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Common Grace

I. The Arminian Doctrine of Common Grace

The Arminian doctrine of Common Grace is as follows:

1. That God ordained Jesus Christ to be Mediator. The statement itself is not wrong, but it is vague and not clear-cut. In its general form, it could very well be subscribed to by all of the Reformed faith.

2. That God determined to accept in Christ all penitent and believing sinners, to condemn all that remained impenitent and unbelieving under the preaching of the gospel. Here, according to Arminius, it depended not on the sovereignty of God, nor God’s determined counsel, but on the free will of man whether or not he would repent and believe in Christ in order to be saved.

3. That God ordained the means of grace unto salvation. Here again, rejection of the statement as it stands, does not seem possible. However, the meaning set forth by Arminius implied that God earnestly set forth salvation to all that hear the gospel and provided all with an equal part of the means of grace. This means of grace, therefore, constituted a general and well-meaning offer of salvation to all that hear the word preached.

4. That God, foreknowing who would believe and repent and who would not believe in Christ, fore-ordained particular persons unto salvation. Here, Arminius, by stating that God’s election and rejection (election and reprobation) depended upon His foreknowledge, actually made the decree of God dependent on the will of man.

II. The Kuyperian Doctrine of Common Grace

What is considered Kuyper’s chief purpose in developing the theory of common grace? Kuyper sought to show that there is still a positively good world-life and development of the human race in connection with all created things, and by his theory of common grace he offered an explanation of the positively good in the world in connection with the fact of the fall and the curse of God in the world and the total depravity of the natural man.

What is Kuyper’s basis? The covenant that God established with Noah after the flood. This covenant, says Kuyper, is not to be regarded as a covenant of grace but as a covenant of universal friendship with the entire and fallen race as such.

What then are the three chief elements in Kuyper’s viewpoint of common grace?

1. That God with a view to the Kingdom and eternity is gracious only to the elect; but with a view to the things earthly and temporal He is gracious to all men.

2. That there is a restraining influence of the common grace of God upon the physical and ethical corruption of the world and of the heart of man, ever since the fall of man, so that the principle of total depravity cannot work through.

3. That God’s common grace has such an influence on the mind and will of man, that he is so improved of himself that he can still live a positively good world-life.

III. The Three Points

1. Relative to the first point which concerns the favorable attitude of God towards humanity in general and not only towards the elect, synod declares it to be established according to Scripture and the Confession that, apart from the saving grace of God shown only to the elect unto eternal life, there is also a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to His creatures in general. This is evident from the Scriptural passages quoted and from the Canons of Dordrecht, II, 5 and III, IV, 8 and 9, which deals with the general offer of the Gospel, while it also appears from the citations made from Reformed writers of the most flourishing period of Reformed Theology that our Reformed writers from the past favored this view.

2. Relative to the second point, which is concerned with the restraint of sin in the life of the individual man and in the community, the synod declares that there is such a restraint of sin according to Scripture and the Confession. This is evident from the citations from Scripture and from the Netherlands Confession, Art. 13 and 36, which teach that God by the general operations of His Spirit, without renewing the heart of man, restrains the unimpeded breaking out of sin, by which human life in society remains possible; while it is also evident from the quotations from Reformed writers of the most flourishing period of Reformed theology that from ancient times our Reformed fathers were of the same opinion.

3. Relative to the third point which is concerned with the question of civil righteousness as performed by the unregenerate, synod declares that according to the Scripture and the Confessions the unregenerate, though incapable of doing any saving good, can do civil good. This is evident from quotations from Scripture and the Canons of Dordrecht, III, IV, 4, and from the Netherlands Confessions Art. 36, which teach that God without renewing the heart so influences man that he is able to perform civil good, while it appears from the citations from Reformed writers of the most flourishing period of Reformed Theology that our Reformed fathers from ancient times were of the same opinion.

IV. Objection to the First Point

The common grace theorists have taken Acts 14:16,17 which reads as follows for a support of their doctrine.

“Who in time past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless, he left not himself without a witness, in that he did good and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.” However, in the first place, this text merely teaches that God did not leave Himself without a witness to the heathen world even in the old dispensation. He revealed Himself as the One that must be thanked and served, for He did good from heaven giving rain and fruitful seasons, filling them with food and gladness. And, naturally, by means of these testimonies the heathen knew that God is to be thanked and served.

Secondly, however, the text states plainly, that God let them walk in their own sinful way; the ways of iniquity and destruction. Though they knew God and received His witness, they received no grace, and with their rain, fruitful seasons, and food and gladness, they served sin and were the objects of his wrath and damnation. Fruitful seasons, food and gladness with material things are not grace, neither are they a manifestation of grace.

 

V. Objection to the Second Point

The principle objection to the second point and its implications is that it is Pelagian in that it is a very evident denial of the total depravity of the natural man. The second point can be characterized with its theory of the restraint of sin as a purely philosophic invention to apologize for the severity of the doctrine of total depravity and to compromise with the world.

However, the truth of the Word of God on this point is that ever since the fall of our first parents in paradise, the natural man is wholly darkness and foolishness, corrupt before God, incapable of doing any good, inclined to all evil, until he is regenerated by the Spirit of Christ.

 

VI. Objection to the Third Point

1. It lowers the standard of moral, ethical good, and thus necessarily obliterates the distinction between good and evil, righteousness and unrighteousness, light and darkness.

2. It implies an impingement, or calls into question the holiness of God.

3. It is a teaching of moral determination and it destroys the freedom of man as a moral agent. According to the interpretation by the leaders of the Christian Reformed Churches, man is no moral agent at all in performing the good he does and for that reason he can lay no claim to any reward.

 4. It attacks the justice of God. God’s justice is always manifest in this, that He strictly rewards the good with good, and He punishes the evil. The third point would have us adhere to the view that the natural man performs much good in this world for the which he is never rewarded.

            However, the principle objection is that it is Pelagian in that when one sets aside all sophistical arguments by which it is attempted to defend the third point and to show that it is in harmony with the Reformed view of the truth, it is nothing but a denial of the total depravity of the natural man.

 

VII. The Dangers of the Three Points

The theology of common grace and the three points are very dangerous in that they imply all the fundamental errors of Arminius and Pelagius. The first point is principally a denial that the grace of God is particular, since it teaches that the preaching of the gospel is grace to all that hear the gospel; the second and third points are fundamentally a denial of the Scriptural doctrine of the total depravity of the natural man. And these errors are all the more dangerous because they pretend to be in conformity with the Reformed Confessions. It is no exaggeration to maintain that they are the wolf in sheep’s-clothing; the devil presenting himself as an angel of light.