04 September, 2016

Another Look at Common Grace—Chapter One: Definitions of Common Grace

Prof. Herman C. Hanko

[Source: Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, November 1992]

Before we can examine various questions which are related to the idea of common grace1 it is quite important to examine what precisely is meant by the concept.

In an effort to get at the meaning of common grace, we refer to various writers who have, over the years, supported the doctrine of common grace.

Herman Bavinck, in his pamphlet, “Common Grace,”2 does not define common grace, but teaches that common grace is the explanation for the continued existence of the wicked and the preservation of the nations outside Israel during the Old Testament with a view to the salvation of a catholic church. He speaks of common grace as important because it prepares the way in the whole creation and in the human race for special grace by which the whole cosmos is saved.

In his book, Our Reasonable Faith,3 Bavinck connects common grace with general revelation, and special grace with special revelation. He writes:

It is common grace which makes special grace possible, prepares the way for it, and later supports it; and special grace, in its turn, leads common grace up to its own level and puts it into its service.4

Berkhof deals extensively with common grace.5 He speaks first of all of three heads under which common grace can be treated: 1) universal common grace which is shown to all creatures; 2) general common grace which is shown to all men; 3) covenantal common grace which is shown to all who live in the sphere of the covenant.6

Attempting a more formal definition of common grace, Berkhof speaks of a grace that is common in the sense of ordinary.

The ordinary, in distinction from the special, operations of the Holy Spirit are called common. His natural and usual operations are contrasted with those which are unusual and supernatural.7

It is important to note in this connection that Berkhof, in speaking of common grace, is emphatically referring to God's attribute of grace. God's attribute of grace

appears also in the natural blessings which God showers upon man in the present life.... It is seen in all that God does to restrain the devastating influences and development of sin in the world, and to maintain and enrich and develop the natural life of mankind.... 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.8

In summarizing common grace he writes:

(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.9

In discussing the means by which common grace operates, Berkhof lists general revelation, governments, public opinion, divine punishments and rewards.10 And the fruits of common grace are said to be a postponement of the sentence of death; a restraint of sin; the preservation of truth, morality, and religion; the performance of outward good and civil righteousness; and many natural blessings.11

Bratt calls attention to an interesting and significant aspect of common grace when he refers to the views of Johannes Groen, an example of one strain of thought within Dutch Calvinism in this country.

Johannes Groen opted for ... the principle of common grace rather than antithesis. The laws of social development came from Creation, he argued, not Redemption; the antithesis was spiritual and need not be reflected in all temporal activity; the redeemed might operate in 'the social sphere' according to natural law. Thus Christians couldindeed, shouldcooperate with unbelievers on a 'neutral terrain,' the better to establish justice in society. Since in Groen's estimation the activities of most American labor unions did precisely that (by promoting equity and solidarity), the Reformed should join them.12

James Daane speaks of common grace particularly in connection with the distinction between total and absolute depravity; and while he does not clearly define what he means, it seems that his idea is that common grace is a mitigation of depravity which leaves the depraved nature capable of doing some good. In this connection he speaks of the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit in the heart.

The traditional manner in which Reformed theology accounted for this difference between total and absolute depravity was by reference to a general, gracious operation of the Holy Spirit upon unregenerate human hearts.13

He sums up the matter with a reference to the decisions of the Christian Reformed Church in 1924.

Thus it is evident that 1924 teaches in harmony with traditional Reformed thought that there is a restraint of sin in the life of the unregenerate and an emergence of civic righteousness, and that these two features of unregenerate life are the result of a positive operation of God's Spirit.14

In a series of sermons which, according to the author, were preached expressly to explain and defend the decisions on common grace by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1924, Rev. H. J. Kuyper defines common grace.

