Saturday, July 31, 2010

Final remarks on the "good" that the ungodly do (40)

Dear Forum members,

In the last installment I began an answer to a correspondent who inquired about the relative good that the ungodly do. He was not about to defend the position that the wicked do good by the power of God’s grace worked through the Holy Spirit; nor was he of a mind to defend the proposition that the unregenerate are able to do good that meets with God’s approval. But he was inquiring about the fact that, from an earthly point of view, there is a lot of good in this world.

I agree with this assertion and have been at some pains to develop that idea, including the fact that from an earthly point of view the man who keeps God’s law outwardly experiences a happy and more trouble-free life than the man who tramples God’s law under foot. And, what is true of individuals, is also true of families and nations. There is a direct correlation between the outward good men do and earthly success, health and prosperity. All of this comes from God. We must inquire into this problem.

Before I give a more detailed answer to this question, let it be observed that this principle holds for all of life. A man who eats only McDonald’s hamburgers is not going to be as healthy as the man who eats nutritious foods. A man who obeys traffic laws is not as likely to be in an accident as one who drives recklessly. Nor would anyone, so far as I know, deny that the man or woman who lives a life free from fornication is less likely to contact a STD than one who has no moral scruples that govern his life. No one, I think, would claim that the habit of eating nutritious foods is a gift of grace and that the resulting good health of a man merits God’s approval. God has established certain laws by which he rules in his creation. Sometimes these laws are called secondary means by which God exercises his sovereignty.

To defy God’s law brings trouble and grief in every area of life. To practice abortion brings its own grief and trouble. To live a homosexual life is to incur the dreaded HIV virus. To fornicate in the marriage state results in its own sorrows. Such obvious rules in God’s world has nothing to do with common grace, the ability of the natural man to do good, or the favor and blessing of God upon a person.

Why does consequent prosperity in some measure come to those who do keep God’s law outwardly? The answer is, first of all, that God works this way for the sake of His church. That is precisely the reason why God blessed the house of Potiphar for Joseph’s sake (Gen. 39:5). That is why we are commanded to pray for all those in authority over us, pray even that they may observe the law of God; for, Paul writes Timothy, that among the reasons to pray for magistrates is that the church may lead a quiet and peaceable life (I Timothy 2:1-6).

There are, however, other reasons. The unregenerate know also the difference between right and wrong. In an earlier forum article I discussed the meaning of Romans 2:14, 15, a text which teaches that God puts the works of the law on their hearts so that their consciences tell them what is right and what is wrong according to his moral law. They are also able to see in their lives and in the lives of others that an outward keeping of the law of God brings with it a certain amount of pleasure and order. And they are able to see that to break God’s law brings grief and suffering. If the law against murder were abandoned all together life would become well nigh impossible. If every one committed adultery and family life would cease to exist, society would end in chaos. If laws against stealing were not enforced and everyone was given free rein to steal anything he wished, businesses could not operate and a man’s possessions would never be safe. It doesn’t take regeneration to see and understand that. It is clear from life itself that what a man’s conscience dictates is best for society and a decent life in the world.

This great truth does not keep men from sinning anyway. The homosexual knows that the possibility of him acquiring the HIV virus is increased greatly if he continues his wicked practices, but he goes his own way in spite of it all. A drunkard can see his life disintegrate in his family, his work and his own life as he continues his drinking. But this does not always check his sin.

Yet the law of God serves as a certain rein to sin, especially when the violation of God’s law brings its own judgments from God. God does not wait till the judgment day to punish sin, but executes judgment already in this life.

That such a man becomes a slave to a sin and finds it impossible to escape the slavery of the sin into which he has fallen is also a law of God. Man can, as a matter of fact, become so much a slave of sin that he finds it impossible to escape from the shackles that bind him. A drug addict cannot live without his drugs. But I have dealt with people who have even become slaves of lying, slaves of adultery, slaves of hatred. It is dreadful. Even if, because they see the consequences of their sin, the want to escape it, they find it impossible – apart from sovereign grace, which is able to deliver anyone from any sin and from the bondage of sin.

