This article first appeared in the June 1, 1975 issue of The Standard Bearer (Vol.51, Issue 17) and was penned by Rev.John A. Heys.
When one adds one number to another, the result usually is that one reaches a greater number. Thus when one adds three to five, the result is eight. But there is an instance where an addition subtracts and leaves one with nothing. And in this year when our churches are celebrating their fiftieth anniversary, I would like to point out such an addition that was made in 1924, resulted in the formation of our churches in 1925, and robbed the churches of what they formerly had.
I refer to the fact that in 1924 the mother church added to her confessions the three points of "Common Grace." By this official act of the Synod the mother church exactly robbed herself of the five points of Calvinism which formerly were her doctrinal position and confession. Adding the three points of "Common Grace" the church lost all of the Reformed doctrine contained in those five points of Calvinism. And this I like to make plain with these lines.
Prior to the Synod of 1924 the mother church by Synodical decision had adopted the Canons of Dordrecht as her confessional standard along with the Heidelberg Catechism and the Netherlands Confession. Now these Canons of Dordrecht contain those five points of Calvinism and set forth what is truly Reformed. In five heads of doctrine these Canons oppose the Pelagianism and Arminianism that had invaded the churches and set forth the truth as it is in God's Word. And if we examine those five points of Calvinism and will place alongside of them the three points of "Common Grace," we will see that this addition subtracts to such an extent that we have nothing of the five points of Calvinism left. Let us do exactly that and learn from this tragic error and addition to the confessions of the church.
An Addition That Subtracts
The first of the five points of Calvinism is that man by nature is totally depraved. And that means not simply that the totality of the human race is depraved, it means that each individual is wholly corrupt from the inside outward, from the sole of the foot to the top of the head. That is what Paul teaches us when in Ephesians 2:1 he declares that we are dead in trespasses and sins. More strongly Paul could not put it. We are not simply weak, sick, or paralyzed as far as part of our bodies are concerned. We are dead! The difference is that a dead man does absolutely nothing. A sick, weak, paralyzed man is very limited in what he can do; but he does breathe, and eats and drinks a bit. He may talk in a whisper, but he does talk. He looks and hears and experiences pain and discomforts. His heart beats. A dead man does none of these and is completely still in regard to all his organs and faculties of his body. And to be dead in trespasses and sins means that one is spiritually—not physically—dead. It means that there is no work that he performs that is spiritually good. Of course we are not born physically dead. It is spiritually that we are totally depraved.
This again does not mean that we perform no spiritual work at all. Were that the case, we would have no personal guilt; and though we would not be able to please God, we would not be displeasing Him either. No, to be spiritually dead means that one cannot do anything that is spiritually good in God's sight. It means, as the Heidelberg Catechism also states it, that we are inclined to all evil and prone to hate God and the neighbor. And total depravity exactly means that there is nothing that we can do to please God, nothing that is spiritually good in His sight until we are born again by the Spirit of Christ with life which is from above.
This the apostle Paul also teaches in Romans 7:18 and Romans 8:7, 8. In the first passage he says, "In me, (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing." Pay close attention here. He says that NO good thing dwelleth in his flesh. He does not simply state that all flesh is evil and all men are depraved. He exactly says that in his own flesh, in the flesh of the individual, dwelleth no good thing. You can look and search, but you will find nothing that is good in God's sight. This he underscores in Romans 8:7, 8 when he writes, "For the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God." The unregenerated mind, mind you, is enmity against God! It hates God and has no desire to do anything pleasing in His sight. It is not subject to the law of God which demands of us that we love God; and it cannot be subject to that law of God, and thus cannot love Him. Hence those in the flesh, those who have not been born again by the Spirit of Christ, cannot please God. It is not a case of finding it hard to please Him. It is not a case of not always pleasing Him. It is exactly a case of NEVER doing so and of being incapable even of desiring to do so.
But now look at the three points of "Common Grace" which rob men of this truth by dragging into the churches the teaching that man is not totally depraved, but able and active in doing what is spiritually good in God's sight. The first point of "Common Grace" as adopted in 1924 by the mother church declares "it to be established according to Scripture and the Confessions that, apart from the saving grace of God shown only to those that are elect unto eternal life, there is also a certain favour or grace of God which He shows to His creatures in general. This is evident from the Scriptural passages quoted and from the Canons of Dordrecht, II, 5 and III, IV, 8 and 9, which deal with the general offer of the Gospel."
