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

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post! I think you are dead on! I would almost deny "Common Grace" because of the confusion that exists with so many on what it means. But in fact not even Hitler was as evil as he could have been. "Common Grace" is used to promote views like "All truth is God's truth" and the "Church Growth" movement. The problem is it really does a dis-service to believers and unbelievers alike.