26 November, 2016

Argument: “A Seeming Dilemma …”


“A seeming dilemma: Either deny that grace is an attribute of God, Or, deny that ‘saving’ grace is the only form of grace”


You seem to hold that being a recipient of grace necessarily implies love. This makes sense if you begin with the assumption that what I would refer to as “saving” grace is the only form of grace, which you seem to do. However, if you hold to a broader definition of grace, which would include gracious actions, it is immediately clear that a gracious action does not require a general disposition of grace toward the person.

So, I think the substantial issue we have is that I do not believe that a person receiving a gracious act from God necessarily is loved by God, whereas your system nearly requires you to believe that it does. Hence, you reject Common Grace, as that would imply some sort of temporary love.

The question, then, is does grace always have salvific connotations? The answer seems to be no. First, God’s grace is one of His moral attributes, and as God is immutable, He had this attribute prior to us, both logically and temporally. Hence, at bare minimum, it is an attribute first, and salvation is an expression of that attribute. Is there any reason to suspect that salvation is the only possible expression of that attribute?

So, you are kind of caught in a two horned problem. The first horn is that, if you want to affirm that salvation is the only possible expression of God’s attribute of grace, then you bear an enormous burden of proof to demonstrate that all other possible expressions are less than grace. Further, you have to be able to explain how a good gift (which you have already affirmed that the reprobate receive from God) that is unmerited is not gracious in and of itself, apart from the outcome of the gift (unless you really want to try to prove utilitarian ethics, the outcome does not determine the intrinsic morality of an action). The second horn is that, if you grant there are other possible expressions of God’s attribute of grace, you grant the logical premise behind Common Grace, and supplant your argument against it.

Quite frankly, I am not sure how to get out of that dilemma, unless you want to deny Orthodoxy and claim that grace is not one of God’s moral attributes.


In response to your inquiry about grace, the following.

The Protestant Reformed position with regard to the issues you raise in your missive, and we judge to be the position of the Reformed faith as set forth in the creeds, is that a gracious act of God toward a human is ipso facto, the expression of a gracious attitude and even purpose of God toward that person.  An act is gracious, not simply because the act is a good one, but because God, the one performing the act, has a favorable attitude toward the one who is the recipient of the act and, in this attitude, purposes the welfare of the recipient. Who would explain an act of God as gracious if the purpose and accomplishment of the act were the hardening and damnation of the recipient of the act? By definition, the grace of God in His dealings with humans includes, fundamentally, if not essentially, that the attitude of God in the dealings is benevolent. 

An act of God toward a human can be good in the sense that the act itself or the gift itself is pleasing to the sinner and advantageous to his earthly lifehealth, financial prosperity, earthly powerwithout being a gracious act of God toward the sinner to whom the good is given.  If God bestows the good in His wrath and with the purpose to render the sinner guilty of ingratitude and with the purpose to harden him for eternal destruction, the good thing is not gracious on God's part, but the expression of His just wrath and the agent of His will to harden and destroy the sinner. 

One of the clearest revelations of the difference between a good thing and grace is Psalm 73. God lavishes the ungodly with good things in order that they slide into perdition. If all the good things that God bestows on the reprobate wicked in this life are grace, my petition is, “God, spare me Thy grace.” 

The implied truth with regard to the believer, in Psalm 73, is that the evil things that God sends upon His elect children in this life are grace in that they prepare him for eternal bliss.

I have written a book on Psalm 73 that explains and defends this truth more in detail [Prosperous Wicked and Plagued Saints: An Exposition of Psalm 73]   

The Heidelberg Catechism also makes the distinction between good things and God’s gracious blessing of humans. God’s good gift of bread, referred to in the petition of the model prayer, does not profit one without God’s gracious blessing. Grace is one thing; good gifts are another. God can give bread in His just wrath, without grace to the recipient. Grace is not in things.  Grace is in the attitude of God and in His working by the Spirit of Christ with the good things He gives, and indeed even in the evil things He sends to His children, for example, sickness, poverty, loneliness, and other evils.

With regard to the issue whether there are other expressions of grace than salvation, let the opponent prove that there are other expressions. Does the God who has reprobated humans show grace to them in time? And if one affirms that He does, how is this not sheer contradiction in God? Further, does not history prove that those who begin with a gracious God to the wicked in temporal things invariably end with a gracious God to the wicked in respect to eternal things? This was true of Kuyper. This was true of the Christian Reformed Church. Beginning with a common grace in earthly things, they ended with the “well-meant offer,” that is, grace with regard to salvationa universal, ineffectual, saving grace. Grace in God is grace, and grace is all embracing. It is saving and its salvific benevolence governs all God’s dealings with His beloved people. All things work together for good to those who love God, who are the called according to His purpose (Romans 8).
                                                                                            Cordially in Christ,

                                                                                                            Prof. Engelsma

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