10 June, 2019

Belgic Confession, 14—“… and retained only a few remains thereof [of his excellent gifts] …”

We believe that God created man out of the dust of the earth, and made and formed him after His own image and likeness, good, righteous, and holy, capable in all things to will agreeably to the will of God. But being in honor, he understood it not, neither knew his excellency, but wilfully subjected himself to sin, and consequently to death and the curse, giving ear to the words of the devil. For the commandment of life which he had received he transgressed; and by sin separated himself from God, who was his true life; having corrupted his whole nature; whereby he made himself liable to corporal and spiritual death. And being thus become wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all his ways, he hath lost all his excellent gifts which he had received from God, and retained only a few remains thereof, which, however, are sufficient to leave man without excuse; for all the light which is in us is changed into darkness, as the Scriptures teach us, saying: The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehendeth it not, where St. John calleth men darkness (Belg. Conf., 14).

This article of the confession is thought to indirectly provide support for the doctrine of common grace; “For,” it is argued, “if it wasn’t for common grace, man would have no remains whatsoever of ‘the excellent gifts which he had received from God,’ but would have become a beast, or a devil, at the fall.”

These “remains” of his excellent gifts are said to be elements of original goodness in man, by which he still possesses the ability to perform good works, in the sight of God, in the civil realm, and such elements of original goodness can only be still there as the result of an inward operation of grace, restraining his depravity and the powers of sin and death therein.


Prof. Herman C. Hanko

[Source: Another Look at Common Grace (2019 edition), pp. 154-156]

In support of the doctrine of the restraint of sin, appeal is made to the fact that the Belgic Confession [Art. 14] speaks of man retaining a few remains of the excellent gifts which he lost because of the fall; and that the Canons [3–4.4] speak of “glimmerings of natural light” which fallen man retains, by which he has some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the differences between good and evil. And further, that, because of these glimmerings, he discovers some regard for virtue, good order in society, and for maintaining an orderly external deportment.
It is clear that both articles refer directly to the passages in Romans 1 and 2 which we discussed above. Both use the same language in some respects, and both creeds specifically refer to the fact that God continues to give fallen man some remnants of His excellent gifts that he might be without excuse.
Both articles speak of natural light—the Belgic by referring to remnants of excellent gifts, and the Canons by referring to glimmerings of natural light.
What are these “remnants of natural light”? Very obviously, the creeds refer to the fact that, even after man fall, man did not become a beast or animalas Dr. Abraham Kuyper (and others) insist would have happened, if it had not been for common grace. He remained a man. His natural light (in distinction from spiritual light) are those gifts which guarantee that he is still a man. Man is still rational because he retains a mind. He is still moral because he retains a will. He is still a creature with a soul—which soul shall endure beyond death so that he may stand in the judgment and be justly and righteously punished for his sin.
These gifts of natural light are, according to the creeds, the means by which he still has some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the differences between good and evil. It is because he has natural light, in a measure, that he is still able to have some regard for virtue, good order in society, and for maintaining an orderly external deportment. If he lacked these he would no longer be man.
But they are, after all, only glimmerings and remnants. Even as far as the natural light which man continues to possess is concerned, man has only bits and pieces. That is, the fall was so devastating in its consequences that even man’s natural powers of mind and will, which he retained, are remnants and glimmerings. They are the few scraps a seamstress has left over when her dress is completed, essentially worthless. They are the sputterings of a candle in comparison with the light of the sun. Man’s natural powers of soul were far greater before he fell than after God visited him with death.
But these glimmerings and remnants are enough to hold man accountable before God. They are enough to give man some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the difference between good and evil. And so man still is responsible for what he does. If he had not these glimmerings, he would not be accountable before God for his idolatry and sin. But now he is.
But if you should inquire whether this is grace, the creeds make no mention at all of such grace. And if you should think that these glimmerings “restrain sin,” the creeds are quite emphatic that they do not. Man’s regard for virtue and good order in society and his efforts to maintain an orderly external deportment are for his own selfish benefit, for he is able to see that society would sink into chaos, and life would be impossible, if God’s law were not externally observed.
The Canons are quite insistent on making the point. All these glimmerings are not only insufficient to bring him to a saving knowledge of God and to true conversion, but man is even incapable of using this natural light aright in things natural and civil. He suppresses the truth, renders it holy polluted, holds it in unrighteousness, and corrupts it in every way possible. And so he becomes inexcusable before God.



More to come! (DV)

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