Zwier does not favor the distinction “image of God in the formal sense.” “Image of God in the material sense.” He prefers the old terminology, “Image of God in the narrower sense.” “Image of God in the broader sense.”
What objection has the reverend to the new terminology? We learn this from the following language from his pen, “But the question is whether after the fall man retained the image of God simply in the formal sense, so that absolutely nothing remained to him of the image of God in the material sense.
“As our readers will understand (Zwier continues) this conception is agreeable to the trend of thought of those who deny common grace. There is no room in their philosophical-theological system for the small remnants. According to them the vessel is still there but it is empty.”
So, then, from this language it appears that Zwier’s objection to the expression “image of God in the formal sense” is that it does not include or cover the small remnants. Let me now ask a question: Whose contention is it that the expression “image of God in the formal sense” does not cover the “small remnants”? Is this the contention of Zwier or of the opponents of common grace? It is Zwier’s contention. The opponents of common grace maintain the very opposite. They insist that the “image of God in the formal sense” does indeed include the small remnants.
Yet what does Zwier give his readers to understand? That it is also our contention that the expression “image of God in the formal sense” does not cover the “small remnants.” This Zwier gives his readers to understand by telling them that there is no room in our philosophical-theological thought-structure for the “small remnants,” in other words, by telling his readers that the opponents of common grace deny the very existence of the “small remnants.”
This then is what Zwier does: In the beginning of his article, he raises the question, “Does the new term of Rev. Hoeksema “image of God in the formal sense” cover the “small remnants”?” And what is Zwier’s answer? Virtually it is this, “According to the opponents of common grace, this new term of theirs does not, yea, cannot, signify the “small remnants.” And this is precisely the reason they prefer this term. It cannot be used as a signification of the “small remnants.” There is no room in their thought-structure for these remnants. “You see therefore, my readers, that the new term, as to the content that the opponents of common grace give to it, and want it to have (they deny the existence of the small remnants) is in flagrant conflict with our Confession. For our Confession teaches that man after the fall did retain the small remnants. Our Confession speaks of the glimmerings of natural light, etc.”
Here Zwier tells a miserable lie. What he tells his readers, he knows to be untrue. I will prove this statement. Rev. Hoeksema’s “referaat” published in the Standard Bearer for April 15, contains these words, “And, to be sure, fallen man became very limited in his gifts and powers and natural light, so that he has retained merely remnants of natural light. . . .” Mark you, the Rev. Zwier was present in the meeting on which the writing that contains the above line was read. Zwier heard this line read. It was read to him. Besides, he received a copy of the Standard Bearer in which the writing was published. And yet he tells his readers, “There is no room in their philosophical-theological thought-structure for the “small remnants.” How is it possible!
Let me quote again from the “referaat,” “For a spiritual-ethical breach was made in the relation of man to God. The life of his heart was subverted into its very opposite. The working of the image of God, whereby he with mind and will and all his strength went out to God in the state of rectitude, was turned about in its reverse. Upon all this emphasis must be laid. It is not sufficient to say that man through the fall lost the image of God, far less correct is it to say that he lost that image in part. If this last thought is the result of the distinction of the image of God in the narrower and broader sense, it is better to abandon this distinction. But the image of God is turned about in its reverse. Man’s light becomes darkness, his knowledge changed into the lie, his righteousness became unrighteousness and his holiness became impurity and rebellion in all his willing and inclination. His love changed into enmity against God. Sin is not merely a defect or lack, but a privatio actuosa.”
Here the writer (Hoeksema) plainly states what man through his fall into sin lost, namely, his original knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. These are gifts that form the material of the image of God, so that the term “image of God in the formal sense” signifies that which constitutes fallen man a rational, moral being. The term thus signifies man’s mind and will, what he thinks and wills, in a word, the light of reason, the remnants. In a word, the content which the opponents of common grace give to the new terms is identical to the content which the Reformed fathers gave to the terms in use. Zwier knows this. He knew this when he penned his article.
Having given his readers to understand that his opponents deny the existence of the remnants, Zwier again occupies himself in his article with the new terminology. He writes, “These (the small remnants) are, it shall have to be admitted, not merely formal matters. Man has not simply a mind (formal), but also knowledge (material). Man has not simply a will (formal), but also discovers some regard for civic and ethical good (material).
“The conception (Zwier continues) that fallen man has retained something of the image of God in the formal sense, and that he is totally devoid of the image of God in the material sense, is not in agreement with our Reformed Confession.”
Also this reasoning of Zwier is marvelously deceiving. What he actually tells his readers is this: “The contention (of Hoeksema and his colleagues) that the “small remnants” belong to the image of God in the formal sense and thus do not constitute the material of the image,—this contention is not in agreement with our confession.”
Now this again is an outrageous untruth. Let Zwier point to a single clause in our confession, which asserts that the small remnants belong to the material of the image. Zwier himself admits that the terms he criticizes were newly coined by his opponents (by Rev. Hoeksema). By admitting this, Zwier declares that the terms were not used by the authors of our creeds. How then can the assertion to the effect that man retained the image of God in the formal sense but not in the material sense as such be in conflict with our Confession? Whether or not the assertion is in conflict with the Confession depends upon the content that one gives to the terms in question. If one defines these terms as the opponents of common grace define them, then the assertion is in full harmony with our confession. For then the assertion is to the effect that man lost his original holiness and righteousness but retained the remnants. Tell us Reverend Zwier, is one who asserts this in conflict with our confession? Well, now, this is what your opponents declare when they assert that man lost the image in the material sense but retained it in the formal sense. And you know this reverend. Why do you persist in misrepresenting your opponents? Only when one defines the terms as you define them, is one in conflict with the Confession when he declares that man lost the image of God in the material sense. Why did you not like an upright man tell your readers this? Are the tenets you are in duty bound to defend, so palpably untrue that you must either admit defeat in the present controversy or resort to lying in order to give to your defense a semblance of strength? How is this?
