Common Grace, 2.42-43

Common Grace, 2.42-43 June 22, 2021

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

Kuyper begins chapter 42 with a recap of holiness at the core of the person as compared with our sinful external actions, unfortunately using the example of skin color [sigh]. Though, as the footnote points out, Kuyper doesn’t draw value judgments here. Also as it points out, Kuyper does draw such judgments elsewhere. The point of this all is that we are getting into the internal components of sanctification, as when the Canons of Dort talk about the “impure” affections. Kuyper notes that these form the passive side of human nature which shape and define our preferences–sometimes even by culture. Still, now:

1) our core impulses are good, even if they don’t hit our consciousness all the time; and

2) this “holy impulse” tries to hit all our “consciousness and will”, but can’t always overcome our habits formed by past sinful willing.

3) Our “wires” remain bend, despite our new birth;

4) Still, we have “immediate fellowship with God” through the Holy Spirit;

5) Thus we are contradictions–we are holy and sinful, and we confess that both are true about each of us. (364-365)

Left alone, we couldn’t even imagine sanctification. But we are not left alone, because God gives sanctifying grace to aid us in this battle. This grace is twofold:

  1. It is a strengthening of the “reborn self” in its consciousness and will;
  2. It involves a weakening of the sinful flesh.

These reinforce each other, but are still different operators. The former is tied to particular grace, while the latter is the fruit of common grace. Failure to understand this distinction leads to moralism and the social gospel. Grace–and doctrine–are essential to sanctification.

At this point Kuyper makes an important clarification: “holiness” is absolute–we are not gradually cleansed when we are saved. Our status as God’s children is unrelated to our “moral improvement.” In this sense, “sanctification” is God’s work on us. Which means that regeneration is an organic whole, ending only with glorification; this is one perfectly legitimate view of salvation. Yet another view is to see it as broken into parts–one of which is God changing us by grace through faith over time. In this perspective, the latter function of ‘sanctification’ touches on common grace.

Which leads to the question of self-purification. If we are saved forever in perfect holiness, what is the function of purification? This is where the doctrine of sanctification comes along. In this life we are called to grow to glorify God. There are three factors at work in our growth:

  1. “The Holy Spirit”;
  2. “The ministry of the Word”;
  3. “We as redeemed selves.”

Scripture is clear that we are involved in this process, so we must neither passively neglect sanctification, nor embrace works-righteousness. But what is the distinction between sanctification and our obligation of self-purification, given that sanctification is God’s work entirely?

Again, Kuyper gives us a set of principles. Like a plant (again with organic imagery), sanctification has three parts:

  1. “The life center,
  2. the roots… and
  3. the branches.” (372)

For men the “life center” is the “hidden-self”, the roots are our “inner development” from the Holy Spirit; and the branches are “manifestations in the world.” The life center is affected by regeneration; nurturing through the the roots is the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification; and the branches are where we do the work of self-purification.

So for example, the “fallen” plant that has been revived by a concerned gardener is like a regenerate sinner. The life center has been revived, but the work in the root is ongoing. This work only goes so far in this life, and will be utterly renewed some day. The work on the roots will remain, while the branches we lop off in self-purification will not.

This self-purification happens in a fallen environment. But because of common grace, self-purification remains possible. Thus, self-purification and worldly virtue often look similar–shamefully we sometimes look worse! Which just reinforces the claim that common grace contributes to self-purification.

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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