Wednesday, December 2, 2009

More On the Works of the Law in the Heart (24)

Dear Forum members,

At the end of the last installment I was in the middle of a discussion of Romans 2:14, 15, which reads: “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.”

I was commenting on this verse, because it stands closely related to chapter 1 verses 18 – 32. The point I was making was to show from these two passages that general revelation, so-called, is not common grace, though these are the two passages primarily quoted in support of the assertion that God shows His favor and grace to all men by revealing Himself to them in creation and by writing in their hearts the works of the law.

The points I was making were these: 1) The term “general revelation” is a misnomer. When referring to God’s self-disclosure, Scripture uses the term “revelation” exclusively for God’s work of grace in the salvation of the elect by which He gives them the knowledge of Himself. He does this by objectively revealing Himself to them, but also by giving them, through the work of the Spirit of Christ, eyes to see and ears to hear this revelation. 2 ) Romans 1 speaks of the fact that God does make Himself known through creation, not to show His love and grace to all men, but to reveal His wrath to them and to leave them without excuse (Rom. 1:18, 20). The clause, “So that they are without excuse” is a purpose clause and defines the purpose of God in making known the truth concerning Himself through the things that are made.

There is obviously no grace involved if God’s sole purpose in making Himself known to the wicked is to leave wicked men without excuse. In the judgment day, when Christ sentences the heathen to hell, Christ will do this in complete justice. For they changed the glory of the invisible God into an image make like unto the corruptible creature. They will never be able to say, as an excuse for their sin, “We did not know that we were called to worship God,” or, “We did not know there was a God who demanded that we serve Him. Our ignorance is our excuse.” If such a plea were correct, Christ would indeed do injustice to them in sending them to hell. But such is not the case.

Further, there is here no common grace because God punishes the suppression of the knowledge of Him, which He gives with the further sin of homosexuality. It is impossible to find any grace in that.

This truth is very difficult for people, even in the church, to believe. Evangelicals face a dilemma here. They want all men to be saved, and they want a god who desires to save all men. But throughout the history of the world the gospel does not come to all men, and, in fact, the majority of men never hear it. Most men, therefore, are never given a ‘chance’ to be saved. One would indeed think that such a strange phenomenon would be God’s fault, for He does not give everyone a chance.

A few comments about this are necessary and important.

Pelagians (already in Augustine’s day; Augustine died in 430 AD) were bothered by the same problem, and so concluded that, after all, God’s speech in creation was sufficient to save the heathen. The light of the gospel of Jesus Christ was not essential. The Arminians followed that idea and spoke of the “light of nature”, that could be sufficient to save one who possesses it and never knows the light of the gospel. The fathers at Dordt, aware of this claim of the Arminians, included a paragraph in their Canons repudiating it. This can be found in Canons 3/4, B 5. The rejection of this Arminian error reads: “The synod rejects the error of those who teach that the corrupt and natural man can so well use the common grace (note the use of the term by the Arminian, HH) (by which they understand the light of nature) or the gifts still left him after the fall, that he can gradually gain by their good use a greater, viz., the evangelical or saving grace and salvation itself. And that in this way God on his part shows himself ready to reveal Christ unto all men, since he applies to all sufficiently and efficiently the means necessary to conversion.”

It ought to be clear that the heathen did not have the gospel, which alone could save them, because of God’s deliberate purpose, for God is able to send the gospel wherever He wants to send it. It was God’s choice that kept the gospel from the heathen. Yet the heathen are still without excuse when they are sentenced to hell. This is just and right – when God does this! How can that be? This is true because all the heathen know that the Creator of all things is the one true and living God. They know that God is their Creator and the Creator of all things. They know that God, therefore, imposes upon them the solemn obligation, upon pain of hell, to worship and serve Him alone.

They also know how they are called by God to obey Him, for they have the works of the law written in their hearts. So clearly do they know the law of God that their own consciences accuse or excuse them in their deeds. And the conscience is the voice of God in their consciousness that approves or disapproves their deeds. Yet the voice of God in the conscience is always connected to the objective Word of God, in the case of the heathen, the Word of God in creation .

But does not the doctrine of total depravity excuse the heathen? After all, their total depravity makes it impossible to worship the God who is made known to the heathen. They could not believe even if they wanted to do so. What good then is God’s manifestation of Himself in creation?

But what is the answer of Scripture?

Interestingly, the answer of Scripture is stated with precision in the Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 4. I sometimes think that already in this early Lord’s Day, Ursinus and Olevianus, the authors of the Catechism, separated the truth of Scripture sharply and unmistakably from the Roman Catholic and Arminian error – although the Catechism was written almost 60 years before Dordt met. But here is the point where the Reformed faith diverges from all Roman Catholicism and Arminianism and sets a true Biblical path to follow in all its development of Scripture’s truth. Let me quote the whole Lord’s Day.

“Doth God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him in his law, that which he cannot perform?
“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.

“Will God suffer such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished?
“By no means, but is terribly displeased with our original as well as actual sins, and will punish them in his just judgment temporally and eternally, as he hath declared, ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things, which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’

“Is not God then also merciful?
“God is indeed merciful, but also just; therefore his justice requires, that sin which is committed against the most high majesty of God, be also punished with extreme, that is, with everlasting punishment of body and soul.”

The point of the Catechism is that man, even if he never heard the gospel, is damned to hell; that the reason is his total depravity not only, but that his total depravity is his own fault. He has no one to blame for it but himself. Why? Because he sinned in Adam and is responsible for Adam’s rebellion; that his responsibility for Adam’s sin includes the guilt of Adam’s sin, imputed to him, but also the depravity of Adam’s nature. Guilt and depravity came upon him as the just punishment of God for his transgression in Adam.

Understanding that fundamental point of Scripture and the Reformed faith, we can have no trouble with the just punishment of the heathen who know God only through the creation.

Romans 5:12-14 is the key Scripture passage for this truth: “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: (For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.”

Without going into detail in an explanation of this passage, the point is that death came on Adam for his sin, but that death also came upon all men, for that all have sinned in Adam. That this is the meaning is clear from the fact that we are conceived and born in sin (Psalm 51:5) – original sin and guilt being the death of which Paul speaks (Eph. 2:1). We do well, however, to remember the crucial importance of the last line in the passage, “Who was the figure of him who was to come.” Take away the imputation of guilt and the reality of death from the human race because of original guilt and original pollution, and you take away the imputation of Christ’s righteousness and the great work of sanctification for the elect..

I shall make a couple more remarks about this, though they are somewhat in passing, for they do not have direct bearing on the question whether there is such a thing as general revelation, and whether, if there is, that general revelation is grace to all men.

The passage in Romans 1:18 and following clearly states that God’s temporal punishment on the idolater is an act of God in which He gives the sinner over to the terrible sin of homosexuality. Sin is punished with sin – more sin, greater sin. In this way God reveals His wrath from heaven.

If one understands these things aright, he cannot possibly slip into the error of common grace, for there is no room for any kind of common grace in this Biblical and confessional doctrine. Hence, to maintain common grace is, sooner or later, going to be the abandonment of these fundamentally Reformed truths. And so it is; the modern church is a wasteland, laid desolate by rampant Arminianism.

And finally, let this be a solemn call to all who still love the sacred Scriptures and cherish the truth of God’s absolute sovereignty, to abandon the man-centered errors of Arminian theology, and find their hope and solace in God’s sovereign and unchangeable purpose.

With warm greetings in Christ,

Prof H. Hanko

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