This post is part of a series walking through the first volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace.
The “man of sin” spoken of in 2 Thessalonians is neither the devil nor Judas. He is a figure who comes at the end of time, and will be a sort-of incarnation of Satan’s rebellion in human form. But this man can only come when humanity’s power and talents are developed to their fullest extent. This development is more than ‘intent’, it means a fully-grown progress wherein “every hidden power is discovered, released, and fully harnessed.” (535) Without common grace, that moment would never arise and we’d collapse back into chaos.
But how can we call this ‘grace’ when this is the end of the process? The same way that the cross was grace: it is all part of God’s plan, purpose, and glory:
“In the complete development toward which our human life and human power over nature gradually advance under the protection of common grace, God is glorified. It is his divine plan, his work, that comes to expression. He is the One who sowed all these capacities in the field of human nature. Apart from common grace, the seed buried in that field would never have come to the surface, would never have flowered. Thanks to common grace that seed germinated, emerged, grew tall with its stalks, and will one day stand in full bloom, to the praise not of man but of God, the heavenly Husbandman.” (536)
So where then does judgment fit in with common grace? We don’t look to passages like Matthew 25–those have to do with particular grace and the presence or lack of faith. Instead, we look to Revelation where we see common grace as the ‘background’ for the apocalypse. “Babylon is the chief focus” here. Not meaning the geographic city, but the type of worldly power.
But what does Revelation mean when it uses Babylon as a type? Is it to be understood as uncontrolled savagery? Or refined and civilized power? In Revelation 18, we see that Babylon is a “mighty city,” filled with abundance and refinement. (538) Even history gives us pictures of what’s coming whenever the great powers collapse. But these are mere foreshadowings, what we see in Revelation is the end itself. All at once the best of common grace in the hands of the man of sin is overthrown by Christ.
All of this shows us “two very different operations of common grace: internal and external.” The former builds human relationships and virtue. The latter involves science and the arts. The great Babylon will include only the latter form, and that even at the expense of the former. It will be a beautifully white-washed tomb.
We see a practical example of how common grace facilitates sin in how limited the ability of the uncivilized is to oppress others. Without the restraint of common grace, this is all we would have been able to do. Now we can do more good things, which ability has been perverted to evil. it is this corruptibility of common grace that proves the necessity of particular grace.
The world always opposes the church by offering progress as the antidote to sin and misery. Yet we see the truth of the need for a Savior over and over, even as the denial of the world over its need for a Savior grows in strength and refinement until Christ is finally glorified once and for all.