In our last article, we were making a few quotations from certain writers who are addicted to the view of “Common grace” to show what was meant by those who adopted the view in the Three Points of the Synod of 1924 which spoke of a general operation of the Holy Spirit upon all men which restrains sin in man; and when in the third point, they spoke of good which the unconverted man can do as a result of this general operation of the Holy Spirit. There are a few more quotations to which I would like to call your attention.
Berkhof, in his “Manual of Reformed Doctrine” treats the subject of original pollution. When, however, he characterizes this original pollution as “Total inability,” he writes, “Here, again, it is necessary to distinguish. Reformed theologians generally maintain that the sinner is still able to perform (a) natural good; (b) civil good or civil righteousness; and (c) externally religious good. He may perform acts and manifest sentiments that deserve the sincere approval and gratitude of their fellow-men and that even meet in a measure with the approval of God,” P. 146. Here, obviously Berkhof teaches that the wicked man, apart from saving grace, can do good – good in fact, which meets with God’s approval be it put in a measure.
On pages 227 and 228 of this same book, Berkhof is discussing the effects of common grace. The first effect of common grace is that the sentence of God that man would surely die is stayed. And then he writes, “Restraint of sin. Through the operation of common grace sin is restrained in the lives of individuals and society. The element of corruption that entered the life of the human race is not permitted, for the present, to accomplish its disintegrating work.” He goes on to say that other fruits of common grace are “c. Sense of Truth, Morality, and Religion. In virtue of common grace man still has some sense of the true, the good, and the beautiful, appreciates these in a measure, and reveals a desire for truth, for external morality, and even for certain forms of religion. D. Civil righteousness. Common grace enables man to perform what is generally called civil righteousness or natural good, works that are outwardly in harmony with the law of God, though entirely destitute of any real spiritual quality.”
These various effects of common grace are more fully developed by Berkhof in his “Systematic Theology,” although the idea expressed is essentially the same.
This same position is also strongly maintained by Dr. H. Henry Meeter in his book entitled “Calvanism.” On page 69 he writes, “As we study human life particularly as it is lived amongst pagans and unbelievers, it presents to us a most serious problem. One the one hand we have statements in the Bible which describe pagans and unbelievers as haters of God and of one another, unable and unwilling to do any good and inclined to all wickedness, totally depraved. On the other hand we observe a type of life among these pagans and unbelievers which seems to give the lie to the description which the Bible presents to them.” It is quite striking to note here that the doctrine of total depravity, Meeter admits, is a doctrine taken from the Bible; while the good life of the pagans which seems to give the lie to the Bible is an idea which is based merely on observation. Meeter then faces his problem by formulating it in the following words, “How shall we solve the problem of the bad which the Bible ascribes to unregenerate men and those ‘excellent’ deeds performed by these same unregenerate and pagan men? We cannot say of these excellent deeds that they are splendid vices. We cannot call them the products of sin. Sin will not produce such good results…How then can we account for these laudable deeds found among the pagans and unregenerate?” p. 70. The answer is, of course, that this is due to common grace. He writes, “But can this influence of God whereby he restrains evil passions and prompts to outward good, truly be called grace?” Then after answering the question as to the meaning of grace, he writes, “Does God show any grace, any attitude of favor, any good-will, any love, to unregenerate, specifically to such that are non-elect or reprobate sinners?” The answer is first of all that God is always filled with wrath against them. But then, he also states, “Nevertheless, that same Bible does express an attitude of favor, even of love of God to non-elect sinners,” pp. 74. This is the reason for excellent deeds which pagans perform!
To quote but one more paragraph from this book: “If, then, sin tends to break down culture, must we conclude that no culture is possible in heathen lands, where that redemptive work of Christ is not found? Not at all. That would be true, if sin were the only force still at work in these circles. For sin would destroy and ruin all. But as we learned in our study of common grace, even in the far away pagan lands God still causes forces to work which counteract the destructive force of sin; and He brings to pass much good in a cultural way, despite sin. You need only to look at the high degree of civilization found in several pagan lands of antiquity, notably ancient Greece and Rome, in order to realize that sin has not been able to ruin all. Instead of the wilderness which sin would make of this pagan world, culture is often highly developed. What lofty ideas are at times found in Plato, in Aristotle, in the writings of the ancient dramatists, what admirable works of art, especially of architecture, what great logicians and mathematicians among them!” p. 86. Evidently the doctor is carried away as he contemplates these “lofty” and “magnificent” products of pagan culture.
This view of Common Grace was first developed in detail by Dr. Abraham Kuyper. He did this about the turn of the century especially in a three volume work known as “De Gemeene Gratie” or simply “Common Grace.” However, these views are also clearly expounded in a series of lectures which Dr. Kuyper delivered at Princeton, New Jersey on the L.P. Stone Foundation, and are known as the stone Lectures. One could quote almost anywhere in this book to find that the view of Common Grace spoken in the Three Points was also the view of Dr. Kuyper. However one or two quotations ought to be sufficient. On pages 29-31 of this book, the doctor notices that “Of paganism it can be said in general, that it placed too high an estimate upon the worked, and therefore to some extent it both stands in fear of, and loses itself in it. On the other hand Islamism places too low an estimate upon the world, makes sport of it and triumphs over it in reaching after the visionary world of a sensual paradise.” Calvinism however makes neither of these mistakes. “Thus making its appearance in a dualistic social state, Calvinism has wrought an entire change in the world of thoughts and conceptions. In this also, placing itself before the face of God, it has not only honored man for the sake of his likeness to the Divine image, but also the world as a Divine creation, and has at once placed to the front the great principle that there is a particular grace which works salvation, and also a common grace by which God, maintaining the life of the world, relaxes the curse which rests upon it, arrests its process of corruption, and thus allows the untrammeled development of our life in which to glorify Himself as Creator…And for our relation to the world: the recognition that in the whole world the curse is restrained by grace, that the life of the world is to be honored in its independence, and that we must, in every domain, discover the treasures and develop the potencies hidden by God in nature and in human life.”
There is one more quotation I would like to make next time before we summarize all of these thoughts.