The wicked do two things about this slavery of sin. The first thing they do is try to find ways and means of avoiding the consequences of sin. They invent birth control instruments to prevent pregnancies resulting from adulteries. They build abortion clinics to kill babies when they discover that some people are too stupid or too captured by their sin to use available techniques to avoid pregnancy. They invent medicines that can curb the harmful effects of the HIV virus. They establish elaborate rehabilitation centers for those caught in the trap of drug addiction, liquor addiction or gambling addiction. And the answer of the world to these addictions is not to cease from the sin that brought them on, but to use the latest medical techniques that enable a man to continue in his sin but stave off the consequences.

The second thing they do is mount elaborate campaigns to condition people into thinking that all these violations of God’s law are not sins. These weaknesses into which men plunge themselves are the results of their genes, or remnants from their animal ancestry, or sicknesses for which cures can be found. They are treatable and science, in its performance of miracles, will conquer bad consequences of a wicked life. But if one says that homosexuality is a sin against God, he is as liable as not to be arrested and tried for a “hate crime.” The poor person cannot help doing what he does; it is in his genes. His actions are predetermined. (And these same people call Calvinists “Fatalists”!)

All this is proof that man does no good out of the motive of love for God and his neighbor. He seeks himself and will sin as much as he dares. He rejoices when apparently means are invented to help him escape the consequences of his sin. He claps his hands in glee when he has succeeded in overcoming God’s judgments on sin.

But God is in heaven and he is just and righteous in all he does. He punishes sin and laughs at man’s silly poking around to invent means to avoid God’s wrath. God does not respect persons. He does not judge on the basis of outward appearances (I Samuel 16:7). Teachers of common grace look at outward appearances, but in doing so fail to follow the Scriptures where God tells us what is pleasing in his sight.

God will tell us what works are pleasing to him. And we had better listen.

The Canons and the Westminster Confession describe, these good works that are approved by God as they ought to be described (See Canons 3/4.4 and WC 16.7, which we have already quoted). If one is talking about good that is approved by God himself, then the criteria of the Heidelberg Catechism must be used as a measuring rod: “They must proceed from a true faith”. This assertion is also Biblical: “For whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). They must be performed according to the law of God. Surely, if outward conformity to that law is approved by God, the Pharisees did more that met with God’s approval than anyone else. But the law of God is all summed up in the words of Jesus in Matt. 22:37-40. The only true keeping of the law is love: love for God and love for one’s neighbor for God’s sake. True good works are done to God’s glory. Man’s “good” is done for the glory and praise of man; good works are done only for God’s glory. Then, and then only is a work something that meets with God’s approval.

Works that are “good” in this world are actually sins. A man who is faithful to his wife and family goes to hell, not in spite of his faithfulness to his family, but because he did not remain faithful out of a true faith in Christ; nor because he loved God and his neighbor; nor because he was seeking God’s glory. Does this seem to you to be impossible? We must measure man’s works, not by our standards, but by the standards of a holy God. Nor must we forget that God created man good, and his inability to do good is his own fault, for he chose the way of sin in the place of the way of obedience.

One more matter must be addressed. It takes us back to the basic idea of common grace. Is the prosperity of the wicked, even when it is the result of a life in conformity with the outwards demands of the law, indicative of God’s favor and blessings?

To answer this question, perhaps we ought to read once again Psalm 73, Psalm 37, Proverbs 3:33, and such like passages. The answer in Scripture is obvious. The prosperity of the wicked, even when it is the consequence of a walk in keeping with God’s law outwardly, sets the wicked on slippery places that end in everlasting destruction. The Psalm is quite clear on the matter: God sets them on slippery places. His purpose never is to bless the wicked, but to destroy them. Even their riches, their health, their pleasures are God’s wrath. God’s curse is in the house of the wicked.

But this is not the case with God’s people. They may and do wash their hands in innocency, but know only the chastening of the Lord: poverty, sickness, trouble, grief, suffering; but, says the Psalmist, in spite of all his troubles, “I am continually before thee: thou hast held me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with they counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth; but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion forever. For, lo, they that are far from thee shall perish: thou hast destroyed all them that go a whoring from thee. But it is good for me to draw near to God: I have put my trust in the Lord God, that I may declare all thy works.”

With warm greetings in Christ,

Prof. Hanko

Friday, July 16, 2010

Further questions on the "good works" of the reprobate (39)

Dear Forum members:

In the last installment I considered the Biblical and confessional proof for the notion that the unregenerated are able to do good that is pleasing in the sight of God. I have, however, received some correspondence concerning the teaching of the third point of common grace. This correspondence had to do with the remarks I made concerning the law of God in the life of the Christian. One correspondent thought my remarks were irrelevant to the point at hand, too brief and therefore misleading.

