Common Grace, 2.58-59

Common Grace, 2.58-59 September 14, 2021

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

What we’ve seen so far “leads us to conclude that we must distinguish between what God does in or for us but without us, and what he does in or for yet through us.” (505) Kuyper uses the example of breathing, by which God oxygenates our blood without any conscious input from us, as contrasted with eating, by which God provides nutrients to our blood through our conscious participation. This point is true not only of the material world but also of the spiritual realm.

We see a similarity here between people and animals (in that we are both worked on without our knowledge and are worked through as cooperative agents in God’s providence). In point of fact, in the animal world we see a spectrum of common grace at work. For example, animals mostly have no sense of home or clothing–though some few build a ‘home.’ God clothes them and teaches them to make a home according to their own natures and needs. He also teaches them self-defense and self-provision. Scripture uses animals and these truths about animals especially as points of analogy for our lives.

With that said, there are major differences between animals and people:

  1. The use of means exists only in part in animals;
  2. Animals live by instinct rather than by judgment;
  3. Animals do not progress.

The last two points are pretty clear. Bird nests and spider webs don’t change, nor do these creatures exercise “judgment” in the sense that human beings do. Though there is a “trace of judgment”, it is “limited and does not progress.” (509)

The first point, however, is central–and may be “the characteristic trait of human life.” (509-510) Means make us human–lions need none to exist. This is also a point of cooperation with God, which the animals lack. So development has to do with means and how well or poorly we use them.

We also see some animals with more than “merely instinctual” means, but we see none with “progressive development.” (513) The latter is a uniquely human trait. And yet, there remain points of similarity that instruct us. Animals, as it were, were made “according to the image of man.” (513-514) There is clear overlap in this sense between man and the animals. The animals were a kind of “blueprint” by God for man–coming first chronologically, but not in decree.

Scripture points us to the animals, from which we can learn. Kuyper gives a lengthy example of a study of ants, from which he draws five conclusions about God’s direct action and God’s use of means in the animal kingdom:

  1. “There are direct activities from God both within and upon us that work without means;”
  2. “There are activities of God through means that God himself applies;”
  3. “There are also activities of God through means that God has us apply ourselves;”
  4. “…there are activities of God through the use of means that God not only has us apply but also has us prepare;”
  5. “…we can identify activities of God through means that we ourselves do not prepare but that have been prepared by other people or animals, which we then apply either alone or with the help of others.” (519-520)

This is not to say that there are direct parallels between ants and men–when we look at human life we see further complexity of means, albeit a complexity “foreshadowed” by animals. (520) These means are all established in God’s ordinance, and so we see the superiority of man over animals as all these mans are put to work.

We should think that means are just a result of the fall (though some specific means obviously are); rather, the way we use them and what kind of specific means we have were affected by man’s original sin. That there are means at all was woven into the created order from the beginning.

But what use does common grace make of means? More 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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