FOURTH LORD'S DAY
Question 9. Doth not God then do injustice to man, by requiring from him, in his law, that which he cannot perform?
Answer. Not at all: for God made man capable of performing it; but man, by the instigation of the devil, and his own willful disobedience, deprived himself and all his posterity of those divine gifts.
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There is here in this portion of the Catechism, an objection on the part of human reason against what is said in the preceding question: If man is so corrupt that he cannot do any thing that is good before his regeneration, then God seems unjustly and in vain to require from him, in his law, perfect obedience. The objection may be more fully stated thus: He who requires or commands that which is impossible, is unjust. God requires of man in his law perfect obedience, which it is impossible for him to perform. Therefore, God seems to be unjust. To this objection we reply as follows:
He who requires what is impossible is unjust, unless he first gave the ability to perform what he requires; secondly, unless man covet, and has of his own accord brought this inability upon himself; and, lastly, unless the requirement, which it is not possible for man to comply with, he of such a nature as is calculated to lead him to acknowledge, and deplore his inability. But God, by creating man in his own image, gave him the ability to render that obedience which he justly requires from him in his law. Wherefore if man, by his own fault and free will, cast away this ability with which he was endowed, and brought himself into a state in which he can no longer render full obedience to the divine law, God has not for this reason lost his right to exact the obedience which man is in duty bound to render him. God therefore justly punishes us, because we have cast away this good by transgressing his commandments, and because he threatened punishment in case his law were violated.
Obj. 1. But we did not bring this sin upon ourselves. Ans. Our first parents, when they fell, lost this ability both for themselves, and all their posterity; just as they also received it for themselves and their posterity.
If a prince were to give a nobleman a fee and he were to rebel against him, he would lose it not only for himself, but for his posterity also; and the prince would do no injustice to his children by not restoring to them that which was lost by the rebellion of their father. And if he does restore it, it is because of his goodness and mercy.
Obj. 2. He that commands impossibilities, commands in vain. God commands that which it is impossible for man to perform since the fall. Therefore he commands in vain. Ans. 1. God does not command in vain, even though we do not perform what he enjoins upon us, because his commandments have other ends in view, both as it respects the righteous and the wicked. The righteous are required to obey the commands of God, 1. That they may acknowledge their own weakness and inability. "By the law is the knowledge of sin." 2. That they may know what they were before the fall. 3. That they may know what they ought most especially to ask of God, viz, the renewal of their nature. 4. That they may understand what Christ has done in our behalf--that he has made satisfaction for us, and regenerates us. 5. That we may commence new obedience to God, because the law teaches us how we ought to act towards God, in view of the benefits of redemption; and what God, in return, requires of us. Obedience is required from the wicked, 1. That the justice of God may be manifest in their condemnation: because if they know what they ought to do, and yet do it not, they are justly condemned. "That servant which knew his Lord's will, and did not according to it, shall be beaten with many stripes." (Luke 12:47.) 2. That external propriety, and discipline may be preserved. 3. That those whom God designs to save may be converted. We reply, in the second place, to the major proposition of this syllogism by making the following distinction:
He who commands impossibilities, does indeed command in vain, unless he at the same time gives the ability. But God, in commanding the elect, gives them the power also to obey, and commences obedience in them by the gospel, and ultimately perfects it. Augustine says: "Lord, give what thou dost command, and command what thou wilt, and thou shalt not command in vain." (De bono persever. cap. 10.) This impossible demand is, therefore, the greatest benefit; because it leads us to the attainment of the power through which we may comply with what is required of us.
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