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Part Four: The Doctrine of The Application of The Work of RedemptionIII. Common Grace
III. Common Grace
In connection with the general operations of the Holy Spirit the subject of common grace also calls for attention. It should be understood, however, that Reformed theology does not, like Arminian theology, regard the doctrine of common grace as a part of Soteriology. At the same time it does recognize a close connection between the operations of the Holy Spirit in the sphere of creation and in that of redemption, and therefore feels that they should not be entirely dissociated.
A. ORIGIN OF THE DOCTRINE OF COMMON GRACE.
1. THE PROBLEM WITH WHICH IT DEALS. The origin of the doctrine of common grace was occasioned by the fact that there is in the world, alongside of the course of the Christian life with all its blessings, a natural course of life, which is not redemptive and yet exhibits many traces of the true, the good, and the beautiful. The question arose, How can we explain the comparatively orderly life in the world, seeing that the whole world lies under the curse of sin? How is it that the earth yields precious fruit in rich abundance and does not simply bring forth thorns and thistles? How can we account for it that sinful man still "retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the difference between good and evil, and shows some regard for virtue and for good outward behavior"? What explanation can be given of the special gifts and talents with which the natural man is endowed, and of the development of science and art by those who are entirely devoid of the new life that is in Christ Jesus? How can we explain the religious aspirations of men everywhere, even of those who did not come in touch with the Christian religion? How can the unregenerate still speak the truth, do good to others, and lead outwardly virtuous lives? These are some of the questions to which the doctrine of common grace seeks to supply the answer.
2. AUGUSTINE'S ATTITUDE TOTHIS PROBLEM. Augustine did not teach the doctrine of
common grace, though he did not use the word "grace"
exclusively as a designation of
saving grace. He spoke of a grace which Adam enjoyed before the fall,
admitted that man's existing as a living, sentient, and rational being
might be termed
grace. But over against Pelagius, who stressed the natural ability of
man and recognized
no other grace than that consisting in the natural endowments of man, the
law and the
gospel, the example of Christ, and the illumination of the understanding
by a gracious
influence of God, —— he emphasized the total inability of man and
dependence on the grace of God as an inner renewing power, which not
the mind but also acts directly on the will of man, either as operating
or as co-operating
grace. He employs the word "grace" almost exclusively in this
sense, and regards this
grace as the necessary condition to the performance of each good act.
Pelagians pointed to the virtues of the heathen, who "merely
through the power of
innate freedom" were often merciful, discreet, chaste, and
temperate, he answered that these so-called virtues were sins, because they did
not spring from faith. He admits that
the heathen can perform certain acts which are in themselves good and
from a lower
point of view even praiseworthy, but yet considers these deeds,
as the deeds of unregenerate persons, to be sin, because they do not spring from the motive of love to
God or of faith, and do not answer to the right purpose, the glory of
3. THE VIEW THAT DEVELOPED DURING THE MIDDLE AGES. During the Middle Ages the Augustinian antithesis of sin and grace gave way to that of nature and grace. This was based on another antithesis which played an important part in Roman Catholic theology, namely, that of the natural and the supernatural. In the state of integrity man was endowed with the supernatural gift of original righteousness, which served as a bridle to hold the lower nature in check. As the result of the fall, man lost this supernatural gift, but his real nature remained or was but slightly affected. A sinful bias developed, but this did not prohibit man from producing much that was true, and good, and beautiful. However, without the infusion of the grace of God, all this did not suffice to give one a claim to life eternal. In connection with the antithesis of the natural and the supernatural, the Roman Catholic Church developed the distinction between the moral virtues of humility, obedience, meekness, liberality, temperance, chastity, and diligence in what is good, which men can gain for themselves by their own labors, and with the timely aid of divine grace; and the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, which are infused into man by sanctifying grace. Anabaptism and Socinianism suffer from the same antithesis, but with the distinction that the former exalts grace at the expense of nature, while the latter exalts nature at the expense of grace.
4. THE POSITION OF THE REFORMERS AND OF REFORMED THEOLOGY. On this, as on some
other points of doctrine, Luther did not entirely escape the leaven of
Catholicism. While he did return to the Augustinian antithesis of sin
and grace, he drew
a sharp distinction between the lower earthly sphere and the higher
and maintained that fallen man is by nature capable of doing much that is
good and praiseworthy in the lower or earthly sphere, though he is utterly
incapable of doing any
spiritual good. With an appeal to Augustine the Augsburg Confession
man's will hath some liberty to work a civil righteousness, and to
choose such things as
reason can reach unto; but that it hath no power to work the
righteousness of God."
