We must still discuss the Scriptural passages to which the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church refers as proof for the “Third Point.”
In another connection we already discussed the text inLuke 6:33. We will not repeat this here.
We must bear in mind that these passages are quoted (without any interpretation) to prove that the natural man can do good.
The texts to which Synod referred are the following:
II Kings 10:29, 30: “Howbeit from the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, Jehu departed not from after them, to wit, the golden calves that were in Bethel, and that were in Dan. And the Lord said unto Jehu, Because thou hast done well in executing that which was right in mine eyes, and hast done unto the house of Ahab according to all that was in mine heart; thy children of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.”
II Kings 12:2: “And Jehoash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all his days wherein Jehoiada the priest instructed him.”
II Kings 14:3: “And he (Amaziah) did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, yet not like David his father: he did according to all things as Joash his father did.” II Chron. 25:2: “And he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord, but not with a perfect heart.”
Rom. 2:14: “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves.” Here Synod refers to vs. 13: “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.” Also to Rom. 10:5: “For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.” And in Gal. 3:12: “And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.”
Now, what shall we say to these things?
What about Jehu? Does the text from II Kings, quoted above, prove that Jehu, under the influence of the Holy Spirit (Point II), received grace (common grace is, after all, grace) by which he could do good?
This, after all, is the question. It is not the question whether Jehu was an able general, or whether he was zealous in the accomplishment of the task assigned to him. All this may readily be granted. Also today the natural man is often very able and ambitious. But the question is whether he did good in the moral, ethical sense of the word. That is a question of motive. And motive is a matter of the inner man, of the mind, of the will, of the heart.
The Christian Reformed Synod, in the Third Point makes a distinction between saving good and civil good. Let that be as it may, although I do not want to subscribe to the distinction. Any act of man is either good or evil, i.e., in the moral or ethical sense of the word.
Good is an act when it is motivated by the love of God and of men; evil an act when in its deepest root it is motivated by hatred of God and our fellow men. There is nothing else. There can be nothing else. Now, according to the Synod of Kalamazoo, 1924, the unregenerate man can do what is called civil good. Hence, the Synod maintains that a man that is not motivated by the love of God and of the neighbor, who, in fact, in his deepest heart is motivated by enmity against God and against the neighbor, can do good. You may call it natural or civil good,—to me that makes no difference,—it is not sin but good, in the moral and ethical sense of the word.
This I, and all Protestant Reformed people, deny.
To me, and to all of our people, an act of man is either good or it is sin.
But what, then, about Jehu?
Did not God Himself say that Jehu did well in executing that which was right in the sight of God?
Concerning this I make the following remarks:
1. Jehu was, according to Scripture, a wicked man. Before and after the statement that he had done well in executing that which the Lord had commanded him, we read that “from the sins of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, Jehu departed not from, after them, to wit the golden calves that were in Bethel’ and that were in Dan.” Is it possible, then, that he could do anything good in the moral, ethical sense of the word? The answer to this question is and must be negative.
2. It is evident that Jehu was a very able man. As a soldier and general, he was courageous and undaunted in battle. He was thorough in all his work.
3. It is very evident from the entire narrative that Jehu saw in the command of God to extinguish the house of Ahab a golden opportunity to further his own cause,—namely, that he might occupy the throne of Israel. That was Jehu’s sole ambition. And that was also the motive for all. that he did. His motive was not and could not be the love of God. O, yes, he did well. Perhaps, we may say that he belonged to those men that are mentioned in Matt. 7: “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name have done many wonderful works?” No doubt, they did all these things. Jehu did de same things; he also did wonderful works. But what did the Lord say to them? He answered: “I never knew you: Depart from me, ye that work in iniquity.”
4. Moreover, for the very thing which Jehu did so well he was punished. For thus we read in Hosea 1:4: “And the Lord said unto him, Call his name Jezreel, for yet a little while and I will avenge the blood of Jezreel upon the house of Jehu, and I will cause to cease the kingdom of the house of Israel.” Indeed, Jehu did very well in destroying the house of Ahab, but in doing so he was not motivated by the fear of the Lord, but his own wicked ambition.
