05 February, 2017

On the Theory of Common Grace

Rev. Herman Hoeksema

[Originally published in the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 2, no. 1 (December, 1968), pp. 19–45.]

[PDF version HERE]

ForewordA Word of Explanation

Among the personal papers of the late Rev. Herman Hoeksema, I discovered two essays on common grace. The essay here presented is the second. As far as I know, neither paper has been published previously. The first paper would also have made interesting reading, but it was not feasible to publish because the last couple of pages were missing, and it was impossible to fill in the missing section editorially except by guesswork. Besides, the second essay is in more than one way the more valuable, especially because of the exegetical material contained in it.

Perhaps the reader wonders why an essay on this subject is published, especially since the author’s views on the subject have been thoroughly and frequently expounded in various other publications. The answer to this question is twofold.

The first essay is historical. The contents of both essays make clear that they were written before 1924, probably during the very early period of the common grace controversy in the Christian Reformed Church. I do not know the exact time and occasion when they were delivered. Since the author works with the Hebrew and Greek, the occasion was almost certainly some kind of ministers’ gathering, either an area minister’s conference or possibly a meeting of the group of ministers who wrote in the Witness. Obviously the subject of common grace had already been discussed. Yet the time was such that supporters and opponents of the theory of common grace were still meeting and engaging in face-to-face discussions. It seems therefore that these essays were delivered in the early 1920s, before the controversy had reached the stage of ecclesiastical polemics.

The second reason for publishing is that this essay demonstrates that from the outset Hoeksema dealt with this subject in a thoroughly exegetical manner and that over the years, apart from some refinements and clarifications, he did not deviate from his original exegetical approach and position. The question he insisted on asking and to which he gave answer throughout the year was, in the light of Scripture, what grace do the wicked receive?

This is interesting, because it explains the author’s approach at that time. His approach is found in the introductory section of the first essay:

For more than one reason I have looked forward to this occasion with eager anticipation, and I am glad that it has come. First, it gives me pleasure to think that the interest in matters of such a purely doctrinal nature as common grace is still alive in our circles. It cannot be called a characteristic of our age in general that it is deeply interested in doctrinal and theological questions. It rather busies itself with the practical problems in the world. It is, however, a sad delusion that the practical side of life can be divorced from its doctrinal foundation. For that reason I am glad to notice, in the midst of much unrest in our churches these days, that there still is a lively interest in questions pertaining to our Reformed doctrine and Calvinistic life view.

Second, I like nothing better than a public and open discussion. When I say this, I mean on subjects extra-confessional, concerning which there is room for difference of opinion. I consider common grace to be such a subject. If it were otherwise, I would not speak to you tonight. If I intend to make propaganda for any ideas that run contrary to our Reformed standards, my place would not be here tonight. But this I do not intend to do. From beginning to end, I will remain foursquare on the basis of the Reformed standards. The subject on which I speak to you this evening is plainly extra-confessional, as I will show presently. On such subjects I like public discussions. That is why I am here this evening. I invite discussion. If you wish, I invite debate and contradiction. I have only one condition: tackle the subject, not the person. Not because I am so over-anxious about my person, but I am about my subject.

Third, I think the subject we will discuss tonight is of grave importance. Not, of course, as long as it remains a mere question of rain and sunshine. A person asked me the other day whether I could not see that the Lord sent his rain also upon the wicked. I told him in my opinion there would be very few umbrellas and raincoats sold if he didn’t. That is not the question tonight. But if the question is asked, not whether the wicked receive rain and sunshine and whether they develop, but whether they receive grace—grace they have in common with the righteous—I think it is a significant one. To my mind, as you answer this question, you will answer the question of the antithesis. The reporter on the speech of Volbeda in Onze Toekomst [Our Future] saw this clearly, I think.

But—and after this “but” I will plunge headlong into subject—I realize that I have a difficult task before me tonight, and I kindly beg you to realize this with me. My view, which I will propose, differs from the general opinion among our people on this subject. The general opinion has been trained to believe in common grace. If this were all, my position tonight would not be so precarious. But it is not all. Great theologians for whom I too have the highest esteem, men like Abraham Kuyper, have taken a stand for this view and developed it. Over against such a giant I am but a small man. Yet I do not agree with him. It is almost inconceivable that such a little man as I could possibly be right on any subject on which Kuyper differs with him. It even makes some people smile piteously to think of the very idea. Therefore, I will ask you to grant at least the possibility—let us say, it’s a very small, a faint one—that my view is after all correct, and Kuyper’s is misleading in this case.

