Third and Fourth Heads of Doctrine
The Corruption of Man, his Conversion to God and the Manner in Which it Occurs
Article 1 - The Effect of the Fall
In the beginning man was created in the image of God. He was adorned in his mind with true and wholesome knowledge of his Creator and of all spiritual things; his will and heart were upright, all his affections pure, and therefore man was completely holy. (Gen 1:26-27)
But rebelling against God through the instigation of the devil and through his own free will, he deprived himself of these excellent gifts, (Gen 3:1-7) and instead brought upon himself blindness, horrible darkness, futility, and perverseness of judgment in his mind; wickedness, rebelliousness, and stubbornness in his will and heart; and impurity in all his affections. (Eph 4:17-19)
Article 2 - The Spread of Corruption
Since after the fall man became corrupt, he as a corrupt father brought forth corrupt children (Job 14:4; Ps 51:5) Thus the corruption has spread from Adam to all his descendants, (Rom 5:12) with the exception of Christ alone, (Heb 4:15) not by imitation, as the Pelagians of old maintained, but by the propagation of a perverted nature, according to the righteous judgment of God.
Article 3 - Man’s Total Inability
Therefore all men are conceived in sin and are born as children of wrath, incapable of any saving good, inclined to evil, dead in sins, and slaves of sin. (Eph 2:1, 3; Jn 8:34; Rom 6:16-17) And without the grace of the regenerating Holy Spirit (Jn 3:3-6; Tit 3:5) they neither will nor can return to God, reform their depraved nature, or prepare themselves for its reformation.
Article 4 - The Inadequacy of the Light of Nature
To be sure, there is left in man after the fall, some light of nature, whereby he retains some notions about God, (Rom 1:19-20) about natural things, and about the difference between what is honourable and shameful, and shows some regard for virtue and outward order. (Rom 2:14-15) But so far is he from arriving at the saving knowledge of God and true conversion through this light of nature that he does not even use it properly in natural and civil matters. Rather, whatever this light may be, man wholly pollutes it in various ways and suppresses it by his wickedness. In doing so, he renders himself without excuse before God. (Rom 1:18, 20)
Article 5 - The Inadequacy of the Law
What holds for the light of nature also applies to the Ten Commandments, given by God through Moses particularly to the Jews. For though it reveals the greatness of sin, and more and more convicts man of his guilt, yet it neither points out a remedy nor gives him power to rise out of this misery. Rather, weakened by the flesh, it leaves the transgressor under the curse. Man cannot, therefore, through the law obtain saving grace. (Rom 3:19-20; 7:10, 13; Rom 8:3; 2 Cor 3:6-7)
Article 6 - The Need for the Gospel
What, therefore, neither the light of nature nor the law can do, God performs by the power of the Holy Spirit through the word or ministry of reconciliation, (2 Cor 5:18-19) which is the gospel of the Messiah, by which it has pleased God to save men who believe, (1 Cor 1:21) both under the old and under the new dispensation.
