Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Does God 'Restrain Sin"? (32)

Dear Forum members:

I have shown that the doctrine of the gracious restraint of sin is a heresy that holds dire consequences for the church that adopts it. The truth that Scripture teaches is exactly the opposite of a gracious restraint of sin. Scripture teaches that the world gets worse in its sin as time goes on, and that the sinfulness of man climaxes in the man of sin, Antichrist. To this truth I devote this installment.
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Before I proceed any further in our discussion, let me emphasize that Scripture most emphatically teaches a restraint of sin. My opposition to this doctrine of common grace is not that God never restrains sin. He does. My quarrel is with the idea that the restraint of sin is a gracious operation of the Spirit of Christ in the heart of the natural man that changes the moral character of a man’s depraved nature, but does not save him.
God does however, restrain sin. He restrains sin by His providence in such a way that a sinner is limited in the expression of sin by the circumstances of life in which God’s providence places him. Man is totally depraved apart from the work of regeneration. He is as bad as he can be. Nothing at all alters the total corruption of his nature. He is completely incapable of doing anything morally good and pleasing in the sight of God. Everything that proceeds from his evil nature is contrary to God’s moral will. It is not only a matter of passively having a corrupt nature, but that nature expresses itself in his thoughts, words, deeds, desires and activity. All the expression of his corrupt nature is actively opposed to God. Scripture paints a picture of man that is dreadful to contemplate.

A clear instance of God’s providential restraint of sin is found in Genesis 11:1-9. To prevent a premature realization of the one-world kingdom of Antichrist under Nimrod, the Lord divided the people into nations, races and languages, for if a one-world government had been formed then, the elect church of God could not have been gathered through the work of our Lord Jesus Christ. But the truth of total depravity stands.

If we doubt the Biblical teaching on this doctrine, then we need only consult Paul’s scathing description of the natural man in Romans 3:10-18, where the apostle affirms the teachings of the OT Scriptures by quoting them with approval. We may also take seriously what Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1, in which passage he describes the sinner as “dead in trespasses and sins.” The sinner exists in the world, but he is morally and spiritually dead and is as incapable of doing anything good as a corpse is incapable of any signs of life. It is easier for a corpse to raise its head and talk than for a totally depraved sinner to do good.

But man is limited by the all-comprehensive providence of God from expressing his sin. It is in this area that sin develops. God is sovereign in all this creation. He is sovereign also over sinful men and devils. He does all His good pleasure according to His eternal determination of all history in His eternal counsel. Such sovereign control extends also to the development of sin in this world.

Several points have to be made in connection with this development of sin.

The history of the pre-deluvian world was an illustration of such development. I discussed this at some length in an earlier installment and will not repeat what I said then. But all the elements of the development of sin from the flood to the end of the world were also present in that world that was destroyed by the flood. And, the chief point is that God destroyed that old world with the flood because it had filled the cup of iniquity. That is, the depraved nature of man had manifested itself in every possible sin when the flood came. The world could not have gotten more sinful than it was at that time. It was filled with totally depraved men not only, but the depraved nature of man had expressed itself in every possible sin that could have been and was committed. Chiefly, this was true because the line of Cain developed the creation to its fullest extent and used all the powers of creation in the service of sin. In addition to this remarkable development, the world so persecuted the church that the church was reduced to one family of eight members. Divine judgment at that time was necessary to preserve the church. The ultimate sin is, therefore, the persecution of the church.

But let me go back a bit. I said earlier in this installment that God restrains sin by providentially controlling the circumstances of people in their life in the world. A poor man with little possessions cannot sin as a Rockefeller can sin. A man who works on an assembly line cannot sin as much as a man who owns ten prosperous companies. A mere citizen cannot sin as much as a politician. A quadriplegic cannot sin as much as a Tiger Woods. A man in the jungles of Mindanao cannot sin in the same way that an inhabitant of New York City can sin. God determines all the circumstances of a man’s life, including every detail. And so, while all men are equally depraved, the expression of their depravity is limited by God’s providential determination of the circumstances of their life. The time and age in which they live (whether the fifth century or the twenty-first century), the country of which they are citizens, the position of power that they hold in politics, the economy (whether prosperous America or poverty-stricken Zimbabwe) and in the use of their earthly possessions – all outside their control – determine the sins they commit.

God also restrains sin because He gives all men a knowledge of right and wrong. We discussed earlier the passage in Romans 2:14, 15, which clearly teaches that all men know what is pleasing to God and what is displeasing to Him. This knowledge of right and wrong that the wicked possess is not an evidence of God’s grace to them (why should it be?), but is God’s way of leaving the wicked without excuse. They sin and know that they sin. For this they go to hell.