Why does Zwier not concentrate on the real issue? In my previous article under the above caption, I let the Rev. H. J. Kuiper tell Zwier what the real question, issue, is, namely, “Is everything which the unregenerate do, sin and nothing but sin in the sight of God?” We took notice of Reverend Kuiper’s answer. It is this: “Everything the unregenerate do is not sin in the sight of God.” I remarked that if Kuiper is not here telling his readers that the works of the unregenerate are relatively holy, words have no meaning. There is an element of holiness in the so-called good works of reprobated men. This is indeed the teaching. It is the teaching of Zwier. I furnished some proof of this in the previous article. Let me add to this proof.
Wrote Zwier, “The Old Reformed distinction between image of God in the broader and narrower sense is faulty; it is weighed down by objections. It is faulty because it only partly solves the question that presents itself to us in connection with the image of God. On the one hand we confess on the basis of Scripture, that man through sin wholly lost the image of God; on the other hand we likewise confess on the basis of Scripture that there remained to man after the fall “small remnants” of the image.
“This conception (Zwier continues) brings no unity in our theological system. Plainly speaking it comes down to this that we confess the one as well as the other: Fallen man is totally depraved, and yet there is still something good in him. Now this cannot satisfy our thinking.” So far Zwier.
This very last statement of his is significant. It shows that the two clauses, “Fallen man is totally depraved, yet there is still something good in him” stand out in his mind as contradictory, which means that the last of the two clauses is equivalent to the statement, “yet man is not totally depraved.” Also the conjunction yet tells us this. Finally, the fact that Zwier could write, “This conception brings no unity in our theological system” again proves that in his thinking the image of God in the broader sense includes a remnant of man’s original holiness. Therefore Zwier also insists that the remnants form the material of the image.
Let us now go with Zwier’s criticism to Scripture. To Timothy Paul wrote, “This know also that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters. . . . having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (II Tim. 3:15). Meyer’s comment reads, “it (form) rather denotes the external form in general. But as Paul contrasts it here with power, it acquires the signification of mere appearance in distinction from true nature.”
The comment is correct. All that the wicked have is form. They lack power, that which gives content to the image. Take notice, once more, Rev. Zwier, according to Paul, man did indeed lose the image of God in the material sense. According to Paul, the vessel is empty indeed. All that remained of the image is the form of it. Man still worships (the idol); he still prays (to the creature); he still walks outwardly in the way of the command, but through his very walk and worship he denies the power of what he apparently still possesses, the image of God in the material sense. If words have meaning, then what the apostle here affirms is that the so-called good works of wicked men are sin according to God’s standard.
So you will observe, Rev. Zwier, that this new terminology, which you reject, is actually found in Scripture with a content identical to that given to it by your opponents. Are the terms that you employ to be found in Scripture? If not, are these terms as to the construction that you place upon them, found in Scripture? They are not.
It seems that the modernist doctrine to the effect that there remained to man after the fall a remnant of his original holiness is being preached from the housetops, so to say, in the Christian Reformed Church.
In the Banner for March 10, Rev. Lyzenga placed an article that contains his exegesis on Rom. 2:14, “For when the Gentiles, that have not the law, do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, are a law unto themselves; in that they shew the works of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them.”
What now does it mean that the Gentiles do by nature the things of the law? Rev. Lyzenga strives to prove that what Paul here teaches is that the heathen (depraved man) actually keep the law and this under the impulse of a true love or regard for the law. Let me quote him, “The objection to making an essential difference between a “law written in the heart” and the “deed of the law written there” becomes even clearer when we try to apply this canon to parallel expressions.” The reverend then tries to substantiate his objection. The following language from his pen is significant, “The works of the flesh are done by him who is dominated by the flesh, and the works of the Lord by him who is spiritually akin to the Lord, and the works of darkness by one who loves darkness. How can we escape the conclusion that this same rule applies here? (namely, to the expression in the above quoted text, The heathen do by nature the works of the law.’ G. M. O.) Why make an exception—and so violent an exception—of this one case? Why not, following the analogy, confess that the works of the law are done by such as have some inner affinity to the law?”
The Reverend’s reasoning here is this, “As the works of the flesh are done by him who is dominated by the flesh, and as the works of the Lord are done by him who is spiritually akin to the Lord, and as the works of darkness are done by one who loves darkness, so are the works of the law done by one, in this case the godless heathen, who loves the law, is spiritually akin to the law, is dominated by the law.”
Now if this is not modernist doctrine, then there is no such doctrine. It is most significant that such sentiments can go unchallenged in the Christian Reformed Church. It shows to what hour the hands of the clock are pointing. But what we wish to bring out is that the issue (at least one of the issues) upon which the present controversy turns is not the small remnants, as Zwier tells his readers, but upon the issue whether unregenerated men love the law of God and as impelled by love keep the law; or, as Rev. Kuiper has stated the matter, whether all that the unregenerate do is sin and nothing but sin in the sight of God; or, as Zwier puts it, whether man has retained the image of God in the material sense. Lyzenga says, “Yes, the wicked, (devoid of the life of regeneration) do love the law.” And H. J. Kuiper says, “No indeed, all that the unregenerate do is not sin in the sight of God.” And Zwier says, “Yes, to be sure. Fallen man has retained the image of God in the material sense. He has retained a remnant of his original holiness.” This is the proposition that Zwier also defends in his article. But he does so under cover, so that his innocent readers realize not what they imbibe.