28 August, 2016

Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q&A 83—"some sins ... are more heinous in the sight of God than others"

Q. 83. Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous?


A. Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.

To conceive of all men as standing together on a flat, undifferentiated moral plateau is to exclude from theology altogether the doctrine of judicial abandonment. All men are depraved. But not all, men are "hardened" or "given over to a reprobate mind." Not every prison is an Auschwitz or every city a Sodom. Many men are capable of natural affection, fidelity and even of heroic self-sacrifice. The doctrine of common grace recognizes this and insists that such qualities are gifts from "the Father of lights" (James 1:17)


Prof. David J. Engelsma

[Source: The Standard Bearer, Vol. 68, Issue 5]

[The Catechism] says that "some sins ... are more heinous in the sight of God than others" (Q. 83). It does not say, or imply, that some deeds of the unregenerate are good in the sight of God.

Degrees of wickedness among unregenerated persons are to be explained in terms of greater and lesser knowledge; the circumstances of their lives; their own more or less intense development of their sinfulness; and the degree to which God hardens them and gives them over to their reprobate mind.

The spiritual difference among the unregenerated is a difference in degree of wickedness. It is not a difference in extent of goodness.

The doctrine of total depravity [as taught in the Reformed and Presbyterian creeds] does surely allow for "progression or variation." There is development of sin in both individual and society. But this development is not development from partial depravity to complete depravity, that is, from more goodness to less goodness or no goodness at all. Rather, it is development of sin.

The completely depraved person, in whom is no good from birth, develops and works out all the possibilities of his depravity during his lifetime, according to his circumstances. Baby Judas was as completely depraved as was adult Judas at the moment that he betrayed Jesus. But the adult traitor had made "progress" in the intensity and expression of his depravity.

The development of sin in the world throughout history is similar. Things do not go from good to bad but from bad to worse. What is now taking place in Western civilization is not the becoming bad of a society that formerly was somewhat good but the increase of lawlessness.

The figure that accurately pictures the development of sin in the unregenerated sinner and in the world outside of Christ is not that of the sick man who gradually dies. But it is that of the dead man who gradually decays and stinks more and more. 



More to come! (DV)

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