Of the Wonder of the grace of God the center is Immanuel, God with us, in Jesus Christ, our Lord. And we concluded our preceding article by calling attention to the fact that He is Himself, centrally, this Wonder of Divine grace. We now conclude our articles on the miracles of Holy Writ.
This Immanuel is also centrally the Wonder of Divine grace in His death and resurrection. He descends into the depths of the curse of God for all His own. He suffers the agonies and torments of everlasting hell. He endures the unfathomable agony of being forsaken of God, the experiencing of the wrath of God, not as upon Himself, but upon all the sins of those whom the Father has given Him from before the foundation of the world. And He rises from the dead! He ascends into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father! He receives the Spirit beyond measure. The glory of God’s everlasting kingdom and covenant is realized in Him! The breaking through of the grace of God, through sin and death and hell into heavenly glory and immortality, is realized in Him! He is, therefore, centrally the Wonder of the grace of God. He receives the Spirit and power to realize His glory in all His elect. He is the mighty Shiloh, Divinely equipped to call His own out of darkness into light, out of death into life; He has the power to give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, speaking to the dumb, walking to the lame, to call us into God’s everlasting covenant and kingdom.
Finally, of this wonder of the grace of God, operating in us of and through our Lord Jesus Christ, all miracles are signs and symbols. We are not surprised, of course, that the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ in our flesh and blood should be accompanied by a host of miracles. Neither does it surprise us that the prince of the powers of the air should congregate and assemble all his forces, apparently, in the land of Palestine while Christ was among us in our flesh and blood. Indeed, what a multitude of sick people! Besides, we do well to take note of the character of these sick people! They are blind and deaf and dumb and lame and leprous and devil-possessed. To be blind means that we cannot see, to be deaf that we cannot hear, to be lame that we cannot walk, to be dumb that we cannot speak. All these sicknesses, we understand, are symbols of the power of sin. The power of sin is so absolute! We are blind and cannot see, deaf and cannot hear, lame and cannot walk, dumb and cannot speak. We are spiritually dead and there is no life in us. Indeed, the power of sin is so absolute! Whenever we see a miracle we see a symbol of the power of the grace of God. In every miracle we see the power of God’s grace breaking through our night of sin and death. When Christ causes the blind to see, the deaf to hear, the dumb to speak and the lame to walk, we see a picture of what the grace of God accomplishes in the dead sinner. This is the essence of the miracle: it is a symbol of the power of God’s grace. The world may deny these miracles, do all within their power to remove their effect. But the child of God believes in them, has no difficulty accepting them, because he himself has experienced within himself the wonderful power of the grace of God.
THE DOCTRINE OF SIN
The Lord willing, we will not call attention to the history of the doctrine of sin as developed in the church of God throughout the ages of the New Dispensation. The subject of sin is a very wide field and of the greatest significance. It affects, very vitally, the reality and the possibility of our salvation. But it is also directly related to the glory of the living God. The reality of sin, that we are conceived and born dead in sins and in trespasses, helplessly and hopelessly lost in our iniquity, incapable of doing any good and inclined to all evil, lives so really and vividly in the soul and consciousness of the redeemed and saved child and church of God! How is it possible for a church to confess anything less than this; in fact, how is it possible for a church to deny the truth of man’s utter depravity, as did the Christian Reformed Church in 1924, when they formulated their Three Points which include the heresy that the natural man, without the regeneration of the heart, is able to do that, in things civil, which is good in the sight of the Lord. Besides, how necessary is this Scriptural doctrine of sin as far as our consciousness of the need of the Redeemer is concerned! Parts I and II of our Heidelberg Catechism are so inseparably connected. People that are whole need not a physician. Only they that are sick contact the doctor. Our consciousness of the need of the Christ is inseparably connected with our consciousness of sin and guilt. Finally, this doctrine of sin is also a doctrine that concerns the glory of God. A true conception of God’s holiness and righteousness, that He is God and He alone, can never lead a sinner to any other conclusion than that he is so hopelessly corrupt that he is incapable of any good and inclined to all evil. Then he must confess that he is evil, born in sin, enmity against God and the neighbor, never subject to the law of God and never able to be subject to it.
