03 September, 2016

Belgic Confession, Article 13—“he so restrains the devil and all our enemies that, without his will and permission, they cannot hurt us”


This doctrine [of divine providence] affords us unspeakable consolation, since we are taught thereby that nothing can befall us by chance, but by the direction of our most gracious and heavenly Father, who watches over us with a paternal care, keeping all creatures so under his power that not a hair of our head (for they are all numbered), nor a sparrow, can fall to the ground, without the will of our Father, in whom we do entirely trust; being persuaded that he so restrains the devil and all our enemies that, without his will and permission, they cannot hurt us (Belgic Confession, 13).


COMMON GRACE ARGUMENT:
This article of the Belgic Confession is often presented as proof of a spiritual-ethical operation of grace proceeding from God upon the natural man, improving him in his mind and will and inclinations.


(I)

Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965)

[1] Very clearly article 13 does not speak of an operation of common grace by the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the ungodly whereby they are somewhat reformed and improved. It speaks of God’s providence in connection with the blessed truth of God’s power and dominion, even over the instruments and agents of darkness. That this part of the confession speaks of the devils and ungodly ought to have been sufficient to keep synod from the error of thinking that the article referred to an internal and gracious operation of the Holy Spirit. If synod’s interpretation were correct, this article would also teach that there is a reforming influence of the Holy Spirit on the devils, which is absurd. But if synod will not accept such an operation of grace on devils, it will have to admit that article 13 does not refer to such a gracious operation of the Holy Spirit at all, but simply to God’s almighty domination, whereby he rules over and governs all things according to his eternal counsel … This government of the Most High over all things, according to article 13, is divinely motivated not by a certain grace, or favor, over the ungodly, but by his grace and love over his people. Article 13 refers to a very particular grace. (Source: The Rock Whence We Are Hewn (RFPA, 2015), p. 369)

[2] Article 13 speaks of God’s absolute sovereignty and control over devils and ungodly men. God always holds the reins. He directs, controls, and dominates the sinner so that even in his sinful deeds he can only fulfil God’s sovereign counsel. He cannot do as he pleases. He is not independent. The Most High holds him in his power. (Source: The Rock Whence We Are Hewn (RFPA, 2015), p. 404)

[3] We do understand, as Article 13 of our Confession of Faith teaches us, that God restrains all evil men, yea even the devil. But of a general operation of the Spirit, whereby God would improve the mind and will and inclinations of the natural man, the confession surely does not speak. The English translation might possibly allow the presentation of synod, inasmuch as it reads: “that He so restrains the devil and all our enemies.” But the Holland translation, “hij de duivelen en al onze vijanden in den toom houdt,” is undoubtedly the more correct. (Source: The Standard Bearer, vol. 15, no. 14 [April 13, 1939], p. 337)


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(II)


Prof. Herman C. Hanko

[Source: Common Grace Considered, p. 126]

No Reformed man who believes in the sovereignty of God has ever denied that God restrains sin. No Reformed man has ever denied that included in God’s sovereign control are Satan and his black hosts from hell. Even while our Lord was on earth, the devils who were cast out of devil-possessed people, were subject to the Lord’s will. They could not even enter the pigs without the Lord’s permission (Mark 5:1-17). This profound truth of God’s sovereignty is taught in Article 13 of the Belgic Confession. But there is absolutely no mention made of an inner work of the Holy Spirit who restrains sin from within a man by changing man’s nature so that he can do good. Appeal to this article is an unwarranted twisting of the article on God’s providence.


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(III)


More to come! (DV)



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