Article 7 - Why the Gospel Is Sent to Some and Not to Others
Under the old dispensation God revealed this mystery of His will to few. Under the new dispensation, however, He took the distinction between the peoples away and revealed it to a larger number. (Eph 1:9; 2:14; Col 3:11) The cause of this very distribution of the gospel is not to be ascribed to the worthiness of one people above another, nor to the better use of the light of nature, but to the sovereign good pleasure and undeserved love of God. (Rom 2:11; Mt 11:26) Therefore we to whom so great a grace is granted, beyond and contrary to all we deserve, ought to acknowledge it with a humble and grateful heart. (Rom 11:22-23) But as regards to others whom this grace is not given, we ought with the apostle to adore the severity and righteousness of the judgments of God (Rev 16:7) but by no means inquisitively to pry into them. (Deut 29:29)
Article 8 - The Earnest Call by the Gospel
But as many as are called by the gospel are earnestly called, (Is 55:1; Mt 22:4) for God earnestly and most sincerely reveals in His Word what is pleasing to Him, namely, that those who are called should come to Him. (Rev 22:17) He also earnestly promises rest for their souls and eternal life to all who come to Him and believe. (Jn 6:37; Mt 11:28-29)
Article 9 - Why Some Who Are Called Do Not Come
It is not the fault of the gospel, nor of the Christ offered by the gospel, nor of God, who calls through the gospel and who even confers various gifts upon them, that many who are called through the ministry of the gospel do not come and are not converted. The fault lies in themselves. (Mt 11:20-24; 22:1-8; 23:37) Some of them do not care and do not accept the word of life. Others do indeed receive it, but they do not accept it into their hearts, and therefore, after the joy of a temporary faith has vanished, they turn away. Still others choke the seed of the word by the thorns of the cares and the pleasures of this world, and bring forth no fruit. This our Saviour teaches in the Parable of the Sower. (Mt 13)
Article 10 - Why Others Who Are Called Do Come
Others who are called by the ministry of the gospel do come and are converted. This is not to be ascribed to man. He does not distinguish himself by his free will above others who are furnished with equal or sufficient grace for faith or conversion (as the proud heresy of Pelagius maintains). It is to be ascribed to God. (Rom 9:16) He has chosen His own in Christ from eternity and calls them effectually within time. He gives them faith and repentance; He delivers them from the power of darkness and transfers them to the kingdom of His Son. (Col 1:13; Gal 1:4) All this He does that they may declare the wonderful deeds of Him who called them out of darkness into His marvellous light, (1 Pet 2:9) and may boast not of themselves but of the Lord, (1 Cor 1:31; 2 Cor 10:17; Eph 2:8-9) according to the testimony of the apostles in various places.
Article 11 - How God Brings About Conversion
God carries out His good pleasure in the elect and works in them true conversion in the following manner. He takes care that the gospel is preached to them, and powerfully enlightens their minds by the Holy Spirit, so that they may rightly understand and discern the things of the Spirit of God. (Heb 6:4-5; 1 Cor 2:10-14) By the efficacious working of the same regenerating Spirit He also penetrates into the innermost recesses of man. (Heb 4:1) He opens the closed and softens the hard heart, (Acts 16:14) circumcises that which was uncircumcised, and instils new qualities into the will. (Deut 30:6) He makes the will, which was dead, alive; which was bad, good; which was unwilling, willing; and which was stubborn, obedient. (Ez 11:19; 36:26) He moves and strengthens it so that, like a good tree, it may be able to produce the fruit of good works. (Mt 7:18)
Article 12 - Regeneration Is the Work of God Alone
This conversion is the regeneration, the new creation, the raising from the dead, the making alive, (Jn 3:3; 2 Cor 4:6; 5:17; Eph 5:14) so highly spoken of in the Scriptures, which God works in us without us. But this regeneration is by no means brought about only by outward teaching, by moral persuasion, or by such a mode of operation that, after God has done His part, it remains in the power of man to be regenerated or not regenerated, converted or not converted. It is, however, clearly a supernatural, most powerful, and at the same time most delightful, marvellous, mysterious, and inexpressible work. According to Scripture, inspired by the Author of this work, regeneration is not inferior in power to creation or the raising of the dead. (Jn 5:25; Rom 4:17) Hence all those in whose hearts God works in this amazing way are certainly, unfailingly, and effectually regenerated and do actually believe. (Phil 2:13) And then the will so renewed is not only acted upon and moved by God but, acted upon by God, the will itself also acts. Therefore man himself is rightly said to believe and repent through the grace he has received.
Article 13 - Regeneration Is Incomprehensible
In this life believers cannot fully understand the way in which God does this work. Meanwhile, however, it is enough for them to know and experience that by this grace of God they believe with the heart and love their Saviour. (Jn 3:18; Rom 10:9)
Article 14 - How Faith Is a Gift of God
Faith is therefore a gift of God, (Eph 2:8) not because it is merely offered by God to the free will of man, but because it is actually conferred on man, instilled and infused into him. Nor is it a gift in the sense that God confers only the power to believe and then awaits from man’s free will the consent to believe or the act of believing. It is, however, a gift in the sense that He who works both to will and to work, (2 Phil 2:13) and indeed all things in all, brings about in man both the will to believe and the act of believing.
