This post is part of a series walking through the third volume of Abraham Kuyper’s Common Grace
“Government,” Kuyper’s chapter title tells us, “is the servant of God.” Just because common grace is for the state and particular grace is for the church doesn’t mean that these separate institutions don’t also benefit from each other’s kind of grace. The main point to remembering here is that the fundamental basis of the state is common grace and of the church particular grace. Before we get to the church and state in Christian countries, we must look at it in purely pagan ones.
The light of common grace “has varied greatly in time and location.” (60-61) Time must be measured since the Ark. People have more or less fall from whatever revelation Noah had, but all retain some vestigial memory–as myths and legends show us. For example, the Egyptians knew about the judgment and resurrection–though this knowledge grew more corrupt over time.
Location accounts for other differences–including forgetting our origins in Noah. New nations and peoples form as humanity spread out. It seems that the farther the spread, the weaker the memory of Noah. [And here Kuyper gives us some of his racial reflections–which are definitely not attuned to modern sensibilities.]
Yet, even distant from Noah, governments still formed. This shows that there’s something in humanity that induces us to “obey the mystique of government.” (62) Obviously government comes in various forms–at times arbitrary and brutal ones, and at other times orderly and just. The hierarchy of governments is broad, with tyranny on the bottom. Even in such governments, we see something true generally about government. Namely we see government’s unique authority is what we see. Even the worst tyrants still rule by God’s authority. This authority is tied neither to strength nor to morality. Governments authority does not reside either in government’s actions or in the consent of the people.
At this point, Kuyper makes two points:
- Good and bad governments are both punishments and blessings. [Kuyper then argues that these are often tied to the character of the people they govern, which he then goes on to tie to race and culture, again running counter to modern beliefs.]
- Much depends on how active the citizen body is in civic offices, as opposed to those who “withdraw selfishly into their domestic and business affairs.” (64-65) More popular involvement tends to equal more restrained government, while less popular involvement tends to equal more tyranny. Again, Kuyper notes the relationship between the character of the people and tyranny. This time, however, he notes the connection between violent egoism and tyranny.
With all that said, even the ‘lower’ forms of government are the servants of God, just as bad human beings are still human beings. In the same way bad governments are still governments.
So we now look at government 1) as a blessing fundamental to all peoples; and 2) as a form with better or worse degrees. A government need not acknowledge or honor God in order to be a legitimate government–as we see when Paul talks about Rome in Romans 13. Likewise, government may fulfill its task “without the knowledge of God.” (67) Knowing God’s plan enriches/adorns government, but does not create its ‘essence.’
So we must judge government by its base (common grace), not its add-ons (anything beyond that). Especially today we must do this, when there are so few believers in public office.