In my last editorial on the above mentioned subject, I mentioned that in the “third point,” the Synod of Kalamazoo, 1924, wanted to maintain that the natural man performs that which is positively good in the sight of God.
On this I would like to elaborate a little.
Please, do not say that I write too much on this subject. Do not forget that, according to Kuiper, it belongs to the glory of the Christian Reformed Church that they adopted and still maintain the “Three Points.” In the second place, remember that the reason why we are Protestant Reformed lies exactly in the fact that, while the Christian Reformed Church maintains the “Three Points,” we as Protestant Reformed Churches reject and condemn them with all our heart. Finally, do not imagine that the question concerning the “Three Points” is a minor question; for this is not true at all. These points express something about God and man: about God they declare that His grace is general or universal; and about man that he is not totally depraved, but can do much good. Over against this the Protestant Reformed Churches maintain that the grace of God is particular and concerns only the elect; while about the natural man they confess that he is totally depraved and can do no good whatsoever.
O, I am well aware that the Christian Reformed Church does not express it the way I do it in the above lines! They would make the distinction between common and special grace; and they would make the distinction between natural and spiritual good. But to us that makes no principal difference. We emphasize that God hates the reprobate wicked; and that the natural man always sins and is totally depraved.
And now we will continue our discussion of the “Third Point.”
We may say that the “Third Point” contains the following erroneous elements:
1. It makes separation between good and good, between natural and spiritual good, between good before men and good before God. The “Third Point” declares that the natural man is incapable of doing any saving or spiritual good, such as believing in Christ, conversion, walking in the law of the Lord, etc.; but he is capable of doing much good in the sphere of his natural life. In other words, he is able to do good, even though he is totally corrupt and depraved. An act of the natural man may not be and is not rooted in faith, may be worthy of eternal damnation, and. yet be pleasing in the sight of God.
2. In close connection with the preceding, stands the fact that, although the Christian Reformed Church, in the abstract, confesses to believe the doctrine of total depravity, in reality they deny it. They profess to believe that only those are good works that proceed from a true faith, are done according to the law of God, and are done to the glory of God. That is the confession of our Heidelberg Catechism in question and answer 91. And it adds, negatively, that not those are good works that are based on our own imagination or on the institutions of men. But although this is their formal and official confession, they do not believe and apply it in their practical life. And not only this, but they also deny this confession concerning the works of the natural man, officially, in the third point. In other words, although they profess to believe that the natural man is totally depraved, in actual life there are no such totally depraved men. All men can do good works, according to the third point.
3. But strange to say, these good works of the natural man, have no reward. The reason for this seems to be, according to the exponents of “common grace” and the defenders of the “Three Points” that, after all, these so-called good works of the natural man or of the ungodly, are not his works, but they are really the works of the Holy Spirit. Say, for instance, that an ungodly man sees that a child falls in the water and is on the point of drowning, and he rescues it; would we not say that this is a good work? The answer is, of course, in the affirmative. But is there no reward connected with this good work? No; say the defenders of the “Three Points.” But how can this be explained? The answer is that this good or any civil good is really not done by the natural man, but by the Holy Spirit. “If man were left to himself he would not be able to perform even this civil good . . . For this reason the natural good does not entitle man to any claim of reward” (Berkhof, “The Three Points,” etc.).
This is a very strange doctrine indeed.
To be sure, also the believer in this world performs good works, and that he does so is under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. But in his case, the Spirit radically changes the heart of man. And even then he does not leave him alone but, from the heart, He influences his whole life, his mind, and will. But even so, if the believer performs good works, it is the believer himself, and not the Spirit, that performs them. He does so from the motive of the love of God. ”
But, according to the doctrine of the second and third points, the natural man may and does perform the same good works as the believer; he does, moreover, perform those good works also under the influence of the Holy Spirit; but now it is, after all, not the natural man that performs those works, but the Holy Spirit is the subject of them all. And, therefore, he receives no reward! And what is worse, because of these very works which the Holy Spirit performs through him, he will be damned for ever!
Is it possible that a natural man can perform any good work of which, not he, but the Holy Spirit is the subject?
