Common Grace, 2.2

Common Grace, 2.2 September 15, 2020

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

To restate the problem under consideration:

the world turns out to be better than expected and the church worse than expected.” (10, Emphasis Kuyper’s)

Why is this the case? Kuyper wants us to start by leaving aside the question of the deeper realities–the quietly-working good in the church and occasional glimpses of raw evil in the world. Instead we must engage the opinion of the public of itself as being no so bad–an opinion which as honest Christians we must confirm! How is it that a world which we believe to be defined by sin has so much good in it (something which it knows about itself), while the church which we believe to be defined by grace has so much bad?

This complexity in the world, church, and the human heart is explained, as we should expect by now, by the doctrine of common grace.

Simple solutions to this problem won’t work, even if they are true simple solutions. That is, we know people are worse than their doctrines and can be better than their environments. But that knowledge is insufficient as an explanation–not least because it tends to isolate individuals from their communities, which we must never do. Nor can we simply refer the problem to “free will.” Nor may we abandon either our confessions of faith or our observations of reality. The good news here is that on a closer look, the Confession (and here Kuyper refers to the Three Forms of Unity, i.e. the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, and the Canons of Dort) confirms what we see in reality.

With extended quotations from each document, Kuyper shows us that the confession admit: 1) sinners still contain original glory and the “light of nature”; and 2) sin works still in believers until death. (14)

So the confession explains sin in believers and good in the world. There’s no real conflict between faith and sight. Christians are sinful and good continues in the world Scripture confirms that nonbelievers are aware of good, even without particular grace (Romans 2:14-15). This is leftover from creation, which Adam and Eve had perfectly even without the special revelation of the law. And here, Kuyper makes four points:

  1. This perfect goodness was lost in Adam and Eve and replaced by external revelation, but it was not fully lost. By receiving the written law, the Jews relied on the external document–but such reliance doesn’t negate the inner remnant. Scripture is clear on this, just as it is clear that
  2. This inner remnant is preserved by grace–not that the conscience and the law are the same! Just that the one testifies to the other, and both point us to God. Adam had neither until conscience grew after the fall, just as we will have neither in glory.
  3. Common grace works in society as well since Romans 2:13-15 implies a) public judgments and b) public justice. These must have a foundation, and the fact that we have a sense of justice likewise points us back to God.
  4. Common grace provides some strength to do good (Romans 2:13-15), because the Gentiles in Romans clearly can do good.

In closing Kuyper recaps his argument, brushes past the “but why is the church worse?” side of the question (while referring us to Romans 7), and then points us towards the next chapters that pick up this problem and some of the world’s solutions to it. More on that in the next post.

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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