Article 15 - The Proper Attitude With Respect to God’s Undeserved Grace
This grace God owes to no one. For what could He owe to man? Who has given Him first that he might be repaid? (Rom 11:35) What could God owe to one who has nothing of his own but sin and falsehood? He, therefore, who receives this grace owes and renders eternal thanks to God alone. He who does not receive this grace, however, either does not care at all for these spiritual things and is pleased with what he has, or in false security vainly boasts that he has what he does not have. (Amos 6:1; Jer 7:4) Further, about those who outwardly profess their faith and amend their lives we are to judge and speak in the most favourable way, (Rom 14:10) according to the example of the apostles, for the inner recesses of the heart are unknown to us. As for those who have not yet been called, we should pray for them to God, who calls into existence the things that do not exist. (Rom 4:17) But we must by no means act haughtily, (1 Cor 4:7) as if we had distinguished ourselves from them.
Article 16 - Man’s Will Not Taken Away but Made Alive
Man through his fall did not cease to be man, endowed with intellect and will; and sin, which has pervaded the whole human race, did not deprive man of his human nature, but brought upon him depravity and spiritual death. (Rom 8:2; Eph 2:1) So also this divine grace of regeneration does not act upon men as if they were blocks and stones and does not take away the will and its properties, or violently coerce it, but makes the will spiritually alive, heals it, corrects it, pleasantly and at the same time powerfully bends it. (Ps 51:12; Phil 2:13) As a result, where formerly the rebellion and resistance of the flesh fully dominated, now a prompt and sincere obedience of the Spirit begins to prevail, in which the true, spiritual renewal and freedom of our will consists. And if the wonderful Maker of all good did not deal with us in this way, man would have no hope of rising from his fall through this free will, by which he, when he was still standing, plunged himself into ruin.
Article 17 - The Use of Means
The almighty working of God whereby He brings forth and sustains this our natural life does not exclude but requires the use of means, by which He according to His infinite wisdom and goodness has willed to exercise His power. (Is 55:10-11; 1 Cor 1:21) So also the aforementioned supernatural working of God whereby He regenerates us, (Jas 1:18) in no way excludes or cancels the use of the gospel, which the most wise God has ordained to be the seed of regeneration and the food of the soul. (1 Pet 1:23, 25; 2:2) For this reason the apostles and the teachers who succeeded them, reverently instructed the people concerning this grace of God, to His glory and to the abasement of all pride. In the meantime, however, they did not neglect to keep them, by the holy admonitions of the gospel, under the administration of the Word, the sacraments, and discipline. (Acts 2:42; 2 Cor 5:11-21; 2 Tim 4:2) So today those who give or receive instruction in the church should not dare to tempt God by separating what He in His good pleasure has willed to be closely joined together. For grace is conferred through admonitions, (Rom 10:14-17) and the more readily we do our duty, the more this favour of God, who works in us, usually manifests itself in its lustre, and so His work best proceeds. To God alone, both for the means and for their saving fruit and efficacy, all glory is due throughout eternity. (Jude 24,25) Amen.
Rejection of Errors
Having explained the true doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, Synod rejects the following errors:
Error: Properly speaking, it cannot be said that original sin as such is sufficient to condemn the whole human race or to deserve temporal and eternal punishment.
Refutation: This contradicts the words of the apostle when he declares: sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned ( Rom 5:12). And: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation ( Rom 5:16). Also: For the wages of sin is death ( Rom 6:23) .
Error: The spiritual gifts or the good qualities and virtues, such as goodness, holiness, righteousness, cannot have belonged to the will of man when he was first created, and therefore cannot have been separated from his will when he fell.
Refutation: This error is contrary to the description of the image of God which the apostle gives, when he connects it with righteousness and holiness, which undoubtedly belong to the will. (Eph 4:24)
Error: In spiritual death the spiritual gifts are not separate from the will of man, since the will as such has never been corrupted but only hampered by the darkness of the mind and the unruliness of the passions. If these hindrances have been removed, the will can exert its full innate power. The will is of itself able to will and to choose, or else not to will and not to choose, all manner of good which may be presented to it.