The body of the first essay was then devoted to the demonstration that the doctrine of common grace is not confessionally Reformed, that is, not a truth that has been expressed or developed in the Three Forms of Unity; a brief exposition of Kuyper’s theory of common grace; an exposition of the scriptural concept of grace; and a refutation of the idea that both the righteous and the wicked, the elect and the reprobate, receive grace from God in this present life.

In the last section of the first paper (the incomplete section), the threefold conclusion mentioned in the introductory part of the second essay was set forth. That second essay I now present in its entirety.

—Homer C. Hoeksema

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *


The conclusion reached in my last paper was threefold. First, I maintained that there is only one grace operating through Jesus Christ as the mediator of redemption, and that grace is based only on his atoning blood. Second, I explained that although in this world the wicked are organically connected with the righteous, live under the same external influences, both evil and good, and develop in the same world, they receive no grace. All things are to them a curse. Third, I developed the idea that there is no such thing as a check upon sin. Sin, finding its root in the principal sin Adam committed in paradise, develops as fast as possible along the organic line of the development of the human race.

The criticism passed on my paper was varied. Most of the brethren did not agree with me, which was no more than I had expected. But I wish to state also that there was not unanimity of thought among the brethren with regard to the subject we are discussing. More than one expressed the opinion that the view of the late Abraham Kuyper cannot be maintained as correct. I received the impression that some of the brethren agreed that there is only one grace. Also in regard to the idea of grace there were different opinions. I think there is room after this essay for one more paper in which the brethren meet the difficulties I raised and clearly set forth their views of this theory.

Some of the difficulties connected with the theory of common grace were simply passed by in silence. Especially I call attention to the very serious question, how is it possible that the righteous and holy God can in any way assume an attitude of loving-kindness to the wicked, whether you consider them as reprobate, as unregenerate, or as actively wicked? The question is of great importance, because it deals with our relation to the world, and is worthy of our most serious consideration. Although I do not expect the brethren to agree with me over against a man like Kuyper, I humbly submit my presentation of this truth once more to you, begging at least to be heard with a certain measure of sympathy.

If I am not seriously mistaken, the question is an actual one even in the Netherlands. It cannot escape our attention that Dr. Valentijn Hepp, of Watergraafsmeer, one of the keenest minds in the Netherlands, who has disagreed with Kuyper regarding the doctrine of common grace in his dissertation Testimonium Spiritus Sancti [Testimony of the Holy Spirit], employs quotation marks whenever he writes common grace. Dr. F. W. Grosheide, in a speech recently given in Leeuwarden, called attention to the worldly mindedness especially among the youth and then mentioned as one of the causes of this transformation to the likeness of the world a false conception of the doctrine of common grace [een verkeerd opvatten van het leerstuk der algemeene genade]. The problem therefore is worth our most serious consideration.

The chief criticism—or at least what I consider the chief element in the brethren’s criticism—was that I had not based my paper on Scripture. This was hardly correct. I reasoned throughout my paper from such fundamental scriptural truths as the covenant, the image of God, total depravity, God’s righteousness, and the organic development of the human race. I regard as a scriptural basis not only the exegesis of a few or even of many passages, but also the employment of and deduction from those fundamental conceptions that are commonly accepted among us. Besides, I called your attention to three passages from Scripture that, according to Kuyper, constitute the classical passages for the doctrine of common grace. Naturally, time was lacking for more detailed work. Nevertheless, I welcome the opportunity the brethren offered me to present some of the passages from the word of God that may be quoted in favor of my view, as well as to offer a more or less exegetical study of the conception grace as revealed in Holy Writ. This I propose to do in this paper, to which I ask that you give your kind attention.

First, I will speak on the scriptural idea of grace. Second, I will refute the passages offered for discussion by some of the brethren in support of common grace. Third, I will call attention to a few passages in support of my view of the matter.

The Scriptural Idea of Grace

The difference regarding the scriptural use of the term grace is that the Old Testament uses several words to express approximately the same idea, while the New Testament constantly uses one term, which for that very reason is broad and elastic in meaning. The three words from the Old Testament that must be considered are hesed (דסֶחֶ), rason (ןוֹצרָ), and chen (ןחֵ). Of these, chen (ןחֵ) is the word the Septuagint renders almost invariably by the New Testament charis (χάρις—grace). It is derived from the root chanan (ןנַחָ), which signifies “to incline toward anyone or something,” denoting an attitude of the body. Clearly the word could further denote an inclining of the mind and heart toward anyone, being favourably disposed. It is used often in the most general sense, as in Genesis 18:3: “My Lord, if now I have found favor in thy sight, pass not away, I pray thee, from thy servant.”