The doctrine of sin is also a very wide field. Historically, it also embraces the pelagian and arminian controversies. Treating this subject, we will discuss the history of this doctrine, the Lord willing, as it was developed in successive periods throughout the New Dispensation. We will begin, therefore, with the period 80 – 250 A.D. That this period begins at approximately 80 A.D. is because this period begins at the conclusion of the apostolic era. We realize, of course, that heretical conceptions and tendencies were already in existence during the time of the apostles. The apostles, however, being Divinely inspired, were, of course, the last and final word. They, too, we understand, opposed heresy. This is evident from their epistles. Nevertheless, heretical departures from the truth remained more or less subdued while the apostles lived. This explains why the first era to which we call attention begins at approximately 80 A.D. This period, 80 – 250, is also known as the Age of Apologetics. It was the era of fierce persecution, although this trying time for the church of Christ did extend beyond 250 A.D., coming to a close with the rise of Constantine the Great, under whose power and influence the church was granted external rest and became honored instead of being an object of reproach. It was through him that the church of Christ received equal status before the law with all the other religions in the midst of the world.
THE FIRST PERIOD, 80-250 A.D.
Concerning this period, Hagenbach writes as follows:
However much the primitive church was inclined, as we have already seen, to look with a free and clear vision at the bright side of man (his ideal nature), yet it did not endeavor to conceal the dark side by a false idealism. Though it can not be said that the consciousness of human depravity was the exclusive and fundamental principle upon which the entire theology of that time was founded, yet every Christian conscience was convinced of the opposition between the ideal and the real, and the effects of sin in destroying the harmony of life; and this, too, in proportion to the strictness of claims set up for human freedom.
Our Reformed Confessions do not give us a concise definition of sin. However, this does not mean that they do not have anything to say on this subject. The Heidelberg Catechism calls attention to the subject-of sin in Part I which deals with man’s misery. In Question 9 of Lord’s Day IV the question is asked: “Doth not God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him in His law, that which he cannot perform?” And the answer follows: “Not at all; for God made man capable of performing it; but man, by the instigation of the devil, and his own willful disobedience, deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts.” God, therefore, demands of the sinner the impossible. What the Lord demands of the sinner in His law is clearly set forth in Lord’s Day II, where we read that the law of God demands that we love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves. This law of God we cannot perform. We are incapable of any good and inclined to all evil. This means that we do not love God and the neighbor, but, on the contrary, we hate Him and the neighbor. And in Question and Answer V we are told that we are prone by nature to hate God and our neighbor. This implies that sin, according to the Heidelberg Catechism, is not merely a matter of the deed, of what we do, but that it is a matter of our nature, of what we are. We are not corrupt as we will to be corrupt (pelagianism), but we walk in ways of corruption because we are corrupt. In our Confession of Faith, the Belgic Confession, we read in Art. XIV the following:
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, agreeably 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 (tracks, traces, — H.V.) thereof, which, however, are sufficient to leave man without excuse; for all the light which is in us is changed into darkness, and the darkness comprehended 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 of sin; and has nothing of himself, unless it is given him from heaven.
And in Art. XV of the same Confession we read the following:
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.
In these articles of our Belgic Confession, XIV and XV, the same truth is held before us as in our Heidelberg Catechism. Sin is a matter of our nature. Man has become wholly corrupt and he has lost all his excellent gifts, retaining only traces of them. This does not mean that he retained remnants of these original gifts of holiness and righteousness, but only traces of them which means that he once possessed them but no longer possesses them. Sin, therefore, is not merely ignorance; the evil is not merely lack of that which is good; it is a corruption of the entire nature of man, a willful refusal to walk in the commandments of the Lord. And the same language characterizes also the Canons of Dordt.