Reading through Common Grace, Chapters 4-6.
I know, I know, it’s not the five chapters/week I promised. What can I say? These are busy times in rural Missouri.
Continuing his discussion of the Noahic covenant as the beginning of common grace, Kuyper reminds us to draw a distinction between the “content” and the “purpose” of the covenant before we start talking about whatever spiritual significance it might have. Specifically, the content of the covenant is that
“until the end of the world, the surface of our globe will not… be disturbed, but will remain as it is now.” (28-29)
This must not be spiritualized, any more than the act of creation itself. Just as God created the world by His Word, so too He preserves the world by the promise of His covenant with Noah. This is a promise made to all of creation concerning temporal things.
The purpose of the covenant, on the other hand, is where we find its true “spiritual significance.” This purpose is ultimately Christ’s salvation of His elect. This purpose is organic (as opposed to mechanical) and Trinitarian in its nature. Everyone benefits from the content of the covenant, but believers alone receive comfort from its purpose. So we can spiritually appreciate the temporal promises of the covenant.
These truths have been too much ignored by theologians–even by John Calvin. We must learn to appreciate the fullness of the Noahic covenant, especially the role of the rainbow (which Kuyper thinks was a pre-existent… thing? for lack of a better word–is a rainbow a ‘thing’? anyway, Kuyper thinks it had already existed and was adapted by God for this specific purpose).
Further, we need to reflect on how the world changed after the Flood. The antediluvian world was one in which sin had been partly unrestrained. Only the leftovers of paradise acted as a restraint on sin, otherwise man was largely free to pursue his own wicked desires. After the Flood, nature was reshaped with restraints on sin and the promise of holiness for God’s people. God now holds out the hope of salvation in our changed circumstances through promises, blessing, life ordinances, and prophetic appointment.
But that’s getting ahead of common grace. Sticking with the Noahic Covenant, it applies to all of life, even though we (even Christians) let it slide easily into the background in favor of the covenants with Abraham and Christ.
Yet, because the covenant with Noah was temporal, it continues to be in force today–unlike the covenant with Abraham–and still governs our daily lives. This, like any covenant, is not contingent on our consent but instead rests on God’s promise and action. God’s ordinance has become our covenant, though there are other ordinances that surround the covenant.And there’s an important note to be made here: about halfway through chapter five, it will be clear that Kuyper is using the word “ordinance” in multiple ways. It can mean things that we do to show our part in the covenant (circumcision, communion, etc), but it can also mean the things God does within or around the covenant.
The ordinances of God that surround this covenant include: God’s intention (Genesis 8:21-22); God’s speech to mankind (Genesis 9:1-8); and God’s covenant (Genesis 9:9-17).
In God’s speech, we see two blessings as bookends around four things:
- Man’s moral supremacy
- man’s consumption of animals
- prohibition on eating raw meat/blood
- establishment of government/the death penalty
When almost all people had been eliminated in the Flood, the promises of multitudes was a blessing–not even the faster-repopulating animals would exterminate mankind. Instead, man will consume animals within the bounds set by God. (Which is not to say people were vegetarians before the Flood–Kuyper spends a lot more time talking about that than was perhaps necessary…)
But what does the passage mean about not eating the flesh with its life/blood? Kuyper thinks this has been misinterpreted, even by Calvin, who called it a “ceremonial” command rather than a “moral” one. The problem is, these aren’t ceremonial laws (what Kuyper calls the “Ministry of Shadows”, which is a great title and sounds like it belongs in Harry Potter…). There are no ceremonial laws until Israel and the ordinances given to Moses. Instead, these are temporal ordinances, and the right to consume animals is a gift from God for our survival. It is, however, a gift with strict limits set on it–the limit is that the animal must be dead, this is the meaning of not eating the blood. It is also something that separates us from the animals.
As is the fact that murders must be punished with death. Animals can attack and eat before their prey is dead, people cannot. Likewise animals can kill each other with impunity (or at least with a punishment that is not given to us to know). We, however, cannot. When we kill other human beings, we act as animals and ought to be judged accordingly.
More on this in the next chapters.