This expression occurs frequently. Especially the verb is used in cases where the opposite of God’s favor might be expected, as in Psalm 6:2, where the poet, after having implored Jehovah that he might not rebuke him in anger nor chasten him in sore displeasure, says, “Have mercy upon me, O LORD.” Thus it is also in Psalm 51:1, where the poet, having fallen deeply into sin, comes to Jehovah with the well-known prayer, “Have mercy upon me, O God.” Thus chen (ןחֵ) also denotes what God in his favor bestows on his people, in contrast with his dealings with the wicked and scoffers. We read in Proverbs 3:34, “Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly.” Chen (ןחֵ) thus signifies “favor, good will, loving-kindness.” It may denote an attitude of God, an attitude of his favor, perhaps revealed to those who are unworthy. It is employed to express what Jehovah in loving-kindness bestows on the objects of his grace.

Rason (ןוֹצרָ) comes from the root rasah (הצָרָ), which means “to delight in any person or object, to be pleased with one’s presence, to be on good terms with anyone,” and hence, “to have friendly association with someone.” Thus the substantive derivation also means “good will, delight, favor, grace.” In this way the word is used in Isaiah 49:8: “In the time of goodwill, delight, the time of grace, have I answered thee.” This word is also used to denote concretely the benefits bestowed in good pleasure and grace—gracious gifts or gifts of grace.

Hesed (דסֶחֶ), often translated by eleos (λεος—mercy) in the Septuagint, comes from the root hasad (דסַחָ). Its fundamental meaning also seems to be that of loving-kindness and favor, but with the connotation of zeal and fervor. When used with regard to Jehovah, it expresses that he burns with zeal and eagerness to show his grace and favor to those who fear him. In the King James hesed (דסֶחֶ) is frequently translated as “mercy.” Yet hesed (דסֶחֶ) is very closely akin to chen (ןחֵ) and charis (χάρις) and is used sometimes in the most general sense. Thus it is used in Daniel 1:9: “Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs,” a passage where the translation “mercy” would hardly fit. The same word is used by Isaiah in chapter 55:3 when he speaks of the gracious gifts of God’s covenant bestowed on David as “the sure [or faithful] mercies of David.” Hesed (דסֶחֶ) is used to denote both an attitude of God toward men and a relation of man to God. As an attitude of God it denotes zealous love, ardent favor, and mercy. As a relation of man to God it expresses love, gratitude, and piety.

In the New Testament there is only one word (χάρις—charis) for grace that has a variety of meanings, yet with one fundamental thought beneath it. That fundamental significance is always favor, loving-kindness, friendship.

First, charis (χάρις) is used with a connotation closely akin to that of rason (ןוֹצרָ); then it means that which is delightful, charming, lovely, attractive. In this way it is used in Luke 4:22, where the word clearly has the sense of pleasing and charming: “And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth.” The genitive, literally meaning “words of grace,” is used here to denote the impression the words of Jesus made on his audience. His words were charming and pleasing in their effect on the people’s minds. He spoke gracefully.

Second, charis (χάρις) is used to denote favor and goodwill in the most general sense, with respect to God and man. Thus it is used in Luke 2:52: “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” In Acts 7:46 we read of David “who found favour before God,” where the word is evidently used in the same sense as the Hebrew employs it, and it signifies favor in the most general sense.

Third, charis (χάρις) is used with the same fundamental meaning of favor and loving-kindness, but directed toward those who are unworthy in themselves but worthy in Christ. The definition given last month by some of the brethren, that grace is love to the wicked or guilty, is a very imperfect one. It does not consider the fundamental significance of the word with its variety of uses, and it forgets that God does not and cannot show his favor to those who are absolutely unworthy in every sense.

The cross of Christ is the plainest testimony of this truth in history. If God could have shown his favor to the wicked, the atonement would become a mystery. But his grace is revealed to those who have not merited it themselves, but who are worthy because they belong to Christ Jesus and are considered in him. In this sense, according to grace becomes the opposite of according to debt and according to works. So it is in Romans 11:6: “And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace.” Thus it is also in Romans 5:20: “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” This grace is called the grace of Jesus Christ for the evident reason that it reaches us only from Christ Jesus as its source and meritorious basis. It is the grace of God as received through faith.

