Common Grace, 3.3

Common Grace, 3.3 May 17, 2022

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

“Common grace finds its direct and intentional embodiment in civil society.” (19) This is a heck of a way to open a chapter, but there we have it. Kuyper tells us that we must think carefully about this by separating common grace and particular grace. The latter is related to the state, and the former to the church. So church and state should be related as common grace and particular grace are related. Without this clear distinction all we have is “hopeless squabbling.” (20)

So we start the practical aspects of common grace with the state while remembering that it stretches much wider than that and includes even nature in its orbit. yet we don’t start with nature because nature was not the source of sin–man was. Therefore, we must start with man. Likewise with particular grace we begin with man and the church, not man and nature.

But why not start our view of common grace with the individual? Or the family? For one, we’ve already dealt with the individual in volume 2. In terms of the family or the household, those are apart of the original created order, and so are good (but fallen) rather than fundamentally result of common grace. The state, however, results from sin and so is a part of common grace (more on this in the next chapter). Other its of life are affected by sin and common grace, but do not spring from either of these. the church and state are unique creations of particular grace and common grace. (We see this in Article 36 of the Heidelberg Confession.) Scripture points to these truths when the peaceful and good life is associated with the state.

Without common grace, the state is either a mystery or evil. Of course we have to recognize that “sinful abuse of power” is common, and yet even this is better than the alternative. When we see this, we see the good work of God in making government. Perfection is no longer the standard, and restraint of sin with the goal of orderly lives becomes the rule. [And again we have some of Kuyper’s unfortunate comments on race and class here.] Yet, as recent history has shown, even simple goals like restraint of sin and orderly lives can be abused. But even with these abuses, we should still be grateful, since the choice isn’t between perfect and imperfect, but rather between imperfect and none.  We have means to protest injustices in government and should use them. But we should not engage in such protests because we lack perfection, only when there is genuine injustice.

Even the fact that government is clearly made up of and the product of human beings does not negate grace at work here. We are God’s instruments, and all we do is by his provision.

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast an Amazon Associate (which is linked in this blog), and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO

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