03 September, 2016

Belgic Confession, 36—“… that the dissoluteness of men might be restrained …”

We believe that our gracious God, because of the depravity of mankind, hath appointed kings, princes and magistrates, willing that the world should be governed by certain laws and policies (i.e., police or police-regulations; French: polices); to the end that the dissoluteness of men might be restrained, and all things carried on among them with good order and decency. For this purpose, he hath invested the magistrates with the sword for the punishment of evil-doers and for the protection of them that do well. And their office is, not only to have regard unto and watch for the welfare of the civil state; but also that they protect the sacred ministry; and thus may remove and prevent all idolatry and false worship; that the kingdom of antichrist may thus be destroyed and the kingdom of Christ promoted. They must, therefore, countenance the preaching of the Word of the gospel everywhere, that God may be honoured and worshipped by everyone, as he commands in His Word. Moreover it is the bounden duty of every one of what state, quality or condition soever he may be, to subject himself to the magistrates, to pay tribute, to show due honor and respect to them, and to obey them in all things which are not repugnant to the Word of God; to supplicate for them in their prayers that God may rule and guide them in all their way and that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. Wherefore we detest the Anabaptists and other seditious people, and, in general, all those who reject the higher powers and magistrates and would subvert justice, introduce community of goods, and confound that decency and good order, which God hath established among men (Belg. Conf., 36).

Exponents of the theory of common grace have appealed to this article as proof of an inner, spiritual operation of the Holy Spirit in the heart of every man whereby he is not regenerated, yet he is kept from total corruption of his nature; and, by this same inward operation of grace, there is a certain reforming influence outside of the work of regeneration upon the heart of every man.


Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965)


[Source: The Protestant Reformed Churches in America [1947], 368-369]

10.   What is described in this article?
The calling of the magistrates according to the Word of God. What we have in this article is, evidently, the picture of a Christian government, according to the conception of our fathers. When the government functions and protects them that do well, it destroys the kingdom of antichrist and promotes the kingdom of Christ and it furthers the preaching of the Word, so that God may be worshipped everywhere. And although the phrase “and thus may remove and prevent all idolatry and false worship” has been amended in a foot-note, rejecting the dominion of the State over the church, yet the article as a whole was never repudiated.

11.   But is there in this article any proof for the contention that there is an operation of the Holy Spirit restraining sin in the heart of the natural man?
Not at all. The difference between this article and the Second Point of 1924 is very lucid. Once more, this article speaks of an external restraint upon and punishment of the wicked, and that not by God, but by the power of the magistrates and of their sword. So little does this part of the confession speak of a restraint of sin in the heart by the Holy Spirit, that, if the latter were true, the magistrates and the police would not be necessary for this purpose. It is exactly because of the dissoluteness of men, which is not restrained by any spiritual or moral improvement, that the government must bear the sword.


[Source: The Rock Whence We Are Hewn (RFPA, 2015), p. 369]

This article does not speak of a restraint of the power and corruption of sin in the heart of the natural man by a general operation of the Holy Spirit, but of an external restraint of certain public sins by the power of the law supported by police power. The plain teaching of this article is that without the power of the magistrates men are not restrained at all, but are dissolute. If there were such an operation of the Spirit, as taught in the second point, the police and the sword-power of the magistrates would be unnecessary. But now it is different. Article 36 does not proceed from the assumption of such an operation of grace on the heart of natural man, and therefore it professes the need for laws and police.



Prof. Herman C. Hanko

[Source: Common Grace Considered (2019 edition), pp. 219-220]

[It] is clear to every Reformed man that, indeed, God ordains magistrates to keep order in society. But as one man once put it to me, “The second point [of common grace] confuses the Holy Spirit with the policeman”—or makes the sword of the magistrate the Holy Spirit. It is impossible to derive from this article anything even remotely resembling “a work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of all men, bringing to these men God’s grace, and restraining man’s sin by these gracious internal influences.”



More to come! (DV)

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