B. NAME AND CONCEPT OF COMMON GRACE.
1. NAME. The name "common grace" as a designation of
the grace now under
discussion cannot be said to owe its origin to Calvin. Dr. H. Kuiper in
his work on
Calvin on Common Grace
says that he found only four
passages in Calvin's works in
adjective "common" is used with the noun "grace," and in
two of these the
Reformer is speaking of saving grace.
2. CONCEPT. The distinction between common and special grace is not one that applies to grace as an attribute in God. There are no two kinds of grace in God, but only one. It is that perfection of God in virtue of which he shows unmerited and even forfeited favour to man. This one grace of God manifests itself, however, in different gifts and operations. The richest manifestation of it is seen in those gracious operations of God which aim at, and result in, the removal of the guilt, the pollution, and the punishment of sin, and the ultimate salvation of sinners. But while this is the crowning work of the grace of God, it is not its only manifestation. It appears also in the natural blessings which God showers upon man in the present life, in spite of the fact that man has forfeited them and lies under the sentence of death. It is seen in all that God does to restrain the devastating influence and development of sin in the world, and to maintain and enrich and develop the natural life of mankind in general and of those individuals who constitute the human race. It should be emphasized that these natural blessings are manifestations of the grace of God to man in general. Some prefer to say that they are expressions of His goodness, kindness, benevolence, mercy, or longsuffering, but seem to forget that He could not be good, kind, or benevolent to the sinner unless He were first of all gracious. It should be borne in mind, however, that the term gratia communis, though generally designating a grace that is common to the whole of mankind, is also used to denote a grace that is common to the elect and the non-elect that are living under the gospel, such as the external gospel call that comes to both alike, and that inner illumination and those gifts of the Spirit of which we read in Heb. 6:4-6. It is understood, however, that these privileges can be called common grace only in the sense that they are enjoyed by the elect and the reprobate indiscriminately, and that they do not constitute special, in the sense of saving, grace. In distinction from the more general manifestations of common grace they, while they do not constitute a part of the grace of God that necessarily leads to salvation, are nevertheless related to the soteriological process. They are sometimes called "special" grace, but then "special" is not equivalent to "saving." In general it may be said that, when we speak of "common grace," we have in mind, either (a) those general operations of the Holy Spirit whereby He, without renewing the heart, exercises such a moral influence on man through His general or special revelation, that sin is restrained, order is maintained in social life, and civil righteousness is promoted; or, (b)those general blessings, such as rain and sunshine, food and drink, clothing and shelter, which God imparts to all men indiscriminately where and in what measure it seems good to Him.
The following points of distinction between special (in the sense of saving) and common grace should be noted:
a. The extent of special grace is determined by the decree of election. This grace is limited to the elect, while common grace is not so limited, but is granted to all men indiscriminately. The decree of election and reprobation has no determining influence on it. It cannot even be said that the elect receive a greater measure of common grace than the non-elect. It is a matter of common knowledge, and has frequently been observed, that the wicked often possess a greater measure of common grace and have a greater share in the natural blessings of life than the pious.
b. Special grace removes the guilt and penalty of sin, changes the inner life of man, and gradually cleanses him from the pollution of sin by the supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit. Its work invariably issues in the salvation of the sinner. Common grace, on the other hand, never removes the guilt of sin, does not renew human nature, but only has a restraining effect on the corrupting influence of sin and in a measure mitigates its results. It does not effect the salvation of the sinner, though in some of its forms (external calling and moral illumination) it may be closely connected with the economy of redemption and have a soteriological aspect.
c. Special grace is irresistible. This does not mean that
it is a deterministic force
which compels man to believe against his will, but that by changing the
heart it makes
man perfectly willing to accept Jesus Christ unto salvation and to yield
obedience to the
will of God. Common grace is resistible, and as a matter of fact is
always more or less resisted. Paul shows in Rom. 1 and 2 that neither the
Gentiles nor the Jews were living
up to the light which they had. Says Shedd: "In common grace the
call to believe and
repent is invariably ineffectual, because man is averse to faith and
repentance and in
bondage to sin."
