16 September, 2018

Belgic Confession, 36—“… that decency and good order, which God hath established among men …”

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 of the confession for proof that the natural man can do good works before God in civil life. The natural man is able to perform such civil good by virtue of an influence of God on him that has nothing to do with regeneration.


Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965)

[Source: The Rock Whence We Are Hewn (RFPA, 2015), p. 371, 405]

It is self-evident that Article 36 does not speak at all of such an influence of God on the sinner that enables him to do civil good. The article speaks of the magistrates’ power whereby sin is restrained in public life … [If it were true] that an influence of God urges the natural man to do good, the police might be abolished. But since that declaration is untrue, the sword-power is peremptory in society …

… Article 36 of the Belgic Confession that synod quoted refers to the sword power of the magistrates. But nowhere does it suggest a general operation of the Holy Spirit whereby the progress of corruption in human nature is checked. Man is constantly bridled by the Most High, mediately and immediately, in all his actions, but he is always wholly corrupt.



More to come! (DV)

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