Hence, in doing well he sinned. Hence, the text does not sustain the doctrine of the third point that the natural man is able to do good, civil or otherwise.
After this rather long elaboration of the example of Jehu, we can afford to be brief on what Scripture relates about Jehoash and Amaziah. These examples certainly do not prove that there is a gracious influence (“common grace”) on the part of God upon the natural man whereby he is able to do good, civil or otherwise.
1. As to Jehoash we read that he did right, not from the love of God, nor from the motive of a certain “common grace”; but he was under the influence of Jehoiada, the priest. And when the priest had died, the king, as is evident from the record we find of him in the second book of Chronicles, ch. 24, forsook Jehovah and became wicked.
2. To Amaziah applies the same thing. Of him we read, too, that he did what was right in the sight of the Lord, II Kings 14:3. Thus also in II Chronicles 25:2: “he did that which was right in the sight of the Lord.” We must understand, in the first place, that this “right in the sight of the Lord” refers to that which he did as king, particularly, to certain reforms he brought about. But, in the second place, he did this “not as David his father,” and he did it not ‘with a perfect heart.” Whatever his motives may have been, he did it not from “a perfect heart,” not from the love of Jehovah his God and, therefore, whatever he did was not good, but was sin. That this is true is evident from what we read in II Chronicles 25:14ff.: “Now it came to pass, after Amaziah had come from the slaughter of the Edomites, that he brought the gods of the children of Seir, and set them up to be his gods, and bowed down himself before them, and burned incense before them.” And when a prophet of God came to rebuke him, he said to the prophet: “Art thou made of the king’s counsel? Forbear; why shouldest thou be smitten?”
I say again that the mere fact that a man can and does something right is no proof at all that so-called “common grace” restrains him from sin. On the contrary, at the same time that he does well, he sins against God.
We must still call attention to Rom. 2:14, the text I already quoted above.
It seems that the Synod meant to teach, on the basis of this text, that the heathen are able to keep the law of God, and, in fact, that they do keep it. For it refers toRom. 2:13: “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.” And it also refers to Rom. 10:5: “For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.” And once more, it refers to Gal. 3:12: “And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them.” Apply all this toRom. 2:14, and you get the teaching: I) that the Gentiles are able by nature to keep the law of God; and, 2) that the Gentiles, doing the things contained in the law, shall be justified and live by the things of the law!
How the Synod of Kalamazoo, 1924, could ever teach such evident heresy and such palpable contradiction of Scripture, I cannot understand.
If this were true, the heathen would be saved without Christ.
But this is not the meaning of Romans 2:14.
The very contrary is true. Nor is this the teaching of the Bible in general.
What, then, is the meaning of Rom. 2:14?
Literally, the text, according to the original reads: “For when the Gentiles, having not the law, do by nature the things of the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves.” And in vs. 15, which really belongs to vs. 14, we read: “Which shew the work of de law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.” What does it mean? The text certainly does not mean that the Gentiles keep the law, but it does mean that without revelation they do themselves what the law did for. Israel. And what did de law do for the Old Testament people of God? The law distinguished, in the various departments of life, between what is good and what is evil: it is good to serve the true God, to keep the Sabbath, to obey those that are in authority over us, to preserve the neighbor’s life, to live chastely, to speak the truth; on de other hand, it is not good to serve false gods, to desecrate the Sabbath, to violate or go against authority, to kill, to steal, to swear a false oath, etc. Those are the things which the law did for Israel. And those are the things which the Gentiles did, in a general way, for themselves. In making laws for and unto themselves, they plainly revealed that they could distinguish between good and evil. But this surely does not mean that they kept the law even as far as they knew it. The law was not written in their hearts, but the work of the law. And having that work of the law in their hearts, they, nevertheless, transgressed the law. And thus they were without excuse in the day of the righteous judgment of God.
At any rate, it is not difficult for any one to admit that this is the correct interpretation of Romans 2:14. And the Synod of Kalamazoo utterly failed to produce Scriptural proof for the Third Point.
If Prof. Kuiper disagrees, I wish he would offer his own explanation.