But in the lives of some in the world these wicked men see clearly that law and order ought to be maintained in the world, because without it society cannot survive. And man sees too that an outward observance of the ten commandments is the way to maintain law and order. This is unsanctified common sense and it does not require regeneration or common grace for anyone to see this. If the sixth commandment is not enforced by the magistrate and murder becomes commonplace, society disintegrates and becomes a jungle. Even an unregenerated child can see that.

Job teaches us that God even restrains the devil. When God gave the devil power to take away Job’s possessions and his health, God told Satan that he would not be able to kill Job (Job 2:1-6). God’s sovereign control, even of devils, is so total that all the wickedness of man is overtly expressed only as God wills it.

But even then, the fact is that if man can break the commandments of God and to all appearances “get away with it,” that is, not suffer the consequences of it, he will do so. He violates the Sabbath with impunity. While piously prolonging life of aged people, some of whom have lost their powers of rationality, he murders unborn infants by the millions. He will manifest his sin as much as he dares without jeopardizing his own comfortable place in life.
But more than this, increasingly he will blind himself to the consequences of his sin in order to justify his continual pleasure in the sin. It is evident to all that homosexual practices lead to sexual diseases including the HIV virus. Does this curb homosexual practices? No. The solution to the problem, according to the world, is not to refrain from sin, but to find a cure for sexual diseases. And anyone who dares to say that the prevalence of HIV is God’s judgment on the sin of homosexuality is in danger of being tarred and feathered, if not worse. Though divorce and remarriage lead to badly hurt children and open fornication, still man closes his eyes to the terrible consequences of such immorality and approves of the practice, even legalizing it. What is worse, the church itself approves.

This too is the development of sin. As wicked man thinks he can sin without having to suffer sin’s consequences, he indulges the more readily in his corruption. When he knows that fornication could result in an unwanted pregnancy, his fear can be assuaged by the knowledge that obtaining an abortion is not difficult – and that the government may even pay for it; and so he continues in his fornication and, indeed, becomes increasingly promiscuous, because he fears no unwanted consequences.

One more element must be considered in connection with the development of sin. Man was given the so-called cultural mandate prior to his fall. He was to be fruitful and multiply, and he was to subdue the earth. Now it is that last part that is of interest. To subdue the earth means to use the whole creation and all its powers in the service of God and to the glory of His name.
When man fell, the cultural mandate remained in effect and man remained able to keep it insofar as subduing the earth is concerned. Man was still called to subdue the earth. And he eagerly assumes responsibility for doing this. But what he does not do is use the creation in the service of God and to the glory of God’s name. Rather, he uses whatever powers he discovers in the creation and whatever contraptions and tools he can make to increase his means of expressing his sinful nature. He harnesses these powers in the service of sin. He is bent on forcing all these powers into the sinful use of them to satisfy his own lusts, and to promote his own false theories of evolution.

This is a major contributing factor in the development of sin. Cain could not sin with a Lexus sports model and Nimrod could not sin with a TV set. People in bygone years could not sin with our modern inventions and pornography could not become so all-pervasive without the internet and cell phones. Or, to put it a little differently, with every modern invention man has a new way to express his depravity, something he is bound to do. The sleaze and filth that have become so much a part of our modern culture would be impossible without modern technology. The creation is God’s and its powers are marvelous, but every one of these powers in the hands of the wicked has become a new way to sin.

It is true, of course, that modern inventions can be used for good purposes. The miracles of modern medicine can and do prolong life. (Whether this is always good is quite another thing. It doesn’t take too many visits to nursing homes filled with doddering and irrational people to make one wonder whether long life is a good thing.) Communications bring people closer together. The power of the atom can generate electricity and drive ships over the seas. But all these “good” things only prove that there is no evil in the creation itself nor in the powers that man discovers; but sinful man uses them to sin and to satisfy his own lust for pleasure and prolong his life out of fear of death and the judgment.

This doctrine deserves more extensive treatment, but I reserve further discussion until I discuss the doctrine of common grace that teaches that the unregenerated man can do good.

As man discovers the powers of creation and puts them to his use, his sin becomes worse, even though man claims that by these powers he is solving the problems of society and bringing prosperity to the world. As a matter of fact, he will undoubtedly be successful in this endeavor as well. He will, according to Scripture, attain to a kingdom of universal peace and prosperity. It will apparently be such a “wonderful” kingdom that people will be duped into thinking that Christ’s kingdom has indeed been realized here in the world and all the promises of Scripture brought to reality by the might and ingenuity of man. But in fact it will be the kingdom of the Antichrist who claims that he is Christ (II Thess. 2:3, 4).