d. Special grace works in a spiritual and re-creative way, renewing the whole nature of man, and thus making man able and willing to accept the offer of salvation in Jesus Christ, and to produce spiritual fruits. Common grace, to the contrary, operates only in a rational and moral way by making man in a general way receptive for the truth, by presenting motives to the will, and by appealing to the natural desires of man. This is equivalent to saying that special (saving) grace is immediate and supernatural, since it is wrought directly in the soul by the immediate energy of the Holy Spirit, while common grace is mediate, since it is the product of the mediate operation of the Holy Spirit through the truth of general or special revelation and by moral persuasion.
This conception of common grace should be carefully
distinguished from that of the
Arminians, who regard common grace as a link in the
and ascribe to it
significance. They hold that, in virtue of the common grace of God, the
man is perfectly able to perform a certain measure of spiritual good, to
turn to God in
faith and repentance, and thus to accept Jesus unto salvation. They go even
farther than that, and maintain that common grace by the illumination of the mind and
persuasive influence of the truth incites the sinner to accept
Jesus Christ and to turn to
God in faith and repentance, and will certainly achieve this end, unless
obstinately resists the operation of the Holy Spirit. The Canons of Dort
have this in
mind where they reject the error of those who teach "that the
corrupt and natural man
can so well use the common grace (by which they understand 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."
C. COMMON GRACE AND THE ATONING WORK OF CHRIST.
The question naturally arises, whether the manifestation of common grace is in any way connected with the atoning work of Christ. As far as we know, Dr. Kuyper does not posit such a connection. According to him Christ as the Mediator of creation, the light that lighteth every man coming into the world, is the source of common grace. This means that the blessings of common grace flow from the work of creation. But this hardly suffices to answer the question, how it is to be explained that a holy and just God extends grace to, and bestows favors upon, sinners who have forfeited everything, even when they have no share in the righteousness of Christ and prove finally impenitent. The question is exactly, How can God continue to bestow those blessings of creation on men who are under the sentence of death and condemnation? As far as the elect are concerned this question is answered by the cross of Christ, but how about the reprobate? Perhaps it can be said that it is not necessary to assume a specific judicial basis for the bestowal of common grace on man in view of the fact (a) that it does not remove the guilt of sin and therefore does not carry pardon with it; and (b) that it does not lift the sentence of condemnation, but only postpones the execution. Perhaps the divine good pleasure to stay the revelation of His wrath and to endure "with much longsuffering vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction," offers a sufficient explanation for the blessings of common grace.
Reformed theologians generally hesitate to say that
Christ by His atoning blood
merited these blessings for the impenitent and reprobate. At the same
time they do
believe that important natural benefits accrue to the whole human race
from the death
of Christ, and that in these benefits the unbelieving, the impenitent,
and the reprobate
also share. In every covenant transaction recorded in Scripture it
appears that the
covenant of grace carries with it not only spiritual but also material
blessings, and those material blessings are generally of such a kind that they are naturally
shared also by
unbelievers. Says Cunningham: "Many blessings flow to mankind
at large from the
death of Christ, collaterally and incidentally, in consequence of the
relation in which
men, viewed collectively, stand to each other."
D. THE RELATION BETWEEN SPECIAL AND COMMON GRACE.
Several questions may be raised respecting this relation, of which the following are some of the most important.
