This post is part of a series walking through the first volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace.
When, in the previous chapter, Kuyper had said that some nations were given over to their sin as a result of their idolatry, does that mean to imply that they are utterly devoid of common grace?
“Is there no longer any common grace at work at all among the Chinese and Japanese, in our Dutch East Indies among the Javanese and Bataks, or in Africa among the Zulus and the peoples of Bechuanaland [Botswana]? A fire once lit but no longer contained keeps burning until all its fuel is consumed. So it is with the fire of sin in the nations. If God no longer contains the burning of the fire of sin, then it must continue to spread like wildfire and must end in the destruction of all human life.” (509)
We do see peoples disappear, so it may be that at times common grace does run out for some people.
“To this extent, therefore, we can say that idolatry leads to moral decay, and that moral decay can lead to total social disintegration, and that when God totally gives up a nation, such a nation perishes and disappears.” (510)
But! To say that common grace is sometimes withdrawn and that a people vanishes from the world does not mean that all common grace has withdrawn from the world. In fact, common grace clearly continues in operation even in the worst parts of the world. We see, for example, in the Great Commission the assumption that there will be points of contact through which we may communicate the Gospel to the nations. That implies some remaining common grace.
Besides, if nothing else the Noahic covenant promises the continuance of common grace in at least some ways–all post-flood nations receive at least the promise that the world will not again be destroyed by flood.
Still in the future common grace will withdraw, the Noahic covenant will no longer protect the world from destruction, and the Kingdom of Heaven will begin. At this point common grace and particular grace will merge and combine to the glory of God. That which contains “the life-principle” will “shine in glory”; that which does not will be destroyed. (512-513)
At this point, Kuyper asks the question: who is the man of lawlessness? (This is still related to common grace, which we’ll see.) We used to read the Pope as the man of lawlessness, to which the antidote was the preaching of the Gospel. Kuyper thinks there was truth to this (as do I), and we see the Reformation force changes even in Roman Catholicism. But the new threat has moved away from Rome, such that Roman Catholicism is now a political and cultural ally in ways that would have been unimaginable in the 16th and 17th centuries.
There is some logic to Kuyper’s point. Since Christ has not returned, Rome must not have been the seat of the final man of sin–though Roman Catholicism at the time of the Reformation may have been a predecessor of the man of sin, who comes at the end of history. (516-517)