Notice that the first point speaks of a "general offer of the Gospel." Now the Scriptures never speak of an offer of the Gospel, and here is where the mother church went astray to begin with in 1924. For the minute you speak of an offer of the Gospel, and then, mind you, of a "general offer of the Gospel," you are by implication saying that all those to whom the offer is extended are spiritually alive. It is no offer when you stand before a dead body and promise a certain object on the condition of acceptance of the offer. And if God sincerely, and with a certain favor or grace, offers salvation in the Gospel to all who hear, then God, Who is no fool, must consider these to whom He offers salvation to be alive. The same God who says through Paul that by nature we are dead in trespasses and sins, also offers salvation to such as though they were alive? Can He be sincere? He knows our spiritual condition, if anyone does. And either He teaches, as He does, that we are dead in trespasses and sins, or else He teaches that we are not. He will not say both. Men may say both and speak out of both sides of their mouths. But when God says that we are dead in trespasses and sins, He says that there is no use offering salvation to such, for they cannot see or hear or desire that salvation and its offer. And so by teaching and adopting a point of doctrine which states that God offers salvation to all who hear the preaching of the Gospel, one loses the first of the five points of Calvinism, and one plus one equals zero. Nothing is left of the truth of total depravity as Scripture teaches it by adding a man-made point of an offer to spiritually dead men.
Then, too, the third point of "Common Grace" added to the first point of Calvinism negates that first point entirely. For the third point of "Common Grace" states that the unregenerate without having his heart renewed is influenced by God so that "he is able to perform civil good." And by civil good is meant civil righteousness. For the third point begins with the statement, "Relative the third point, which is concerned with the question of civil righteousness as performed by the unregenerate. . . ." It is not, then, a question of whether the unregenerate do works that look good to men, but it is a case of righteousness, that which is right in God's sight, that which pleases Him.
And note that the third point speaks of man being able to do such works of civil righteousness. The minute you speak of ability, you are no longer speaking of a spiritually dead man but one who has at least a spark of life left in him. He is not totally depraved but only mostly depraved. And what becomes of Romans 7:18 and Romans 8:7, 8? If that unregenerate man can do civil good, he certainly in one sphere at least can please God, can be subject to His law and is subject to it. Then in his flesh can be found some good thing. Not much, perhaps, but enough so that the truth of total depravity is lost and a theory of some ability is maintained. For ability to do good of any kind implies life to some degree. And to add another verse from Scripture, Paul writes as quoting the Psalms, "There is none righteous, no, not one. There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one." Romans 3:10-12. Paul knows nothing of civil good and civil righteousness which the unregenerate perform.
And thus here, too, adding the third point of "Common Grace" to the confessions of the church means that the first point of Calvinism must go. You cannot maintain a dead man that is alive. You cannot maintain a living man that is dead. You have to choose between saying the one or the other. Let us say what God says: Man is dead in trespasses and sins; is not subject to God's law, cannot be and cannot please God.
All the points of Calvinism that follow likewise are denied and lost so that you end up with zero, that is, with nothing of the Reformed faith, after adding to your confessions the three points of "Common Grace." And this is due to that very evil addition of the "offer of the Gospel." That is the point of departure, and that is what must be rejected if we are to get Reformed faith back again. Try as we will, we will fail until we reject the well-meant offer of salvation to all who hear the preaching of the Gospel.
This I like to show next time and then, in addition to this section which I have labeled, "An Addition That Subtracts", I would like to add the two sections, "A Subtraction that Multiplies" and "A Multiplication That Divides."
Rev. John A. Heys was born on March 16, 1910 in Grand Rapids, MI. He was ordained and installed into the ministry at Hope, Walker, MI in 1941. He later served at Hull, Iowa beginning in 1955. In 1959 he accepted the call to serve the South Holland, IL Protestant Reformed Church. He received and accepted the call to Holland, Michigan Protestant Reformed Church in 1967. He retired from the active ministry in 1980. He entered into glory on February 16, 1998.