Common Grace, 2.18-19

Common Grace, 2.18-19 January 12, 2021

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

Common grace was at work even between the conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit and his birth, contrary to the Anabaptist claim that Jesus was biologically unconnected to Mary–functionally claiming that Mary doesn’t matter as a person, just as a random incubator. Christ was “flesh, but not our flesh”–so the Anabaptists claim. (156-157)

By contrast, we confess that Jesus was truly Mary’s son–flesh and blood. We don’t know enough biology to know all the details of how common grace was at work here. This is a mystery both during gestation and after birth [has someone done work on this since Kuyper’s time? If not, they should…]. Even biological knowledge, however, wouldn’t help us fully understand the Incarnation beyond saying that Christ was fully human. This includes His character, which was fully human yet not exactly hereditary–even from Mary.

So, common grace preserved undamaged from Adam to Mary to Christ ‘undamaged human nature’ in some kind of latent form.

“…through all the centuries since paradise, the undamaged human nature was preserved in such a way that in the fullness of time it could be transferred to Christ. And precisely this would have been inconceivable if the ravages of sin after the fall could have continued unrestrained and unbridled and had not been arrested by common grace.” (159)

This transmission is not a question of genetics–though it is also not unconnected from biology. Rather, biology serves character in this case. Which again doesn’t negate the relationship between biology and nobility–after all, look at the nations! And at this point, Kuyper goes into detail about how some peoples are more dignified and attractive (in the broad sense) in their appearance and others less so, but we’ve dealt with Kuyper’s early 20th century prejudices on this before so I’ll pass over it now.

The broader point is that “Two things were saved by common grace” in the formation of Christ in Mary by the Holy Spirit:

  1. the higher aspects of our nature;
  2. the necessary physical aspects for the preservation and revelation in the Incarnation of 1.

Common grace and particular grace run together at this point in the Incarnation in Mary’s womb. Yet, we don’t join the common crowd of the Roman Catholic Church in idolizing Mary. Neither, however, ought we to downplay her part. She mattered as a person generally, and as herself specifically. Common grace formed her through a long-term process of “isolation and separation”, whereby the Jews and her line specifically were protected over time by God. Thus even here we see the blending of common grace and particular grace in the person of Mary–a blending that continues to our time in different forms.

What’s more, we see common grace in Jesus’ life yet more after His birth. The first 30 years of His life are mostly obscure. Traditional stories outside of Scripture are painfully bad–God clearly doesn’t want us to know what was going on in that part of the life of our Lord–at least so far as ‘facts and encounters.’

But! We do know: 1) Jesus grew up in Nazareth; participated in temple worship; knew the Scriptures; knew the religious/political/social orders of the day–all of which tell us that He wasn’t sheltered in His upbringing; and 2) all this political/social/religious stuff is the fruit of common grace in one’s life. And while Jesus alone never receives particular grace, His life was not uninfluenced by the effects of particular grace as well (even thought particular grace seems to have receded somewhat immediately prior to Jesus’ day).

So Jesus was formed and shaped by common grace. This truth does not deny the reality of the Deity of Christ. Rather, it is to help us see His full humanity–which itself was a sort-of finite limit on the display of Jesus’ “infinite Deity.” (166-167) This was a voluntary self-limitation on Jesus’ part, one subject to common grace. Clearly, He physically grew and developed by taking externals into Himself.

But what of His spirit? We must not hesitate to say that His human soul, consciousness, and will all likewise matured. He was fully human–not God in a body. So He was spiritually shaped by the Word, nature, and culture. This was not all internal–that’s not how human beings work.

Again, we don’t know the details here: just that Jesus was shaped by common grace–even in his language. More on this in the next chapter.

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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