It is the grace or favor which God, for the sake of Christ and His Church, shows to those who do not possess saving grace and through which He (negative)
1. postpones their merited judgment (outward).
2. restrains them from sin (inward) (positive).
3. bestows temporal blessings upon them and offers the gospel even to non-elect among them (outward).
4. and enables them to perform civic righteousness, to entertain some regard for virtue and to enjoy some of the blessings of the gospel (inward).15

Kuiper also goes on to define common grace in terms of earthly blessings sent to the wicked as fruits of God's kindness and as efforts to convince the wicked of God's sincere willingness to give them the greater gift of salvation,16 as proof of God's love for all,17 as an inward restraint of sin,18 and as the ability to do good in the sight of God.19

Dr. Abraham Kuyper concentrates especially on the restraint of sin and the consequent good which the ungodly are able to perform. Since the magistrate is instituted because of sin, it “is an instrument of 'common grace.’”20 Mocking Augustine's view that the superlative accomplishments of the heathen are nothing but “splendid vices,”21 Kuyper calls this idea “a subterfuge, which lacks earnestness.”22 Common grace, Kuyper says, “does not kill the core of sin, nor does it save unto life eternal, but it arrests the complete effectuation of sin.”23

God by His “common grace” restrains the operation of sin in man, partly by breaking its power, partly by taming his evil spirit, and partly by domesticating his nation or his family.24

The result is that the unregenerate man is capable of doing good.

It is now understood that it was the ‘common grace’ of God, which had produced in ancient Greece and Rome the treasures of philosophical light, and disclosed to us treasures of art and justice.25

Masselink takes the same position. Discussing the relation between general revelation and common grace, Masselink says:

[General revelation and common grace] are related, however, because in common grace God uses the truths of general revelation to restrain sin. The two results of general revelation are: God-consciousness and moral consciousness. By means of these two results, through God's common grace, sin is curbed in the natural man.26

Masselink claims that Reformed theology all but went into eclipse for 200 years after the Reformation because “the great fact of the Christian's relation to the world was neglected.”27 Kuyper and Hodge were the men responsible for reviving this important notion.

While the negative element of the restraint of sin is important, says Masselink, the positive must also be emphasized: “The constant operation of the Holy Spirit upon all mankind by which civil righteousness is promoted.”28 Connecting common grace with God's attributes, Masselink opines that common grace prevents chaos and preserves the creation; it gives power to man, order in creation and produces science, government, art, etc.29

K. Sietsma, in his work on the office discusses common grace. He writes:

Of course, Satan did not succeed in destroying man completely. Man is not a devil, full of conscious and deliberate hate for God. We believe, according to what we designate “common grace,” that there are active in the world and in man many energies or powers of the Word and Spirit of God which prevent the transformation of all that God once created good into its very opposite. The Lord sees to it that the thoughts of the human mind, the affections of the human heart, and the works of the human hand still manifest His glory and the rich qualities of His creation. There remains a rich form of human life, even where there is no regeneration of the heart and even where the grace of salvation has not been bestowed.30

It is striking that Sietsma does not find this common grace rooted in the cross of Christ, but rather in some original goodness preserved from the beginning and preserved partially in the office. It is, however, related to Christalthough Sietsma never explains the nature of this relationship.31

Henry R. VanTil discusses common grace at length. One of the values of his book is its extensive treatment of Abraham Kuyper's massive three volume work on common grace.32 After discussing Kuyper's view at some length, VanTil summarizes it as follows:

Creation would have returned to the void unless God in his common grace intervened to sustain it; thus the creative will is now achieved through common grace. Common grace does not merely have a restraining or negative influence but it is also positive and progressive in motivating cultural activity. Culture is a gift of common grace since through it the original powers deposited in nature were brought to fruition. The very antithesis between light and darkness is possible only on the basis of common grace.33

VanTil does not agree with Kuyper entirely. He does not believe that the world would have reverted to chaos without the intervention of common grace; and he also parts ways with Kuyper's view that man would have become a beast apart from common grace. The fall, VanTil says, did not rob man of his rationality and morality.34

In defining common grace, VanTil uses a definition of his uncle, Cornelius VanTil, found in C. VanTil's A Letter on Common Grace.

