In our preceding article we called attention to the doctrine of sin as set forth in the Heidelberg Catechism and in the Belgic Confession or Thirty-Seven Articles of Faith. In these creeds the fathers maintain the Scriptural doctrine of sin and oppose the Pelagian conception of it. According to Art. 15 of the Belgic Confession Pelagianism teaches that sin proceeds only from imitation. The Protestant and Reformed conception maintains that we are by nature corrupt, that we commit sin because of what we are by nature. This is also the presentation of the Heidelberg Catechism. Question 8 of the Heidelberg Catechism asks the question whether we then are so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good and inclined to all wickedness. Pelagianism teaches that we become sinful and corrupt because of our sinning. Pelagianism denies original guilt and original pollution. We sin through imitation. It is true that the Pelagian will teach that, as we sin, we become weaker in the fight against corruption, and also that we can form bad habits, but he will maintain that man remains inherently good, that man is able to choose the good as well as the evil, and that therefore he is also able to accept the offer of salvation when it comes to him through the preaching of the gospel. This, we know, is also the teaching of the Three Points of 1924. But the truth as set forth in our Reformed Symbols is surely the opposite of this. We sin because we are corrupt. An evil tree brings forth corrupt fruit. Why? Because the tree is corrupt. The fruit does not affect the tree, but the tree determines the fruit. Out of the heart proceeds all our evil thoughts. Why? Because the heart is corrupt. The natural mind (mind you, not Certain particularly evil characters, but the natural mind, that is, every natural man) is enmity against God and is not subject to the law of God, which demands of us that we love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. Why? Because the natural mind is enmity against God. This is the teaching of, Holy Writ. And this is also the language of the Heidelberg Catechism and of the Belgic Confession. Man cannot do that which is good; he is incapable of doing any good and inclined to all wickedness. And this is also the teaching of the Canons of Dordt to which we now call your attention.
Before, we call attention to the doctrine of sin as set forth positively by our fathers in these Canons of Dordt, in the positive section, Head III-IV, we would first call attention, briefly, to what the fathers reject. Under each Head of doctrine, the fathers first set forth the truth positively, and this is followed by a series of articles in which they reject the errors of their opponents. Now we do not intend to treat these articles in detail. This has been done very ably in the past by Prof. H.C. Hoeksema and we recommend these articles to our readers. Our readers may well read these articles again. In Volume 34, for example, the rejection of errors is treated in connection with Heads III and IV. Of these articles, in which the fathers reject the Arminian conception of sin, Articles 1 through 5 are pertinent as far as our treatment of the subject of the doctrine of sin is concerned. We will quote these articles and then offer a few brief comments.
Article I reads as follows:
Who teach: that it cannot properly be said, that original sin in itself suffices to condemn the whole human race, or to deserve temporal and eternal punishment. For these contradict the Apostle, who declares: “Therefore as through one man sin entered into the world, and, death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned,”
And: “The judgment came of one unto condemnation.”
And: “The wages of sin is death,”
The Arminians denied the doctrine of original sin. It is evident from this article that the fathers refer particularly to the doctrine of original guilt. We can and do speak of original guilt and original pollution. That the fathers refer particularly to original guilt is evident from the fact that these articles emphasize the legal idea of condemnation. When the Arminians declare that it cannot properly be said, that original sin in itself suffices to condemn the whole human race, they resort to deception. To say that original sin in itself is not sufficient to condemn the whole human race means, of course, that it would be sufficient to condemn the human race together with man’s corruption and pollution. But, this is deception. Fact is that something is sufficient to condemn the human race, or it is not. Either original sin renders mankind condemnable or it does not. And, mind you, we must understand that man’s spiritual death, his corruption and pollution, is God’s punishment upon sin. If mankind, therefore, is not under condemnation because of the sin of Adam, then mankind may not be born in original corruption and pollution. To say, therefore, that original sin renders mankind worthy of death and under condemnation, together with original corruption, is certainly deceptive. However, let us understand that the doctrine of original sin, guilt and pollution, is fundamental. It is fundamental from the viewpoint of the Arminian. His entire conception of the truth stands or falls with it. It is, of course, the Arminian conception that the work of salvation revolves about the will of the sinner. Hence, it is absolutely necessary for him that he presents man as of himself being able to will to be saved, that man is able to accept the offer of salvation when it comes to him in the preaching of the gospel. But then it is also easily understood that he must deny original sin: to teach that man is able to accept the offer of salvation and to teach that man is born in original guilt and pollution would involve him in an impossibility. But then we also understand the implications of the doctrine of original sin. This means that all men are born under Divine condemnation, and this must imply that they are born also in spiritual death. And this renders any conception impossible that would present salvation revolving around the will of the sinner. In this article the fathers reject the error of those who deny original sin.