1. DO SPECIAL AND COMMON GRACE DIFFER ESSENTIALLY OR ONLY IN DEGREE?
Arminians recognize alongside of sufficient (common) grace the grace of
obedience, but aver that these two differ only in degree and not in
essence. They are
both soteriological in the sense that they form part of the saving work
of God. The
former makes it possible for man to repent and believe, while the
latter, in co-operation
with the will, causes man to repent and believe. Both can be resisted,
so that even the
latter is not necessarily effectual unto salvation. Reformed theology,
however, insists on
difference between common and special grace. Special grace is
and spiritual: it removes the guilt and pollution of sin and lifts the
condemnation. Common grace, on the other hand, is natural; and while
some of its
forms may be closely connected with saving grace, it does not remove sin
nor set man
free, but merely restrains the outward manifestations of sin and promotes
morality and decency, good order in society and civic righteousness, the
of science and art, and so on. It works only in the natural, and not in
sphere. It should be maintained therefore that, while the two are
closely connected in
the present life, they are yet
different, and do
not differ merely in degree. No
amount of common grace can ever introduce the sinner into the new life
that is in Christ
Jesus. However, common grace does sometimes reveal itself in forms that
can hardly be
distinguished by man from the manifestations of special grace as, for
instance, in the
case of temporal faith. Dr. Shedd does not seem to bear the essential
the two in mind especially when he says: "The non-elect receives
common grace, and
common grace would incline the human will if it were not defeated by the
If the sinner should make no hostile opposition, common grace would be
saving grace." In a note he adds: "To say that common grace,
if not resisted by the
sinner, would be equivalent to regenerating grace, is not the same as to
common grace, if
by the sinner,
would be equivalent to regenerating grace. In
the first instance, God would be the sole author of regeneration; in the
second He would
2. WHICH ONE OF THE TWO IS PRIMARY, COMMON OR SPECIAL GRACE? To this question it must be answered that in a temporal sense neither one of them can be said to be prior to the other. The third chapter of Genesis clearly reveals that both of them go into operation at once after the fall. Logical priority should be ascribed to special grace, however, because common grace is made subservient to this in its operation in the world.
3. DOES COMMON GRACE SERVE AN INDEPENDENT PURPOSE OR NOT? It cannot be
doubted that common grace finds its purpose in part in the redemptive
work of Jesus
Christ; it is subservient to the execution of the plan of God in the
life of the elect and in
the development of the Church. But in addition to that it also serves an
purpose, namely, to bring to light and to harness for the service of man
forces of nature, and to develop the powers and talents that are latent
in the human
race, in order that man may ever-increasingly exercise dominion over the
creation, to the glory of God the Creator.
4. DO SPECIAL AND COMMON GRACE EACH HAVE A PECULIAR SPHERE ENTIRELY DISTINCT FROM THAT OF THE OTHER? It may be said that in a certain sense special grace has its own peculiar sphere in the organized Church, though it is not necessarily limited to this, and common grace is also operative in the Church for it is granted to all men. Both operate in the world, but while common grace in the more usual sense of the term pertains to the things of the natural world and this present life, special grace bears on the things of the new creation. They cannot but influence each other. Common grace enriches the Church with its blessings; and the Church raises the fruits of common grace to a higher level by bringing them under the influence of the regenerate life.
E. THE MEANS BY WHICH COMMON GRACE OPERATES.
Several means can be distinguished by which common grace
effects its work. Calvin
suggests some of these when he, in speaking of the restraining influence
grace says: "Hence, how much soever men may disguise their
impurity, some are
restrained only by shame, others by fear of the laws, from breaking out
into many kinds
of wickedness. Some aspire to an honest life, as deeming it most
conducive to their
interest, while others are raised above the vulgar lot, that, by the
dignity of their station,
they may keep inferiors to their duty. Thus God by his providence, curbs
perverseness of nature, preventing it from breaking forth into action,
rendering it inwardly pure."
1. THE LIGHT OF GOD'S REVELATION. This is
fundamental for without it all other
means would be impossible, and even if possible, would fail to function
have in mind here primarily the light of God's revelation that shines in
lightens every man coming into the world. It is itself the fruit of
common grace, but in
turn becomes a means for the further manifestation of it, since it
serves to guide the
conscience of the natural man. Paul speaks of the Gentiles who do by
nature the things
of the law, "in that they show the word of the law written in their
conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another
else excusing them." Rom. 2:14,15. Calvin in commenting on this
passage says that such
Gentiles "prove that there is imprinted on their hearts a
discrimination and judgment
by which they distinguish between what is just and unjust, between what
is honest and
2. GOVERNMENTS. Of these too it
may be said that they are at once the fruit and the
means of common grace. According to Rom. 13 governments are ordained of
maintain good order in society. To resist them is to resist the
ordinance of God. The
Paul, "is a minister of God to thee for good." Rom. 13:4. He finds
the conscience of man (verse 5) and for the rest "beareth not the
sword in vain." On this
point the Belgic Confession says: "We believe that our gracious
God, because of the
depravity of mankind, hath appointed kings, princes, and magistrates,
willing that the
world should be governed by certain laws and policies; to the end that
of men might be restrained, and all things carried on among them with
good order and decency."