In that kingdom I have no doubt but that all the powers of the creation will have been discovered and put to man’s use. The earth will have been entirely subdued and man can expect no more inventions, for he has attained his goal. But it will be a kingdom of great sin, for Antichrist is called in Scripture “the man of sin” (II Thess. 2:3); that is, he will be the total embodiment of all sin that preceded him and that reaches its culmination in him.
But in that kingdom there is no room for the faithful people of God ( Rev. 13). The Antichrist, with the full cooperation of the wicked world, will commit that greatest sin of all, the extermination of the church. It is the same world that crucified Christ that now vents its hatred of Christ by destroying Christ’s bride. No greater sin can be committed. The church is Christ’s bride, the object of His love, the bride for which He gave His own life. His one great concern throughout all history is the salvation of His bride, which bride is His reason for His universal rule. His love for His bride is so great that He will do anything at all for her. That bride the world spits on, slaps in the face, mutilates and abuses, mocks and scorns, and finally kills. Does anyone think that Christ will witness this dreadful treatment of His bride without being moved to the fiercest of anger? With such a great sin, the cup of iniquity is filled and judgment is not longer restrained.

The mighty and apparently glittering kingdom of Antichrist will be shown to be a house of cards that collapses by its own internal rot, and judgments come both swift and terrible.
Such is the teaching of Scripture. Any one who cannot see this happening in the world around him is one who deliberately shuts his eyes to reality. The world getting better and better? It takes some powerful self-delusion to convince one’s self of the truth of this notion.

I close with a personal experience. In a time when I corresponded at some length with an ardent post-millennialist, I asked him how he could justify his position that the time would come when the world accepted the Reformed faith – how he could maintain this in the light of every day experience. One need only read the newspapers and their sad tale of sinful horrors to abandon that position. His response said something to the effect that, yes, the world was getting worse, but this would continue until the world itself realized that it had made a mess of things and that solutions to the world’s woes were to be found elsewhere. The place where the world would find solutions to its problems would be, he claimed, in the Reformed faith, and to it the world would turn out of sheer desperation. That idea is not much on which to pin one’s hope for the future.

With warm regards,

Prof Hanko

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sundry Arguments for "gracious restraint of sin" (31)

Dear Forum members:

In my examination of the proof that has been offered in support of a common grace of God that is given men by a gracious operation of the Spirit of God in the hearts of all men, which restrains their sin, I demonstrated that the proof offered is not adequate to support such a theological doctrine. The simple fact is (and it can hardly be disputed) that no Scriptural or confessional proof can be found for such a preposterous teaching. Anyone who has even a passing acquaintance with the Holy Scriptures will immediately find such a teaching at odds with the whole body of Scriptural truth

There are other objections to this view. I bring them to your attention for your thoughtful analysis.

One objection is the supposition of Dr. Abraham Kuyper (who first promoted this view) that the fall would have resulted in Adam and his posterity becoming beasts or devils if God had not intervened with His common grace. There is not a shred of evidence in Scripture for such a supposition, not even in the narrative of the fall of Adam and Eve as it is described in Genesis 3. But let us take a look at this supposition. It is obvious, first of all, that man would not and could not have become a devil. Man is of this creation, a part of the material world, made from the dust of the earth. It would be impossible for him to become a creature who is not material nor made from the stuff of this world. His very essence would have to be changed to something like the essence of angels, in which event he could no longer live in this world. Or, if as Kuyper sometimes said, man would have become a beast when he fell if God did not intervene, I think I would consider this preferable to remaining a man. A beast cannot go to hell. When a beast dies, that is the end of it: it has no existence beyond death. Adam remained a man; that is the tragedy of the fall.

In any case, the Canons of Dordt repudiate such speculation when in 3/4.16 the fathers write: “But as man by the fall did not cease to be a creature endowed with understanding and will, nor did sin, which pervaded the whole race of mankind, deprive him of the human nature, but brought upon him depravity and spiritual death; so also this grace of regeneration does not treat men as senseless stocks and blocks . . .” (Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom Vol. III [New York: Harper & Brothers, no date] 591.) It is difficult if not impossible to imagine how Dr. Kuyper, sworn to loyalty to the Confessions and fully aware of this article, could teach what he did.

The terrible part of the fall is that man remains man. He is still a rational and moral creature, answerable to God for what he does, subject to terrible punishment when he, by a choice of his own will, defies God.

