Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Non-Christian Cannot Please God!

Works done by unregenerate men, although, for the matter of them, they may be things which God commands, and of good use both to themselves and others: yet, because they proceed not from an heart purified by faith; nor are done in a right manner according to the Word; nor to a right end, the glory of God; they are therefore sinful, and cannot please God, or make a man meet to receive grace from God. And yet, their neglect of them is more sinful, and displeasing unto God.

-Westminster Confession-

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At Tuesday, May 08, 2007 1:36:00 PM, Anonymous bobby grow said...

I absolutely agree, Doug. What impact do you think this has on "ethics"? I.e. do you think we, believers, have a point of commonality in ethics via a kind of "natural approach"?

At Tuesday, May 08, 2007 2:09:00 PM, Blogger Doug E. said...

Hey Bobby,

I'm not complete sure what you are asking regarding the "natural approach" In general I believe the the believer and the non-believer are under the same ethical requirements. Not sure if that answers your question or not.

God Bless,


At Wednesday, May 09, 2007 1:56:00 AM, Anonymous bobby grow said...


I mean, does unregenerate man, and regenerate man have a point of commonality, epistemologically where we can meet ethically? Let me use the Feinberg's to clarify:

. . . natural law theories typically claim that what reason discovers by reflecting on the natural order is consistent with what man intuitively knows through his conscience. As one writer claims, essential to the notion of natural moral law are the "features of universality, unwrittenness and intuitively perceived or rationally discoverable moral knowledge of the divine will apart fom special historical Biblical revelation." Proponents of natural law ethics use various Scriptures to support their views, but the central passages are Rom 1:18-32 and 2:14-16. Natural law ethicists think biblical revelation of moral norms is important, but they hold that even without that revelation everyone can know by reason alone the basic principles of right and wrong. Consequently, one need not be a Christian or even a theist to know the moral law. John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg, "Ethics For A Brave New World," 25

This ethical idea would seem to be directly at odds with the statement provided by Westminster. Thomas Aquinas was a proponent of this approach, and some contemporaries would be, I believe, J.P. Moreland, William Craig, and even the Feinbergs to an extent. What do you think, would you hold to a "natural law ethic" as described in this quote? The implication of this approach seems to be that both Christians and non-Christians can discern the same ethical values via reason and nature--which I disagree with.

At Wednesday, May 09, 2007 11:16:00 AM, Blogger Doug E. said...

Hey Bobby, I do hold to the idea of natural law. After all Scripture teaches it :-). I don't think the the quote you gave the or understanding of natural law contradicts what the confession is saying.

In fact, I believe the writers of the Westminster Confession had a veiw of natural law also. As did Calvin, and both were pulling from scripture and Augustine.

The reason I don't think there is an antithesis between the natural law view and this statment in the confession is because it clearly states that the unregenerate person can and does some the things that God commands. The same things we as Christians such as helping someone up who has fallen and need help.

The problem is not with the act itself, but with heart or the attitudes behind the act. And since we know the law is Spiritual, meaning it judges the hearts and the intents the acts they do are sinful.

What they do and what they know they are supposed to do are two separate things. And I believe they do know what they are supposed to do because they are made in the image of God, and it has been written on thier hearts. They simply refuse to do it.

God Bless,


At Wednesday, May 09, 2007 11:36:00 AM, Anonymous bobby grow said...


yes in once sense I agree and in another I disagree. Man is condemned because of failure to meet God's holiness revealed in nature. But w/o being "regenerate" man does not have the ability to discern or interpret what is revealed in nature thus they supress the truth in righteousness. In other words their interpretive lens is distorted thus believing the "good" they see is interpreted as if coming from nature "alone".

Calvin's two-fold knowledge of God (duplex cognitio domini) argues and articulates the same. I.e. that there is a Knowledge of God as Creator (natural law) and Knowledge of God as Redeemer. W/o the Knowledge of the latter, the Knowledge of the former is condemning. I agree with that, but as the quote that I provided illustrates . . .Natural law ethicists think biblical revelation of moral norms is important, but they hold that even without that revelation everyone can know by reason alone the basic principles of right and wrong. Consequently, one need not be a Christian or even a theist to know the moral law. . . . This seems contrary to Calvin's view. He did not believe a proper view of the natural law could be interpreted rightly apart from revelation (e.g. Knowledge of God as Creator). So maybe "natural man" can apprehend "natural law", but devoid of the "Law of Christ" (or Calvin's Knowledge of God as Redeemer)they cannot truly and accurately interpret or attain to the right "Knowledge of God as Creator"--thus their condemnation.

Furthermore, to hold to natural law, as described by the Feinbergs seems to militate against a view of "total depravity" so common in the Reformed tradition. In other words, it seems that natural law ethicists assume a different anthropology by positing that man's "reason" in some way has remained untouched and unfallen at a basic level, at least basic enough to actually discern "right and wrong". And when we're thinking of "right and wrong", what is this, it seems that the Feinbergs are almost implying an "behavorist" (external) concept--when we know that truly right and wrong is deeper than that (Jesus' sermon on the Mt). It has to do with the motives that lead to "actions". If the motives are wrong, then even the "right" condemns.

Anyway all that to say, I still disagree with natural law, as the Feinbergs articulate it. And I think Calvin would have too.

In Christ

At Wednesday, May 09, 2007 2:51:00 PM, Blogger Doug E. said...

I see. In the way you are explaining it I probably disagree with it too, but three things to clarify my view which might help.

1. In the first paragraph of your response you spoke about the suppression of the truth in Romans 1. The idea that they are suppressing the truth indicates that they already have it. (By "it" I mean knowledge of God as creator and basic moral requirements).

2. I agree with your statements that indicate that the natural man cannot reason his way to God, but the “knowledge” in Romans 1 is not necessarily something that is reasoned to. It is manifest in them so when they look to world it reinforces this truth. But they can't reason because they don't want to. They start with the wrong presupposition, namely a suppression of the truth. This causes all of their reasoning to be wrong.

3. As you and I have discussed in the past, I am not too sure about the division you are making between the God's moral law the law of Christ. (I know this is a good topic but unfortunately I don't have the time to get into it right now). But my point is this, I don't think they have to have knowledge of Christ as redeemer to have knowledge of God's moral law.

Hope that helps make my view a bit clearer.


At Wednesday, May 09, 2007 3:18:00 PM, Anonymous bobby grow said...


Thank you for the clarification. My point, ultimately, is that even if this "moral law" is inherent to an individual (via imago dei), that that knowledge is qualitatively different than what Christians know of the moral law--sounds like we might agree.

I was not intending to get into the active obedience discussion again. I don't think this discussion necessitates that.

In Christ


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