[Common grace is an] ethical attitude on the part of God to mankind by which man is restrained from fully expressing his enmity toward his Creator or his fellow man, and whereby he is enabled to perform certain moral actions. These may be denominated 'good' in the relative sense in which Scripture applies that term to the approved actions of unregenerate men.35

Van Til also points out in this same connection that common grace is indeed grace because the gifts which are given to men are given without merit.36

Van Til also gives some attention to the meaning of "common" in the term common grace and the difficulties of its use.

It would seem that one of the chief causes of this difficulty is the fact that the term “common” has not been carefully defined. It makes a great deal of difference whether one applies the qualitative or quantitative connotation. If the latter connotation is applied to grace, it would mean that God gives his favor to all indiscriminately in the sending of sunshine and rain upon the evil and the good, that the preaching of the Gospel is proof that God's favor is promiscuous, and that the restraint of sin and the power to perform civil good is also due to common grace in both regenerate and unregenerate. However, when grace is used in the qualitative sense it refers to the ordinary, the natural and usual as compared with the extraordinary. Hence the grace we call common dispenses the ordinary gifts of life and health, sunshine and rain to those who are unthankful, since God is kind to his enemies. But he gives himself in love and fellowship to his children....

However, there are those who have a different conception of commonality. By it they mean that all men share alike under the common grace of God in the natural blessings of sunshine and rain; they have everything in common up to a certain point. The ordinary things of life together with human nature with its gifts of reason, appreciation of beauty, etc., are universally received and given without discrimination. For God loves men promiscuously, and we must follow his example by not drawing a line between saints and sinners in the common things of life. We must learn to enjoy and appreciate the common cultures, without dragging the antithesis into the picture. An illustration at this point may not be amiss. Think of a Wyoming rancher who runs his riding horses together with his cattle. But in one corner of that open ranch there is a corral specially designed for feeding his horses a ration of protein and a vitamin fortified diet, to keep them in condition for hard service. This is horse heaven. They have the range in common with all the other livestock, but here is “special grace.” Some such concept seems to be prevalent in many circles. As a result, there is a certain level of existence at which the army of the Lord is immobilized, where it does not function as an army, but suddenly takes on the appearance of crowds of vacationers, or the motley multitude at a fair and pushing one another for a better position to see. Thus there is established between the church and the world a grey, colorless area, a kind of no man's land, where an armistice obtains and one can hobnob with the enemy with impunity in a relaxed Christmas spirit, smoking the common weed.37

We have quoted quite at length from VanTil because he very carefully defines what he means by common grace and takes exception to many current views. In addition to his rejection of these views, he also denies that common grace is God's general love, a love which becomes the basis for mission work. This view as promoted by Leonard Verduin and was widely held in the Christian Reformed Church in the ‘60s.38

The views of common grace which we have discussed to this point have been propounded chiefly in the tradition of continental Dutch Reformed theology. It is time to take a look at some leading Presbyterian thinkers. While many within the Presbyterian tradition have written on and defended common grace, we refer to some representative theologians.

A. A. Hodge offers a definition of common grace:

“Common grace” is the restraining and persuading influences of the Holy Spirit acting only through the truth revealed in the gospel, or through the natural light of reason and of conscience, heightening the natural moral effect of such truth upon the understanding, conscience and heart. It involves no change of heart, but simply an enhancement of the natural powers of the truth, a restraint of the evil passions, and an increase of the natural emotions in view of sin, duty, and self-interest.39

Hodge finds proof “that God so operates upon the hearts of the unregenerate ... 1st, from Scripture, Gen. 6:3, Acts 7:51, Hebrews 10:29; 2nd, from universal experience and observation.”40

Just as A. A. Hodge, Charles Hodge treats common grace under “Vocation,” i.e., “Calling.” He offers the following definitions of grace:

