This post is part of a series walking through the first volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace.
Does our personal growth as believers that comes as a result of common grace follow us into eternity, or does it “disappear forever in the grave”? (552) The way the question is phrased shows us what Kuyper’s answer is going to be. But he goes into detail anyway:
“The fruit of common grace divides naturally into two parts:
[1)] Universal… in the life of the entire human race”, which is carried into the New Jerusalem.
[2)] Particular in each believer, which follows each into the New Jerusalem. (Revelation 21:26; 14:13) (552)
Revelation 14:13 teaches that 1) when believers die, they will enjoy blessing forever. But it also teaches (and more to the point) that 2) “their works follow them.” (553) There are two parts to this as well:
[a)] there was labor for us to do on earth that has fruit, and the work ends at death.
[b)] the fruit of this work follows believers to heaven. Not the merit/reward that comes by grace, but rather the fruit of our works. Kuyper gives the example of a student who does his homework and then takes his finished assignment to school. In one sense the work doesn’t go to school with him, he finished it at home. But he takes the fruit of his work with him into school. And while I don’t think Kuyper’s example quite lands, his expanded point does. We may do a common grace activity–say, weeding the garden–in this life. As we do that, we may develop some patience through the act of pulling weeds from the same row day after day and week after week. When we die, the work of weeding doesn’t go to heaven with us (and we have to remember that ‘grace’ is our source of fruit anyway), but the patience we have grown is now a part of our character, and that does stay with us.
How broad or narrow this fruit is, we are not told. But the answer relates to how close the unity of “our spiritual and common human development” are. (554) If they are parallel but separate, then common human development is worthless, as the monastics/anabaptists/Methodists argue.
But if the Reformed are correct about the unity of all of human life, then spiritual development and common human development are not separate and all go together.
What about infants who die and so have no apparent common grace development? They are saved–the baptized covenant children, anyway. But do they have no sanctification, and will they be forever ‘behind’? God has ‘other ways’ to grow such fruit. (555) So there are really two ways God brings people to heaven–those who live lives on earth and those who die in infancy. The parallel here that is appropriate to draw is between young converts and old converts. Both go to heaven, and we don’t assume major differences between those two groups. Or we might look at the differences between someone publicly martyred and a quiet [Dutch] peasant believer who dies at home without fanfare. Or the difference between a great theologian and a poor widow. We don’t conclude any of these on either side are ‘behind.’ All go the same way if they are believers.
Some Reformers held so tightly to this truth that they began to hold worldly life as indifferent, when in reality 1) the fruits of our life here follow us; and 2) God supplies in His own way these things to those who missed the chance to grow them on earth.
We see another parallel for this in church leadership–those who study, struggle, and train, and those who seem naturally fitted for the role. For that matter, we see this distinction in ‘all of life.’ This, too, applies to the distinction in the two ways mentioned above. (558)
As further evidence that the fruits of common grace follow us into eternity, we can look at the resurrection of the flesh. In all this “sanctification in death” where our sin is finally “cast away” show there is ultimately no difference between the death of a sacred infant and the death of a saved elderly believer. (559-560).