3. PUBLIC OPINION. The natural light that shines in the hearts of men, especially when re-enforced by the influence of God's special revelation, results in the forming of a public opinion that is in external conformity with the law of God; and this has a tremendous influence on the conduct of men who are very sensitive to the judgment of public opinion. Naturally public opinion will be a means of common grace only when it is formed under the influence of God's revelation. If it is not controlled by conscience, acting in harmony with the light of nature, or by the Word of God, it becomes a mighty influence for evil.
4. DIVINE PUNISHMENTS AND REWARDS. The providential arrangements of God, whereby He visits the iniquity of men upon them in this life, and rewards deeds that are in outward conformity with the divine law, serve an important purpose in curbing the evil that is in the world. punishments have a deterring effect, and the rewards serve as incentives. By these means, whatever there is of moral goodness in the world is greatly encouraged. Many shun evil and seek that which is good, not because they fear the Lord, but because they feel that good brings its own reward and best serves their interests.
F. THE FRUITS OF COMMON GRACE.
In the preceding it was already intimated that what is left to us of the light of nature, is still operative only in virtue of the common grace of God. It is one of the most important fruits of common grace, without which some of the others would not be conceivable. The following fruits may be mentioned here:
1. THEEXECUTION OF THE SENTENCE IS STAYED. God pronounced the sentence of death on the sinner. Speaking of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, He said. "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." Man did eat of it, and the sentence went into execution to a certain extent, but clearly was not fully executed at once. It is due to common grace that God did not at once fully execute the sentence of death on the sinner, and does not do so now, but maintains and prolongs the natural life of man and gives him time for repentance. He does not at once cut short the life of the sinner, but affords him an opportunity to repent, thereby removing all excuse and justifying the coming manifestation of His wrath upon those who persist in sin unto the end. That God acts on this principle is abundantly evident from such passages as Isa. 48:9; Jer. 7:23-25; Luke 13:6-9; Rom. 2:4; 9:22; II Peter 3:9.
2. THE RESTRAINT OF SIN. Through the
operation of common grace sin is restrained in
the lives of individuals and in society. The element of corruption that
entered the life of the human race is not permitted, for the present, to
accomplish its disintegrating work.
Calvin says: "But we ought to consider that, notwithstanding the
corruption of our
nature, there is some room for divine grace, such grace as, without
purifying it, may lay
it under internal restraint. For, did the Lord let every mind loose to
wanton in its lusts,
doubtless there is not a man who would not show that his nature is
capable of all the
crimes with which Paul charges it, (Rom. 3 compared with Ps. 14:3
3. THE PRESERVATION OF SOME SENSE OF TRUTH, MORALITY AND RELIGION. It is due to common grace that man still retains some sense of the true, the good, and the beautiful, often appreciates these to a rather surprising degree, and reveals a desire for truth, for external morality, and even for certain forms of religion. Paul speaks of Gentiles who "show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them," Rom. 2:15, and even says of those who gave free vent to their wicked lives that they knew the truth of God, though they hindered the truth in unrighteousness and exchanged it for a lie, Rom. 1:18-25. To the Athenians, who were devoid of the fear of God, he said, "Ye men of Athens, in all things I perceive that ye are very religious," Acts 17:22. The Canons of Dort express themselves as follows on this point: "There remain, however, in man since the fall, the glimmerings of natural light, whereby he retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the difference between good and evil, and shows some regard for virtue and for good outward behavior. But so far is this light of nature from being sufficient to bring him to a saving knowledge of God and true conversion that he is incapable of using it aright even in things natural and civil. Nay, further, this light, such as it is, man in various ways renders wholly polluted, and hinders in unrighteousness, by doing which he becomes inexcusable before God." III-IV. 4.
