The Dogamtician: None Do Good

Finally, one must bear in mind that Scripture and the church, in teaching the total depravity of humanity, apply the highest standard, namely, the law of God. The doctrine of the incapacity for good is a religious confession. In light of the standard people usually follow in their daily life or in philosophical ethics, one can wholeheartedly admit that much of what people do is good and beautiful. The follower of Augustine, using this standard in the assessment of human virtues, can be even more generous and broad-minded than the most confirmed Pelagian. But there is still another, higher, ideal for us humans. There is a divine law with which we must comply. Virtues and good works are distinct. Good, true good good in the eyes of a holy God is only what is done out of faith, according to God’s law, and to God’s glory. And measured by this standard, who would dare to say that any work performed by humans is completely pure and does not need forgiveness and renewal? To divide persons in two—like Rome and in part like the Lutherans—and to say that in the realm of the supernatural and spiritual they are incapable of any good but in the natural realm they can do things that are totally good is contrary to the unity of human nature, to the unity of the moral law, and to the teaching of Scriptures that humans must always be images of God, do everything they do to the glory of God, and always and everywhere love God with all their heart, mind, and strength. Now if that is true, if the human essence consists in being the image and likeness of God, then nothing in them, as they now live and work, can stand before the face of God. Weighed in the scales of God’s sanctuary, all their works are found to be wanting. —Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics

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