It is high time that we return to our discussion of the article written by Prof. R.B. Kuiper under the caption “Is the Glory Departing,” written in Torch and TrumpetMay-June, 1963.
In our last article on this subject we were discussing the question whether the natural man, the sinner, can do good, especially in the light of the text in Luke 6:33, which was quoted by Kuiper.
On this we have a few more comments.
Kuiper himself refers in this connection to the still notorious “Three Points” of the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church of 1924.
“Evidently the 1924 Synod of the Christian Reformed Church, foregathered at Kalamazoo, so judged. Under the able leadership of such theologians as Professor Louis Berkhof and Dr. Clarence Bouma it weighed the theology of these brethren in the balances of Scripture and found it wanting. Over against the denials noted above Synod affirmed the so-called Three Points of Common Grace. To be sure, it did not claim to have said the last word on that subject. Nor is the formulation of the Three Points beyond criticism. In To Be Or not To Be Reformed, published by Zondervan in 1959, I suggested some possible improvements. Others have done likewise. But exceedingly significant is the fact that Synod upheld the doctrine of common grace without detracting in the least from the historic Reformed doctrine of special or saving grace. In a word, the: Synod of Kalamazoo, like the famous Synod of Dart, came through with flying colors. By insisting on the principle of Scriptura tota (the whole Scripture, H.H. ) as well as on the principle of Scriptura sola(Scripture only, H.H.) it upheld the glory of the Reformed faith and incidentally the glory of the Christian Reformed Church.”
So, the glory of the Christian Reformed Church is: 1) the doctrine that God is gracious in the preaching of the gospel to all that hear it. And 2) That the natural man can do good.
This last point we are still discussing in connection with the article of Kuiper.
Let us, first of all, remind ourselves of the Second Point of Kalamazoo 1924.
It reads as follows:
“Relative to the second point, which is concerned with the restraint of sin in the life of the individual man and in the community, the synod declares that there is such a restraint of sin according to Scripture and the Confession. This is evident from the citations of Scripture and from the Netherland Confession, Art. 13 and 36, which teach that God, by the general operations of His Spirit, without renewing the heart of man, restrains the unimpeded breaking out of sin, by which human life in society remains possible; while it is also evident from the quotations from Reformed writers of the most flourishing period of Reformed theology, that from ancient times our Reformed fathers were of the same opinion.”
Now, it is not our purpose to offer a complete discussion and criticism of the “Three Points” in general or of the “Second Point” in particular. For this I may refer the interested reader to my book on The Protestant Reformed Churches In America.
Seeing, however, that Kuiper accuses me of distorting Scripture by human logic and that he claims that he and the Christian Reformed Church want the whole of Scripture and Scripture only and that the Synod of Kalamazoo 1924 in this respect came through “with flying colors,” we will briefly examine the quotations from Scripture which the aforesaid Synod adduces to prove this Second Point.
First of all, however, we must briefly explain what the Second Point teaches.
I call attention to the following:
1. It does not teach:
a. That God holds in His power all the wicked and ungodly and controls their deeds by His providence. We all believe that.
b. God also restrains the ungodly and wicked mediately as, for instance, by occasions and circumstances, by their place and position, by ,their own fears and ambitions, by the power of the state, etc. We all believe that.
2. But it does teach:
a. That there is an inward restraint upon the mind and will of the natural man whereby some good is preserved so that he is not so depraved as he would otherwise be.
b. That this restraining operation is the work of the Holy Spirit upon the heart and mind of the natural man.
c. That this restraining operation of the Holy Spirit is not regenerating.
d. That this restraining operation of the Holy Spirit is such that sin is checked in such a way that a remnant of his original righteousness is constantly preserved.
e. That this remnant pf original righteousness of the natural man includes such important elements as receptivity for moral persuasion, receptivity for the truth, good motives, good inclinations and desires, etc.
All this the Christian Reformed Church holds to be the truth. All this Prof. Kuiper, too, believes. All this we reject, not by human logic, but on the basis of the Word of God, of the whole Word, of God, and also on the basis of our Reformed Confessions.
And now we will turn to the Scriptural proof which Synod 1924 adduces to substantiate the second point.
