REJECTION OF ERRORS
Article 2. Who teach: That the spiritual gifts, or the good qualities and virtues, such as: goodness, holiness, righteousness, could not belong to the will of man when he was first created, and that these, therefore, could not have been separated therefrom in the fall. For such is contrary to the description of the image of God; which the Apostle gives in Eph. 4:24, where he declares that it consists in righteousness and holiness, which undoubtedly belong to the will.
The above translation is substantially correct, though it might be possible to improve upon it as to some of the finer points. We would prefer to bring out the thought in the first part somewhat as fellows: “Who teach: That it was impossible for the spiritual gifts, or the good qualities and, virtues, such as goodness, holiness, righteousness, to have their place in (to reside in; Latin: locum habere non potuisse) the will of man, when he was first created, and that accordingly it was impossible for them to be separated from his will in the fall.” We would also make the minor correction of changing “undoubtedly” to “entirely” or “altogether.” However, it probably takes a little explanation no matter which way the translation reads before we properly understand this error.
Before, we proceed with this explanation we wish to remark that this and the two following articles are rather closely related, and that the relation is such that these three articles form three steps in the Arminian reasoning concerning man’s so-called “free will.” And this present article is rather fundamental to the whole chain of reasoning. This can readily be understood. The article deals with man’s creation, with his original position and nature by virtue of his creation. And it stands to reason that what you say about man’s creation will determine to no small degree what you say about his fall and, in turn, about his conversion or restoration.
At the same time we may remark that today in Arminian preaching one does not very easily meet with the error condemned in this article in this direct form. This is probably due largely to the fact that Arminian preaching in its modern farm does not busy itself very much with basic doctrines. Besides, it is mostly Christological and Soteriological in its emphasis, that is, it deals directly almost solely with matters concerning Christ and salvation, and that too, of course, in a very sentimental and false way. This does not mean, however, that Arminianism is not a doctrine. Nor does it mean that the false doctrine treated in this article of our Canons is not still the Arminian doctrine. It is. And it still forms the doctrinal basis upon which modern Arminianism builds its whole false scheme of doctrine. Basically Arminianism is humanistic. And because it is, we may well look for some of its key errors in regard to its implicit doctrine of man, its anthropology. Hence, we do well to pay attention to the error that is treated here.
What is that error?
The first aspect of the error is stated as fellows in the article: “That it was impossible for the spiritual gifts, or the good qualities and virtues, such as goodness, holiness, righteousness, to have their place in the will of man, when he was first created.” The question is, however: what did the Arminians mean by this?
In the first place, the Arminians maintained that the will as such, conceived of apart from any action of the will, any act of willing, any determination, any choice, is simply the faculty or power of the soul to choose. The will, therefore, is able to choose either good or evil, and, in fact, is able to choose good and evil. In the second place, it follows, according to this same conception, that the will itself, as a faculty or power of the soul, cannot be described in terms of the spiritual and ethical. You cannot speak of a holy or an unholy will, a good or an evil will, a righteous or an unrighteous will. The spiritual gifts, or the good qualities, and virtues, such as goodness, holiness, righteousness, could not belong to the will of man when he was first created. No more than, you can speak of a circle in terms of its being square or out of square, no more can you speak of a will in terms of its being holy, righteous, good, or unholy, unrighteous, evil. The two categories of thought do not belong together. Why not, according to the Arminian? Simply because that is not part of the creation of man.
The second aspect of the Arminian error in this connection is expressed as follows in the article: “and that these (spiritual gifts), therefore, could not have been separated therefrom in the fall.” This is, of course, a conclusion from the preceding proposition. And we may add too that it is a perfectly logical conclusion if you grant that the premise on which it is based is correct. It certainly follows that if these spiritual gifts did not belong to the will of man by virtue of creation, they could not be separated therefrom in the fall. The will could not lose what it did not have to begin with. And we may insert at this point that here is a plain example of the fact that if you say “A” you must say “B”, and that it is of crucial importance to be very careful and precise in regard to your doctrine of man’s original state and his creation. What you say about man’s creation will certainly determine all that you say about his fall and his restoration.
Now what do the fathers say of this error?