4. THE PERFORMANCE OF OUTWARD GOOD AND CIVIL RIGHTEOUSNESS. Common grace
enables man to perform what is generally called
justitia civilis, that is, that which is right
in civil or natural affairs, in distinction from that which is right in
natural good works especially in social relations, works that are outwardly
objectively in harmony with the law of God, though entirely destitute of
quality. This is in harmony with our Reformed Confession. Art. XIV of
Confession speaks in its title of man's incapacity to perform what is
that man retained only small remains of his excellent gifts, so as to
render him without
excuse, and rejects only the Pelagian error that man can of himself
perform spiritual or
saving good. The
Canons of Dort III-IV, Art. 3, speak in a similar vein: "Therefore all men are conceived in sin, and are by nature children of wrath, incapable
etc. It may be objected that the Heidelberg Catechism speaks in absolute
terms when it
says in Question 8 that we are incapable of doing any good unless we are
But it is quite evident from the Commentary of Ursinus himself that he
would not deny
that man can do civil good, but only that he can perform good works such
defined in Question 91 of the Catechism. Reformed theologians generally
the unregenerate can perform natural good, civil good, and outwardly
5. MANY NATURAL BLESSINGS. To common grace man further owes all the natural blessings which he receives in the present life. Though he has forfeited all the blessings of God, he receives abundant tokens of the goodness of God from day to day. There are several passages of Scripture from which it appears abundantly that God showers many of His good gifts on all men indiscriminately, that is, upon the good and the bad, the elect and the reprobate, such as: Gen. 17:20 (comp. vs. 18); 39:5; Ps. 145:9,15,16; Matt. 5:44,45; Luke 6:35,36; Acts 14:16,17; I Tim. 4:10. And these gifts are intended as blessings, not only for the good but also for the evil. In the light of Scripture the position is untenable that God never blesses the reprobate, though He does give them many gifts which are good in themselves. In Gen. 39:5 we read that "Jehovah blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; and the blessing of Jehovah was upon all that he had in the house and in the field." And in Matt. 5:44,45 Jesus exhorts His disciples in these words, "Bless those that curse you . . . that ye may be children of your Father who is in heaven." This can only mean one thing, namely, that God also blesses those who curse Him. Cf. also Luke 6:35,36; Rom. 2:4.
G. OBJECTIONS TO THE REFORMED DOCTRINE OF COMMON GRACE.
Several objections have been and are even now raised by some against the doctrine of common grace as it is presented in the preceding. The following are some of the most important of these:
1. Arminians are not satisfied with it, because it does
not go far enough. They regard
common grace as an integral part of the saving process. It is that
sufficient grace that
enables man to repent and believe in Jesus Christ unto salvation,
and which in the purpose of God is intended to lead men to faith and repentance, though it may
be frustrated by men.
A grace that is not so intended and does not actually minister to the
salvation of men is
a contradiction in terms. Hence Pope, a Wesleyan Arminian, speaks of
common grace in
the Calvinistic system as "being universal and not particular;
being necessarily, or at
least actually, inoperative for salvation in the purpose of God,"
and calls this a "wasted
influence." He further says: "Grace is no more grace, if
it does not include the saving intention of the Giver."
2. It is sometimes argued that the Reformed doctrine of
common grace involves the
doctrine of universal atonement, and therefore leads into the Arminian
camp. But there
is no good ground for this assertion. It neither says nor implies that
it is the purpose of
God to save all men through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ. The
objection is based particularly on the universal proclamation of the gospel,
which is considered possible
only on the basis of a universal atonement. It was already suggested by
themselves at the time of the Synod of Dort, when they asserted that the
their doctrine of particular atonement could not preach the gospel to
indiscriminately. But the Synod of Dort did not recognize the implied
contradiction. The Canons teach particular atonement,
3. Another objection to the doctrine of common grace is that it presupposes a certain favorable disposition in God even to reprobate sinners, while we have no right to assume such a disposition in God. This stricture takes its starting point in the eternal counsel of God, in His election and reprobation. Along the line of His election God reveals His love, grace, mercy, and longsuffering, leading to salvation; and in the historical realization of His reprobation He gives expression only to His aversion, disfavor, hatred, and wrath, leading to destruction. But this looks like a rationalistic over-simplification of the inner life of God, which does not take sufficient account of His self-revelation. In speaking on this subject we ought to be very careful and allow ourselves to be guided by the explicit statements of Scripture rather than by our bold inferences from