This post is part of a series walking through the second volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace.
We’ve got to be careful to distinguish conversion and regeneration, otherwise our use of ‘grace’ will start to get a bit dodgy.
First, we must ask is there “a preparatory grace that precedes regeneration”? (232) In fact, there are two views of preparatory grace:
- That which makes the sinner receptive (the parallel Kuyper uses here is that of a healthy mother)
- That which actually brings about regeneration (the parallel here is that of a competent midwife).
Obviously, there are other graces which precede regeneration as well: election, for example. Or the covenant grace (found in the paedobaptist view). These are not in question here.
Again, is there preparation for regeneration? With all these disclaimers Kuyper’s answer is a resounding ‘no’. Preparation is contrary to the character of regeneration itself. (232) The two views listed above are simply theologically mistaken.
However! There are two exceptions to this point:
- Common grace “prepares” us in that we are born, and so are available to be reborn.
- The subset of people who are regenerated but not converted–namely, infants/children who die before they can confess.
This distinction of the potential distance between regeneration and conversion is important in Kuyper’s writings here, and we’ll continue to see it arise.
Yet before digging in here, there are more disclaimers to make. The first is that we have other ways of being ‘prepared’ for saving grace as well. Sin ‘prepares’ us for regeneration. The second disclaimer is that Christ could not be ‘regenerated’, so this is unique to us as fallen beings. Third, those who have been regenerated cannot be regenerated a second time. And finally, falling into deeper sin is not preparatory grace in any meaningful sense of the term.
Two claims are made about preparatory grace that must be responded to (in a chapter full of dual-claims):
- Someone may be so deep in sin they need preparation before they can be regenerated;
- Some help may have been given by human work along the way to regeneration.
Our response to both of those must be to deny them, since 1) no sin is too deep for regeneration, and no one is too far gone to be saved. We all stand sinful before the Lord and need redemption; and 2) we cannot assist with regeneration–in fact, it is in our fallen nature to actively resist it. We see evidence of this in infants, who obviously can contribute nothing to their own regeneration and yet some are regerate.
Regeneration is something which happens at the core of our being–no one has access to this but God. Conversion, by contrast, is something which we have self-awareness of. So regeneration touches our existence; conversion our self-awareness. (As a side note, Kuyper notes that the insane and mentally impaired can be regenerated, but not converted.)
And with all of that said, we must not completely isolate regeneration by holding the false view that we are made new, rather than being remade. We remain ourselves with our natural distinctions. This remaining is not because regeneration is a collaboration; it is still God’s work alone–though of course there is Trinitarian collaboration, in that sense (and only in that sense) is our regeneration a collaboration.
More on this complex topic in the next chapter.