Fourth, charis (χάρις) is used to denote the operation, or action, of God’s favor, or loving-kindness, on the minds and hearts of his people. God’s grace becomes an active power through Jesus Christ: it regenerates, brings to faith, justifies, sanctifies, and perfects. In this sense the word is used in Ephesians 2:8: “For by grace are ye saved through faith” and in Acts 18:27: “Who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace.”

Fifth, charis (χάρις) is used to denote the result, the effect, the fruit of the operation of God’s grace. Then it is used in a twofold sense. Sometimes the word is employed to denote the entire subjective spiritual condition of one governed by the power of grace operative in his heart. Thus Scripture says in Romans 5:2, “By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand.” In II Peter 3:18 the apostle admonishes, “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” The word is also used to denote all the gifts of grace as we receive them, as mentioned most fully and beautifully in John 1:16: “And of his fullness have all we received, and grace for grace.”

Finally, charis (χάρις) is used to signify thanks, or gratitude; that is, the acknowledgment of God’s loving-kindness and favors as they are received by his people. In this way Paul uses the word frequently, as in Romans 7:25: “I thank [grace] God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

From this brief review of the uses of the word grace in the Scriptures it becomes evident that the term is used with a great variety of meanings. It may mean an attitude of God toward his people, the operation of that attitude, or the result of God’s attitude upon and for the objects of the same. In both testaments it is used to express man’s attitude of piety, love, and gratitude to God.

Underneath all the uses of the word grace lies the always present and fundamental meaning of favor and loving-kindness. This fundamental thought must always constitute the chief element in the definition of grace. The objects, the manifestations, and the operations of this favor may vary, but grace is always favor of God.

If this fundamental significance of grace is connected with man’s creation in the image of God and, on the basis of God’s image in man, is further connected with the idea of the covenant, you conclude that the grace of God—his favor or loving-kindness—assumes the character of friendship. Favor can be shown to an inferior, to one who stands far below us and is by that favor not lifted from his inferior position. I can show favor to a slave or a servant. But that servant never becomes my friend because of the favor shown to him. I do not live on a level with him. I do not take him into my counsels. I do not confide to him my secrets. I do not live with him in friendly association.

Such is not the nature of God’s relation to man. He wills that man would be the creature he could receive into his most intimate communion. Although always remaining creature and servant of the Most High, he would be a friend-servant. To that end God created man in his own image. There is a creaturely likeness of God in man. In a creaturely way man lives on a level with his God. If God reveals to that creature his favor, his grace, this favor actually assumes the nature of friendship that results in friendly association.

Thus we find that the saints are called the friends of God. They walk with God and talk with God. God receives them into his counsels and treats them as his friends. He has no secrets from them. Thus we read in Psalm 25:14: “The secret of the LORD is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant.” The original for “secret” (also translated as “friendship”) makes us think of a symposium where God exercises friendly association with his people, the people of his covenant. The passage is most beautifully rendered in this versification: “The friendship of the Lord / Is ever with his own / And unto those that fear his name / His faithfulness is shown.”1

The same idea of confidential association, of a dwelling in most intimate communion, is symbolically expressed in tabernacle and temple; is tangibly realized in the incarnation of the Word, God’s dwelling with man, Immanuel; is often expressed in the New Testament under the symbol of supping together with God or dwelling under one roof with him; and will be realized fully in the New Jerusalem when the temple will be no more and God will spread his tabernacle over all his people. God’s loving-kindness, grace, and favor, as shown and imparted to his people, created after his image and received into his covenant, assumes the character of friendship. In grace God is our friend; through grace he makes us his friends.

This relation of friendship, or grace, God assumes and establishes only with those who are righteous before him. As long as man stood in his original righteousness, grace flowed toward him directly. But he sinned, and as a sinner he is cursed, condemned to bear the wrath of God eternally, unless his state is changed. Not to the unworthy but to the worthy God’s favor is shown. God’s incomprehensible grace is not that he reveals his loving-kindness regardless of their sin and guilt and with the surrender and abandonment of his righteousness, but he gave his only begotten Son—himself—to the depths of death and hell in order to establish his covenant and to make his people the objects of his grace.

The objects of God’s grace are unworthy in themselves. It is not of works that they are the objects of God’s favor. Nevertheless, they are worthy in Christ, through whom they are justified by faith before God. Faith is reckoned to them for righteousness, and as righteous in Christ Jesus they enter into God’s covenantal communion and are the objects of his grace.

