Friday, December 19, 2008

Canons of Dort - 3rd and 4th Heads of Doctrine - 1

I wanted to follow up on my earlier post that surveyed the Second Head of Doctrine in the Canons of Dort in light of the doctrine of definite atonement. These two heads of doctrine survey human corruption, conversion to the gospel, and the way that one moves from one to the other. In other words the Synod of Dort addresses what we today call total depravity and irresistible grace in this section. This is just a very brief survey of what our confession says on this topic.

Article 1. Man was originally created in the image of God and was furnished in his mind with a true and salutary knowledge of his Creator and things spiritual, in his will and heart with righteousness, and in all his emotions with purity; indeed, the whole man was holy. However, rebelling against God at the devil's instigation and by his own free will, he deprived himself of these outstanding gifts. Rather, in their place he brought upon himself blindness, terrible darkness, futility, and distortion of judgment in his mind; perversity, defiance, and hardness in his heart and will; and finally impurity in all his emotions.

Here the Synod simply affirms their belief that creation as completed by God at the end of the sixth day was "very good" just as Scripture tells us. With that we can say that man as created was both holy and good. So the fall and consequent depravity of man cannot be blamed on the Creator for any deficiency in his creation but instead is attributed wholly to man who sinned out of his own free will and brought the estate of sin and misery upon himself.

Article 2. Man brought forth children of the same nature as himself after the fall. That is to say, being corrupt he brought forth corrupt children. The corruption spread, by God's just judgment, from Adam to all his descendants-- except for Christ alone--not by way of imitation (as in former times the Pelagians would have it) but by way of the propagation of his perverted nature.

In the second article we read that all of Adam's descendents were infected with the same depravity that Adam brought upon himself in his original sin. The Westminster Standards also affirm this by saying that the covenant made with Adam was made with him for him and all his descendents so that all mankind sinned in him and fell with him. So through the one sin of Adam we see that sin, condemnation, and death spread to all men. So men are not totally depraved on the basis of their own sins but rather because of their solidarity with Adam in his original sin and their own sins are the outworking of that depravity.

Article 3. Therefore, all people are conceived in sin and are born children of wrath, unfit for any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in their sins, and slaves to sin; without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit they are neither willing nor able to return to God, to reform their distorted nature, or even to dispose themselves to such reform.

On this basis the Synod concludes that no one is able to save his or her self. All are born in sin and so cannot work any good or righteousness that will justify them to God apart from the saving work of the Holy Spirit. Even more, no one can even truly bend their will toward the righteousness that God requires so long as they are dead in their sins.

Article 4. There is, to be sure, a certain light of nature remaining in man after the fall, by virtue of which he retains some notions about God, natural things, and the difference between what is moral and immoral, and demonstrates a certain eagerness for virtue and for good outward behavior. But this light of nature is far from enabling man to come to a saving knowledge of God and conversion to him--so far, in fact, that man does not use it rightly even in matters of nature and society. Instead, in various ways he completely distorts this light, whatever its precise character, and suppresses it in unrighteousness. In doing so he renders himself without excuse before God.

This is balanced by an understanding of common grace. The Synod reminds us that Scripture teaches that it is not true on this basis that people have no knowledge of God or his moral demands (Ps. 19; Rom. 1:18ff.). Yet God's common grace in his general revelatory activity is not sufficient to bring depraved people who are dead in their sins to salvation. Instead in their depravity sinful men distort the truth of that revelation and confirm their condemnation before God.

Article 5. In this respect, what is true of the light of nature is true also of the Ten Commandments given by God through Moses specifically to the Jews. For man cannot obtain saving grace through the Decalogue, because, although it does expose the magnitude of his sin and increasingly convict him of his guilt, yet it does not offer a remedy or enable him to escape from his misery, and, indeed, weakened as it is by the flesh, leaves the offender under the curse.

Here the Canons teach that though God's revelatory activity goes beyond nature to the special revelation of his law in the Decalogue even that is not sufficient to save sinful man. The law does more than nature in that it exposes the depth of our depravity and does even more to convict us as guilty before God but it does not give us the remedy to our dead estate and so leaves us under God's curse.

Article 6. What, therefore, neither the light of nature nor the law can do, God accomplishes by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the Word or the ministry of reconciliation. This is the gospel about the Messiah, through which it has pleased God to save believers, in both the Old and the New Testament.

Therefore we know that since the revelation in nature and the law are not sufficient to rescue us from our depraved condition we need still further revelation in the gospel. It is the in the gospel, through the work of the Holy Spirit in the means of grace, that God gives the good news of Christ wherein God has placed the promise of salvation.

Article 7. In the Old Testament, God revealed this secret of his will to a small number; in the New Testament (now without any distinction between peoples) he discloses it to a large number. The reason for this difference must not be ascribed to the greater worth of one nation over another, or to a better use of the light of nature, but to the free good pleasure and undeserved love of God. Therefore, those who receive so much grace, beyond and in spite of all they deserve, ought to acknowledge it with humble and thankful hearts; on the other hand, with the apostle they ought to adore (but certainly not inquisitively search into) the severity and justice of God's judgments on the others, who do not receive this grace.

Now the Synod begins to ask how the gospel has been revealed. During the Old Testament period God only revealed this to the people of Israel but now he discloses it to all tribes, tongues, and nations through the apostolic ministry. When one hears the gospel and another does not this does not mean that the one has greater value than the other but rather only speaks of God's free and electing love and his sovereign choice to reveal himself to whom he wills.

Article 8. Nevertheless, all who are called through the gospel are called seriously. For seriously and most genuinely God makes known in his Word what is pleasing to him: that those who are called should come to him. Seriously he also promises rest for their souls and eternal life to all who come to him and believe.

At the same time the Synod affirms the free and universal offer of the gospel. All who hear the message of the gospel are seriously and honestly called to respond in faith and repentance. The promise of salvation in the gospel to those who respond is a true and not a deceitful promise.

Article 9. The fact that many who are called through the ministry of the gospel do not come and are not brought to conversion must not be blamed on the gospel, nor on Christ, who is offered through the gospel, nor on God, who calls them through the gospel and even bestows various gifts on them, but on the people themselves who are called. Some in self-assurance do not even entertain the Word of life; others do entertain it but do not take it to heart, and for that reason, after the fleeting joy of a temporary faith, they relapse; others choke the seed of the Word with the thorns of life's cares and with the pleasures of the world and bring forth no fruits. This our Savior teaches in the parable of the sower (Matt. 13).

Thus the Synod states that all responsibility for destruction because of rejecting the gospel lies with men and not with God. The gospel contains all of the promises of God and the power to fulfill those promises. So those who refuse the gospel are responsible for their own destruction. The seed is good it is the soil that is bad.

Since there are too many headings to address in one post there will be a follow up with Articles 10-17 tomorrow.

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