I justified my remarks concerning the law in the life of the Christian by pointing out that I have had personal contact with people, frequently Presbyterians, who have made those passages that speak of the keeping of the law as a way of life prove common grace. I am not sure what the reasoning behind these claims is; it seems that the statement of the text itself (“the man that doeth them [the works of the law] shall live in them”) is quoted as proof that it is possible for the unregenerated to keep the law. (These texts are Rom. 2:13, and Gal. 3:12.) Actually, it is obvious that the texts simply refer to the principle of the law that requires the keeping of the law for life. But the point is that no man can keep the law, and that, therefore, salvation is not to be found in the keeping of the law.

My point in commenting briefly on the meaning of these texts was to prove that God has tied in an unbreakable bond the keeping of his law with salvation. I did not say and would never say that our ability to keep the law is tied to salvation. But God is Creator and we are creatures. God’s law, given for every creature, defines how that creature is to serve him: The bird by living in the air, the fish by living in the water, the tree by being planted in the ground and reaching out to the sun; man by loving the Lord his God. To break that law means death.

We cannot keep that law of God in any respect, but Christ kept it for us. While he suffered the pains and anguish of hell for his people, he still kept the law perfectly. He loved his God though his God had forsaken him. By doing this, he fulfilled the law for his people so that the law is written on their hearts (Heb. 8:10). With the law written in their hearts God’s people are given the spiritual power to keep that law and love the Lord their God. Salvation includes the grace necessary to keep that law as the rule of gratitude. God takes his people to heaven in the way of keeping his law, a way that is possible by the wonderful work of Christ who enables us by his Spirit to be obedient to God.

That is the meaning of these texts.

In other correspondence I received, the correspondent made several important points that ought to be addressed. I propose to do that in this installment. Some of the points that I consider as I answer this question I have already dealt with in an earlier installment. I beg the readers’ patience in a reiteration of these points, but they are sufficiently important to deal with the matter again.

The question really has to do with the good that unregenerated men obviously do. All those who have not been brought to faith in Christ are not as evil as, say, Hitler or Stalin, or a hit-man hired by the mafia. In a positive sense, there are unconverted people who do live with their wives all their life; who do finance the building of hospitals and schools; who do operate institutions that care for the poor and needy. There are many unconverted people who never in their life get in trouble with the law and who, considered from an earthly point of view, are sometimes more virtuous than a regenerated and converted child of God.

Such conduct is considered by all men everywhere to be “good”. Few people are devils here in the world – although some are. Few people are criminals – although some are. Few people deliberately break the outward demands of God’s law – although increasingly many do. Many are humanitarian with a “love” for their fellow man that manifests itself in many ways.

The correspondent based the question on the assertion that when Dr. A. Kuyper spoke of common grace as a power that prevented men, at the time of the fall, from becoming devils, he did not mean devils in the literal sense of the word, but people who did devilish things. And the assertion was made that there is a lot of good in the world that is not devilish. It may be relatively good; it may be good only in an outward sense, but it is good for all that.

I agree fully with the correspondent’s remarks. What he says is obvious from the world about us. Whether Dr. A. Kuyper actually meant that people do not literally become devils, but that common grace prevents them from degenerating morally into devils is another question. But whatever Dr. Kuyper meant is irrelevant. The question stands in its own right. And with that position I am in total agreement.

We may even go a step further. It is my judgment, as I wrote in an earlier installment, that an outward observance of the law is beneficial for a family and a nation. Whether we may call that benefit a “blessing” from God is another question, although the answer lies in how one defines “blessing.” But before I proceed any further along these lines, it is quite important that we remember a few things.

First of all, although the question is an important one, it is not entirely the question at issue. The question at issue is: Is this good of the unregenerated a gift of grace? Are those capable of doing this relative good the beneficiaries of grace? I contend that they are not – not even of a “common” grace.

Second, Because it is said that God’s grace is both, objectively, an attitude of God that makes him favorably inclined towards the unconverted, and, subjectively, that grace is the subjective bestowal of gracious gifts, the answer of those who hold to common grace is that this subjective grace is the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart, which alters the nature of man so that he is no longer totally depraved, but is morally better than he was. The Holy Spirit restrains sin and produces good. No one claims, if he claims to be a Calvinist, that this grace manifested in the gift of the Holy Spirit is a saving grace. It is not that. Nor are the good works produced by the Spirit saving good; no one claims that to be true. But the Holy Spirit performs a work that does in fact change of nature of the sinner that enables him to do good. I deny this work of the Holy Spirit and insist that Scripture does not speak of it.