We may notice that in this case they do not bother to classify this Arminian error, with Pelagianism. It most certainly is Pelagianism. The same old errors of Pelagius, that sin, is only in the act, not in the nature; that the will remains free to choose good and evil; that you can never really speak of a corrupt will as such; as yell as the implied error of individualism,—these may all be discovered in this statement 6f the Arminians. In fact, it is almost amazing that such an error could ever have arisen in Reformed circles. Nor would it be difficult to show the similarity between this doctrine and Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of man in puris naturalibus and his conception of the image of God as a donum superadditum. Neither, however, do the fathers at this point argue against this doctrine by pointing to its evil consequences for the rest of our doctrine. For it certainly does not take much vision to sec in what direction this error takes one. The effect of this error is going to be an inevitable denial of man’s total depravity,—a denial that is indispensable to the idea of a conditional salvation.
No, the method of the fathers here is to take us step by step along the Arminians’ line of reasoning. The consequences of this teaching in Article 2 will become plain in the following articles. But at each step the fathers point out the most fundamental error of the Arminians, namely, that they oppose Scripture: “For such is contrary to the description of the image of God, which the Apostle gives in Eph. 4:24, where he declares that it consists in righteousness and holiness, which undoubtedly belong to the will.”
In the passage referred to we read: “And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”
Concerning this passage, the following:
1. The fathers are correct in finding here a description of the image of God. It is true that the image of God is not literally mentioned here. But nevertheless the idea is plainly stated in the expression, “created after God.” This is the same as saying “created in God’s image, after His likeness.” This is confirmed also by the somewhat parallel passage in Colossians 3:10: “And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.”
2. That as far as the present article is concerned, the fathers are correct in quoting it with a view to man’s creation. For while it is certainly true that the text in point speaks of man’s recreation, we must not forget that salvation implies that the image of God is restored in the child of God. In other words, you have a description here of the image of God, whether in creation or in recreation. The question remains yet: how does this argument overthrow the Arminian position? In answer, let us note the following elements:
1. Notice that the passage in question speaks exactly of spiritual gifts, or good qualities and virtues. This is important. It does not speak merely of a righteous or holy action or a righteous or holy choice. It speaks of qualities, virtues, spiritual gifts.
2. Notice, in the second place, that these qualities, virtues, gifts themselves constitute the image of God.
3. Now if we remember that the image of God was not something added to man, but something which he possessed by virtue of his very being created, so that the Scripture says that he was created in God’s image, and after God’s likeness, then it must be plain that this righteousness and holiness were indeed qualities of man’s will when he was created. Man was not neutral. His creation after God’s image certainly did not mean that he was merely created a creature with the power of will. It means very definitely that he was created with a righteous and holy will. His righteousness and holiness, were in-created.
All this does not touch, of course, on another phase of man’s creation, namely, that his righteousness and holiness were in-created in such a way that the first man was lapsable, could fall, and could lose his spiritual gifts and good qualities and virtues. But that is another question. That man could change and fall and become corrupt is certainly not to be explained by saying that his will as such had no qualities of righteousness and holiness to begin with, and that it was neutral, capable of willing both good and evil. Then you deny the fall. And, in fact, the Arminian denies the very possibility of man’s fall in the error at present under discussion. But Reformed and Scriptural it is to say that these spiritual gifts resided in man’s will when he was at first created. Reformed and Scriptural it is to say that therefore these good qualities could be and were separated from man’s will when he fell. And Reformed and Scriptural it is to reject the Arminian error that is repugnant thereto; and to do so expressly.
You read about it in the 24th chapter of Matthew; that classic and in a way dreadful passage on the return of our Lord Jesus Christ at the end of this present dispensation.
