My take on common grace is odd. On one hand I reject Abraham Kuyper’s view. On the other hand, pace Kuyper’s critics, I believe in the free offer of the gospel.
North said Van Til’s book on Common Grace was his worst. I think this book is North’s best. Here is the problem we have to solve.
1) Van Til said that covenant-breaker can’t account for rationality on his own principles.
2) Yet, God gives covenant-breaker common grace which allows him to function.
3) Van Til said God will withdraw this common grace progressively during history, and in response covenant-breaker will smash covenant-keeper.
4) Yet, Van Til never explains how (3) doesn’t contradict (1).
5) Meredith Kline, presumably favorable to Van Til, says postmillennialists are wrong because they hold to (3a).
6) Kline doesn’t realize that (3) is actually van til’s position.
Thesis 1: God’s plan for history allows both continuity and discontinuity (North 2). The continuity is that covenant keeper (CK) and covenant breaker (CB) live together. The discontinuity is when one of the two is destroyed.
What is Common Grace?
Thesis 2: Common grace is continuity (3). North gives us a summary of the Dutch-American debate on Common Grace in 1924. The CRC listed three points
- a) favorable attitude of God towards the non-elect.
- b) restraint of sin in society.
- c) performance of civic righteousness by the covenant-breaker.
Without rejecting the idea of common grace, North suggests that “common gifts” is a better phrase. Let’s rephrase (a) and see if it makes sense:
a’) God favors the unregenerate.
This doesn’t seem to wash. Rather, Scripture says the “wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). God gives gifts to the unregenerate (or creatures in general, as the Synod said), but not favor. Otherwise, God favors the Devil, since he, too, is a creature in general.
But what about Jesus’s statement about the rain and sunshine? Jesus was making an ethical and judicial point, not a meteorological one. God’s common blessings point to his common law. North then makes a complicated, yet perceptive point: we are to hate God’s enemies as he hates them. But how does that square with the command to love our enemies? North points out that love is the fulfillment of the biblical law. Yet God’s law, while being covenant blessing to his people, is also an instrument of curse and condemnation. Indeed:
“our honest treatment makes it far worse on the day of judgment for those unrepentant sinners with whom we have dealt righteously than if we had disobeyed God and been poor testimonies to them, treating them unlawfully. They have rebelled against a greater specific manifestation of God’s grace to them” (29). God gives them enough rope to hang themselves.
Thesis 3: history). What I am arguing in this book is that the two aspects of the covenant blessing and cursing-are not equally ultimate in their respective effects in history, just as they are not equal in their eternal effects (32).
Summary of the Problem, part 1 (45):
- God hated Esau before he was born: no favor.
- God gives gifts to the unregenerate.
- God heals them as a savior (I Tim. 4:10).
- We are required to love our enemies.
- This means we must deal with them lawfully.
- God tells us to deal lawfully with evil men in order to heap coals of fire on their heads.
- Lawful dealing by us will lead some men to Christ.
- God gives evil people enough rope to hang themselves eternally.
- Biblical law is a tool: of destruction against Satan’s kingdom and reconstruction by Christians.
- God is not favorable to Satan and demons.
- God nevertheless gives them time and power.
- He does the same with Satan’s human followers.
- Blessing and cursing are equally ultimate in the covenant.
- The manifestations of blessing and cursing are not equally ultimate in impact.
- Satan’s knowledge and evil increase over time.
Judgment and History
Whenever men reach the logical consistency of depravity in their hearts, God brings judgment. A good example that gifts don’t imply favor is the Caananite genocide. Israel’s disobedience bought the Canaanites a gift of 40 more years. Did that show God’s favor? No, he commanded Israel to wipe them out, root and branch.
The parable of the wheat and the tares means there is historical continuity. This means there is no event in history that separates the two.
Isaiah 32: Dominion through epistemological self-consciousness.