Third, The good that the unconverted and unsaved sinner does, according to the defenders of common grace, is pleasing to God. It is rewarded with temporal blessings. This position is, of course, a necessary position to take, given the fact that these good works are the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work. God would certainly not condemn his own work that he does through the Spirit; God’s work can only be approved by God himself who delights in all his works.

It is necessary that we remember these points. Nevertheless, we are compelled to answer this question: How is it possible for an unregenerated man to do “good” in a relative sense –though it not saving good?

I remind our readers that the historic Reformed and Presbyterian Confessions readily acknowledge such good that sinners are able to do. The part of the Canons, quoted by the Christian Reformed Synod in proof of this good that sinners do, demonstrates that the unconverted can indeed do “good” in a relative sense. You recall that Canons 3/4.4 emphatically teaches that: “There remain, however, in man since the fall the glimmerings of natural light, whereby he retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of differences between good and evil, and discovers some regard for virtue, good order in society, and for maintaining an orderly external deportment.” Westminster, in 16.7 has a strong statement on the subject. I have quoted the article before, but quote it once again. “Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them that may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others . . . .” But the Confession, in the same article, goes on to say, “yet because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith, nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word; nor to a right end, the glory of God; they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God.” Then the Confession adds, correctly, “And yet their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing to God.” The matter is not a question of relative good found in the wicked, but of relative evil.

A righteous man is rewarded according to his works, but a wicked man is also punished according to his works. It is more tolerable in the day of judgment for Sodom and Gomorrah, and for Tyre and Sidon than it is for Capernaum, Bethsaida and Chorazin (Matt. 11:21-24).

We freely confess that, apart from the good works that are the fruit of regeneration and given as a gift of grace, there are many degrees of good that can be found in the world of unconverted men. It is better to help a man who is in the ditch than to drive past. It is better to give one’s money to an orphanage than to get drunk. It is better to work hard for one’s employer than to steal from him. And so we could go on, but there is no need of this; we all know how true these things are. There is, after all, the good that Jehu did when he killed all the descendants of Ahab. It pleased the Lord that he did this because he was obedient to the command of God. You can find Jehu’s history in II Kings 10. One must read however, verses 29-31 as well. “Howbeit from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, Jehu departed not from after them to wit, the golden calves that were in Bethel, and that were in Dan. And the Lord said unto Jehu, Because thou hast done well in executing that which is right in mine eyes, and hast done unto the house of Ahab according to all that was in mine heart, thy children of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel. But Jehu took no heed to walk in the law of the Lord God of Israel with all his heart: for he departed not from the sins of Jeroboam, which made Israel to sin.”

But the question remains: Are these good works authored by the Holy Spirit? The answer to that is an unqualified No. Nor is there any indication either in Scripture or the Confessions that teaches this. Are these good works gracious gifts of God? There is no evidence either in Scripture or the Confessions that such is the case. Do these good works merit God’s approval? In a certain sense they do, for Jehu is commended for his slaughter of Ahab’s house and the worshippers of Baal. The same thing is true in our time. A family in which there is no divorce and remarriage is a happier family than one in which father and mother part to marry others. A family has a better life, given it of God, when neither the father nor the mother is an alcoholic. A nation in which the law of God is observed, be it but outwardly, prospers. A government that enforces legislation against abortion and homosexuality can expect a more trouble-free country than one where abortion is openly practiced and homosexuality is considered “an alternate lifestyle.” History is strewn with the wreckage of powerful nations who were destroyed by internal moral rot and a ruthless waste of the natural resources that God had given.

Whether the ability to keep God’s law outwardly is due to God’s grace is quite another question. The answer has to be No! Whether the external prosperity which follows for a nation outwardly observant of the law of God is a blessing from God cannot be answered in any other way than with a Biblical No. Why then does God in His providence enable one person – or family, or nation – to keep God’s law outwardly? We shall look at this question in the next installment.

