* Not Anabaptist, but Reformed was a pamphlet written by Danhof and Hoeksema in 1923 as a “Provisional Response to Rev. Jan Karel Van Baalen Concerning the Denial of Common Grace.” Translated here from the Dutch by serminarian Daniel Holstege. Previous article in this series: January 1, 2008, p. 155.
[Introduction: In the first half of this chapter, Rev. Danhof and Hoeksema point out that Rev. Van Baalen in his pamphlet (The Denial of Common Grace: Reformed or Anabaptistic?) accuses them of not maintaining both the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. They reject the charge and quote from their own writings to substantiate their claim that his charges are incorrect. They now go on to address more of Van Baalen’s accusations against them.]
Then on pages 40-42 follows a discussion about the attributes of God, which seeks to prove that we eliminate some of God’s attributes that cannot be brought into agreement with others. Thus we supposedly deny the love of God because in God there is also punishing righteousness! Rev. Van Baalen could easily have kept this entire argument in the pen. Nowhere have we ever written what Rev. Van Baalen presents as our view. However, if Rev. Van Baalen wants to show a “double track” here too, and thinks that before our consciousness God’s love cannot be in harmony with His punishing righteousness, then we differ with him. Certainly, God is love. But since He greatly cherishes Himself as the Most High, as the absolute Good, it is necessary to understand that that same love reveals itself as punishing righteousness on all those who turn themselves against Him. There is certainly no conflict or contradiction here. And when, in connection with this, Rev. Van Baalen attributes to us an exegesis of Luke 6:35 that basically says that the goodness of the Lord is no goodness at all, then we ask him where he ever read such an explanation by us? The brother really thinks that we would explain the text like that, but that is simply because he has never taken pains to think through our view.
Concerning our explanation of Hebrews 6:4-8, Rev. Van Baalen remarks that this passage does not apply to our subject. That text speaks about spiritual blessings, about men who have lived very close to grace, about very specific gifts that are given to some men. The writer explains this by using the figure of a field on which rain frequently falls and that produces thorns and thistles under the influence of the rain. According to Rev. Van Baalen, that is not to be applied to the general gifts of nature, but only to those specific blessings that are named there. But Rev. Van Baalen does not tell us why this should not apply to all gifts. The point of agreement is that the natural man in himself does not have access to the blessings of God. In himself he is unclean. And because he is unclean, all gifts then become unclean to him as well.
This applies to those who live the closest to grace and who receive the most generous rain, but also to those who live further from the center. It is a good Reformed notion, already expressed repeatedly by Calvin, and also implied in our confessions, that all things are unclean to the unclean. The natural man certainly receives gifts, many gifts, gifts that in themselves are even good, for they come from God. But for the wicked sinner these never become blessings in the proper sense of the word. God is good. Certainly. He is gracious and merciful and kind. And everything that comes from God is always good. There is absolutely no darkness in Him. But that good God with His good gifts is wrath and punishment to the wicked sinner.
And, therefore, Van Baalen’s next argument, which is simply borrowed from Dr. Kuyper, does not hold good either. In short, it comes down to this, that whoever denies general grace denies one of two things: Either he must deny the total depravity of man, or he must deny that man is by nature still capable of “some civic righteousness.” Thus says Dr. Kuyper, and thus says Van Baalen after him. Now neither of these is true, and Rev. Van Baalen cannot think of any other possibility either. That is perfectly clear. But this does not prove that there is not a third possibility, which is truly in harmony with Scripture and the confessions. And we present that possibility.
We certainly deny that the unregenerate does any good before God. “Incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness” is the description that our confession gives concerning the natural man. You certainly cannot say it stronger than our Heidelberger:
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.
I know Rev. Van Baalen thinks ill of us that we maintain this position. He says that we must come to one of two evils. The one evil is that we “maintain the position that natural man can perform absolutely no good whatever.” He thinks that Pharaoh’s daughter performed a good deed (good in the sense that she did something good before God, so that her deed could be reckoned to her as good) when she drew a beautiful child out of the water, even though she surely did not care about the many other children who perished in the Nile. Well then, Rev. Van Baalen, we indeed maintain with our Catechism the position that natural man can do absolutely no good whatever unless he is regenerated by the Spirit of God. You are accountable for your departure from this.
And our Catechism is not alone in expressing it like that. The rest of our confessions are in complete agreement on this point. Thus we read in Article 24 of the Belgic 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.
Now if you want to say that this self-love, which is also in Pharaoh’s daughter, is good, you are accountable for that. We call it sin. In Article 14 of the Belgic Confession, we read:
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 retained only 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.
That is according to Scripture. It does not say that the few remains are sufficient to attain unto the good that is also good before God. Rather, the few remains leave him without excuse, as he consciously and willingly and at all times performs sin and wickedness with those remains. Likewise is it in the Canons or Five Articles against the Remonstrants. Notice Head IV.4:
There remain, however, in man since the fall the glimmerings of natural light, whereby he retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the differences between good and evil, and discovers some regard for virtue, good order in society, and for maintaining an orderly external deportment. 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.
You see, brother, that is Reformed language. And God’s Word has the same language.
For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God,
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,
For whatsoever is not of faith is sin,
Now it is quite clear, Rev. Van Baalen, that you do not do justice to this view of Scripture and the confessions. You might want to change that a bit. It is your view that by nature man is so corrupt that he is wholly incapable of doing any good and inclined to all wickedness, but that the corrupt nature by God’s common grace once again becomes capable of doing positive good. And we profess with all boldness that exactly this last part is neither according to the confessions nor according to Scripture. It is exactly this view that closes its eyes to Scripture; that first looks around in the world and then allows itself to be tempted, by the apparent good of the world, to say that natural man still indeed does good. You did not draw this out of God’s Word, since Scripture and the confessions do not speak about man in the abstract, that is, about man who would be corrupt if God’s general grace did not make him somewhat capable of doing good; but rather, they describe man as he really is, as he lives and functions in this world. And, therefore, our view is not opposed to Scripture and the confessions, but yours is.
Do we say, then, that natural man has not retained any of his gifts? Absolutely not. We want to emphasize that. Without those natural gifts man would not be able to sin or even continue as a creature that is accountable before God. But we insist that with those gifts he can never will anything other than wickedness before God and that in various ways he completely pollutes them and holds them under in unrighteousness, even in natural things. That is the language of our confessions.
Is it perhaps our view that sin already reveals itself in all its entirety in the world? That is not true either. We understand perfectly well that sin has not yet come to its full maturity. But we do not explain this by a certain restraining work of God, of which there is never any mention either in Scripture or in the confessions; but simply from the organic development of things. And that is our good right. Rev. Van Baalen may differ from us here and attempt to show that our view does not hold good, but he has no right to accuse us of being un-Reformed in any respect.
Therefore let this chapter be concluded with the assertion that, as it seems to us, we have in the foregoing supported with all necessary proofs the fact that Rev. Van Baalen has wrongly judged and has rashly accused us. He will surely want to acknowledge this himself.