the secret counsel of God. There is far more in God than we can reduce to our logical categories. Are the elect in this life the objects of God's love only, and never in any sense the objects of His wrath? Is Moses thinking of the reprobate when he says: "For we are consumed in thine anger, and in thy wrath are we troubled"? Ps. 90:7. Does not the statement of Jesus that the wrath of God abideth on them that obey not the Son imply that it is removed from the others when, and not until, they submit to the beneficent rule of Christ? John 3:36. And does not Paul say to the Ephesians that they "were by nature children of wrath even as the rest"? Eph. 2:3. Evidently the elect can not be regarded as always and exclusively the objects of God's love. And if they who are the objects of God's redeeming love can also in some sense of the word be regarded as the objects of His wrath, why should it be impossible that they who are the objects of His wrath should also in some sense share His divine favor? A father who is also a judge may loathe the son that is brought before him as a criminal, and feel constrained to visit his judicial wrath upon him, but may yet pity him and show him acts of kindness while he is under condemnation. Why should this be impossible in God? General Washington hated the traitor that was brought before him and condemned him to death, but at the same time showed him compassion by serving him with the dainties from his own table. Cannot God have compassion even on the condemned sinner, and bestow favors upon him? The answer need not be uncertain, since the Bible clearly teaches that He showers untold blessings upon all men and also clearly indicates that these are the expression of a favorable disposition in God, which falls short, however, of the positive volition to pardon their sin, to lift their sentence, and to grant them salvation. The following passages clearly point to such a favorable disposition: Prov. 1:24; Isa. 1:18; Ezek. 18:23,32; 33:11; Matt. 5:43-45; 23:37; Mark 10:21; Luke 6:35: Rom. 2:4; I Tim. 2:4. If such passages do not testify to a favorable disposition in God, it would seem that language has lost its meaning, and that God's revelation is not dependable on this subject.
4. Anabaptists object to the doctrine of common grace,
because it involves the
recognition of good elements in the natural order of things, and this is
contrary to their
fundamental position. They regard the natural creation with contempt,
stress the fact
that Adam was of the earth earthy, and see only impurity in the natural
order as such.
Christ established a new supernatural order of things, and
to that order the regenerate
man, who is not merely a renewed, but an entirely new man, also belongs.
nothing in common with the world round about him and should therefore
take no part
in its life: never swear an oath, take no part in war, recognize no
civil authority, avoid
worldly clothing, and so on. On this position there is no other grace
than saving grace. This view was shared by Labadism, Pietism, the Moravian
brethren, and several other
sects. Barth's denial of common grace seems to be following along these
same lines. This
is no wonder, since for him too creaturliness and sinfulness are
the following summary of Barth's view: "It follows from the
acknowledgment of Christ as the only saving grace of God that there
exists no creative and sustaining grace which has been operative ever since the
creation of the world and
which manifests itself to us in God's maintenance of the world, since in
that case we
should have to recognize two or even three kinds of grace, and that would
contradistinction with the singleness of the grace of Christ. . . .
Similarly, the new
creation is in no wise a fulfilment but exclusively a replacement
accomplished by a
complete annihilation of what went before, a
of the new man for the old.
gratia non tollit naturam sed perficit, is not true in
any sense but is
altogether an arch-heresy."
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY: Do the Hebrew and Greek words for 'grace' always denote saving grace? Are they ever used as a designation of what we call 'common grace'? Does the doctrine of common grace presuppose the doctrine of universal atonement? Does it imply a denial of the fact that man is by nature subject to the wrath of God? Does it involve a denial of man's total depravity, and of his inability to do spiritual good? Is the good which the natural man can do good only in the sight of man or also in the sight of God? Does the doctrine of common grace destroy the antithesis between the world and the kingdom of God? If not, how do you explain this?
LITERATURE: Calvin, Institutes II. 2 and 3; Kuyper, De Gemeene Gratie; Bavinck, De Algemeene Genade; ibid., Calvin and Common Grace (in, Calvin and the Reformation); Shedd, Calvinism Pure and Mixed, pp. 96-106; ibid., Dogm. Theol. I, pp. 432, 435; II, pp. 483 ff.; Hodge, Syst. Theol. II, pp. 654-675; Vos, Geref. Dogm. IV, pp. 11-17; Alexander, Syst. of Bib. Theol. II. pp. 343-361; Dabney, Syst. and Polem. Theol., pp. 583-588; ibid., Discussions, pp. 282-313 (God's Indiscriminate Proposals of Mercy); H. Kuiper,;. Calvin on Common Grace; Berkhof, De Drie Punten in Alle Deelen Gereformeerd; Hepp, Art. Gemeene Gratie in the Christelijke Encyclopaedie.