Last time we pointed out that this discussion (the discussion of good works) must underlie any discussion we may have concerning the practical life of a Christian here below.
We also pointed out that it was only a Christian that could really discuss these things. And that for the reason that our rubric is entitled Christian Living. That presupposes that the Christian lives. And we made the distinction, the fundamental distinction between the Christian and unbeliever, that the one has life and other does not. It is plain that we have reference to the spiritual life of Jesus Christ. The child of God is given new life at the point of regeneration. He becomes again a living creature. The unbeliever is in this sense of the word dead. He has not this life. Therefore, he cares not for the Christian walk in the midst of this world. The Christian is vitally interested in this walk because it is a manifestation of the life which he has within him.
You may say that we need not discuss these things because we learned all these things in catechism and we have heard them time and again. Therefore, we understand them and need not hash over it all now.
But these are important matters and not always understood the way they should be. This is evident from the fact that those who now follow De Wolf and cling to conditional theology deny these very things. They are very far from the Reformed line also on this. And therefore, it is important that we understand just what we mean by Christian Living.
In general, the problem centers around the question of the relation between salvation and good works.
More specifically the problem is: Are good works the fruit of salvation or conditions to it?
There is a wide difference between the two.
Let us explain.
Those who hold to conditional theology refuse to admit the difference. They always add as an appendage to their conditions, Yes, but they are fulfilled by the grace of God. And that is supposed to eliminate any difference. It should strike our attention first of all that this is only added as an appendage. “If you do this, then God will do that; you must first do this, then God will do that: if you fulfill this condition, God will do this. But He fulfills the conditions.” The fact that the latter is added as an appendage should be a warning that it is really only a camouflage. Of course, they would not come out and say point blank that man must fulfill the conditions of his own power. That would be a dead give-away. Even though that is what they mean. But look at the foolishness of it.
Let me illustrate with an example I heard not so long ago which is very fitting. Think of a man lying in bed with two broken legs. You are standing by the door of his bedroom and you offer him five dollars if he will get out of bed and walk to you to get it. Of course he is unable to walk so that he cannot possibly come to get the five dollars. He cannot fulfill the condition of walking to you. So are you really presenting him with a condition? Of course not!
But now say that you go to the bed and carry him over to the door and then give him the five dollars. Do you have any condition left at all?
Now if God presents us with salvation if we come to Him, and since we cannot come to Him because we are dead in sins and trespasses, He carries us to Himself and presents us with salvation, is there any condition left at all? You say again, of course not.
This analogy is poor but serves the purpose nevertheless. And this is so obvious that we may safely conclude that those who adhere to conditions do not really mean that God fulfills the conditions. Because if they are conditions, and if it is supposed to make sense, then it follows that we fulfill the conditions ourselves.
So you see, there is very plainly a difference between the two.
But let me point this out further.
Although these men speak of many conditions which we must fulfill in salvation (including all the good works of a Christian), let us just use the act of faith as an example to keep the issue clearly before us. The act of faith they stress more than anything else as a condition to salvation.
And then they say that a person who has been regenerated, and who has already principally in his heart faith, must believe of himself if he is going to be brought into final glory. Apart from the faith which he principally has in regeneration, that faith must become active if he is going to be saved. I dare not ask them what would happen to that man with faith in his heart if he never manifested that faith in active belief. I wonder whether he would go to heaven.
But we conclude that all the good works of the Christian are exactly this type of condition. He must perform them in his own strength apart from the power of God which he has by virtue of his regeneration, if he is going to be saved in the final sense of the word, i.e., if he is going to go to heaven.
But lest you doubt that this is what they actually teach, listen.
It is so apparent that De Wolf and his followers say exactly this, namely, that a man can fulfill these conditions in his own power, that they go farther and say that “Our act of conversion is a prerequisite (condition) to enter into the kingdom of heaven.” A man before he is regenerated must and therefore can fulfill conditions in order to be saved in the very initial sense, i.e., saved in regeneration.
And do not deny this. I am not interested in all the word twisting and sophistry that goes on to explain this in a right sense. The statement as such teaches this and can teach nothing other. If those who hold to this statement do not want that doctrine, then let them now before it is too late retract the statement and apologize for ever using it. But at the same time, if it has been pointed out conclusively that that is the only interpretation, and they still hold to it, then the only conclusion we can come to is that they want exactly that.
But what has that got to do with Christian Living?
If our act of conversion can be performed while we are completely under the power of darkness, then any good work pleasing in the sight of God can be performed outside the kingdom of light. Then Christian Living only means that anybody must and therefore can live the life of a Christian, and therefore the purpose of this rubric is only to show people the way that they ought to live. We must then tell them that they can and therefore must live this way. They must not live in sin because then they will not be saved; but they must forsake their sin and then they will be brought into heaven.
But I don’t believe that that is the purpose of this rubric. And therefore, as I said before, we must discuss these things and understand the relation between salvation and good works before we can ever become practical.
But that next time.