By common grace, therefore, is meant that influence of the Spirit, which in a greater or less measure, is granted to all who hear the truth. By sufficient grace is meant such kind and degree of the Spirit's influence, as is sufficient to lead men to repentance, faith, and a holy life. By efficacious grace is meant such an influence of the Spirit as is certainly effectual in producing regeneration and conversion. By preventing grace is intended that operation of the Spirit on the mind which precedes and excites its efforts to return to God. By the gratia gratum faciens is meant the influence of the Spirit which renews and renders gracious. Cooperating grace is that influence of the Spirit which aids the people of God in all the exercises of the divine life. By habitual grace is meant the Holy Spirit dwelling in believers; or that permanent, immanent state of mind due to his abiding presence and power.41

In his many distinctions of grace, Hodge finds that they all apply to the elect except for a certain influence of the Spirit granted to all who hear the truth. While Hodge speaks of an influence of the Spirit apart from the Word necessary to prepare the minds of men for the reception of the truth, it is not clear if this is a reference also to common grace, for there is no specific mention of common grace.42

But then Hodge does speak emphatically of common grace and writes:

The Bible therefore teaches that the Holy Spirit of truth, of holiness, and of life in all its forms, is present with every human mind, enforcing truth, restraining from evil, exciting to good, and imparting wisdom or strength, when, where, and in what measure seemeth to Him good .... This is what in theology is called common grace.43

In examining the Scriptures on this question, Hodge finds in Genesis 6:3 a reference to the Holy Spirit Who exerts an influence in the government of men.44 Common grace is also found, according to Hodge, in Acts 7:51: God is “everywhere present with the minds of men, as the Spirit of truth and goodness, operating on them according to the laws of their free moral agency, inclining them to good and restraining them from evil.”45 When Romans 1:25 speaks of God giving the wicked up, Hodge says that this implies some restraint of the wicked prior to the giving up.46

The fruits of this common grace are the presence of virtue in the world, a religious feeling among all men, and a diversity of religious experiences which include a conviction of the truths of Scripture, an experience of their power and of external religious life.47

Perhaps the most articulate defender of common grace is John Murray.

In Volume I of his Collected Writings appears an article entitled, “The Atonement and the Free Offer of the Gospel.” In this article Murray discusses what he means by common grace.

Emphatically he speaks of the fact that the “unrestricted overture of grace is rooted in the atonement.”48 Pursuing this line of thought, Murray writes: “Many benefits accrue to the non-elect from the redemptive work of Christ.”49 After explaining this in some detail, Murray concludes the paragraph with the startling words: “... It would not be improper to say that, in respect of what is entailed for the non-elect, Christ died for them.”50

These benefits are, Murray goes on to say, expressions of God's kindness, mercy, and love.51 Finding proof for God's love for all men in Matthew 5:44 and Luke 6:27, 35, Murray writes:

There is a love in God that goes forth to lost men and is manifested in the manifold blessings which all men without distinction enjoy, a love in which non-elect persons are embraced, and a love that comes to its highest expression in the entreaties, overtures and demands of gospel proclamation.52

Some of these benefits Murray finds mentioned in Hebrews 6:4, 5; 10:29; II Peter 2:20, 21.

But Murray makes some careful, though difficult to understand, distinctions in an effort to escape the charge of universalizing the atonement of Christ. He writes: “The non-elect enjoy many benefits that accrue from the atonement but they do not partake of the atonement.”53 The same distinction must be made in the love of God.54 While the love of benevolence is a love which saves, the love of complacency is a love which is conditioned by a response to our love.55 This love, rooted in the cross, is expressed in the gospel offer.56

In another article, Murray discusses common grace in more detail. Taking his starting point with the noble examples of heathenism and how they are to be explained, and disagreeing with what Murray considers to be a very narrow definition of common grace in Charles Hodge and A. A. Hodge, he offers a broader definition:

[Common grace is] any gift or favor bestowed upon, and enjoyed by creatures .... Gifts bestowed upon other creatures as well as upon men .... Every favour of whatever kind or degree, falling short of salvation, which this undeserving and sin-cursed world enjoys at the hand of God.57