A second objection to this so-called inner and divine restraint of sin is its denial of the total depravity of the natural man. The inner restraint of the Holy Spirit in all men does deny total depravity in spite of the protestations of the supporters of common grace. It is a gracious work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men that alters morally the nature of man. This is a denial of the total depravity of the natural man apart from regeneration, and therefore a sacrifice of a crucial part of Calvinism. Hence, the question and answer found in Lord’s Day 3 is denied: “Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness? Indeed we are, except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God” (question and answer 8). The defenders of common grace would have to answer the question by saying, “Indeed we are except we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit or have the Holy Spirit working in our hearts to restrain sin, though never saving us.” If Calvinism no longer teaches the total depravity of the natural man, then salvation is not entirely the work of saving grace, but involves man’s cooperation.

But there is an interesting aspect to this whole question, which is frequently overlooked. The inner working of the Holy Spirit in the natural man is, after all, said to be grace. It is one gift of God’s favor upon the natural man. Though he is not an elect of God, and, presumably, though Christ did not die for him, and though he will not go to heaven with this kind of grace, it is a grace that changes his nature from one of total depravity to one that is partly good and partly bad. The reason for this is that even this work of the Holy Spirit puts man in much more favorable position to be saved. This kind of grace, an improvement over his totally depraved state, enables him to do some good, namely to accept or reject the offers of the gospel. The gracious and well-meant gospel offer is also a work of common grace to a sinner who already has the grace of the restraint of sin and the resultant change of his nature for the better.

All this is Arminian language and a denial of the sovereign grace of God in the work of salvation. It is a theological heresy that is specifically mentioned in the Canons of Dordt as a doctrine that needs to be condemned. Canons 3/4.B: Error 5 reads: “We condemn the error of those who teach that the corrupt and natural man can so well use the common grace (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, namely, 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.”

“Rejection: For the experience of all ages and the Scriptures do both testify that this is untrue. He showeth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his ordinances unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his ordinances, they have not known them (Ps. 147:19, 20). Who in the generations gone by suffered all the nations to walk in their own ways (Acts 13:16). And: And they (Paul and his companions) having been forbidden of the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia, and when they were come over against Mysia, they assayed to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit suffered them not (Acts 16:6, 7). (_______, The Confessions and the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches [Published by the Protestant Reformed Churches, 2005] 171, 172. The rejection of errors, an important part of the Canons, is not found in Schaff, The Creed of Christendom).

Thus common grace, though taught by professing Reformed men, militates directly against the Canons of Dordt. This is inexcusable and culpable conduct.

Also serious is the claim that the inner restraint of sin destroys the Biblical truth of the antithesis. Already in 1924, Rev. Herman Hoeksema warned the Synod that adopted the three points of common grace that the error of an inner and gracious restraint of sin in the hearts of all men would destroy the antithesis and open the way for a flood of worldliness that would pour into the church. And so it has happened. While worldliness is a grave danger against which we all have to fight and which has had its own influence on our lives, the difference is that a true church fights against it and condemns it, while churches that adopt such a view as common grace officially justify it, for these churches have given worldliness a doctrinal foundation.

It is not my purpose to enter into the question of the antithesis at this point. But a few remarks would not be out of place.

The antithesis is most clearly expressed by Paul in II Corinthians 6:14 – 7:1: “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness: And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Of what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

The apostle uses the figure of two animals being yoked together to make his point. Two animals bound together by the same yoke will be of no value if they are unequal; that is, if they are a young antelope and an old ox yoked together, or if they are of two different minds so that one refuses to pull, or if each is determined to go a different direction. Being yoked together will work if they are both of approximately equal strength and are both working for the same goal – to pull a plow exactly where the farmer wishes them to go. They must have the same purpose. But the believer and unbeliever have two separate and distinctly different purposes in life and every effort to unite them in a common purpose will fail. The believer pulls in the direction of God, the unbeliever pulls in the direction of sin.

The totally depraved wicked are under the control of their master Satan and the hordes of demons who are subject to Satan’s will. As they work in this creation, which God created and still upholds, they have as their purpose the goal of using God’s world to serve their own wicked pleasures and satisfy their own evil lusts. The believers are, by nature, the same, but through the work of regeneration, they are made servants of Christ, representatives of God’s covenant in the world and are called to live according to an entirely different rule of conduct than the wicked. Their book of conduct is the sacred Scriptures, which calls them to use all things to the glory of God’s name through the use of God’s world to advance the cause of the preaching of the gospel and the gathering of the church.