Article II reads:
Who teach: That the spiritual gifts, or the good qualities and virtues, such as: goodness, holiness, righteousness, could not belong to the will of man when he was first created, and that these, therefore, could not have been separated there from in the fall. For such is contrary to the description of the image of God, which the Apostle gives in
where he declares that it consists in righteousness and holiness, which undoubtedly belong to the will.
If it be true what the Arminian maintained, that these spiritual gifts or good qualities and virtues were not originally created as belonging to the will of man, then, of course, it follows that these spiritual gifts could not have been separated from the will of man when he fell. He could not very well lose what he never had. And, of course, this is also vital, obviously, to the Arminian. The Arminian would present the will of man as neutral, as able to choose either the good or the evil. And therefore he taught that these spiritual gifts were not separated from the will of man when he fell. In this article the fathers reject this Arminian conception, and therefore maintain the Scriptural truth also of original corruption and pollution. And they quote Eph. 4:24. To be created after God in true righteousness and holiness certainly implies that we are created thus in the image of God, and this means that we were created that way in Adam, and these virtues certainly belong to the will of man.
Article III reads:
Who teach: That in spiritual death the spiritual gifts are not separate from the will of man, since the will in itself has never been corrupted, but only hindered through the darkness of the understanding and the irregularity of the affections; and that, these hindrances having been removed, the will can then bring into operation its native powers, that is, that the will of itself is able to will and to choose, or not to will and not to choose, all manner of good which may be presented to it. This is an innovation and an error, and tends to elevate the powers of the free will, contrary to the declaration of the Prophet: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt,”
and of the Apostle: “Among whom (sons of disobedience) we also all once lived in the lusts of the flesh, doing the desires of the flesh and of the mind,”
O, yes, the Arminian speaks in this article of man’s spiritual death. He does not believe, of course, that the sinner is spiritually dead. But he must use this language because the Scriptures declare that man is conceived and born dead in trespasses and in sins. But he goes on to declare that the will of man has never been corrupted but only hindered through the darkness of the understanding and the irregularity of the affections. And he adds that, once these hindrances have been removed, then the will will be able to bring into operation its native powers, that is, the will will be able of itself to will and to choose, or not to will and not to choose, all manner of good which may be presented to it. Indeed, all we need do is to teach that sinner, reform him, bring all kinds of good influences to bear upon him. He does not need regeneration, an inner spiritual renewal, but all he needs is a good environment, to receive good instruction and observe good examples. This too, is rejected by the fathers. And they quote two very pertinent passages from the Word of God. They call attention to the heart, that it is deceitful above all things, and this is pertinent because the heart is the center of all our spiritual life. If the heart be corrupt, then all of man is corrupt, also his will. And the quotation of Eph. 2:3 declares that we all once lived in the lusts of the flesh, doing the desires (literally: the wills) of the flesh and of the mind. Hence, the fathers must have nothing to do with the heresy of the Arminians that the will of man has not been inherently affected by sin and that it is able of itself to will and choose the good as well as the evil. Again, man’s original corruption and pollution is maintained.
Article IV reads:
Who teach: That the unregenerate man is not really nor utterly dead in sin, nor destitute of all powers unto spiritual good, but that he can yet hunger and thirst after righteousness and life, and offer the sacrifice of a contrite and broken spirit, which is pleasing to God. For these are contrary to the express testimony of Scripture, “Ye were dead through trespasses and sins,”
and: “Every imagination of the thought of his heart is only evil continually,”
Moreover, to hunger and thirst after deliverance from misery, and after life, and to offer unto God the sacrifice of a broken spirit, is peculiar to the regenerate and those that are called blessed.