In defining these gifts further, Murray uses a classification found in Herman Kuiper. Universal common grace is “grace which is common to all the creatures who make up this sin-cursed world ... a grace which touches creatures as creatures.” General common grace is “grace common to all human beings in distinction from the rest of God's creatures... a grace which pertains to men as men.” Covenant common grace is “grace common to all who live in the covenant sphere … to all elect and non-elect covenant members.”58

Murray has an elaborate classification of the elements of common grace. There is first of all restraint “upon the expressions and consequences of human depravity and of unholy passion.”59 This restraint is further divided into a restraint of sin which is a “restraint upon the workings of human depravity” by which God “prevents the unholy affections and principles of men from manifesting all the potentialities inherent in them.”60 The proof of this is found in Genesis 3:22, 23; 4:15 because "a halo of sanctity was placed around [Cain's] life;"61 Genesis 20:6 where the assumption is that Abimelech was an unbeliever;62 II Kings 19:27, 28, which contains God's Word of judgment against Sennacherib, king of Assyria.63

That restraint includes, secondly, a restraint upon the divine wrath and a postponement of judgment. This is interpreted as longsuffering and forbearance.

Thirdly, God restrains evil by means of “correcting and preserving influences so that the ravages of sin might not be allowed to work out the full measure of their destructive power.”64

Secondly, the bestowal of good and the excitation to good is an element in common grace.65 This also includes various elements.

First of all, creation is the recipient of divine bounty.66 Secondly, unregenerate men are recipients of divine favour and goodness. The proof that is given includes God's blessing on Potiphar; Acts 14:16, 17; 17:30; Matthew 5:44, 45; Luke 6:35, 36; 16:25.67

Thirdly, good is attributed to unregenerate man. Faced with the paradox or seeming contradiction between the good of the unregenerate man and the testimony of Scripture that the wicked do only wickedness, Murray, in a footnote, resolves the paradox by an appeal to the “relative good” of the wicked. His proof is found in II Kings 10:30; 12:2; Matthew 5:46; Luke 6:33; Romans 2:14, 15.68

Fourthly, another element of common grace is the operations and influences of the Spirit which the unregenerate receive through the preaching and which “result in experience of the power and glory of the gospel....”69 The proof for this element is found in the parable of the sower; Hebrews 6:4-8, which Murray calls “non-saving grace at its very apex;” II Peter 2:20-22, Romans 1:18ff.70

Finally, an element of common grace is civil government which restrains sin and promotes good.71

Finally, Murray discusses the purpose of common grace as serving special grace, although the salvation of the church is “not the only purpose being fulfilled in history and not ... the one purpose to which all others may be subordinated.”72 Nevertheless, the pre-conversion works of the Spirit belong to common grace.

Furthermore, when we come to the point of actual conversion, the faith and repentance involved in conversion do not receive their genesis apart from the knowledge of the truth of the gospel. There must be conveyed to the mind of the man who believes and repents to the saving of his soul the truth-content of law and gospel, law as convicting him of sin and gospel as conveying the information which becomes the material of faith. To some extent at least there must be the cognition and apprehension of the import of law and gospel prior to the exercise of saving faith and repentance. ‘Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God’ (Rom. 10:17). But this apprehension of the truth of the gospel that is prior to faith and repentance, and therefore prior to the regeneration of which faith and repentance are the immediate effects in our consciousness, cannot strictly belong to the saving operations of the Spirit. They are preparatory to these saving operations and in the gracious design of God place the person concerned in the psychological condition that is the prerequisite of the intelligent exercise of faith and repentance. In other words, they place in his mind the apperceptive content that makes the gospel meaningful to his consciousness. But since they are not the saving acts of faith and repentance they must belong to a different category from that of saving grace and therefore to the category of non-saving or common grace. We may thus say that in the operations of common grace we have what we may call the vestibule of faith.73