O, it is true that our Lord speaks of those that say “Lord, Lord,” that claim that they have prophesied in His name, have cast out devils, and have done many wonderful works, and to whom, in the day of judgment, the Lord will say: “I never knew you, depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Matt. 7:22, 23. But even this does not mean that it is not they, but the Holy Spirit, that performed those works. The very words they use, as they address the Lord in that day, proves de opposite. But, according to Berkhof the natural man would not be able to perform civil good if he were left to himself, i.e., without the influence of the Holy Spirit; and because they are not his own, there is no reward connected with his good works.
4. In conclusion, I wish to state that the result of the teaching of the third point is, of course, that the doctrine of total depravity as taught in Scripture and the Reformed Confessions is forgotten and denied. In theory, the natural man is depraved; but in reality he is, indeed, a very good man. And there is a good deal of harmony between the righteous and the wicked; much concord is established between Christ and Belial.
Hence, briefly, I would raise the following objections against the Third Point:
1. It presents the difference between good and evil as relative. It lowers the standard of what is ethically good and, to a large extent, obliterates the distinction between righteousness and unrighteousness, between light and darkness. The definition which the Heidelberg Catechism offers of what is good is not applicable anymore. According to it, as we said before, only that is good which proceeds from a true faith, is done according to the law of God, and to His glory. All the rest is sin. Surely, the so-called good of which the third point speaks has no place in this definition. The authors and exponents of the “Three Points” speak of a relative good and a relative evil. Prof. Berkhof speaks of a good that is relatively sinful and of sin that is relatively good. He condemns as absolutism the view that occurs in our Confessions that the natural man can only sin and actually sins at all times and in all that he does.
This view of relativity with respect to morality and ethics is certainly pernicious. It creates a sphere in which Christ and Belial may live together in brotherhood. The antithesis is obliterated. The church is swallowed up by the world. The worldly unions are maintained. Presently, we will also confront the question: why is it necessary to maintain separate Christian schools, seeing that the world is so good?
2. The third point makes God the author and the cause of sin. Remember that, according to the third point, it is not the natural man that performs the so-called good works which he is supposed to do, but the Holy Spirit is the Author of them. The Spirit of God so influences the corrupt nature of the unregenerated man that, in his case, the evil tree brings forth good fruit. The Spirit does not penetrate into the heart of the natural man. The heart remains corrupt. Yet God so influences the corrupt nature of the sinner, i.e., his will and his thoughts, his desires and his affections, that, with a heart filled with enmity against God, he performs many good works. The Spirit, as it were, forces the natural man to do good. Nevertheless, his so-called good works are all sin. That is why I wrote a moment ago that the third point makes God the author of sin.
3. The third point is guilty of moral determinism. It destroys the freedom of man as a moral agent. Man, the natural man, is no moral agent at all in performing the good which he does. This is the reason, too, why he can lay claim to no reward for the good work he does. For, do not forget that by the operation of the Holy Spirit, by which he performs the so-called good works which he performs, the heart of man is not renewed. He is still dead in trespasses and sins. He is still incapable of doing any good and inclined to all evil. If he were left alone, he would do only evil. Hence, the Spirit compels the natural man to do good, though his heart is not in it at all. The Spirit, therefore, is the real author of the so-called good works of the sinner: the latter is a mere tool. Thus the moral character of man is destroyed, his responsibility is denied, and the theory of moral determinism is presented as Reformed truth!
4. In the fourth place, I object to the third point on the ground that it is contrary to the justice of God. Briefly, the justice of God consists in this, that it always rewards the good with good, and, on the other hand, punishes evil with evil. Now, according to the third point, the natural man performs much good in this world. It is true, that, according to the philosophy of the third point, the natural man himself does not perform this good, but the Holy Spirit does it for him and through him. He is really not the subject of the good works he performs. Nevertheless, according to all outward appearances, he is a good man, and he does many good things. The justice of God would require that he would receive a reward for the good works he performs. But he does not receive any reward whatsoever. The third point, therefore, is an attack on the justice of God.
You will say that the arguments I raise against the third point are sophistical. Let it be. But if this be the case, it is only because the third point itself is sophisticated. What else is the third point, as it teaches that the natural man does much good in this world which, nevertheless, is no good at all, but pure sophistry?