Jesus and His disciples are on the Mount of Olives. From where, they are sitting they can see the Holy City stretching out before them. Somewhere near the middle of the city ark the royal palace and the temple buildings. Just previous to coming to this beloved rendezvous Jesus had told His disciples concerning those very buildings, “See ye not all these things? Verily I say unto you, There shall not be left here one stone upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” Vs. 2. That prophecy weighed heavily on the minds of the disciples and evokes from them the question, “Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the SIGN of thy coming, and of the end of the world?” Vs. 3. Obviously, even the disciples expected a special sign in connection with the final advent of the Lord Jesus. This question in turn leads to the entire wonderful discussion of His second coming, which comprises this most significant chapter. The Lord speaks of the many things that must take place before the end can come. He warns of the numerous antichrists and false prophets that will come in His name and will deceive many. Then too, they will hear of wars and rumors of wars. Jesus speaks, too, of the great apostasy that lies ahead and the preaching of the gospel to all nations before the end of the world can come. Especially does He warn them concerning the fiery persecutions that must befall the church, before that great day of their redemption can come. Finally we hear Him say, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken: And then shall appear the SIGN OF THE SON OF MAN IN HEAVEN: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” Vss. 29, 30.
Especially in verses 3 and 30, therefore, we find direct reference to this sign of the Son of man in heaven.
It is obvious that our Lord here speaks of a special sign to be revealed at the final, personal, visible coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, also known as the Parousia.
Scripture speaks of various comings of Christ. The judgment of God whereby the earthly Jerusalem was ravaged may certainly be characterized as a coming of the glorified Jesus. There can be no question that much in Matthew 24 has reference to this dreadful type of the final advent of the Savior. Perhaps, too, we may speak of the moment of every Christian’s death as a coming of the Savior for the deliverance of His own from the earthly house of this tabernacle. Pentecost definitely marks a return of Jesus to His church. Had He not promised His disciples, “I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.” John 14:16, 17. And then He adds, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” Vs. 18. In fact, Scripture even speaks of a coming of the Lord throughout the ages. Remember what Christ said to Caiaphas’ and the Sanhedrin in the dreadful hour of His condemnation, “Hereafter (from now on) shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.” Matthew 26:64.
However, this “sign of the Son of man” stands in connection with the Parousia, the final coming of the Lord Jesus to judge the quick and the dead. “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, etc. AND THEN shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven.”
It need not greatly surprise us, that many and varying interpretations are offered by scholars of Holy Writ of this phrase. The question is: Is this sign of the Son of man to be distinguished from the Son of man Himself, or are the two to be identified? Also: if a definite distinction must be made between “sign” and “Son of man;” does the former merely accompany the coming of Christ or is it something that precedes and heralds the latter?
Calvin teaches the former. He distinguishes between the sign and the Son of man, but not between the appearance of the former and the actual, personal coming of the latter. They a& not two distinct moments in the whole of Christ’s second advent. The sign accompanies, but does not precede, the coming proper. “And therefore He declares that He will appear openly at His last coming, and; surrounded by the heavenly power, which will be a sign erected on an elevated spot, He will turn the eyes of the whole world upon himself.” According to Calvin, “the heavenly power, by which He shall be surrounded, will serve as a standard displayed to compel the whole world to look at Him.” This church father, therefore, to whom we are so greatly indebted, does not identify sign and thing signified, but he does synchronize them.
Barnes takes the same position when he says, “At the end of the world the sign of His coming will be His personal approach with the glory of His Father and the holy angels.”
“Some effort,” says Lenski, “is made to find a distinction between the sign of the Son of man and its appearance, and the Son of man Himself coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. But why seek for a distinction?” To him it is simply the sign by which he shows His presence. The sign does not precede the coming in any way; it merely accompanies it. “No sign, say a glowing, dazzling light shall hang over the earth for a shorter or longer time after which sign the Son shall arrive. (Is this a touch of sarcasm? What Lenski here suggests and denies is indeed extremely possible. R.V.) All will be one grand act.”
With all the above we cannot agree. It is our considered opinion that Meyer does far more justice to the passage in question. He speaks of “the sign of the Son of man inquired about in verse 3, that phenomenon, namely, which is ,i>immediately to precede the coming Messiah, the Son of man, and which is to indicate that His second coming is now on the point of taking place, which is to be the signal of the latter event.”
With this the Rev. H. Hoeksema also agrees, as those familiar with his exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism may know. “It seems, then, that we must make a distinction between His sudden appearance in the clouds of heaven, to all that shall live on the earth at the time of His advent, and His complete revelation to all that have ever lived in the world, after the resurrection. It would seem that Scripture makes this distinction in Matt. 24:30. Whatever this “Sign of the Son of man in heaven” may be it seems that it must be distinguished from His full and final revelation.” Vol. IV. p. 132.
