Common Grace, 2.31

Common Grace, 2.31 April 6, 2021

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

Given all the other means of common grace we’ve seen, where to the ‘means of grace’ proper fit into the lives of the elect (pre-conversion) and the non-elect?

Clearly, they influence our conversion (but not our regeneration–again Kuyper is clear on this distinction) to the point where many explain their conversion through the means.

At the center of the means of grace is the Word, and “no conversion is conceivable without the Word.” (265-266) This is true in all its forms and for all peoples. But what of all the people who have never heard God’s Word proclaimed? We must not say, even about children and virtuous pagans, that they were surely regenerate. But nor must we speculate in that direction:

“From the orthodox side… we lack the right not only to make this statement [that pagans are saved], but even to make any conjecture, because it leads to a direct contradiction of holy Scripture. If holy Scripture tells us that ‘there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved [Acts 4:12]–namely, the name of Christ Jesus–then it is not up to us to make an exception for Plato or Cicero.” (267)

Even for children, we must either say that confession really isn’t necessary for salvation, or that infants who die are saved and that they are regenerate in ways we can’t see. These kinds of arguments appeal to our sympathies and our emotions, but they are not appeals to the confessions of the faith.

So what can we say?

  1. the infants of the elect who die are saved, but no (confessional) comment on the children of the non-elect.
  2. The covenant of grace is only for believers and their children.
  3. Scripture doesn’t allow us to be definite here. Ultimately, God has left this as a mystery and we have no choice but to keep our theological dealings to adults.

All that said, where do the means of grace fall? Are they part of common grace or of particular grace? They certainly ‘affect’ both the saved and the unsaved. Does that mean they fall within the realm of common grace? Hebrews 6:4-6 suggests individuals who were converted but not regenerate, and so fell away. This suggests that the means of grace have at least some internal efficacy, even on the non-elect.

Kuyper at this point draws four distinctions in those on whom the means of grace operates:

  1. The regenerate, who mature under the means;
  2. Those who will be regenerated by the Spirit of God, who are prepared under the means;
  3. Those who “will die unconverted”, who are more clearly shown their guilt and hardened by the means;
  4. The environment “in which Christ’s church functions” for the “higher development of general human life.” (269)

For the first two categories, the means of grace include both common and particular grace. For the last two categories, they are only common grace.

So, the Word is both particular grace and common grace, with a positive operation on the former and a negative operation on the latter. Common grace of course can positively aim for conversion while particular grace can help restrain sin, but these are not the core functions of either.

Practically, this line of argument tells us that preaching is to be aimed at believers, whatever its ‘nudging’ effects on non-believers–nudging either towards the faith or out of the church. Evangelism and missions are important, of course, but we must keep them in proper balance and apart from the means of grace in the church service.

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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