Saturday, December 20, 2008

Canons of Dort - 3rd and 4th Heads of Doctrine - 2

Here is part two of yesterday's analysis of the 3rd and 4th heads of doctrine in the Canons of Dort.

Article 10. The fact that others who are called through the ministry of the gospel do come and are brought to conversion must not be credited to man, as though one distinguishes himself by free choice from others who are furnished with equal or sufficient grace for faith and conversion (as the proud heresy of Pelagius maintains). No, it must be credited to God: just as from eternity he chose his own in Christ, so within time he effectively calls them, grants them faith and repentance, and, having rescued them from the dominion of darkness, brings them into the kingdom of his Son, in order that they may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called them out of darkness into this marvelous light, and may boast not in themselves, but in the Lord, as apostolic words frequently testify in Scripture.

Having established that all responsibility for rejecting the gospel is attributed to human sin and that sinful men are incapable of coming to salvation on their own the Synod turns to ask how is it that sinners can be converted to the gospel. Because of human depravity the credit for those who do come to embrace the gospel must not go to them but must go entirely to God who effectively calls those whom he has elected from all eternity so that all righteous response to the gospel on man's part is the work of God and they must boast only in him.

Article 11. Moreover, when God carries out this good pleasure in his chosen ones, or works true conversion in them, he not only sees to it that the gospel is proclaimed to them outwardly, and enlightens their minds powerfully by the Holy Spirit so that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God, but, by the effective operation of the same regenerating Spirit, he also penetrates into the inmost being of man, opens the closed heart, softens the hard heart, and circumcises the heart that is uncircumcised. He infuses new qualities into the will, making the dead will alive, the evil one good, the unwilling one willing, and the stubborn one compliant; he activates and strengthens the will so that, like a good tree, it may be enabled to produce the fruits of good deeds.

So we hold that those who do come to saving faith in Christ do so because God providentially causes them to hear the gospel preached and works in them to cause them to respond. The way he does this is by making those who are dead alive in Christ. He makes sinful men into new men with new desires and new works. So what God makes new cannot help but to produce new fruit.

Article 12. And this is the regeneration, the new creation, the raising from the dead, and the making alive so clearly proclaimed in the Scriptures, which God works in us without our help. But this certainly does not happen only by outward teaching, by moral persuasion, or by such a way of working that, after God has done his work, it remains in man's power whether or not to be reborn or converted. Rather, it is an entirely supernatural work, one that is at the same time most powerful and most pleasing, a marvelous, hidden, and inexpressible work, which is not lesser than or inferior in power to that of creation or of raising the dead, as Scripture (inspired by the author of this work) teaches. As a result, all those in whose hearts God works in this marvelous way are certainly, unfailingly, and effectively reborn and do actually believe. And then the will, now renewed, is not only activated and motivated by God but in being activated by God is also itself active. For this reason, man himself, by that grace which he has received, is also rightly said to believe and to repent.

This work of God within us is what the Scriptures call regeneration or God's making us alive. This does not happen through the outward proclamation of the gospel or by human works of apologetics. Regeneration is not our work; it is the work of the Spirit. This work of making the dead alive is equivalent to God's work of creation. Bringing life out of death is the same as bringing the things that are out of nothing. So the will of new creatures is motivated by the things of God because it is the restored and renewed creation of God that is not marred by the sin of the old.

Article 13. In this life believers cannot fully understand the way this work occurs; meanwhile, they rest content with knowing and experiencing that by this grace of God they do believe with the heart and love their Savior.

In this article the Synod references John 3. Jesus tells Nicodemus that the Spirit's work of new birth is a mysterious one that cannot be explained just like how the wind blows where it will and no one can see why it blows one way and not another. So God's people cannot explain why God chooses to regenerate one and not another or even entirely how the new birth happens but they can be confident on the basis of the effects of the Spirit's work that it has taken place.

Article 14. In this way, therefore, faith is a gift of God, not in the sense that it is offered by God for man to choose, but that it is in actual fact bestowed on man, breathed and infused into him. Nor is it a gift in the sense that God bestows only the potential to believe, but then awaits assent--the act of believing--from man's choice; rather, it is a gift in the sense that he who works both willing and acting and, indeed, works all things in all people produces in man both the will to believe and the belief itself.

On this basis we see that faith is not of men but is of God. The very faith that embraces the gospel does not belong naturally to man but is the Spiritual work of God within man. Faith is not something given to man for him to choose what to place it in but faith is given that embraces Christ as he is offered in the gospel. Regeneration makes men both willing and able to believe so that they cannot, will not, and would not do otherwise.