In an unpublished paper, which actually deals with the hypostatic union in Christ, David Silversides treats also common grace.74 He says that common grace is God showing favor, love, and mercy toward the reprobate. Such common grace includes the restraint of sin, the restraint of divine wrath, material blessings, civil government, and the preaching of the gospel: “...God enjoins his ministers to present a genuine and benevolent invitation to sinners to come to Christ expressive of his love and favour to them.”75 Thus common grace emphatically means God's love for all men.76

John H. Gerstner also makes a distinction in the love of God which allows room for something approaching common grace. He says that God loves all men with a benevolent love, i.e., a love “which consists in doing some good for another being whether that being is excellent and deserving of that good or not.” It is distinct from the “love of complacency” which is “based on the excellency of another moral being.” Still, even benevolent love is both “the benevolent love of common grace (sunshine and rain)” and the “benevolent love” which is “salvific,” which is intended “to bestow eternal life.”77

In an important book, Donald Macleod writes extensively on the subject of common grace and takes the time to criticize (sometimes rather severely) the view of the Protestant Reformed Churches.78 He speaks of the fact that common grace includes blessings enjoyed by the reprobate; the laudable qualities to be found in the lives of the wicked; and the cultural achievements of the natural man.79 The effects of common grace, according to Macleod, are God's exercise of forbearance and longsuffering towards the world, the blessings of divine benevolence, God's restraint of sin in men's lives, God's preservation of some sense of morality and religion in human society, man's capability of civil good and domestic affection, and man's cultural and technological achievement.80 The instruments of common grace are defined as God's general revelation, the presence of the church to restrain sin and postpone judgment, the ordinances of law and government which restrain sin and create a favorable climate in which men can live, God's judgments which remove wickedness and restrain sin, and the eternal call of the gospel.81

Macleod, in explaining God's favor and love towards the unregenerate, points out that God does not always hate the wicked any more than he always loves the elect: “His attitude to them (the elect, HH) is not simply one of love.”82 And in explaining the good which the unregenerate are capable of performing, he falls back on the widely accepted distinction between total depravity and absolute depravity.83

Having concluded our survey of the views of various thinkers on the subject of common grace, it would probably be beneficial to summarize all these views so that the issues are more clearly before us.

Although one finds in the literature very little effort to define precisely what common grace is, two points especially emerge. The first is that by “common” is meant “universal.” That is, grace which is common is grace which is shown universally; not only to all humans, but also to all God's creation, to what the first point of 1924 called “God's creatures in general.”84 Some even speak of a common grace within the covenant which is shared by the elect and non-elect who are born within the sphere of the covenant.

And, secondly, “grace” is indeed defined as grace in the full sense of that wordeven if common grace is carefully distinguished from saving grace. Common grace is a grace which is a revelation of God's own attribute of grace. Itis a grace that is unmerited favor. It is a grace that is synonymous with, or includes in it, love, favor, kindness, mercy, longsuffering, forbearance, and benevolence. In fact, common grace is also said by some85 to be rooted in the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Some emphasize in this connection that this common favor of God can indeed be called “grace” because it is unmerited; and that which is unmerited is always grace.

Most of the proponents of common grace agree that it includes the following elements: the natural blessings which come to all such as rain and sunshine; the maintenance of order in society in general; the postponement of judgment on the wicked; the preservation of truth, morality, and religion among men; the enrichment and development of natural life; the experience of the power and glory of the gospel to those who come under the preaching of the gospel but are not saved; and the restraint of sin in the lives of men, with the result that the unregenerate are capable of doing good in an outward or relative sense of the word.

