of saving good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto, and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, they are neither able nor willing to return to God, to reform the depravity of their nature, nor to dispose themselves to reformation.”
(To be continued.)