Common Grace, 3.4

Common Grace, 3.4 May 24, 2022

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

Repeating his provocative conclusion from the previous text, Kuyper reminds us at the outset that “government is instituted because of sin.” (27) This is taught in the (Belgic) Confession. But, we might ask, isn’t this teaching just in response to Anabaptist controversy? The Confession specifically teaches counter to the Anabaptists, so maybe we shouldn’t over generalize?

In response to his hypotheticals, Kuyper tells us that we need to see the Confession in its Reformation/political setting, with worldly powers pulling against each other. Rome replied with the claim that the Reformation was revolutionary and anarchic, and ultimately resulted in the French Revolution. And so, the defenders of Roman Catholocism argue, Rome is necessary for order in the world. After all, look at the chaos in Germany! [Kuyper is bringing together several arguments here–obviously Roman Catholic writers in the time of the Reformation weren’t writing about 19th Century Germany, and Roman Catholic writers in the 19th century weren’t writing a whole lot about the Reformation’s political chaos. Instead, Kuyper is drawing on both straims of Roman Catholic thought.]

Revolution has a usual pattern–abused authority leads to withdrawal into anarchy in order to prepare for a new authority, which results in a backlash from the old authority–even to the point of tyranny and persecution. Certainly there was much of this pattern in the Reformation, where we see three groups of people who left Rome:

  1. The sycophants: Those who joined the Reformation because they liked chaos and revolution for the sake of chaos and revolution.
  2. The pious: those who believed in the Gospel and decried social upheaval.
  3. The fanatics: these separated this world and heaven, and then tried to create heaven on earth now. This collapsed Christ’s two comings into one as they tried to build heaven on earth. These were largely the Anabaptists, who derailed the Reformation and spawned persecution.

Calvin and his heirs are clear that paradise cannot be built here other than by Christ’s return, and that while we wait God has given us government to return sin and enforce law. The Reformation was “to reform the church” and “to maintain the social and political order as well.” (33)

Anarchy and revolution are of course around today [turn of the 20th century], they are just not as religious in nature. “Sociology, economics, and political arguments” tend to drive it instead of false theology. Both past and present deny that “God, because of sin, has instituted government.” (Not, of course, that they’re completely devoid of religious arguments–certainly there are claims that Jesus was a socialist, fascist, capitalist, etc etc etc.)

So we must cling tightly to the truth of the confession, police our own theological borders (since others will blame us for the fanatics), and preach the true doctrine of common grace that likewise decries the abuse of power and self-aggrandizement of leaders.

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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