Some are inclined to stress various aspects of these fruits of common grace. The question quite naturally arises, viz., how it is possible for the unregenerate to do good in the sight of God, even if that good is natural, civil, and relative. Some answer this question by speaking of a certain mitigation of the depravity of the human nature, which mitigation is sometimes explained in terms of a distinction between total depravity and absolute depravity.86 Some speak of the fact that, if it had not been for common grace which God showed to the world immediately after the fall, the creation would have returned to a void, and man would have become a beast or a devil.87

John Murray adds one other aspect to common grace, an idea that was common among the later Puritans. Common grace, where the gospel is preached, gives some understanding of the law and the gospel which results in a conviction of sin and an understanding of the attractiveness of Christ proclaimed in the gospel. Apparently, this comes to all who hear the preaching and is preparatory to the work of regeneration, conversion, repentance, and faith. Murray calls it the “vestibule” of saving grace. Bavinck goes further and speaks of this aspect of common grace as found in all men, not now through the preaching of the gospel, but through general revelation, and as having the effect of showing men the hopelessness of idolatry as well as stirring up in them a desire for something better and different.

Common grace is bestowed upon man in different ways, according to the defenders of this doctrine. It seems, however, as if proper distinctions are not always made in this connection. Almost all agree that common grace comes from God through the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of all men. But, in addition to this inward work of the Holy Spirit, common grace comes through many other means.88 Most importantly, it comes through the general revelation of God in creation and in the conscience by means of which men retain some knowledge of God, some sense of morality, and some ability to do good in God's sight. Other ways, however, in which common grace is bestowed on men are through the institution of government, through public opinion, and through divine punishments and rewards. Whether these means by which common grace becomes operative are also the fruit of the Spirit is not made clear.

There is one other aspect of common grace, not generally held in the men whose writings we have surveyed, but nevertheless of considerable importance. It is the view of Johannes Groen, described by James Bratt, to which we referred earlier in this article. Groen spoke of common grace creating a sphere of life rooted in the creation ordinance, where, therefore, the antithesis does not apply, and where elect and non-elect can cooperate in various activities in life.

So these are the main ideas to be found in the doctrine of common grace. Included in all this is, of course, the relation between common grace and the free offer of the gospel. But we have decided not to include in our discussion this latter aspect of the question.

We will, the Lord willing, begin an analysis of these ideas in a subsequent issue of the Journal.


1. The questions which we propose to treat in these articles were briefly listed in our first introductory article which appeared in the April, 1992 issue of The Journal.

2. Herman Bavinck, De Algemeene Genade (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, Sevensma Co., [no date]). This pamphlet was translated by Raymond C. Van Leeuwen and appeared in Calvin Theological Journal, Volume 24, number 1, April, 1989. We use Van Leeuwen's translation.

3. Herman Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1956). See especially page 38.

4. William Masselink does the same thing and devotes an entire book to the relation between common grace and general revelation. See, William Masselink, General Revelation and Common Grace (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1953).

5. Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1953).

6. Ibid., 434, 435.

7. Ibid., 435.

8. Ibid., 435.

9. Ibid., 436.

10. Ibid., 440-441.

11. Ibid., 441-444.

12. James D. Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History 0f a Conservative Subculture (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984), p. 76.

13. James Daane, A Theology of Grace (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1954), p. 88.

14. Ibid., 88, 89.

15. H. J. Kuiper, Sermons Delivered in Broadway Christian Reformed Church, 1925, p. 14. Interestingly, this definition appears in a footnote. One wonders whether it was actually in the sermon preached.

16. Ibid., 15.

17. Ibid., 15, 16.

18. Ibid., 21-31.

19. Ibid., 32-36.

20. Abraham Kuyper, Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1943), pp. 80-82. See also pp. 92, 96.

21. Although Kuyper does not mention Augustine by name.

22. Ibid., 122.

23. Ibid., 123, 124.

24. Ibid., 124.

25. Ibid., 122-125.

26. William Masselink, General Revelation and Common Grace (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1953), p. 69.

27. Ibid., 187.

28. Ibid., 188.

29. Ibid., 188, 192, 193.

30. K. Sietsma, The Idea of Office, tr. by Henry Vander Goot (Toronto: Paideia Press, 1985), p. 27.

31. Ibid., 33, 34.

32. Entitled, Gemeene Gratie. Kuyper called common grace "gratie" in distinction from the ordinary Dutch word for grace, “genade.” He did this because he wanted to distinguish his common grace from the view of common grace which included the general offer of the gospel, a doctrine which Kuyper condemned. Kuyper's Gemeene Gratie is not available in English, and takes a great deal of fortitude to read even if one can read Dutch. 