The first text quoted is Gen. 6:3. There we read: “And the Lord said, My Spirit shall not always strive with man.”
According to the Synod of Kalamazoo, and according to Kuiper, although they do not offer any exegesis, this text means that God so restrains sin in the heart and mind of the natural man that he is improved and is capable of performing much good.
But this is an impossible interpretation for the following reasons:
1. Because, in that case, God and His Holy Spirit would then have suffered defeat: for God attempted to restrain sin in the heart and mind of the ungodly, but in spite of this, wickedness developed very fast.
2. In spite of the restraint of sin by the Holy Spirit, the wickedness of the pre-diluvian world had so far developed that they, in about sixteen hundred years, had become ripe for judgment.
3. The context militates against this interpretation. In vs. 5 we read: “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” How could this be, if the Holy Spirit worked in the hearts and minds of the natural man continually?
What, then, is the meaning of the text? What is the sense of the word “strive?” Did God strive by an inward operation of the Holy Spirit to check the power of sin in the heart and mind of the ungodly? Let Scripture speak. In Jude 14, 15 we read: “And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
How, then, did God strive with men in the pre-diluvian world? The answer is: through His Word as it was spoken by Enoch. To be sure, also through His Spirit, but not in order to restrain sin, but to make the Word spoken by Enoch powerful and to harden their hearts.
I feel rather sure that Prof. emeritus Kuiper will agree that this is the true interpretation of the text. If he has any other explanation, I wish he would let me know. Even Prof. Berkhof, who taught me exegesis in Calvin Seminary, would, I am sure, if he were still in the flesh, agree with me about this interpretation of Gen. 6:3.
It is very evident that these passages prove the very opposite from what Synod intends to prove: they all say that God gave the ungodly over to their lusts, desire and wickedness. It is clear, however, that Synod, instead of properly exegeting these passages, applied human reason and thus came to the conclusion that they prove that God restrains sin, by the Holy Spirit, in the hearts and minds of the wicked, the natural man. I could put it in the form of a syllogism as follows:
1. God gave the ungodly or natural man over unto unrighteousness.
2. This means that God ceased from restraining them any longer.
3. It follows that, before God gave them over, He restrained, by the power of the Spirit, sin in the hearts and minds of the natural man. But let us, for a moment, see whether this is the true interpretation of the texts quoted.
I will not attempt to explain all the passages quoted, but will limit myself to the passage from Romans 1:18-23.
The text reads as follows:
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God bath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools. And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made-like unto corruptible man, and to birds, and to four-footed beasts, and creeping things.”
We have to take some of the others with the above quoted passage, because they speak of the Lord’s giving the ungodly over to their own lusts.
Thus in vs. 24: God gave them over unto uncleanness; in vs. 26: God gave them up unto vile affections; in vs. 28: God gave them up unto a reprobate mind.
I briefly make the following remarks:
1. The people to whom the apostle refers in these verses, even all natural men, knew God from the revelation in creation, yet they did not want Him: they glorified him not as God.
2. For this reason, not any form of common grace, but the wrath of God was revealed from heaven, and that, too, against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.
3. It is evident from the immediately preceding that this wrath of God was revealed from the beginning of the world, as long as there were ungodly men who always hold the truth in unrighteousness. There never was a time when, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, sin was restrained.
4. How was the wrath of God revealed from heaven? Does God ever restrain sin? Not at all. The very contrary is true, according to the above quoted verses: in His wrath He always punishes sin by plunging the sinner into deeper corruption. He gave them up to uncleanness, vs. 24; He gave them over unto vile affections, vs. 26; and to a reprobate mind, vs. 28.
5. Hence, according to these verses, there never was an operation of the Holy Spirit whereby God restrains sin in the heart of the ungodly.
I could write much more about this, but let this be sufficient.
How the Synod of 1924 and that, too, under the leadership of such men as Berkhof, could ever commit the foolishness to so distort the above-mentioned section of the epistle to the Romans as to make them teach the very opposite of what they, do teach, is a mystery to me.
I cannot believe that Prof. Kuiper, who admits that he believes in the Three Points, subscribes to this corruption.