Refutation: This is an innovation and an error, and tends to extol the powers of the free will, contrary to what the prophet Jeremiah states, The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure ( Jer 17:9) . And the apostle Paul writes: All of us also lived among them (the sons of disobedience) at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful natures and following its desires and thoughts ( Eph 2:3).
Error: The unregenerate man is not really or totally dead in sins, or deprived of all powers unto spiritual good. He can yet hunger and thirst after righteousness and life, and offer the sacrifice of a contrite and broken spirit which is pleasing to God.
Refutation: These things are in conflict with the clear testimonies of Scripture: you were dead in your transgressions and sins ( Eph 2:1, cf. 2:5). And every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time , ( Gen 6:5 and 8:21). Moreover, only the regenerate and those who are called blessed hunger and thirst after deliverance from misery and after life, and offer to God the sacrifice of a broken spirit. (Ps 51:19; Mt 5:6)
Error: The corrupt and natural man can so well use the common grace (which for the Arminians is the light of nature), or the gifts still left him after the fall, that he can gradually gain by their good use a greater, that is, the evangelical or saving grace, and salvation itself. In this way God on His part shows Himself ready to reveal Christ to all men, since He administers to all sufficiently and efficaciously the means necessary for the knowledge of Christ, for faith and repentance.
Refutation: Not only the experience of all ages but also Scripture testifies that this is untrue. He has revealed his word to Jacob, His laws and decrees to Israel. He has done this for no other nation; they do not know His laws ( Ps 147:19, 20). In the past, He let all nations go their own way ( Acts 14:16). And Paul and his companions were kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to ( Acts 16:6, 7).
Error: In the true conversion of man no new qualities, powers, or gifts can be infused by God into the will. Therefore faith, through which we are first converted and because of which we are called believers, is not a quality or gift infused by God but only an act of man. It cannot be called a gift except with respect to the power to attain to this faith.
Refutation: This teaching contradicts the Holy Scriptures, which declare that God infuses new qualities of faith, of obedience, and of the consciousness of His love into our hearts: I will put My law in their minds and write it on their hearts ( Jer 31:33). And: I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground ( Is 44:3). And: God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us ( Rom 5:5). This also conflicts with the constant practice of the church, which prays by the mouth of the prophet: Restore me, and I will return, because You are the LORD my God ( Jer 31:18).
Error: The grace whereby we are converted to God is only a gentle advising. This manner of working which consists in advising is the most noble manner in the conversion of man and is most in harmony with man’s nature. There is no reason why this advising grace alone should not be sufficient to make the natural man spiritual. Indeed, God does not bring about the consent of the will except through this moral persuasion. The power of the divine working surpasses the working of Satan, in that God promises eternal while Satan promises only temporal goods.
Refutation: This is entirely Pelagian and contrary to the whole Scripture, which teaches beyond this moral persuasion yet another, far more powerful and divine manner of the working of the Holy Spirit in the conversion of man: I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh ( Ezek 36:26).
Error: In regenerating man God does not use the powers of His omnipotence so as to forcefully and unfailingly bend man’s will to faith and conversion. Even if all the works of grace have been accomplished which God employs to convert man and even if God intends his regeneration and wills to regenerate him, man may yet so resist God and the Holy Spirit, and indeed often does so resist, that he entirely prevents his regeneration. It therefore remains in man’s power to be regenerated or not.
Refutation: This is nothing less than the denial of all the efficacy of God’s grace in our conversion, and the subjecting of the working of Almighty God to the will of man. It is contrary to the apostles, who teach His incomparably great power for us who believe ( Eph 1:19); who pray our God that by His power He may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith ( 2 Thess 1:11), and who declare that His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness ( 2 Pet 1:3).
Error: Grace and free will are partial causes which together work the beginning of conversion. In the order of these causes grace does not precede the working of the will. God does not effectually help the will of man to come to conversion until the will of man moves itself and determines to do this.
Refutation: The early church long ago condemned this doctrine of the Pelagians according to the words of the apostle : It does not, therefore, depend on man's desire or effort, but on God's mercy ( Rom 9:16). Also: For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? ( 1 Cor 4:7). And: it is God who works in you to will and to act according to His good purpose ( Phil 2:13).
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|Fifth Head of Doctrine