Common Grace, 2.40

Common Grace, 2.40 June 8, 2021

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

Kuyper begins this chapter with a recap of what he has said about the unregenerate, ending with the point that “however much objective good still comes in this way [through the common grace-directed actions of unbelievers], the subjective self can never be blameless, since whenever the power proceeding from him yields good results, this always happens against the will of that self.” (344)

In other words, even the objectively good actions of unbelievers are not without subjective blame. The question for us now is whether all good actions are always contrary to the will of the unregenerate. Kuyper’s answer here is an unambiguous NO. In fact, common grace allows for civic righteousness, even as we see that the “first impulse of any act” of the unregenerate is sinful (344-345). To deny that all are dead in their sins in favor of civic righteousness gives up the Gospel and sides with the world.

But again, what about the civic righteousness? What about those good things that the unregenerate clearly will? Earlier we had made a distinction between the center of our beings (from which we live) and the periphery (where we live). Sin affects the direction of the force from the center to the periphery, while common grace straightens out these lines of force.

The second distinction we must now make is between the unifying self and the parts (our inclinations, mind, and will). These parts are affected by common grace without affecting the unifying self–only regeneration does that. We can’t often see this truth in individuals, but in great men and in general societal trends it is clear. The first impulse from the unifying self is always sinful, but common grace bends it in better directions as it radiates outward through our parts.

This is where regeneration comes in. For those who die immediately after regeneration [which for Kuyper presumably means infants?] are immediately united with God. For those of us who go on living, the unifying/central self enters a life-long struggle against the still-crooked periphery. The crooked periphery doesn’t affect the self’s status, so Scripture speaks of us as sinless, even as sin still dwells in us and as we continue to sin. Holiness likewise spreads vertically to God and horizontally to others. From there, we see the consciousness–dormant in infants and in us while we sleep– mature as we age.

And yet, the regeneration of the self and the conversion of the consciousness must be distinguished as separate acts of God, even if the latter sometimes quickly follows the former. The same is true of our inclinations and our will. All these must be both connected to the self and understood to have their own distinct place.

More on the will specifically 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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