Scripture uses different ideas to indicate the place and calling of believers in this world. They are pilgrims and strangers in the earth, because the wicked rule and dominate and the righteous have their home in heaven towards which they bend their footsteps as they travel their spiritual journey (I Peter 1:1, 2:11; Heb. 11:13; Psalm 39:12. The wicked seek to make this world the kingdom of darkness, while the people of God are citizens of another kingdom that shall only be established when “the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ.” (Col. 1:13, Rev. 11:15). The wicked have Satan as their father (John 8:44); while the righteous have God as their Father and Christ as their elder brother.

Both do have one thing in common: this creation. They both live in the world. They both are citizens of an earthly country. They both must earn their daily bread by means of their occupation. They both eat and drink what the creation provides. They both marry and have children. They both make use of the powers of God’s world: wind, rain, sunshine, electricity, as well as automobiles, TVs, radios, airplanes, clothing, cell phones and the money they earn.

Yet, they do not have grace in common. And so the wicked live out of the principle of their totally depraved natures in their use of the things of this world, while the righteous live out of the principle of a regenerated heart. The former seek the things that are below, the latter seek the things which are above where Christ is seated at the right hand of God (Col. 3:1-3).

And so the antithesis cuts through the whole of life: truth versus the lie, right versus wrong, what is proper conduct in the world and what is in obedience to the law of God; how one dresses and what one reads; what music one listens to and what art is God-glorifying; why one weeps and laughs, though both do the same; what is one’s goal in life and what ends does he pursue; what organizations does he join and what organizations does he abhor; how he uses his computer and electronic wizardry and for what reason he drives his car; why he marries and has children, and why he spends the Lord’s day in church rather than out on the beach. In short, the antithesis involves principally different world-and-life views that affect the whole of his life and every part of it; they are contrary to each other.

The doctrine of the restraint of sin gives to believers and unbelievers a certain area of life that both have in common. It is a morally neutral area in which there are no rights and wrongs. It is a “playing field” where righteous and unrighteous play by the same rules. It is a place where Christ and Belial (to use Paul’s expression) can sit in front of the fireplace, enjoy one another’s company, and have fellowship in a common life. It is an important area of life in which those who belong to the temple of God can work with those who belong to the synagogue of Satan. It is a “yoking together” which drives both to work towards a common purpose – the establishment of a kingdom of Christ in the world, a better place to live, a wholesome atmosphere in which to bring up children.

It is understandable and inevitable that in this sphere where evil men and godly men work together that godly men are going to join in promoting the goals of evil men. Evil men are totally depraved; godly men have only a small beginning of the holiness of God. From working together to build the same house, they drive together to the local pub to “have a beer.” From the local pub they go to each other’s home to enjoy each other’s company. But the evil man is not going to budge an inch in his pursuit of sin, and the godly man is going to put himself into areas in which his sinful nature will drag him into the camp of the enemies of God. It’s hard enough to live a godly life without companying with wicked men who do only evil.

Common grace says, “Yes, all cooperation and fellowship are possible for all have grace.” No wonder the world overwhelms the believer and worldliness engulfs the church. But those who believe and hold to the truth of particular and sovereign grace heed the call of Christ: “Come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you” (II Cor. 6:17).

I must mention one more serious objection to the idea of a gracious and inner restraint of sin. The objection is this: Such a view leads to a post-millennial view of the kingdom of Christ. I have no evidence that Dr. Abraham Kuyper was a post-mil – as the Neo-Kuyperians claim, but his view leads directly to such a post-mil conception of the kingdom of our Lord. If Kuyper wanted the Netherlands to be a fountainhead of the Reformed faith, the water of which would flow into every country on earth and establish the Reformed faith as the dominant faith in that country (as was the case in the Netherlands) this could only be because the kingdom of Christ would be attained here in the world. This was the main point of Kuyper’s book, Pro Rege (For the King). All creation and all institutions of society had to be subjected to the rule of Christ. When this should happen, as Kuyper confidently expected that it would, the kingdom of Christ was realized in this world.

It is with some justification that the Neo-Kuyperians who have become thoroughly post-mil, appeal to the Kuyper of common grace for their support. But post-mil is a serious error, and the spiritual danger of post-mil theology is that the people of God identify the kingdom of Antichrist with the kingdom of Christ, for Antichrist brings peace to the nations, solves the world’s ills, and claims himself to be the Christ.

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Over against this serious departure from the truth, the Scriptures set another doctrine, which, in Reformed theology, has come to be called “The Organic Development of Sin.” To this positive truth we will give our attention in the next letter.

With warm regards,

Prof Hanko