De Drie Punten in Alle Deelen Gereformeerd
by Louis Berkhof
Berkhof’s The Three Points in All Parts Reformed has never been fully translated from the Dutch into English. Below are all the excerpts of Berkhof’s work that have been translated into English.
It should be cautioned that these quotes were translated by Herman Hoeksema, a critic of Berkhof (in the former’s A Triple Breach), and have very little context.
In 1924 the Christian Reformed Church defined and adopted The Three Points of Common Grace. Here is a summary of them:
1. In addition to the saving grace of God, shown only to those who are elected to eternal life, there is also a certain favor, or grace, of God shown to his creatures in general.
2. Since the fall, human life in society remains possible because God, through his Spirit, restrains the power of sin.
3. God, without renewing the heart, so influences human beings that, though incapable of doing any saving good, they are able to do civil good.
Berkhof defended these points a year later in 64 pages, in his The Three Points in All Parts Reformed.
The Three Points in All Parts Reformed
The controversy that was carried on had the very usual effect that the very air became impregnated with various false conceptions. Some busy themselves to spread the tale that the three points are three bullets from Arminian canons that shot a terrible breach in our fortifications. The question whether they do so in good faith, we will not discuss. But the fact is, that many good people believe that presentation of the matter, while others, confused thereby, ask the question: what is truth?
In the first place we would call attention to the fact, that in these points we have [made] no material addition to our Confessional Standards [The Three Forms of Unity: The Belgic Confession, The Heidleberg Catechism and the Canons of Dort]….
Our people may be assured that the Synod of 1924 by adopting the three points added nothing to the essential contents of our Confessions. She only brought forward and formulated a triplet of truths that are clearly implied in our Confessional Standards and that are partly emphatically expressed therein
Our Church stands as firm as ever in the conviction that Christ died with the intention to save only the elect, though she recognizes at the same time the infinite value of the sacrifice of Christ as being sufficient for the sins of the whole world. He who alleges that Synod here seeks to introduce covertly the Arminian doctrine of universal atonement becomes guilty of false representations
The general and well-meaning offer of salvation is an evidence of God’s favor toward sinners, is a blessing of the Lord upon them…
Scriptures teach us without doubt, that we must consider the offer of salvation [as] a temporal blessing also for them that do not heed the invitation…
That God calls the ungodly to repentance is presented in the Holy Scriptures as a proof of His pleasure in their salvation…
In the prophecy of Ezekiel we may listen to the voice of the Lord in words that bear testimony to His mercy: “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God; and not that he should return from his ways and live?” [Eze. 18:23] And again: “For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth (that is, of him that perisheth in his sins), saith the Lord God; wherefore turn yourselves and live ye.” [Eze. 18:32] These passages tell us as clearly as words can tell, that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked; note, that He does not say: ‘of the elect sinner’ but ‘of the sinner’ entirely in general; and the tender calling we hear therein witnesses of His great love for sinners and of His pleasure in the salvation of the ungodly.
pages 27-28, commenting on Romans 2:4, “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?”
The explanation of this [i.e., of the riches of God’s goodness] must be found in the purpose God had in view with this revelation of His love. And what was this purpose? Was it to cast the ungodly Jews more deeply into perdition? No, but to lead them to repentance….
But in the case of the Jews the result does not correspond to the intention. They hardened themselves against this revelation of God’s goodness.
This point proceeds on the basis of a very definite presupposition, to which we would call the attention first of all. The supposition is that man by nature is wholly corrupt, and that he is dominated by the principle of enmity against God and the neighbor. He is alienated from God in his inmost soul, and, consequently, every act of his, even though it might be outwardly in harmony with certain secondary principles of justice, is corrupt in principle as the act of a rebel. Because of sin disharmony rules in the soul of man, a deep moral corruption has taken hold of his whole life. And this corruption is not dormant; it develops and causes man to proceed from bad to worse.
The second thought we find expressed in the declarations of synod is that God restrains sin by the general operations of His Spirit. This is not expressed in so many words in our Confessions, but may be easily deduced therefrom…
In the restraint of sin the general operations of the Holy Spirit are fundamental in importance. They maintain the glimmerings of natural light, that remain in man since the fall and through which he retains “some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the difference between good and evil, and discovers some regard for virtue, good order in society, and for maintaining an orderly external deportment.” They cause the seed of external righteousness to bear fruit, but do not implant into the heart the seed of regeneration. This operation of the Spirit is not a creative operation but assumes the character of moral persuasion. It makes man to a certain extent receptive for the truth in as far as it [the truth] still influences him from his own consciousness. It presents motives to the will, impresses his conscience, makes use of inclinations and desires that are present in the soul, and causes the outward good that is still remaining to come to development.