Article 15. God does not owe this grace to anyone. For what could God owe to one who has nothing to give that can be paid back? Indeed, what could God owe to one who has nothing of his own to give but sin and falsehood? Therefore the person who receives this grace owes and gives eternal thanks to God alone; the person who does not receive it either does not care at all about these spiritual things and is satisfied with himself in his condition, or else in self-assurance foolishly boasts about having something which he lacks. Furthermore, following the example of the apostles, we are to think and to speak in the most favorable way about those who outwardly profess their faith and better their lives, for the inner chambers of the heart are unknown to us. But for others who have not yet been called, we are to pray to the God who calls things that do not exist as though they did. In no way, however, are we to pride ourselves as better than they, as though we had distinguished ourselves from them.

The Synod goes on to argue that God does not owe the grace of regeneration to any man. Because of sin we cannot ever purchase anything from God. Instead we have to recognize that if we are regenerate then we have nothing to boast in and no one to praise except for Jesus Christ. Furthermore, because regeneration is the work of God we find that we are not able to judge whether or not an other is a true or false believer. Instead God alone judges the heart and so we can only pray for them and speak favorably of them when they do profess faith. Finally, we cannot claim to be in anyway better than the unregenerate for anything within ourselves because that work belongs to God alone and does not spring from anything within us.

Article 16. However, just as by the fall man did not cease to be man, endowed with intellect and will, and just as sin, which has spread through the whole human race, did not abolish the nature of the human race but distorted and spiritually killed it, so also this divine grace of regeneration does not act in people as if they were blocks and stones; nor does it abolish the will and its properties or coerce a reluctant will by force, but spiritually revives, heals, reforms, and--in a manner at once pleasing and powerful--bends it back. As a result, a ready and sincere obedience of the Spirit now begins to prevail where before the rebellion and resistance of the flesh were completely dominant. It is in this that the true and spiritual restoration and freedom of our will consists. Thus, if the marvelous Maker of every good thing were not dealing with us, man would have no hope of getting up from his fall by his free choice, by which he plunged himself into ruin when still standing upright.

The Synod now wants to clarify what does not happen when God works his grace of regeneration. Sin did not completely abolish human will be instead made it depraved and opposed to God. Similarly regeneration does not abolish the human will but instead makes it holy and restores human will in the image of God. So new men are obedient in the Spirit and it is in that obedience that they have true freedom of their wills. Therefore it is the gracious work of the Spirit which not only renews the creation but also guarantees its consummation and continual perfection as wills are restored to a higher state than even Adam possessed as he was made holy and good.

Article 17. Just as the almighty work of God by which he brings forth and sustains our natural life does not rule out but requires the use of means, by which God, according to his infinite wisdom and goodness, has wished to exercise his power, so also the aforementioned supernatural work of God by which he regenerates us in no way rules out or cancels the use of the gospel, which God in his great wisdom has appointed to be the seed of regeneration and the food of the soul. For this reason, the apostles and the teachers who followed them taught the people in a godly manner about this grace of God, to give him the glory and to humble all pride, and yet did not neglect meanwhile to keep the people, by means of the holy admonitions of the gospel, under the administration of the Word, the sacraments, and discipline. So even today it is out of the question that the teachers or those taught in the church should presume to test God by separating what he in his good pleasure has wished to be closely joined together. For grace is bestowed through admonitions, and the more readily we perform our duty, the more lustrous the benefit of God working in us usually is and the better his work advances. To him alone, both for the means and for their saving fruit and effectiveness, all glory is owed forever. Amen.

Further clarifying how this work of regeneration occurs the Synod teaches that just as God uses means in sustaining our natural lives (such as food, rain, sunshine, etc.) he also uses means in ushering us into the new Spiritual life. These outward means are the preaching of the gospel. Therefore the Synod concludes that this understanding of God's effectual call and his irresistible grace does not make the preaching of the gospel and the outward call superflous or unnecessary. Instead the usefulness of the outward call is confirmed in God's work. It is because he has ordained and appointed the means of grace in the preaching of the word, the adminstration of the sacraments, and the use of discipline in the church that he brings men to salvation. Thus though salvation is God's work alone he still sees fit to bestow the grace of his gospel through outward admonitions to repent and believe the gospel. It is true that saving faith is the means through which God saves us. Yet as that saving faith is the gift of God we must recognize that all of the praise and glory of salvation goes to God alone.

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