We believe and maintain, therefore, that this, “appearance of the sign of the Son of man in heaven” must be definitely and clearly distinguished from the coming proper of the Son of man in the clouds of heaven, and that so that the former precedes the latter in the one grand wonder of the return of our Lord Jesus to judge the quick and the dead and make all things new.
An unforced reading of the text from Matthew would appear to press to this conclusion, especially the twice occurring expression “and then.” “Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, . . . . AND THEN shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: AND THEN . . . . they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.” That this sign shall precede the coming proper is indicated as well by the question of the disciples in verse 3, “What shall be the sign of Thy coming, and of the end of the world?”
What shall constitute this sign of the Son of man? Who shall say? We cannot know what God has not been pleased to reveal to us, nor can there be profit in idle speculation. Augustine and others have ventured the guess, that this sign will be in the nature of a cross appearing in the heavens. Interesting and intriguing, perhaps, but quite groundless. Others conjecture that it will be in the nature of a special star. These people are thinking of Numbers 24:17. Perhaps Meyer is nearest the truth, when he says, “Jesus does not say what this is to be; therefore it should be left indefinite. Only this much may be inferred from what is predicted in verse 29 about thedarkening of the heavenly bodies, that it must be of the nature of a manifestation of light, the dawning of the Messianic glory which is perhaps to go on increasing in ‘brilliancy’ and splendor until the Messiah Himself steps forth from the midst of it in the fullness of His glory.” Certainly, there would seem to be merit in this reasoning. However, take all these for what they are worth; the simple fact stands that Christ does not divulge the precise nature of this sign.
Certainly, there is nothing foreign to the idea that the wonder of the Savior’s return should be accompanied by a great sign. The incarnation was realized via the sign of all signs, the Virgin Birth. The death of Christ and His resurrection were accompanied by mighty signs in nature: the rending of the veil, the rending of the rocks and opening of graves, the earthquake. Why should it seem strange that the final, all, including and all concluding wonder should be accompanied by a most majestic and unmistakable sign?
Not only must such a sign accompany the miracle of the return, but it is quite necessary that it shallprecede it. Remember that the Parousia (the final coming) is a wonder of grace, spiritual and heavenly in nature, and therefore itself imperceptible as far as our present, earthy senses are concerned. It belongs to the “other side.” Indeed, the coming of Christ will be personal and visible. However, the body with which He is coming will be heavenly, not earthy; spiritual, not natural. The point is: Christ in His advent will be visible only to creatures already transformed and in their resurrection bodies. For the living and the dead to see the Lord in His glory, the resurrection of the dead will have to precede His actual coming. And so it will. That the resurrection of the dead must precede the coming proper of Christ is also evident from the fact, that every eye shall see Him, also those who pierced Him. That certainly presupposes the resurrection. That does not mean, however, that this resurrection of the dead will take place without any warning and indication of the coming of the Lord. All will be preceded by the sign of the Son of man in heaven, the sign in the realm of the natural that will be visible to all on the earth and that will mark the beginning of that miraculous chain of events that will culminate in the end of all present things and the eternal glorification of Christ and His church in the new heavens and the new earth. It would appear, therefore, that the very nature of the return of Christ, transcendent and heavenly as it will be, indicates the propriety and necessity of just such a preceding sign of the Son of man.
The order of events in the Parousia, therefore, will perhaps be as fellows: a. When the counsel of God with respect to all things shall have been realized and the great tribulation shall have taken place, the signs in nature will occur which are described to us in Matthew 24:29. b. Then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven. c. Then the resurrection of the dead will take place, the good and the bad. d. Then Christ Himself shall come in the full revelation of His glory and all shall see Him, righteous and wicked, in their resurrection bodies. e. Then will be the last judgment, the passing and execution of the sentence, and the creation of the new heaven and earth, wherein only righteousness will dwell. Then the wicked will be destroyed forever, while the righteous will shine as suns in the heavenly Father’s realm.