Therefore, I maintain that God’s grace is his loving-kindness, or favor, assuming the character of friendship toward his covenantal people who receive his favor on the basis of the merits of Christ Jesus alone. Outside of Christ Jesus and his atonement there is no grace. The wrath of God abides on those who do not believe in Jesus. It does not come on them at some future time, but it abides on them forever. For this reason we must preach a God of wrath and anger to all who refuse to believe in Christ Jesus and who trample underfoot the blood of the covenant. For this same reason we must preach to every man that all things are a curse to him as long as he will not flee to the God of grace and salvation in Christ Jesus.

Refutation of the Passages Quoted in Favor of Common Grace

How in the light of this clear and current scriptural doctrine of grace one can speak of common grace, I confess is a mystery to me. Never is the word employed with respect to the wicked, whether they are designated as wicked, reprobate, unregenerate, or unbelievers. You may take your starting point in God’s eternal counsel of peace, if you please; or you may begin at the total depravity of the sinner, whose mind is always enmity against God and the imaginations of whose heart are always evil. Or you may take your ground in the covenantal idea. Never will you arrive at any other conclusion than that grace is only for those who are in Christ Jesus.

I will turn to Scripture and maintain that the word of God never uses the word grace as imparted in any sense to the wicked outside of Christ. They may live under the outward manifestation of grace. They may receive the good things of God’s grace together with the righteous. They may receive the same sunshine and rain, the same food and drink and shelter and protection; they may sit under the influence of the same word of God, be baptized with the same baptism, and partake of the same Lord’s supper. But the wicked, the unregenerate, the totally depraved, receive no grace. The passages quoted in support of this theory prove nothing else.

The one passage quoted where the word grace is used is Isaiah 26:10: “Let favour be shewed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness: in the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the LORD.” Apart from the context the future clause means “favor is shown.” But even a superficial reading of the entire text reveals very plainly that the clause may not be translated in this manner. It is a hypothetical clause, the protasis of a conditional sentence, the apodosis of which is “yet will he not learn righteousness.” The meaning is that even if favor is shown to the wicked, it will do him no good; he will not learn righteousness. The same construction appears in Nehemiah 1:8, where the original reads literally, “Ye shall trespass, and I will scatter you abroad among the peoples,” but where the meaning is plainly that of a conditional sentence. Hence the text does not present it as a fact that grace is shown to the wicked.

What is the meaning of Isaiah 26:10? Does Isaiah mean to grant the possibility that the wicked man receives grace? The opposite is true. He means to assert that the wicked man is not at all receptive to grace. Even though he lives right in the midst of the manifestations of God’s grace, yet he does not receive them. This is plain from what follows: “yet will he not learn righteousness.” This is still more evident from the last part of the text: “in the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the LORD.” The meaning is clear. The wicked man lives in the land of uprightness. In that land God reveals the tokens of his grace, in this instance the punishments of Jehovah. In verse 9 the prophet had said, “When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” But in verse 10 he singles out the wicked as an exception to this rule. He does not learn righteousness, even though he lives under Jehovah’s punishments and judgments. Although Jehovah’s majesty through these judgments becomes very evident, he will not behold it.

The passage expresses that even though you place the wicked in the midst of the outward manifestation of God’s grace, yet he receives no grace—exactly what I contended in my last paper. I do not deny that the wicked live in the land of uprightness. But I deny that they receive grace. By not heeding the manifestations of grace in the land of uprightness, he is cursed by these very manifestations.

A second illustration of common grace referred to is Ahab. To all his wickedness Ahab had added the crime of shedding Naboth’s innocent blood and depriving him of the inheritance of his fathers. Elijah is sent to Ahab to announce God’s punishment upon him. What is the punishment announced? Complete destruction, the extermination of Ahab and his house. Jehovah threatens to make the house of Ahab like that of Jeroboam and Baasha. The punishment threatened is final and therefore presupposes that the measure of iniquity is full.

When this final punishment is announced, Ahab humbles himself and wears sackcloth and ashes. He does not come to repentance; it is not his sin that troubles him. No, the hard blow of Jehovah, as announced in Elijah’s prophecy, simply crushes him. He is broken. This reveals that the wickedness of Ahab and his house has not reached its culmination. It is not fully ripe. He still fears Jehovah’s judgments. The sin of Ahab’s house would become ripe in his son. For that reason the threatened extermination, the final punishment of Ahab and his house, is postponed until the next generation. Then the measure of iniquity will be full, and the time for final punishment will have arrived.

