The interest in the question of “common grace'” appears to be awakening in the Christian Reformed Church. This is evident from the article by Dr. Klooster which we are discussing at present, but now again from an article in the Federation Messenger by Prof. John Weidenaar.
The latter article we cannot discuss at present. We promise Weidenaar that we will do so in the future, D.V.
But there is one paragraph in this article which I wish to quote now because it fits into the context of my present discussion. Writes he:
“It appears then that Common Grace is not based merely on some remnants or leftovers concerning which the Canons of Dordt speak. That the Canons do not deal in detail with Common Grace is evident and follows from the known fact that our fathers at that time were not facing the specific problem of Common Grace in the sense in which Calvin and those who followed him have developed this doctrine. The Canons do specifically reject the doctrine of Arminian notion of Common Grace which is miles removed from what the Reformed thinkers and the Christian Reformed Church meant by Common Grace in 1924.”
On this I wish to make two remarks.
First of all, Weidenaar writes that the Canons “do not deal in detail with Common Grace.” I maintain that they never mention common grace at all except to condemn the very term. Let me quote just one instance. In Canons III, IV. Rejection of Errors, 5, the fathers condemn the errors of those “Who teach: That the corrupt and natural man can so well use the common grace (by which they understand the light of nature), or the gifts still left him after the fall, that he can gradually gain by their good use a greater, viz., the evangelical or saving grace itself.” This is, clear is it not? It is the Arminians that call the light of nature or the gifts still left to man after the fall “common grace.” The fathers never do.
Secondly, it is not true that the “Three Points” of 1924 are miles removed from the Arminian notion of “common grace.” As I said before, and as I further will prove, the Synod of 1924, exactly by trying to prove that the “Three Points” are based on the Reformed Confessions, fell into Arminian error.
But all this is in parentheses. We will now continue our discussion.
The last time we quoted the Five Arminian articles that were formulated in 1610. And it is in opposition to these that the well-known Canons were composed by the Synod of Dordrecht in 1618-19.
Although these Canons are based entirely on the doctrine of predestination and sovereign grace, yet the Synod of 1924 attempted to adduce quotations from these articles, in support of the “Three Points.” It quoted first of all, Canons II, 5:
“Moreover the promise of the gospel is, that whosoever believeth in Christ crucified, shall not perish but have everlasting life. This promise, together with the command to repent and believe, ought to be declared and published to all nations, and to all persons promiscuously and without distinction, to whom God out of his good pleasure sends the gospel.”
How the Synod of 1924 could possibly find the theory of common grace in this article of the Canons is a mystery to me. What it evidently tried to deduce from this article is that the preaching of the promise of the gospel is grace for all that hear. But, in the first place, this has nothing to do with what is commonly known as the theory of common grace, for this deals with the affairs of this present life, rain and sunshine, etc., and not with the preaching of the gospel or the matter of salvation. And, secondly, the fact that, nevertheless, the Synod quotes this article of the Canons in support of the First Point, proves that they were not even thinking of “common grace” but of saving grace, for that alone is declared by the promise of the gospel. Hence the Synod made saving grace common or general. And this is not Reformed but Arminian.
How could the Synod of Dordrecht possibly teach that the preaching of the promise of the gospel is common grace, that is, grace for all that hear, while in the negative part of the same chapter of the Canons it rejects the errors of those who “use the difference between meriting and appropriating, to the end that they may instill into the minds of the imprudent and inexperienced that God, as far as he is concerned, has been minded of applying to all equally the benefits gained by the death of Christ; but that while some obtain the pardon of sin and eternal life and others do not, this difference depends on their own free will, which joins itself to the grace that is offered without exception, and that it is not dependent on the special grace of mercy, which God powerfully works in them, that they rather than others should appropriate unto themselves this grace. For these, while they feign that they present this distinction in a sound sense, seek to instill into the people the destructive poison of the Pelagian errors.” II, B, 6.
From this it is very plain that the Canons in II, 5 do not mean to teach that the promise of the gospel is grace for all that hear the preaching of the gospel, but that it is grace only for those in whom God powerfully instills the gift of special mercy.
To be sure the Canons, in the article mentioned, teach that all that believe in Christ crucified shall have eternal life and are partakers of the promise of the gospel. But this surely is no “common grace” but very particular. For in the same chapter of the Canons, Art. 8, they teach:
“For this was the sovereign counsel, and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father, that the quickening and saving efficacy of the death of his Son should extend to all the elect, for bestowing upon them alone the gift of justifying faith, thereby to bring them infallibly to salvation: that is, it was the will of God, that Christ by the blood of the cross, whereby he confirmed the new covenant, should effectually redeem out of every people, tribe, nation, and language, all those, and those only, who were from eternity chosen unto salvation, and given to him by the Father; that he should confer upon them faith, which together with all the other saving gifts of the Holy Spirit, he purchased for them by his death; should purge them from all sin, both original and actual, whether committed before or after believing; and having faithfully preserved them even to the end, should at last bring them free from every spot and blemish to the enjoyment of glory in his own presence forever.”
