The Janssen Case Chapter 5: The Relation Between Common Grace and Janssen’s View (1)

(In the last article on this subject, which appeared some time ago, we discussed the fact that Janssen defended his views of Scripture and the miracles by an appeal to common grace. Our readers will recall that Prof. Janssen, pro­fessor of Old Testament in Calvin Seminary in the years before the common grace controversy which resulted in the beginnings of the Protes­tant Reformed Church, denied the infallible inspiration of Scripture, denied the miracles, and denied that various parts of Scripture were given by revelation. He taught that many parts of the Bible were of human origin and that they even came from pagan mythology and culture. He supported this position by an appeal to common grace. In this article, we propose to discuss exact­ly how Janssen connected common grace with his views on Scripture.)

An examination of the question of how Dr. Janssen connected his views on Scripture with his views on common grace will soon show that he did this in different ways. In fact, one cannot help but gain the impression that the connection between common grace and some aspects of the subject was so contrived and forced that Janssen left the impression that he was obsessed with his views. Some of these points which he made are of only passing interest, and we mention them here only briefly.

In one of his pamphlets, Janssen made the assertion that the relation between common grace and the Reformed faith was so close that anyone who denies common grace departs from the whole Reformed faith. By making this radical statement, Janssen was going beyond anyone who had written on this subject in the past and was raising the doctrine to a position of impor­tance with which hardly anyone agreed.

In another pamphlet, Janssen connected the whole question of common grace with the church political errors which, in his judgment, were committed by his opponents, by the Theological School committee, and by the Synod. He argued that even natural principles of justice were vio­lated in the treatment of his case; and his argu­ment was that these natural principles of justice, found even outside the church among unregen­erated men, were violated, because his oppo­nents either denied common grace or failed to recognize the importance of this doctrine. Janssen’s point was that these principles of jus­tice which were violated were to be found among the unregenerate because of common grace. To run roughshod over them was, therefore, to deny common grace.

This issue of the relation between common grace and the church political errors committed in the treatment of his case was even broadened by Janssen to include many ethical breaches of conduct. Among these errors to which Janssen pointed was Rev. Hoeksema’s attack on Janssen’s views shortly after the Synod of 1920. Our readers will recall that the Janssen case had come to the Synod of 1920, but that Synod had exonerated Janssen. Shortly after the Synod met, Hoeksema became convinced that the Synod had made an error, and Hoeksema began in The Banner, to show how Janssen’s views were, after all, contrary to Scripture and the Reformed Confessions.

If Janssen had simply argued that Hoeksema’s writings were a sort of rejection of the authority of Synod after it had decided in favor of Janssen, Janssen may have had a point. But Janssen wanted to drag common grace into this matter as well. And so he argued, strangely, that in rejecting the decision of Synod, Hoeksema had shown Anabaptistic tendencies by refusing to submit to Synod’s decision just as Anabaptists refused to submit to authority. This involved the Anabaptistic conception of grace. Anabaptism, according to Janssen, denied common grace and maintained that there was only one kind of grace. When Hoeksema did the same, Hoeksema automatically became an Anabaptist.

This same argument was carried over into another area of Janssen’s defense. In 1918, the Christian Reformed Church had been busy with another serious doctrinal dispute. This dispute involved a Rev. Bultema, minister in a Christian Reformed Church in Muskegon, who was really premillennial in his teachings. He had been con­demned by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1918, and in this controversy too, Rev. Hoeksema had taken a leading part.

Dr. Janssen brought up that old controversy once again by claiming that Bultema had been guilty of Anabaptistic excesses — although how this was true was never made clear. The irony of it all, said Janssen, was that Bultema was expelled from the church for his Anabaptism, while Hoeksema was allowed to remain in the church. The error in both instances, said Janssen, was a denial of common grace.

These efforts of Janssen to bring the issue of common grace into every facet of the controversy strained the credulity of people. They never seemed important enough to Janssen’s oppo­nents to warrant an answer. They were not even arguments that were taken up by Janssen’s defenders, and they were often factors in making people wonder whether common grace was indeed the issue that Janssen claimed it was. Janssen’s line of argument was proof of the truth that a bad argument in defense of the truth does more damage than a good argument against it. It is difficult to understand why Janssen, an extraordinarily able man, could not see the harm he was doing his own cause by introducing common grace as an element in almost every aspect of the problem.

All this ought not, however, to obscure the fact that Janssen made an excellent case for the proposition that the doctrine of common grace was important for his position. Janssen pointed out very clearly that his position stood solidly on the rock of common grace, and that, in the final analysis, to repudiate his position involved one in a repudiation of common grace. He did not always demonstrate this in connection with every single detail of his position; nor did he show how common grace was connected to his position on every point which his accusers brought against him; but he drew the lines clear­ly enough when he explained how he developed his position from the doctrine of common grace. And his arguments at this point are so convinc­ing that it is not difficult to see that, given com­mon grace, Janssen came to the conclusions he did on such questions as the nature of miracles, the relation between general and special revela­tion, the relation between Scripture and heathen culture, etc.

But to this we will return in the next article.