In other words, the passage teaches what is taught in all Scripture—that final punishment will be inflicted when the measure of iniquity is full. Thus it was with the flood. Thus it was with Sodom and Gomorrah. Thus it will be at the end of the world. The sign of the fullness of this measure of iniquity will be that the world will not be frightened and humbled anymore, even under the threats of severest punishment. Thus it was with the prediluvian world. Thus it was with Sodom. Thus, according to the Lord Jesus, it will be at the end of the world. People will continue to live unconcernedly, marrying and giving in marriage, even though a thousand Noahs are preachers of repentance and righteousness. Sin develops gradually and ripens along the historical, organic line of the development of the human race, and when it is fully ripe final punishment will be inflicted.

Another Illustration of the same truth is the example of Nineveh. We must consider the incident of Nineveh as historical fact. The chief significance of the book of Jonah is its prophetic character. Nineveh is typical of the world to whom the gospel will be preached after Christ has risen from the dead. Even as Jonah goes forth after his three days in the fish’s belly to preach the word of God to a people outside of Israel, so the risen Christ will go forth after a three day’s stay in the heart of the earth to preach the glad evangel to every nation. But that is not our consideration at present. We must view the matter as historical reality.

The wickedness of Nineveh is great, and because of this Jonah is sent to preach its destruction. Also here final punishment is preached: Jonah must announce extermination of Nineveh as a city. The question also in this case is whether Nineveh, as Sodom of old, is ripe for destruction. Jonah preaches, and Nineveh humbles itself. The announcement of punishment still terrifies its inhabitants. As in Ahab’s case, this is a sign that the time for final judgment is not yet ripe.

The destruction of the city is postponed for the while. Surely, not long afterward Nineveh is destroyed. But when Jonah preached against the city, the wickedness of its inhabitants had not reached its culmination. Hence the Lord’s final sentence is not executed. Nineveh’s example, like that of Ahab, assures us that final punishment will be inflicted only when the measure of iniquity is full. This filling of the measure of iniquity takes place only along the organic line of the development of the race, and even of individual tribes and families.

Other Supporting Passages

The significance of other passages of the word of God can hardly be disputed. It would overturn the entire structure of theology to maintain that God’s assumes an attitude of grace toward the wicked outside of Christ Jesus. The word of God assures us in strong, indubitably clear language that God hates the wicked, that his wrath is on them continually, and that his curse dwells in their habitations.

We read in Psalm 11:5, “The LORD trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.” Notice the contrast in the text: “the righteous” is contrasted with “the wicked.” Over against “his soul hateth” stands “trieth.” The idea is that Jehovah may send afflictions to the righteous, but he does so in his grace, to prove, to try, to sanctify them. Even apparently evil things are a manifestation of his grace to the righteous.

It is different with the wicked. God’s constant attitude toward them is hatred. His soul hates them. He is filled with enmity against them. Whatever they may have in this life, the fact remains that Jehovah’s soul hates them. How the idea that grace in any sense can be forced into this text is a mystery to me.

The same idea is expressed in Proverbs 3:33: “The curse of the LORD is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just.” Again “the just” and “the wicked” are contrasted. Corresponding to this contrast is “to bless” and “to curse.” The idea of the text is that Jehovah’s curse, his damning power, dwells in the house of the wicked. No matter how that house may appear, the curse of Jehovah dwells in it. But the dwelling place of the righteous is the home of God’s blessing.

There is no exception to this text. Wherever you have the house of the wicked, however right and abundant it may appear, there you have the curse of Jehovah; and wherever the righteous dwell, in whatever circumstances you may meet them, there is Jehovah’s blessing. Again I ask, where is common grace?

The same antithesis is expressed in verse 34: “Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly.” Here one who derides is a scoffer, a profane person, who mocks at sacred things and tramples underfoot the things of God. God assumes precisely the same attitude toward him that he assumes toward God and sacred things. God mocks him, derides him, laughs at him, and makes him the object of his scorn. In contrast the text speaks of the lowly, the meek, the righteous, as they suffer affliction and bear it with the patience of faith. They receive grace. The implication is that the scoffers receive no grace. God assumes an attitude of grace and bestows his grace on the lowly, not on the wicked. There is no common grace. There is always-present and ever-recurring antithesis.

