Common Grace, 2.54-55

Common Grace, 2.54-55 August 24, 2021

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

In previous chapters we have seen God’s rule in the spiritual world and His exercise of restraint over it. Evil spirits do not willingly obey this constraint, but are compelled to do so in the same way someone who has been hypnotized “obeys” commands. (Clearly Kuyper was as much a product of the early 20th century as anyone 🙂 ).

There are, to be sure, spiritual attacks–just as there are physical attacks. But God directs these evil spirits through his direct action in common grace. In this sense, common grace is even a sort of act of violence that results in boundaries which evil spirits are not allowed to cross. That’s why salvation is a real possibility–were it left to evil spirits we would never have the chance to be saved.

What’s more, common grace allows actual good to happen in the world–even those good things that are done by bad people. Evil is “inspired” in this sense at least partly from without, since those who are hostile to God (i.e. all of us pre-conversion) can do things with genuine civic virtue.

That the world is shot through with spiritual meaning we see even in the Fall–itself an event directly influenced by/the consequence of the spiritual world. The resulting curse is likewise a blend of the material and spiritual worlds. We are organic wholes with our bodies being affected  by our souls and vice-versa. This is by God’s good design. The flourishing of our world is a reflection of this spiritual reality.

But if the world is shaped by spiritual forces at heart, we are left “with three possibilities” (476)

  1. the spiritual realm becomes utterly dark, with the result of an external hell;
  2. the spiritual realm is utterly cleared, with the result of a heavenly life;
  3. the spiritual realm is a mixture of good and evil.

We live today in the third category, but the other two are the future for everyone.

In this context we understand “the wrath of God”, which is not “a surging fit of indignation or bitterness, but rather a steady working of holiness” in response to our sin, and can only be removed by atonement. (477) Particular grace solves this human problem and gives what common grace never can, while common grace tempers this wrath for now.

But what is this “tempering”? To say that the spirit of the world influences us is not to make us automatons. We have agency and responsibility. Some deny this in favor of a cosmic battle within. This isn’t exactly the right way to understand the spiritual realm. We are helped with a proper understanding if we look at a “second working of common grace that takes directly in our human lives. This working is tied to our ‘habits…'” (481) Repetition and familiarity accustom us to specific behaviors. Kuyper uses the examples of reading and walking up the stairs. Both are challenges for us as children, but before long we’re doing both without the need of reflection on the activity itself.

Such habits become “second nature” and are so strong they can even affect our sleep. These are also hard to get away from once in place, given how ingrained they become–as anyone who has ever tried to kick a bad habit knows. This is how we grow or decline as human beings without losing who and what we are as people. If not for habits, we would be all over the place morally. Instead, we gradually grow in sin or we gradually grow in holiness.

Common grace restrains our growth in sin by affecting the spiritual influences on us and by tempering the effects of sin on our habits. This is not a direct intervention on God’s part–though that does happen from time to time as well. Rather, it is ongoing work on our inner dispositions.

And here we need to see the distinction between kinds of sin. “Indwelling sin” is general, and in us as human beings who are part of Adam’s organic family. But it is also particular, given that as specific humans we have specific sins. Common grace affects both of these in how they work and grow, and keep open the hope of conversion.

More on this 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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