It is really ridiculous that in this connection Arminianism is mentioned. More and more it seems that Arminianism must serve as a bugbear, needlessly to frighten the people. The impression has been created that this second point actually teaches that by common grace man is somewhat improved spiritually. This would, indeed, be Arminian. But it is surely puzzling how anyone can read this in the declaration of synod. For, synod attributes the restraint of sin to the general operations of the Holy Spirit, and these according to Reformed belief, never cause a change in the state of spiritual death of the natural man. They not only fail to quicken him that is spiritually dead, but they do not bring him one step nearer to life. But something must be added to this. Emphatically synod declared, that God restrains sin through the general operations of the Holy Spirit, without renewing the heart. The heart, therefore, is not renewed, in other words, man in this way is not regenerated. This naturally excludes all thought of spiritual improvement. Reformed people do not acknowledge a spiritual improvement preceding regeneration. They must have nothing of the notion of preparatory grace. Yet, without any semblance of proof, it is alleged that synod adopted the doctrine of such a grace. No, the restraint of sin does not bring man one step nearer to life, it only has reference to the maintenance and improvement of our natural life.
pages 42-43, commenting on Genesis 6:3, “And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh”
The Holy Spirit resisted the ungodliness and perversity of those generations, that lived before the flood. He sought to check their ungodliness and to lead them to repentance….
But the Spirit strove in vain; sin increased rapidly…
…the Spirit strives in vain. He attempts to check the power of sin and lead men to repentance, but He strives in vain, He fails.
[Berkhof is not denying irresistible grace, which he asserts and defends at length in his Systematic Theology, Part 4, Chapter 6, but he is affirming that there are resistible graces and operations of the Holy Spirit. For this teaching defended from scripture and reformed history, along with Berkhof’s relevant quotes on the topic from his Systematic Theology, see here.]
the natural man is wholly incapable to do what is truly good. For this [what is truly good] always proceeds from the root of faith and of love to God, is not merely external but in its deepest motives in accord with the law of God, and finds its ultimate aim in the glory of God. It [that which is truly good] is good in the full sense of the word. And because man by nature is dead in sin and trespasses he is not able to perform it…
in a positive sense synod declared that the unregenerated is capable of performing civil righteousness or civil good [though not what is truly good]…
It is not easy to define the good the unregenerate man can do. His works may be called good,
(a) in a subjective sense, in as far as they are the fruit of inclinations and affections touching the mutual relations of men, which are themselves relatively good, and by virtue of the remnants of the image of God that are still operating in man; and
(b) in an objective sense, if they in regard to the matter as such are works prescribed by the law, and in the sphere of social life correspond to a purpose that is well-pleasing to God.
We must bear in mind that synod did not give us any definition of this civil good; and, therefore, she cannot be held responsible for any definition or qualification. She only declared that the unregenerate is capable of performing civil righteousness…
…that she [the synod] explains this civil good from an influence God exerts upon man without renewing the heart. If man were left to himself he would not be able even to perform this civil good. It must be attributed to the bridle by which God governs man, and to the general operations of the Holy Spirit upon intellect, will, and conscience. For this reason this natural good does not entitle man to any claim of reward
the civil righteousness cannot be denied, unless one closes his eyes to the reality of life; and Reformed people find the explanation of this in a working of God’s common grace…
…while we acknowledge this civil good, it is not denied that this relative good is, at the same time, sinful, if we consider it from another point of view. It is not a good in the full sense of the word [that is, truly good, as defined on p. 50], but only relative good. It resembles somewhat the withered fruit one may find sometimes on a tree or shrub that is cut off from its root….
Even the best works of the ungodly are, from a formal point of view, and with respect to the manner in which they are performed, entirely sinful….
At the same time it is good in a relative sense. The mere assertion that all the works of the unregenerate are sinful, without any qualification, fails to distinguish properly, contains only a partial truth and is characterized by an absolutism that is condemned by the analogy of Scripture, by our Confessions and by Reformed theology.
In connection with the controversy that has arisen among us Synod only brought forward certain truths that are clearly contained in our Confessions, or even are emphatically professed therein.
Berkhof on Common Grace, from his Systematic Theology