08 March, 2017

Argument: “Sinful man leading outwardly virtuous lives”



Q. 1. “How can we account for it that sinful man still ‘retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the difference between good and evil, and shows some regard for virtue and for good outward behaviour’?”

Q. 2. “How can the unregenerate still speak the truth, do good to others, and lead outwardly virtuous lives?”




Prof. David J. Engelsma

The answer to your first question is given in the first part of the article of the Canons of Dordt from which you quote in your question.  You quote from Canons III/IV:4.  Knowledge of God, etc. are the “glimmerings of natural light” that remain in man since the fall.  Natural light is not grace.  Natural light “remains.”  It is not a panacea given to fallen man after the fall by a God who is gracious to fallen man.  And what remains are merely glimmerings.  Noteworthy is that the article concludes by stating that fallen man cannot use even this “light of nature” rightly in things natural and civil.  Indeed, this light man renders wholly polluted, etc.  
Man remains man after the fall, which includes that he knows the difference between good and evil and that he discovers some regard for virtue, etc. 
The fundamental reason why this knowledge and this regard for virtue, sometimes very impressive, for example, in the love of an unbelieving parent for his children, or the sympathy of humans for other, suffering humans, is not genuine good, but sin, is that none of it is possessed or exercised to the glory of God.  Such is God that whatever does not take Him into account and whatever is not done to His glory are not good, but evil, regardless how impressive the attitude or act may be.  The Heidelberg Catechism defines a good work as one that is done to the glory of God (Q. 91).  It denies that works are good that “are founded on our imaginations or the institutions of men.”  Romans 14:23 declares that “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”  No unbeliever can do anything that is good, regardless of how self-sacrificing, how beneficial to others, or how noble the deed may be.
The advocates of common grace, with their insistence that the ungodly perform truly good works, make one mistake:  They leave God out of their theology. 
The answer to your second question is the same as the answer to the first:  glimmerings of natural light after the fall.  These include a sense of self-interest, for example, it is self-destructive to drink too much or to visit the whores; it also includes natural pity for other humans.  But there is no reverence or love of God in all these manifestations of the glimmerings.  Nor do the actions that impress us proceed out of a true faith.  Neither do humans perform these deeds consciously in obedience to the law of God (see Q. 91 of the Catechism).

                                                                                        Cordially in Christ,
                                                                                                Prof. David J. Engelsma



Heidelberg Catechism (1563)

Q. 8. Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness?

A. Indeed we are;[a] except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.[b]

[a] Gen. 6:5; Job 14:4; Job 15:14, 16
[b] John 3:5; Eph. 2:5

Q. 91.  But what are good works?

A.  Only those which proceed from a true faith,[a] are performed according to the law of God,[b] and to His glory;[c] and not such as are founded on our imaginations or the institutions of men.[d]

[a] Rom. 14:23
[b] I Sam. 15:22; Lev. 18:4; Eph. 2:10
[c] I Cor. 10:31
[d] Deut. 12:32; Ezek. 20:18; Matt. 15:9



Westminster Confession of Faith (1647)

Works done by unregenerate men, although for the matter of them they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others; yet, because they proceed not from a heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner, according to the Word; nor to a right end, the glory of God; they are therefore sinful and can not please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God. And yet their neglect of them is more sinful, and displeasing unto God (16:7).



More to come! (DV)

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