Fourthly, what does this law of God demand? To this there can be only one answer, in the light of the Word of God. The law of God demands complete perfection, or the entire conformity of the moral nature and conduct of a rational creature with the nature and will of the Lord. We are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength. And we love our neighbor as ourselves. This obligation, of course, is limited to the capacity of the creature. It is not limited to the ability of the creature. If a creature is not able to serve the Lord with all his heart and soul and strength, he is, of course, not excused from this perfect service of the Lord. But it is limited to the capacity of a creature. The capacity of a child is less than that of an adult Christian or of an angel. He can know less. He can contain less. Nevertheless, it is the absolute moral perfection of the child, of the adult, or of the angel that the law demands. This is also in harmony with the teaching of our conscience. The child of God knows that he sins or is sinful whenever and howsoever he comes short of this conformity to the image of God. He surely knows that coldness of affection, defect of zeal, and the want of humility, gratitude, meekness, forbearance, and benevolence are in him of the nature of sin. Augustine taught this. And the Lutheran and Reformed theologians assert the same principle. Because of this principle, the following truths are self-evident.
First, there cannot be perfection in this life. Every form of perfectionism is surely founded upon the assumption that the law does not demand absolute perfection in this life, a perfection that is in perfect harmony with the law of God and as determined by the holiness and righteousness of the Lord.
Secondly, it follows from this truth that there can never be attributed any merit to the good works of men in the midst of the world. Fact is, all the good works of the people of the Lord are always corrupted by sin and are as filthy rags, unrighteousnesses.
Thirdly, it also follows from this truth that there can never be any such thing as works of supererogation. No man can ever perform above the demands of the law of God. Rome teaches that a man can merit beyond the law of God. But the Scriptures teach that if a man were to fulfill all the demands of the law and do all that is required of him, he would still be an unprofitable servant, inasmuch as he had merely done what is his duty.Luke 17:10.
Fourthly, it also follows from this truth, namely that the law of God demands complete and perfect obedience, that sin is not confined to acts of the will. The majority of the schoolmen and, of the Roman theologians deny that anything is of the nature of sin, but voluntary acts of the will. Evil motives and desires within us are only sin when we deliberately assent to them and indulge in them. But this is not the view of the Protestant doctrine of sin. If the law of God demands perfection, perfect conformity to its demands, then these impulses of evil are very clearly sinful. And the Protestant doctrine which pronounces these impulsive acts to be of the nature of sin is surely confirmed by the consciousness of the child of God. He recognizes as evil in their own nature the first risings of malice, envy, pride, etc. He knows that they spring from an evil or imperfectly sanctified nature. He knows that they constitute part of the burden of corruption which he hopes to lay down in the grave; and he knows that as he shall be free from them only then when he shall have attained unto everlasting perfection in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ, these imperfections never characterized the Lord Jesus Christ. And our Heidelberg Catechism does not merely, condemn the sins which the child of God commits consciously, but also the corruption of his evil and corrupt nature.
Finally, it also follows from this principle that the law of God condemns all want of conformity to the nature of God, that it condemns evil dispositions or habits, as well as all voluntary sins, whether deliberate or impulsive. According to the Word of God, there is a sinfulness as well as sins. The Word of God surely speaks of a sinful state, of abiding, inherent forms of evil, which are truly and properly of the nature of sin. All sin, therefore, is not merely an activity or act; it may be and is also a condition or state of the mind. This distinction between habitual and actual sin has been confessed by the Church of God throughout the ages. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself teaches us this distinction when He speaks of an evil heart as distinguished from evil exercises, which are as distinct as a tree and its fruits. The Apostle speaks of sin as a law, or controlling principle regulating or determining his acts even in despite of his better nature. He declares that sin dwells in him. He declares that he does not what he would do and that he fails to perform what he ought to do. Man is a sinner, in all his life and being.
