At the conclusion of our preceding article we had quoted Art. IV of the Rejection of Errors of Heads III and IV of the Canons of Dordtrecht. In this article the fathers set forth, clearly and unequivocally, the Arminian conception of the goodness pf the natural man. This error of the Remonstrants is not unknown to us: man can at least desire his own salvation. He can hunger and thirst after righteousness. And therefore he can also long to be delivered out of his misery. And we know how this same error is proclaimed today from what are supposed to be Reformed pulpits. How often do we not hear nowadays that all men are thirsty, weary and heavy-laden. In this article the fathers refute this, declaring that every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil continually, and that hunger and thirst are peculiar to the regenerate.
Article V reads:
Who teach: That the corrupt and natural man can so well use the common grace (by which they understand the light of nature), or, the gifts still left him after the fall, that he can gradually gain by their good use a greater, viz., the evangelical or saving grace and salvation itself. And that in this way God on His part. shows Himself ready to reveal Christ unto all men, since, He applies to all sufficiently and efficiently the means necessary to conversion. For the experience of all ages and the Scriptures do both testify that this is untrue. “He showeth His Word unto Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for His ordinances, they have not known them,”
“Who in the generations gone by suffered all the nations to walk in their own way,”
And: “And they (Paul and his companions) having been forbidden of the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia, and when they were come over against Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit suffered them not,
In connection with this article, we do well to call attention to three things. First, here the term “common grace” occurs. This is the only place in all our Reformed confessions where this term appears. And this certainly proves that it is not true that this view was supported by the fathers, as it is generally supported today in the Reformed church world. This, mind you, is the only place where the term “common grace” appears in all our confessions. And we do well to remember that the fathers were certainly familiar with the term. This appears from the fact that they laid it in the mouths of the Remonstrants. But we do well to bear in mind that they laid it in the mouths of the Remonstrants. The fact that they do not mention it anywhere in all the confessions surely indicates that the use of the term did not enthuse them. But this is not all: Being familiar with the term, they were also familiar with the use of it by the Arminians. Today the conception of “common grace” means that the natural man can do much good in the sight of the Lord, that man did not become completely corrupt when Adam fell; inasmuch as the Lord, by the operation of His grace, checked sin so that man retained some of his original gifts and was enabled by the Lord to do much in things civil that was pleasing in the sight of the Lord. “Common Grace,” therefore, extols the goodness of the natural sinner. However, this goodness of the natural man is clearly denied by the fathers in the Canons of Dordt. We will have opportunity to call attention to this. This is surely not the fathers’ conception of the power of sin and corruption.
Secondly, notice that the fathers in this article repudiate what was expressed in the Three Points of 1924, particularly Point I. In Point I the Christian Reformed Church declared that the Lord is gracious in the gospel to all that hear it, that the preaching of the gospel is therefore an offer of salvation to all its hearers. According to this article the Arminians taught that God on His part shows Himself ready to reveal Christ unto all men, since He applies to all sufficiently and efficiently the means necessary to conversion. The fathers surely deny this in the clearest language. Quoting the Scriptures, they clearly show that the Lord showed His Word unto Jacob, and His statutes and commandments unto Israel, that the, Lord suffered all the nations to walk in their own way, and that Paul and his companions were forbidden of the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. This reminds us of a comment by Calvin in connection with I Tim. 2:4, “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” That reformer asks why the Lord, if He would have all be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (every man, head for head), did not provide all men then with the knowledge of salvation. This same thought is expressed by the fathers in this fifth article of the Rejection of Errors in Heads III and IV. This is exactly the thrust of their quotation of these particular passages.
We now turn our attention to the doctrine of sin as set forth by our fathers in the Canons of Dordrecht in the positive sense of the word. These positive articles are recorded in Heads III and IV of these Canons. We will call attention to Articles 1 through 4.
Article I reads as follows:
Man was originally formed after the image of God. His understanding was adorned with a true and saving knowledge of his Creator, and of spiritual things; his heart and will were upright; all his affections pure; and the whole man was holy: 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 his affections.
In this first article of the Third and Fourth Heads, the fathers first call attention to man’s original creation and the manner of his fall. We will merely note that this article speaks of Adam’s free kill. This does not mean that Adam was a neutral being. On the contrary, he was created good and holy. But the expression does mean that he could choose for the evil and against the Lord. And, incidentally, we may also add that Adam was the only man who ever had a free will. The lost sinner has a will that can will only the evil, whereas the redeemed and perfect saint has a will that can do only the good. But of interest to us in this article is its description of what happened to Adam through the fall. First, he revolted from God turned his back upon the living God. Secondly, he forfeited these excellent gifts. These gifts are mentioned in the first part of this article. Mind you, he lost these excellent gifts. There remained therefore nothing of his knowledge, righteousness and holiness. And, in the third place, we do well to note what actually happened to him. He entailed upon himself blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity and perverseness of judgment, became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in his affections. One can hardly paint a darker picture of the natural man. And nowhere do we read in our Confessions that this was changed through an operation of common grace. How complete is the depravity of Adam as a consequence of his fall! This description is surely complete!
Article II reads as follows:
Man after the fall begat children in his own likeness. A corrupt stock produced a corrupt offspring. Hence all the posterity of Adam, Christ only excepted, have derived corruption from their original parent, not by imitation, as the Pelagians of old asserted, but by the propagation of a vicious nature.
In this article the fathers treat the corruption of the entire human race in the first man. Adam was the bearer of the entire human nature. As he became through the fall, so also all his posterity became.
In the first place, this article sets forth the judicial ground of this. According to this article, this takes place in consequence of the just judgment of God: This reference to the just judgment of God is omitted in the English translation of this article. Adam stood in God’s covenant as our representative head. His guilt is therefore also the guilt of all his posterity. The punishment of sin is death, and to this death belongs also the depravity in which all men are born.
Secondly, the article calls attention to the manner of this corruption of the entire human race. We read that all the posterity of Adam, Christ only excluded, have derived this corruption not by imitation. This is the error of the Pelagians. They denied original sin, guilt and. pollution, and maintained that we derive corruption by imitation. The fathers, however, teach that all men are corrupt by propagation. Man brings forth, the human nature. We have derived our corruption from our original parent. The fathers, therefore, connect man’s vicious nature directly with Adam, the father of the entire human race.
Article III reads:
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.
First, according to this article, man is not only born in sin but also conceived in sin. Hence, this terrible depravity does not begin at our birth but already at our conception.
Secondly, notice how man, according to this article, actually is. He is incapable of saving good. This does not mean that man is capable of another kind of good, a sort of civil good which would be good in the sight of the Lord. But the Arminians taught that the sinner was capable of saving good. Therefore the fathers declare that man is incapable of saving good. Moreover, he is prone to evil. Also this expression is weakened in our present day. Toddy it is said that, although man is prone to evil, this means that the natural man is inclined indeed to all evil, but that he does not always do evil. But the meaning is that his very nature is entirely inclined, bent, toward evil, and that he therefore can never do any good. Of course, every man does not commit every evil, but it must surely be maintained that every natural man does surely always commit evil. Then, this article asserts that man is dead in sin. He is dead as far as the doing of any good is concerned, but he is very much alive as far as walking in iniquity is concerned. And finally we read that he is in bondage thereto. He is a slave of sin. He can never do anything else than sin. Of course, this does not mean that he is a stock and block, that he ever sins against his will. But, although a willing sinner, he always remains a slave of sin. He sins willingly, but his will is in bondage. He can never will otherwise than to sin.