With warm regards,

Prof. Hanko

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Scripture and the Confessions on the "good works" of the reprobate (38)

Dear forum members:

I was talking in the last installment about the view of God that one must take to hold to common grace in general and the good that sinners do in particular. It is a view that disparages God and makes of him a changeable and helpless god who is unable to accomplish his purpose. No man who fears the Lord God of heaven and earth ought to speak of God as the defenders of common grace speak of him

But in this installment, before I look more closely at the confessional and Biblical proof for this position, I want to quote for you a few articles from the Confessions of the church on this very subject.

My first quote is from the Westminster Confession of Faith. There is an important article in this confession, which forms the confessional basis for Presbyterianism the world over. It is all the more powerful because the Westminster Confession of Faith was written to serve as the confessional basis of a national church. The Westminster Assembly met under the direction of the British Parliament and the Confession itself was approved by Parliament.

In chapter 16, entitled “Of Good Works,” paragraph 7 the confession states: “Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and to others; yet because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith, nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word, nor to a right end, the glory of God; they are therefore sinful, and can not please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God. And yet their neglect of them is more sinful and displeasing to God.” (Philip Schaff, Creeds of Christendom [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983] 635, 636.That article is about as clear a refutation as one can find anywhere.

The Heidelberg Catechism emphatically states: “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” ( The Confessions . . . [Grandville: The Protestant Reformed Churches in America,. 2005] q. & a. 8, 86). This too is unmistakable. Everything we do is wicked; nothing is good. Wickedness is characteristic of our whole life. The only work that can change that wickedness and produce good works is the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit.

The Heidelberg Catechism also very carefully defines those works of man that do meet with God’s approval. “But what are good works? Only those which proceed from a true faith, are performed according to the law of God, and to His glory, and not such as are founded on our imagination or the institutions of men” ( Idem, q & a 91. 122). Good works are not defined as products of a common grace and as civil good, but are said to be only those that proceed from a true faith and are to God’s glory. Common grace perverts the Catechism when it defines good works in terms of “our imagination or the institutions of men.”

It is true that the Canons of Dordrecht speak of “glimmerings of natural light” in fallen man that enable him to retain “some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the differences between good and evil”; that enable man to discover “some regard for virtue, good order in society, and for maintaining an orderly external deportment.” But the same article goes on to say, “But so far is this light of nature from being sufficient to bring him to a saving knowledge of God and to true conversion, that he is incapable of using it aright even in things natural and civil. Nay, further, this light, such as it is, man in various ways renders wholly polluted and holds it in unrighteousness, by doing which he becomes inexcusable before God” (Idem, 167). The Canons are very emphatic that the natural light, which fallen man still possesses cannot be used aright by the unregenerated sinner even “in things natural and civil.” He pollutes the civil good and holds it in unrighteousness. This is strong language.

An appeal to the Confessions ends in exposing the error of common grace clearly and emphatically.

It is also noteworthy that the error of an internal restraint of sin by the Holy Spirit and the error of the ability of the unregenerate to do good stand or fall together. If indeed the Spirit is at work in the hearts of reprobate, their works are good and pleasing in the sight of God; for the good that men do is God’s work in them and God never disapproves his own works. If, on the other hand, God condemns every work of the ungodly, there cannot possibly be any restraint of sin by God through the Holy Spirit.

The defenders of the good that the unrighteous are capable of doing offer us some proof from Scripture. We will look at this proof to see whether Scripture gives any indication of the ability of the wicked to do good – good, that is, worked by the Holy Spirit and pleasing in the sight of God.

The proof that is offered is first of all several texts from the history of the kings of Israel and Judah who are said to have done “good” in the eyes of the Lord. These texts are II Kings 10:29, 30; II Kings 12:2; II Kings 14:3; II Chronicles 25:2. We quote only one of these; the reader can look up the others. II Kings 12:2 reads: “And Jehoash did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all his days wherein Jehoiada the priest instructed him.” The other passages make a similar statement about Jehu, and Amaziah.

While what these texts say about these kings of Israel and Judah is that they did good in the eyes of Jehovah, it is quite possible and even likely that Amaziah was a godly king who loved the Lord, although he was also very weak in many respects and did not do good “with a perfect heart.” But the same cannot be said of Jehu and Jehoash. Of Jehu Scripture say: “Howbeit from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, Jehu departed not from them, to wit, the golden calves that were in Bethel, and that were in Dan” (II Kings 10:29). And concerning Jehoash we know that when Jehoiada died, Jehoash turned to wickedness and even killed the prophet that was sent to warn him (II Kings 12:17-19, II Chronicles 25:17-25).