In the light of all this, it ought to be very evident that the Canons in II, 5, although they surely teach that the preaching of the promise is promiscuous, do not intend to teach that the preaching is common grace.
On the third day God created the dry land and the plants.
Of this we read in Gen. 1:9-13: “And God said, Let the waters under the heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear: and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters called he Seas: and God saw that it was good. And God said, Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after his kind, whose seed is in itself upon the earth: and it was so. And the earth brought forth grass, herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And the evening and the morning were the third day.”
First of all, then, God formed the dry land. We must remember that it was Elohim, the triune God, that created all things. And He did so by His Spirit and Word. For from the beginning the Spirit brooded upon the face of the waters thus quickening and giving light and life to all things. But this was done through the Word. For thus we read in John 1:1-3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him: and without him was not anything made that was made.” Moreover, according to Scripture, this Logos or Word was not merely the second Person of the trinity, although He was too, but He was the Christ. For this is also clear from Scripture. Thus, for instance, we read in Eph. 3:14, 15: “For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth are named.” All things in heaven and earth are called and, therefore, receive their names or being through the Word and that Word is Christ. This we must remember when we read again and again in Gen. 1 that “God said,” or that “He called.” As it is in the work of salvation, thus it is also in creation.
This means; too, that when God speaks it is there. When God said: “let the waters under the heaven be gathered together,” it did not take millions or even billions of years for the waters to be gathered into one place, but they obeyed the Word of God through Christ and in the Spirit immediately. And the same is true of the appearance of the dry land. When God said: “let the dry land appear” it was formed at once. Otherwise we must imagine that God spoke the same words for billions of years and that is nonsense. Just as in the work of salvation we are regenerated by the Spirit and through the efficacious calling by the living and abiding Word of God, and just as it does not take a long period of time to be thus regenerated but we are born of God immediately when God speaks, thus it is also in creation. When God called the waters under heaven were gathered together and the dry land appeared at once. Hence, we also read repeatedly in the text: “and it was so.” God spoke and it was so.
As to what was created on this first part of the third day, we can be brief since we are chiefly interested in the question of periods or days. It is plain that, before the third day, the earth was still a sphere surrounded by water. Part of the bottom of this shoreless ocean was lifted up so that millions of tons of water were thrown in their own place. How much dry land was formed on that third day cannot be determined, but we have the impression that only a comparatively small continent was then created: the Lord gathered the waters into one place. Besides, inII Peter 3:4-7 we read of the scoffers that deny the second coming of the Lord and say: “Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation. But the apostle contradicts these scoffers and writes: “For this they are willingly ignorant of, that by the word of. God the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water: Whereby the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished: But the heavens and the earth which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men.” Also from this passage, therefore, we receive the impression that the original dry land, created on the third day, was a comparatively small continent and that the rest of the continents were formed at the time of the flood.
But we still have to call your attention briefly to the creation of the plants which also took place on the third day. Concerning this we note the following:
1. That also the whole world of vegetation was brought forth by the creative Word of God: “God said, Let the earth bring forth.” The plants, therefore, did not come into existence through a long process of evolution nor in a long period of years, but immediately by the creative Word of God.
2. That God created them out of the earth to which they belong, for God said, Let the earth bring forth. Also, this has nothing to do with the theory of evolution. According to the latter, somehow the earth contained the germ of every living creature. By a concurrence of natural causes these germs developed into the lowest forms of the plant and from these lowest forms the world of vegetation as we know it today came into existence under the influence of natural causes from within and from without. Those who teach long periods instead of days make of these natural causes the providence of God, which is not creation but only a camouflaged form of the theory of evolution. But we rather believe the Word of God which informs us that by the Word of God the earth brought forth the various kinds of plants and that, too, immediately.
3. That by the. Word of God, not the seed, but the plants were created first and these brought forth their seed after their kind. This also is impossible, either on the basis of the theory of evolution or on the basis of long periods instead of days.
4. That the creation narrative mentions only three large species and emphasizes that they all bring forth seed after their kind: the species are closed; there is no evolution from one species into another. Writes Keil:
“It indicates that the herbs “and trees sprang out of the earth according to their kinds, and received, together with power to bear seed and fruit, the capacity to propagate and multiply their own kind . . . Moreover, we must not picture the work of creation as consisting of the production of the I first tender germs which were gradually developed into herbs, shrubs, and trees; on the contrary, we must regard it as one element in the miracle of creation itself, that at the word of God not only tender grasses, but herbs, shrubs, and trees, sprang out of the earth, each ripe for the formation of blossom and the bearing of seed and fruit, without the necessity of waiting for years before the vegetation created was ready to blossom and bear fruit. Even as the earth was employed as a medium in the creation of the plants, since it was. God who caused it to bring them forth, they were not the product of the powers of nature, generatio aequivoca in the ordinary sense of the word, but a work of divine omnipotence, by which the trees came into existence before their seed, and their fruit was produced in full development, without expanding gradually under the influence of sunshine and rain.” With this all, who believe that Gen. 1 is the Word of God, must agree.