Common Grace, 1.18-19

Common Grace, 1.18-19 October 22, 2019

This post is part of a series walking through the first volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace

What was Adam’s internal nature? In order to understand sin, we must understand the anthropology of creation.

In the Roman Catholic view (keeping in mind that Kuyper was writing in the early part of the 20th century–pre-Vatican II, and consequently pre-formal adoption of theological liberalism into Roman Catholic theology), nature and spirit were in tension with each other. That is, Adam was created with a natural inclination to sin, but God’s grace intervened spiritual and prevented the Fall. The Fall, then, involved a withdrawal of God’s grace (though not in a way that made God guilty of Adam’s sin). The result of this view, according to Kuyper, is a softening of the Fall of man and an enabling of human free will. Nature, in other words, even after the Fall remains good but is insufficient and in need of grace. Which, Thomas Aquinas assures us, means that we can believe that grace completes and perfects nature.

By contrast, the Bible teaches that nature itself has fallen. Not in essense, but in overall nature in terms of fuction: “Undamaged in his essense, he has become depraved in his nature.” (160) What Kuyper means by this is that we remain human beings, but are touched in each part of us by sin. The image of God remains–it remains even as much in the sinner spending eternity in hell as it was originally in Adam. The nature of the Fall was such that a good creation has become corrupted. Only then does grace enter in, after our function and state have been corrupted by sin.

Creation itself did not incline towards sin, it was inherently good. Adam by nature was fully good, rather than being as the Roman Catholics argue externally propped up by grace. In fact, Adam was “the Crown of Creation.” (164)

To recap: as typified by Bellarmine, the old Roman Catholic view is that sin is a defect towards which our material nature tends. This is a problem in matter, and as long as the tool from which man was being made was matter, God was powerless to make man truly perfect. Sin comes, in other words, from matter itself. This isn’t to say that material desires are inherently sinful for the Roman Catholics, only the giving in is sinful.

Here, Kuyper argues, whatever our Trinitarian agreements, we oppose Rome diametrically. We simply deny the flesh/spirit contrast that begins with this basic anthropology of creation. Instead,

“We… confess that neither in substance nor in matter, neither in substance nor in matter, neither in the body nor in the flesh, did a power ever stand over against God that constrained God to create human nature with a defect and to remember this defect by means of something additional. We confess rather than God created our human nature in noble perfection, without any defect, and that our present misery does not consist in the fact that we have lost something that was added to our nature, but herein: that our nature itself is corrupt, robbed of its original excellence, and depraved.” (167)

In other words, while we acknowledge that there was a spiritual union between God and man that was broken by the Fall, we deny the division between matter and spirit which the older Roman Catholics want to start with.

This leads to the difficult question of what God’s original commission to creation was–just what was the nature of the charge given to Adam before the Fall? It’s hard to say, since we’re now on the other side of it. But it seems to involve the continual stewardship and return of the created world to God. Adam is, again, the crown of creation, and continually works to present it to God in a more completed state. That’s speculation, what we don’t have to speculate about is the nature of man in his unfallen state, to which we will turn next time.

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO

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