It is true, of course, that the texts say that Jehu and Jehoash did good. But that this is proof for good influences of the Holy Spirit upon the hearts of wicked men so that they do good in the sight of God is quite another matter, and there is no mention of any such thing in the text. Jehu did good in destroying the whole house of Ahab. This was God’s will that Ahab and his house be destroyed because of its great wickedness. Jehu was God’s appointed means to accomplish this destruction. But Jehu was glad to do it, for he reveled in killing and was sure to secure his throne by destroying any threat from Ahab’s family. Jehoash kept God’s commandments and preserved the faithful worship of God in the temple, but only because of the strong influence of godly Jehoiada. But that his own heart was evil and that he did not do good to please God is evident from his dreadful sins after Jehoiada’s death. They did good in an outward obedience to God’s commands, the doing of which was for their own personal advantage.

No one has ever denied that wicked and unregenerate men are able to do good in a certain sense of the word. Mozart can compose very beautiful music, though he was a wicked man. An architect can design a beautiful building, but not do so in a way pleasing to God and bringing God’s approval upon his good works. A carpenter can and often does build a house that has few if any defects, because he is an excellent builder; and we say, “He did a good job of this house.” I recall one noted theologian who said that Tiger Woods ability to sink a 40-foot putt was surely due to common grace. And so we can go on. It happens all the time in the world that men do good from a purely earthly viewpoint. But this is still a far cry from moral good that the Spirit enables wicked men to do; and it is a far cry from good that meets with God’s approval. The texts quoted are entirely beside the point and have no bearing on the matter at hand.

Luke 6:33 is also quoted as proof for the good that sinners do: “And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? For sinners also do even the same.” I am puzzled by the appeal to this text as proof for the good that sinners do. It teaches quite the opposite. Sinners do good, not to please God, but to please themselves and advance their own welfare. They invite people to their feasts so that they will in turn be invited by the high and mighty. They do good to others so that they may reap the fruits of having others do good to them. Pure selfishness can hardly be the fruit of the Spirit and pleasing to God. We are warned not to do good as the wicked do it.

Another three texts are also used in support of this aspect of common grace, that unregenerated men can do good in God’s sight. These texts all say the same thing. Romans 10:5 says: “For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth these things shall live by them.” Galatians 3:12 reads: “And the law is not of faith: but, the man that doeth them shall live in them” Romans 2:14 says, “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.”

I think that the appeal by the Synod to these texts was a mistake on the part of the authors of the theory of common grace. Actually, the Synod that adopted officially the doctrines of common grace is the body that referred to these texts in support of the doctrine. But somewhere along the line a serious mistake was made, for these texts teach quite the opposite from what was the intention of the authors of the good that sinners do by the grace of God. For these texts teach that the fundamental principle for all time and for eternity is that fellowship with God is inescapably connected to the keeping of God’s law. But as the passages in their context go on to say, just because this principle is so true no man can possibly be saved by the keeping of the law, because it is impossible for depraved man to keep it.

The texts, however, teach a profound truth: The keeping of the law is necessary for anyone to be saved. This is a truth that dates back to the beginning of time. Adam remained in a state of rectitude only as long as he obeyed the law. It is true for all time and in every place: man only lives through the keeping of the law. This is Paul’s point.

But Adam fell and all men with and in him. The keeping of the law was now forever impossible for man. For, while it is possible for sinful and totally depraved man to conform his life outwardly to the law, the law requires love within: love of God and one’s neighbor. Sin is the opposite. Sin is love for one’s self. And so Christ had to come to do what man of himself can never do. That is why Paul calls the law a school-teacher to lead us to Christ (Gal. 3:24). Christ kept the law. He loved his God perfectly – even when the horrors of hell drowned him in sorrow and pain and all he knew was abandonment by him whom alone he loved. By His perfect atonement Christ fulfilled the law for those for whom he died, and now, by his Spirit, he enables his people to keep the law, for the law is written on their hearts. And so still today the way to life is the keeping of the law, but it is the keeping of the law by him who works in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13).

And so we are left without any proof whatsoever, a fact that compels us to reject the heresy of the ability of the totally depraved sinner to do good.

With warm regards,

Prof Hanko