In our preceding article we had begun to call attention to the doctrine of sin as appearing in our reformed symbols. And we were calling attention, at the close of the article, to Question and Answer 5 of Lord’s Day 2 of the Heidelberg Catechism. We noted that this answer is striking. That we are prone to hate God and the neighbor does not mean that we merely have leanings and inclinations in that direction, but that it is the inclination of our entire nature to hate God and the neighbor. And we also called attention to the fact that we either love God and the neighbor or that we hate God and then also the neighbor. Only when we love God can we love the neighbor. But then it also follows that, if we hate God, we also hate the neighbor. However, there is another striking feature about this fifth question and answer that merits attention.
Question 5 reads: “Canst thou keep all these things perfectly?” And the answer is given: “In no wise; for I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbor.” Why this answer? We understand that Question 5 must not be interpreted as implying that we are able to “keep all these things” imperfectly. The thrust of this question is plain. We must keep the law of God perfectly. Had the Catechism asked whether we can keep the law of God, the question would have been the same. Fact is, we must love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. So, this means that we must “keep all these things” perfectly. We ask: why this answer? Why did the Catechism give the answer that we cannot keep all the things of the law perfectly? Because we either keep the law of God perfectly or we hate the Lord and our neighbor. It is either-or. There simply is no other alternative. We cannot love God and Mammon, we cannot hate God and Mammon. We either love God and hate Mammon or we hate God and love Mammon. We either love God and then we also love the neighbor and ourselves, or we hate God and then we also hate the neighbor and also ourselves. The love or hatred of God determines our attitude towards our neighbors and ourselves. If we really love the neighbor and ourselves, then we shall seek the good of the neighbor and also of ourselves, and this means that we shall seek God for him and for ourselves. This is the doctrine of sin as it appears in this Lord’s Day of our Heidelberg Catechism; what an indictment this is against the theory of Common Grace! That theory would have us believe that, although the sinner cannot do any saving good, cannot love God, he is able to love himself and the neighbor.
This same truth is held before us in Lord’s Day 3. Question 6 asks: “Did God then create man so wicked and perverse?” Notice: man is so wicked and perverse, and this refers to Question and Answer 5. Very familiar are Question and Answer 8. We read: “Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness?” And the answer reads: “Indeed we are; except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.” Notice the absolute character of this language of the Catechism. We are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness. Indeed, every sinner does not commit all evil. A boy or girl cannot sin as a young man or lady. A young man cannot sin as a father and a poor man does not sin as a rich man. But we are inclined to all wickedness. My nature is such that it is capable of every evil under the sun. Given the opportunity, I will sin in connection with whatever opportunity presents itself. Again we remark: this is the doctrine of sin as taught in our Heidelberg Catechism.”
This truth the Catechism repeats in Lord’s Day 4. Question 9 reads: “Doth not God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him in His law, that which he cannot perform?” Notice again the emphasis: God demands of man that which he cannot perform. And the reference, of course, is to the Law of God, that we love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength.
We also notice the same emphasis in Lord’s Day 24. In answer to the question why our good works cannot be the whole or part of our righteousness before God, we read that the righteousness which can be approved of before the tribunal of God must be absolutely perfect and in all respects conformable to the Divine Law, and also that our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin. So, the righteousness bf God demands full and complete conformity with the Law of God, and even the best works of the Christian are all imperfect and defiled with sin. One may ask: if the best works of the child of God are all imperfect and defiled with sin, what must one think of the so-called good of the natural man? To ask this question is to answer it. And the same truth is held before us in Lord’s Day 44, Question and Answer 114. Surely, the Heidelberg Catechism maintains the absolute character of the power of sin. The theory of Common Grace cannot derive any comfort or support from this reformed symbol.