This same contrast is not foreign to the New Testament. In I Peter 5:5 we read, “For God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.” God opposes, assumes an attitude of opposition toward, sets himself against the high-minded, the haughty; but the lowly he gives grace. The contrast of the text is self-evident. Over against the high-minded stand the lowly. Only the lowly receive grace. The high-minded always meet with God’s opposition. The implication is naturally that they receive no grace.

The same thought occurs in I Peter 3:12, where the apostle quotes from Psalm 34:15–16. “The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry. The face of the LORD is against them that do evil.” These passages are sufficient to prove my contention that Scripture teaches that the wicked receive no grace. Jehovah’s soul hates the wicked; he mocks at them; he assumes an attitude of opposition against them; he sets his countenance against them; he makes his curse dwell in their houses. It would not be difficult to multiply the passages of the word of God expressing this truth.

I wish, however, to substantiate one more thought by passages from Holy Writ. I claimed that the outwardly good things the wicked receive in common with the righteous in this world become a curse to the wicked, and that through the good things sin and evil flourish and develop. In proof of this contention I refer to Psalm 92:5–7. Here the poet sings of the glory of God’s works and the depths of his thoughts. “O LORD, how great are thy works! and thy thoughts are very deep. A brutish man knoweth not; neither doth a fool understand this.” What is that glory of the works of God? Of what is the poet thinking as a manifestation of the depth of God’s thoughts? This is expressed in verse 7: “When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed forever.” The niphal infinitive used here denotes the purpose of their blossoming forth. This is God’s purpose, for the poet has said in the preceding verses that in their blossoming forth he beheld a work of God and the depth of his thoughts. Through those things by which the wicked flourish as the green herb, God brings them to everlasting destruction. Their prosperity is their curse from God!

The same truth is expressed in Psalm 73:18–19. We are all acquainted with the general content and thought of this beautiful psalm. The poet, considering things from a merely human viewpoint, is grieved because the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer. He cannot understand this. Of this “common grace” the wicked receive much more than the righteous. This is painful to the poet, and he sometimes wonders when he looks at everything whether there is knowledge in the Most High of this state of affairs but when the poet enters into God’s sanctuary, when he changes his viewpoint, when he looks at the same phenomenon in the light of God’s dealings, all becomes plain to him. He exclaims, “Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction” (v. 18). The meaning is that prosperity to the wicked becomes slippery places on which they slide and stumble and hasten to final destruction. They prosper as wicked, develop in wickedness in the midst of these good things, and with and through all this prosperity hasten to utter ruin.

Notice that the poet beholds all this as the work of God. God sets them on those slippery places. God causes them (the causative hiphil form of the verb is used) to hasten to utter desolation. The means God employs to this end is the prosperity they enjoy. They flourish, yes, but as wicked, and as wicked they develop only for desolation and woe. If you prefer to call this grace, I do not understand the meaning and power of grace.

In this light I would also explain Hebrews 6:4–8, where the author speaks of “those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted of the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come.” We would almost think they were people who had actually received the grace of God in their hearts, for here it is not a matter of food and raiment, of rain and sunshine, but of the blessings of grace on the church. They have been enlightened, they have tasted of the heavenly gift, they have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and they have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come. Yet they received no grace, for they are described as those who have fallen away. They have fallen so deeply that it is impossible to renew them again to repentance.

They are therefore people who live very near the central current of God’s grace. They live in the church. They are under the influence of the good word of God. They understand it; they even see its beauty. They live in the sphere where the Spirit of grace operates, and they partake of the sacraments. They even taste some of these things. They are sometimes enraptured by the view of the age to come. They are very near the central stream of God’s grace. Yet the result for them is hardening. They become worse than heathen. They cannot come to repentance. They evidently commit the sin against the Holy Spirit, doing despite to him, trampling underfoot the blood of the New Testament, and crucifying Christ afresh.

The author of the epistle explains this phenomenon by the illustration of a field: “For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: but that which beareth thorns and briars is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned” (vv. 7–8). Notice the significance of this illustration. There is a field, and rain descends often on that field. There is no question as to the quality of the rain; it is good. If under the influence of rain the field brings forth good herbs, it receives blessing from God in that rain. But if it bears thorns and thistles, the field is unable to stand the test and is disapproved and rejected. It received the rain, but it brought forth only thorns and thistles.