Before we quote from the Lutheran and Protestant Confessions concerning the doctrine of sin, we would present the following quotation from Hodge, Vol. II, 230-231, in which he presents a Statement of the Protestant Doctrine:
From the above statements it appears that, according to the doctrine of the Protestant churches, original sin, or corruption of nature derived from Adam, is not, (1.) A corruption of the substance or essence of the soul. (2.) Neither is it an essential element infused into the soul as poison is mixed with wine. The Form of Concord, for example, denies that the evil disposition of our fallen nature are created conditions within us. The affirmative statements on this subject are (1.) That this corruption of nature affects the whole soul. (2.) That it consists in the loss or absence of original righteousness, and consequent entire moral depravity of our nature, including or manifesting itself in an aversion from all spiritual good, or from God, and an inclination to all evil. (3.) That it is truly and properly of the nature of sin, involving both guilt and pollution. (4.) That it retains its character as sin even in the regenerated. (5.) That it renders the soul spiritually dead, so that the natural, pr unrenewed man, is entirely unable of himself to do anything in the sight of God.
This doctrine therefore stands opposed.
1. To that which teaches that the race of man is uninjured by the fall of Adam.
2. To that which teaches that the evils consequent on the fall are merely physical.
3. To the doctrine which makes original sin entirely negative, consisting in the want of original righteousness.
4. To the doctrine which admits a hereditary depravity of nature, and makes it consist in an inclination to sin, but denies that it is itself sinful. Some of the orthodox theologians made a distinction between vitium and peccatum. The latter term they wished to confine to actual sin, while the former was used to designate indwelling and hereditary sinfulness. There are serious objections to this distinction: first, that vitium, as thus understood, is really sin; it includes both guilt and pollution, and is so defined by Vitringa and others who make the distinction. Secondly, it is opposed to established theological usage. Depravity, or inherent hereditary corruption, has always been designated peccatum, and therefore to say that it is not peccatum, but merely vitium, produces confusion and leads to error. Thirdly, it is contrary to Scripture, for the Bible undeniably designates indwelling or hereditary corruption, or vitium, as hamartia (sin). This is acknowledged by Romanists who deny that such concupiscence after regeneration is of the nature of sin.
5. The fifth form of doctrine to which the Protestant faith stands opposed, is that which admits a moral deterioration of our nature, which deserves the displeasure of God, and which is therefore truly sin, and yet denies that the evil is so great as to amount to spiritual death, and to involve the entire inability of the natural man to what is spiritually good.
6. And the doctrine of the Protestant churches is opposed to the teachings of those who deny that original sin affects the whole man, and assert that it has its seat exclusively in the affections or the heart, while the understanding and reason are uninjured or uninfluenced.
In order to sustain the Augustinian (or Protestant) doctrine of original sin, therefore, three points are to be established: I. That all mankind descending from Adam by ordinary generation are born destitute of original righteousness, and the subjects of a corruption of nature which is truly and properly sin. II. That this original corruption affects the whole man; not body only to the exclusion of the soul; not t lower faculties of the soul to the exclusion of the higher; and not the heart to the exclusion of the intellectual powers. III. That it is of such a nature as that before regeneration fallen men are “utterly indisposed, disabled, and opposed to all good.”
We quoted this statement of the Protestant doctrine from Hodge for obvious reasons. Notice how absolute this presentation of the truth is concerning sin! The Protestant doctrine of sin teaches that the corruption of nature affects the whole soul. It teaches that it renders the soul spiritually dead, so that the natural or unrenewed man is entirely unable of himself to do anything good in the sight of God. Now, I suppose that this presentation of the truth can be thus modified that the sinner, because of the operation of a common grace, is able to do good in the sight of the Lord. But notice how absolute these statements of Hodge are! The Protestant doctrine of sin teaches that original sin is not merely negative, consisting in the want or lack of original righteousness. We also read that the Protestant doctrine is opposed to those who deny that the evil is so great as to amount to spiritual death, and to involve the entire inability of the natural man to what is spirituality good. Of course, we do not hesitate to elide the word, spiritually, here, and teach the entire inability of the natural man to do any good. Notice, too, that the Protestant doctrine of sin is such that original sin affects the whole man, including his understanding and reason. And Hodge concludes with the remark that, according to the Protestant conception of sin, fallen man, before his regeneration, is utterly indisposed, disabled, and opposed to all good. It is good to read sentiments of this nature. This is the teaching of our Protestant Reformed Churches, and we may be assured that, teaching the utter inability of the natural man to do anything good in the sight of God, we find ourselves in good company. Indeed, we are surely in the line of the Augustinian conception of man’s sin and corruption. Next time, the Lord willing, we will call attention to what the Lutheran and Protestant Confessions have to say on this subject.