33. Henry R. VanTil, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1959), p. 229.

34. Ibid., 230-232.

35. Ibid., 232.

36. Ibid., 232.

37. Ibid., 239, 240.

38. The view was propounded by Verduin in “Does Our Theology Hamper Missions,” The Reformed Journal, (June, 1958), pp. 3ff. It resulted in a flurry of controversy, which controversy centered in a series of articles written by Harold Decker in The Reformed Journal, articles which promoted the idea that mission work could be effectively performed only when the gospel proclaimed that God loves all men. The case reached the Synod, the highest judicatory in the Christian Reformed Church; but the Synod refused to condemn Decker's views. An interesting feature of the Synod's discussion of these issues was the fact that appeal was made to common grace in support of Decker's position.

39. A. A. Hodge, Outline of Theology (New York: Hodder & Stoughton, 1878), pp. 449, 450.

40. Ibid.

41. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1946), Vol. II, pp. 654, 655.

42. Ibid., II, 660-664.

43. Ibid., II, 667.

44. Ibid., II, 668.

45. Ibid., II, 608.

46. Ibid., II, 669.

47. Ibid.

48. John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. I, “The Atonement and the Free Offer of the Gospel” (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1976), p. 61.

49. Ibid., I, p. 63.

50. Ibid., I, p. 64.

51. Ibid., I, pp. 65, 66.

52. Ibid., I, 68.

53. Ibid., I, 69.

54. Ibid., I, 69, 70.

55. Ibid., I, 70-72.

56. Ibid., I, 73.

57. John Murray, Collected Writings of John Murray, Vol. II, “Common Grace” (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1976), pp. 93-96.

58. Ibid., II, 96, 97. See Berkhof, above, for the same idea.

59. Ibid., II, 98.

60. Ibid., II, 98.

61. Ibid., II, 99.

62. Ibid., II, 100.

63. Ibid., II, 100.

64. Ibid., II, 101.

65. Ibid., II, 101.

66. Ibid., II, 103.

67. Ibid., II, 104ff.

68. Ibid., II, 106, 107.

69. Ibid., II, 109.

70. Ibid., II, 110.

71. Ibid., II, 111.

72. Ibid., II, 113.

73. Ibid., II, 115.

74. Silversides is a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of Ireland. It is not too clear how the common grace issue enters his discussion of the hypostatic union, but he takes the time to take to task the views on common grace held by Herman Hoeksema.

75. Pp. 35ff. in this paper.

76. Ibid., p. 45.

77. John H. Gerstner, Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth: A Critique of Dispensationalism (Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth & Hyatt, 1991), pp.130, 131.

78. Donald Macleod, Behold Your God (Ross-shire, Christian Focus Publications, 1991).

79. Ibid., 117.

80. Ibid., 118-120.

81. Ibid., 121-123.

82. Ibid., 126.

83. This distinction is interpreted in different ways by defenders of common grace. Macleod seems to make the distinction apply to the deeds of men and holds that man does not do all the wickedness he would be capable of doing if it were not for common grace. Others have made the distinction apply to the nature of man and have said that, although man is depraved in all parts of his nature (total depravity), he is not completely depraved in any part of his nature (absolute depravity). We shall discuss this at some future date.

84. Some disagreement exists over the question whether common grace is shared by the elect and non-elect, or whether it is God's grace only to the non-elect, while the elect are the heirs of special grace.

85. Notably, John Murray. See also, R. B. Kuiper, For Whom Did Christ Die? (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Co., 1959), pp. 81-95.

86. See our earlier remarks on this subject.

87. Others, however, disagree with this. See, e.g., Henry VanTil, op. cit.

88. Whether these other means are worked by the Holy Spirit is not often discussed.

No comments:

Post a Comment