2008-04-30 - Heidelberg 9.3
Heidelberg Catechism Series, Part 21
Question 9.3: "But doesn't God do us an injustice, by requiring in his law what we are unable to do?"
Answer: No, God created humans with the ability to keep the law. They, however, tempted by the devil, in reckless disobedience, robbed themselves and all their descendants of these gifts.
We are in measure, in this question, discussing the active role of God in human affairs, and the ability, or inability of man in moral standing before God. This is an unusual place, I suppose, to address the topic of irresistible grace, and it is likely to come up again, as we progress through the catechism, but it might be helpful to touch on it here also. The term irresistible grace is credited with the "I" in TULIP, better know as the five points of Calvinism. However, the distinction, "Five points of Calvinism" is an unfortunate one, as it is a term which came into use over 50 years after Calvin was dead, and was in response to a theological heresy which was addressed at the Synod of Dort (1618-19). Calvin never knew he had five points, and the truth is that the Synod of Dort was answering five points that were being perpetrated by those who were re-defining Biblical teaching. The five answers given by Dort were summed up with the acronym TULIP, that became known as the five points of Calvinism. Calvin, however, had died in 1564, and TULIP was certainly not his idea or creation.
Irresistible grace, as said, is the "I" in TULIP. Many use the term to declare that Calvinists deny that an unregenerate person can resist grace. This is not what is meant. Unregenerate people deny/resist grace all the time. The point at issue was whether they could ultimately, and at the specific moment when God regenerates them, still reject that grace. The topic is tied to many others - including election, universal or particular atonement of Christ, effectual calling, and the will and pleasure of God in saving sinners. The " other side" which held to the heresy of a high view of human ability appealed to numerous verses including Ezek. 12:2, Luke 7:30, and Acts 7:51.
The theologians of Dort rather held to the picture that Scripture gives of the Fall of man into sin, his blindness to spiritual things, powerlessness to save himself, and being dead in trespasses and sins. They appealed to Jer. 13:23, Matt. 6:23, 7:18, John 8:34, Rom. 6:17, 8:7, 1 Cor. 2:14, 2 Cor. 3:5, Eph. 2:1, and other passages. The Dort theologians took the view of God's grace being part of His sovereignty, and His nature as both Creator, and Redeemer of fallen man. The Synod of Dort said, in sections 3-4, "Regeneration, the new creation, the raising from the dead and the making alive - is an entirely supernatural work, one that is at the same time most powerful and most pleasing, a marvelous, hidden, and inexpressible work, which is not lesser than or inferior in power to that of creation or raising the dead, as Scripture teaches."
For our purposes, we see that God is not unjust in requiring us to keep His Law, but also we get a glimpse of His glory in that, since we cannot keep the Law, He has provided us a way of escape of the consequences of failing to keep His Law through Christ. He gives us grace and mercy in Christ, and He gives it perfectly. So while, outside of Christ, we are dead in trespasses and sins, when grace is given, - and it only comes from God Himself - we are released from the consequences of our failures, and given not only mercy, but Christ's perfect righteousness also. This is not something we could ever work up in ourselves. It is divine, supernatural, and can only be given to us by the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
Soli Deo Gloria,