This post is part of a series walking through the second volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace.
What has common grace to do with the salvation of the individual soul? This question is left out of catechisms, confessions, and systematic theologies–to say nothing of sermons! Common grace exists at the point of relationship between nature and grace. At times it can feel as if there is a total separation between these two concepts, yet in reality grace renews nature. This is not a principle we wish to push too far in either direction, as we might run into error were we to do so. Grace and nature are distinct and should neither be completely separated nor completely combined.
We see two errors develop in the thinking about the relationship between nature and grace:
- The Anabaptist, which sees “new life” as “a second formal creation.” “This is spiritual dualism.” (215-216)
- The Arminian, which holds too tightly to the value/work of the old nature so as to functionally destroy grace.
Responding to 1., the Reformed articulated common grace. However we have tended to overlook common grace in our responses to 2. This left the door open for Anabaptist dualism to creep back into our discussions and in turn has resulted in outbreaks of heresy in competition with the repetition of old formulas without a corresponding advance in theology. Thus heresy at the universities and functional mysticism in the pews were the only two viable options for most believers. [And remember, this was written more than century ago!]
Eventually, all that was left was nature; grace was denied and nature quickly became seen as unfallen. Naturalism/materialism came to rule all things. The church subsequently no longer had the tools with which to reply to the challenges of the world and of the heretics. At best it was trying to find strength “partly in philanthropy and partly in childlike joy” during a revival. (217-218)
So philosophy stepped into the old place of theology. Schleiermacher understood this well and tried to restore theology, but really just decorated philosophy in the garb of theology. A more refined Reformed view of common grace would have offset this collapse. Now we’re paying the price in terms of public distrust.
So we must have a revival of the doctrine of common grace to bridge the chasm between nature and grace. This is tied to the nature and role of the will, as well as the question of human nature and the nature of the world. Specifically, to these things as they actually exist in relation with God through sin and blessing. The deeper sin dwells in the world, the higher grace is, the less the redeemed want to do with the world. So we need common grace as a reminder of proper balance.
But what specifically does common grace do? More on that in the next chapter.