This post is part of a series walking through the second volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace.
Continuing his discussion of the “problem” of “why people of the world are so often better than expected and believers in Christ are so often worse than expected,” Kuyper points to four passages in Romans: Romans 3:12, Romans 2:14, Romans 8:1, and Romans 7:23. The first two passages talk about people in the world being better than expected, the last two talk about those of us in Christ being worse than expected. Kuyper uses these passages in part because they’re all from the same letter, so we can’t accuse him of cheating by quoting out of context from different letters dealing with different topics (which is a mild cheat on Kuyper’s part–certainly letters can deal with more than one topic at a time, especially long letters like Romans).
Kuyper tells us that “there are two principles at work” in these passages with regard to common grace, “sin against God” and “grace against sin.” These principles mix together in the world, even if ultimately they are separated by their sources:
“Water may swirl at the mouth of a river, tasting neither sweet nor brackish. The water is a mixture of sweet and salty; nevertheless, when we go back to the source of [each source of water in the mix], in the stream that ran down the mountain we find water that slakes the thirst of our tongue, and water rolling in from the ocean that increases and worsens the thirst of the tongue.” (23)
Focusing on the restraint of sin in unbeleivers, this does not happen the same way in every person. Both particular grace and common grace have a wide variation in application.
But why is there such a variety built into common grace? Because the good being pursued by the nonbeliever doesn’t “spring from true faith” which must be focused on God’s honor. Such a source of goodness comes only from particular or saving grace. Nothing in common grace leads to salvation.
Still, there is a spectrum of restraint. Some people have “more” common grace (my term, not Kuyper’s–and I’m not convinced it’s an accurate one) than others. The “creation ordinance continues”, in which we are not all identical–though we are all related. This diversity is not obliterated by common grace. (24-25) Sin is varied by person and circumstance, as well as by its use. Even such common distinctions as these are the result of God’s ordinance.
A part of the reason for the diversity of common grace is the fact that it applies to nations as well as to individuals, and even within nations to sub-categories such as families and tribes. Even historical eras fall under the influence of common grace, sometimes being more virtuous and sometimes less. While such outbursts of virtue and vice might appear to be randomly and indiscriminately applied from our perspective, they are not arbitrary. God has a plan that history follows as an organic whole, and therefore Providence governs common grace by means of the Divine Decree. Which leaves believers in the position of praising God not just for his saving grace, but also for His work in history through common grace.