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.

* * * *

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

No comments:

Post a Comment