Through the rain that came often upon it, the evil nature of the field was brought to light and developed. Therefore, the rain is nigh unto a curse. Thus the author explains that there are some upon whom the rain of God’s grace falls often, who live under the continued influence of that rain, and who yet receive no blessing.5 The accursed nature of their wickedness is brought out and developed, and they fall so deeply that they cannot be brought to repentance.

I have fulfilled my task. In my estimation it is not the best method to call attention to individual texts. But it is very easy to do so regarding the subject under discussion. Besides, most of the operations brought against my former paper are answered at the same time.

Response to Criticism

I confess that some of the criticism impressed me rather strangely. More than once the remark was made that the unregenerate do good, that they subjectively receive grace; otherwise they could not do despite to the Spirit of grace. I confess that I do not understand this. How grace can do despite to the Spirit of grace is to me incomprehensible.

It was also said that the seeds of the doctrine of common grace are present in the confessions, and reference was made to the Heidelberg Catechism where it says that we are prone to evil. The argument was that total depravity merely means an inclination to all evil, while still the sinner may do good. This then is considered to be a seed of common grace.

Perhaps I understand neither the doctrine of total depravity nor the Heidelberg Catechism, but I nevertheless call attention to the fact that the Catechism is very explicit on this point. In Lord’s Day 3, the passage referred to by the critic, the Catechism asks the question, “Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness?” The answer is explicit: “Indeed we are, except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.”2 It seems to me that if there are seeds of the doctrine of common grace in the confessions, they must be sought elsewhere.

Someone asked the question, do the unregenerate do nothing but evil? I answer with the word of the apostle Paul, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23) and with the word of the author of Hebrews: “Without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (11:6). One of the brethren asked, can we say to the unregenerate, to the wicked, “All things are a curse to you”? I answer, most assuredly. I always preach that all things are a curse to them if they do not repent.

Neither can I understand the view expressed by someone that the proper receptivity for grace is special grace, and all the rest is common grace. Perhaps some of those remarks must be attributed to their being spur-of-the-moment questions. What must we make of the counsel of election, of the sending of God’s Son, of his humiliation and exaltation—in short, of the entire work of God’s salvation, if the sphere of special grace were limited to the subjective?

There is one question about which a special paper might well be written: do the elect ever occur as sinners? My brief answer would be that they do. Nevertheless, from eternity they occur as sinners in Christ Jesus, as the objects of God’s free grace. This brings us to the entire subjects of supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism, which I cannot be expected to discuss now.

Finally, regarding the rich young ruler, Edersheim thinks that he was one of Jesus’ sheep according to election, that Jesus loved him as one of his own, and that the young ruler, although turning away for the moment and thereby proving that the rich enter the kingdom with difficulty, later returned and became one of Jesus’ disciples. I admit that this is a conjecture. But if you read the entire narrative carefully, there is much in favor of this supposition.

The Practical Significance of the Antithesis

The practical significance of my view is evident. If you consistently develop the line of common grace, particularly as indicated by Kuyper, you are bound to lose the antithesis between the people of God and the world, between light and darkness. Everywhere there is an intermediate sphere where the church and the world meet on common ground and live from a common principle. The doctrine of common grace obliterates the antithesis. For this reason it is easy to prove that there are two Kuypers. The one is the man of the antithesis; the other of common grace. The latter will lead us right into the world, as is already evident in the Netherlands and in our church.

Therefore, I will maintain the antithesis of light and darkness, of sin and grace, of God and the devil, and of Christ and antichrist. Christ and Belial have nothing in common, least of all grace. I will continue to fight the battle against the forces of opposition. The antithesis compels. It is an antithesis between God and the devil, Christ and antichrist, and God’s people and the world; but it is an antithesis also found within my being. The law of grace opposes the law in my members and wars against the flesh. Fighting that battle, we live on earth as strangers and pilgrims, like the saints throughout history, the witnesses and heroes of faith.

In principle we have the victory now. We look for the city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. For the glory that is set before us we are willing to suffer with Christ. For the crown that is ours in Christ we gladly bear the cross behind him.


1. No. 62:2 in the Psalter with Doctrinal Standards, Liturgy, Church Order, and added Choral Section, reprinted and revised edition of the 1912 United Presbyterian Psalter (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1927; rev, ed. 1995).

2. Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 8, in The Confessions and the Church Order of the Protestant Reformed Churches (Grandville, MI: Protestant Reformed Churches in America, 2005), 86.


For free subscription to the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, simply send an email to “Judi Doezema doezema@prca.org

No comments:

Post a Comment