The Janssen Case – Chapter 5: The Relationship Between Common Grace and Janssen’s Views (2)

(In the last article, we began a discussion of the way in which Dr. Janssen connected his views on common grace with many different aspects of the controversy in which he found himself involved. His arguments were many times very strange and impossible to follow. But when he specifically appealed to common grace in support of his views on Scriptures, he made a good case for his position. To this latter subject, we now turn in this article.)

When Dr. Janssen proceeded to support his heretical views of Scriptures by an appeal to common grace, he made one basic and inexcus­able error: He never defined clearly what he meant by common grace.

Perhaps this would not have been so bad if it were not for the fact that there were different views of common grace floating around in the church. It would have been helpful and more effective if some clear-cut definition of common grace had been offered by the learned professor.

It is not, however, too difficult to come to some conclusions on this question by reading carefully Janssen’s writings. It soon becomes quite evident that Janssen was a firm believer in the ideas of common grace which had been developed by Dr. Abraham Kuyper in the Nether­lands.

Dr. Abraham Kuyper taught, and apparently, Janssen accepted all these teachings without question, that because of God’s operations of common grace in the hearts and lives of the unregenerate, it was possible for the unregener­ate to discover truth, to do good in the sight of God, and to contribute by means of this good to the cause of the kingdom of Christ in the world.

Basically, therefore, the common grace of Prof. Janssen was the common grace of the sec­ond and third points adopted by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1924. In the second point, the Christian Reformed Church had said that the Scriptures and the Reformed Confessions teach that there is a gracious opera­tion of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of all men which, while it does not regenerate them, never­theless restrains their sin. And in the third point, the Christian Reformed Church had taught that, because of this gracious and restraining work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of all men, it is possible for the unregenerate to do good, although such good ought never to be called saving good.

To this view, Janssen held with a vengeance.

The first and perhaps most basic area in which Janssen connected common grace and his views of Scripture was in the area of revelation.

This whole question is an extremely impor­tant one. It is important for two reasons: 1) It was really the most fundamental point which Janssen himself made. 2) It was a subject to which Rev. Hoeksema was to return in later years. Especially this second point is of interest to us. Apparently, many years after the Janssen controversy. Rev. Hoeksema gave some thought to the whole question of general revelation, chiefly because Dr. Janssen had connected it with his view of Scripture. And, giving thought to this entire concept, Rev. Hoeksema abandoned the idea of general revelation altogether. We shall return to this in a later article.

Generally speaking, the view of revelation which was held in the Christian Reformed Church was a view which separated between general revelation and special revelation. Special revelation was God’s revelation in Scripture, while general revelation was God’s revelation in creation and in history.

Most of the time, however, especially in the Christian Reformed Church and mostly since the time of Kuyper, general revelation was connected to common grace. That is, the general view which prevailed was that God’s general revela­tion to the heathen outside the sphere of Scrip­ture and the preaching of the gospel is God’s general or common grace to them.

This is not such a strange view when one stops to think about it. It would seem to follow rather logically that if revelation is grace (as it is when God reveals Himself to His people in

Christ), then a general revelation to all men is a general grace to all men. And it was exactly at this point that Rev. Hoeksema, many years later, came to criticize the whole idea of general revela­tion.

However that may be, the reason why general revelation was, in fact, grace was because it gave the heathen some knowledge of God; it gave to them some ability to understand the truth; it gave to them some power to know the difference between good and evil, and even to follow the good in some areas of life. Revelation gave suffi­cient knowledge of God to create in the heathen a dissatisfaction with idolatry and a desire for something better. General revelation was, there­fore, responsible for such things as the high moral code of Hammurabi, the splendid systems of philosophy developed by the Greek philoso­phers, the high moral standards of Roman jurisprudence in the early years of the history of the Roman Empire. Because so many elements of truth could be found in heathen thought and heathen writing, God’s general or common grace was abundantly fruitful in the lives of the wicked.

This was taught widely in the Netherlands and in America. It was this idea to which Janssen attached his thinking.

Janssen gave some specific examples of this idea as it was related to Scripture. He taught his students, e.g., that Abraham was not separated from the heathen when he lived in the land of Canaan, but that he had much contact with the Canaanites. Because common grace created and preserved the remnants of the knowledge of God among the Canaanites, Abraham could find in their thinking and their religion much that was congenial to his thoughts and much that he could learn from them and incorporate into their own religion. And so Israel’s religion, which was a development of the religion of Abraham, was in part determined by heathen religions. Israel’s religion was raised on the broad foundation of the original religion of mankind, Janssen said. So Janssen wrote that the history of Israel and the history of Israel’s religion “must not be con­sidered apart from the religion and culture of the Ancient Eastern peoples.”

This is important for understanding the whole question of the subsequent history of the Christian Reformed Church and the Protestant Reformed Churches. We want to spend a bit more time on this comparison later, but it is important and interesting to note that the views for which Janssen was condemned in the 1920’s were views which are now openly taught and readily accepted in the Christian Reformed Church. And there can be no doubt for his views, the doctrine of common grace, on which he based his views was not only not condemned, but was officially adopted as church dogma. Janssen lost the battle, but he won the war.