Calling attention to the Belgic Confession, also known as the Thirty Seven Articles, we note that Articles 14 and 15 treat this subject or doctrine of sin. Art. 14, treating the creation and fall of man, and his incapacity to perform what is truly good, reads:
We believe that God created man out of the dust of the earth, and made and formed him after His own image and likeness, good, righteous, and holy, capable in all things to will, agreeable to the will of God. But being in honor, he understood it not, neither knew his excellency, but willfully subjected himself to sin, and consequently to death, and the curse, giving ear to the words of the devil. For the commandment of life, which he had received, he transgressed; and by sin separated himself from God, Who was his true life, having corrupted his whole nature; whereby he made himself liable to corporal and spiritual death. And being thus become wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all his ways, he hath lost all his excellent gifts, which he had received from God, and only retained a few remains thereof, which, however, are sufficient to leave man without excuse; for all the light which is in us is changed into darkness, as the Scriptures teach us, saying: The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not: where St. John calleth men darkness. Therefore we reject all that is taught repugnant to this, concerning the free will of man, since man is but a slave to sin; and has nothing of himself; unless it is given him from heaven. For who may presume to boast, that he of himself can do any good, since Christ saith, No man can come to Me, except the Father, which hath sent Me, draw him? Who will glory in his own will, who understands, that to be carnally minded is enmity against God? Who can speak of his knowledge, since the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God? In short, who dare suggest any thought, since he knows that we are not sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves, but that our sufficiency is of God’? And therefore what the apostle saith ought justly to be ‘held sure and firm, that God worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. For there is no will nor understanding, conformable to the Divine will and understanding, but what Christ hath wrought in man: which He teaches us, when He saith, “Without Me ye can do nothing.”
Now it is true that we read in this article that “he hath lost all his excellent gifts, which he had received from God, and only retained a few remains thereof.” The Christian Reformed synod of 1924, to substantiate its Three Points, quotes this part of Art. 14, calling attention to the fact that man did retain a few remains of his original excellent gifts. Man, therefore, is not wholly depraved and corrupt. Now, in the first place, what a strange interpretation this is when considered in the light of the rest of the article! We read, for example, that man “lost all his excellent gifts (we underscore), that he has become wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all his ways, that all the light which is in us is changed into darkness, as the Scriptures teach us, saying: The light shineth in darkness (again we underscore). And the fathers continue to declare that they reject all that is taught repugnant to this, concerning the free will of man, since man is but a slave of sin; and that he has nothing of himself, unless it is given him from heaven. And we also read in this article that man has corrupted his whole nature. Throughout this article the fathers maintain the complete and utter depravity of the natural man. But, in the second place, as far as that word “remains” is concerned, that word could have been more appropriately translated by the word “traces.” Man did not retain remnants of his original excellent gifts, but only traces, or tracks. Now traces are not remnants but show us where a vehicle has passed but now is gone.
And Art. 15, treating the doctrine of Original Sin, reads as follows:
We believe that, through the disobedience of Adam, original sin is extended to all mankind; which is a corruption of the whole nature, and an hereditary disease, wherewith infants themselves are infected even in their mother’s womb, and which produceth in man all sorts of sin, being in him as a root thereof; and therefore is so vile and abominable in the sight of God, that it is sufficient to condemn all mankind. Nor is it by any means abolished or done away by baptism; since sin always issues forth from this woeful source, as water from a fountain; notwithstanding it is not imputed to the children of God unto condemnation, but by His grace and mercy is forgiven them. Not that they should rest securely in sin, but that a sense of this corruption should make believers often to sigh, desiring to be delivered from this body of death. Wherefore we reject the error of the Pelagians, who assert that sin proceeds only from imitation.
In this article the fathers declare that sin is by no means abolished or done away by baptism. This is taught in the Roman Catholic Church, which maintains that the sacrament of baptism is the washing of regeneration. But we emphasize that this article denies vehemently the error of the Pelagians. Pelagianism denies original guilt and original pollution, separated mankind from Adam, and would maintain that sin proceeds only from imitation. In this article the doctrine of original sin is maintained. Original sin is extended to all mankind. And this sin is a corruption of the whole nature, is an hereditary disease; even the infants are infected with it already in their mother’s wombs. So, also in this article the fathers maintain the doctrine of sin in the Scriptural sense of the word, as we read in Romans 5:12: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned,” and in Romans 5:18: “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life.” And the fathers maintain the Scriptural truth that “without faith it is impossible to please God,” and that “whatever is not of faith is sin.