With the publication in English translation of Abraham Kuyper’s Dat de Genade Particulier is, the Reformed Free Publishing Association (RFPA) has accomplished a breakthrough. For the first time, with the possible exception of Kuyper’s work on the Holy Spirit, the Kuyper of sound Reformed doctrine and church reformation is presented to the English reading public. Up to now, virtually the only works by Kuyper to be translated into English have been his book on common grace, some of his devotional books, and certain of his writings on the Christian life.
The Reformed community has especially made much of Kuyper’s little book on common grace and the influencing of society, Lectures on Calvinism. Embrace of common grace as set forth in this book has been equated with being “Kuyperian” and even Reformed. Those who reject the philosophy of the Lectures on Calvinism (there is no explanation of Scripture in the book whatever, and hardly a biblical reference) are banished from the precincts of “Kuyperian” and Reformed. They are outside the camp.
The RFPA’s publication of Kuyper’s Dat de Genade Particulier is, in English translation for the first time, sets the record straight.
The well-chosen English title is Particular Grace: A Defense of God’s Sovereignty in Salvation. The book is Abraham Kuyper’s defense of the particular grace of God in the salvation of sinners. Although the defense centers on the truth that Christ died for the elect alone, it extends to every aspect of the grace of God: the will of God, which is the eternal source of salvation; regeneration; and the preaching of the gospel. In every respect, from beginning to end, God’s grace is particular. The title of the book does not have to do with particular redemption but with particular grace.
The book is biblical, deliberately and pervasively so. Kuyper recognized that human nature, including his own, abhors the sovereign particularity of God’s grace in the salvation of sinners. Therefore, he determined to form his thinking on the subject from Scripture alone. He called his readers likewise to submit to the testimony of Scripture. Much of the book is explanation of passages of Scripture that teach that God’s grace is particular. There are also many references to other passages that teach this truth. A large section of the book is Kuyper’s systematic survey of the entire Bible, from Adam in the Old Testament to the witness of the Son of Man Himself in the New Testament, demonstrating that the one message of the entire Scripture is the particularity of grace.
The book is controversial. It was controversial when it was written. It is still controversial. It was, and still is, controversial in Reformed churches. Kuyper wrote the book to oppose the widespread belief and confession of general grace in the Reformed Church in the Netherlands. The popular doctrine was that God’s grace in Christ is for all humans without exception. According to the prevailing doctrine in the Reformed Church in Kuyper’s day, God’s grace was general in the death of Christ: Christ died for all men. The Church taught that God’s grace is also general in the will of God: God desires the salvation of all men. Likewise, God’s grace is general in the preaching of the gospel: the preaching of the gospel is a gracious offer to all who hear inasmuch as God wishes to save all.
Kuyper tells us how widely and vehemently the false doctrine of general grace was held in the Reformed Church in the Netherlands, as well as in evangelical churches throughout Europe, at the time that he wrote Particular Grace. Kuyper’s opening sentence is: “In some of the so-called ‘orthodox’ circles of our country, it is increasingly the custom to present the expression ‘Christ for all’ … as a criterion of evangelical truth.” Later, he remarks that “almost the entire corps of orthodox theologians today deliberately and fiercely opposes the doctrine of particular grace” (p. 166). Kuyper’s articles on particular grace (for he published the book first in the form of articles in the religious periodical, De Heraut) shocked the church.
After all the influential and learned theologians in Germany, as well as here in our own country, had exhausted their energies for at least 140 years in the contradiction, rejection, and obscuring of particular grace; after a public opinion had developed, even among us in the realm of religion, that it was foolishness still to believe in “particular atonement”; after almost all of our preachers had forgotten that the Reformed church had continually thought exactly the opposite in its most glorious age; and after the individual and the congregation, not out of an evil purpose but simply from a lack of better knowledge, had been made accustomed to an interpretation of Scripture that cut off every possibility of believing in particular grace—it could not really surprise us that readers were somewhat shocked when suddenly and boldly, in one of the most widely read church periodicals, there was notification again of a plea for particular grace (pp. 345, 346).
There was strong opposition to Kuyper’s defense of particular grace in the Reformed Church of which he was member. When Kuyper preached a sermon on the “comfort of eternal election,” one of his minister colleagues soon followed him to the pulpit of the congregation to proclaim to the congregation that “whoever preaches another gospel than that Christ has died for all men, let him be accursed” (p. 346). Such was the zeal for general grace, and the antipathy toward particular grace, that those who confessed particular grace were no longer “taken seriously” by the leaders in the Reformed church. Not only were those who defended particular grace accused of heresy and perversion of truth, but they were also “cut … off from fellowship and dismiss[ed] as naïve.” Within Reformed circles, they were “pariahs” (pp. 3, 4).
This is the condition of the churches today. Evangelical churches are committed to general grace. The large, mainline Reformed and Presbyterian churches have long ago renounced sovereign, particular grace. By this time they have embraced sheer universalism. But also most of the supposedly conservative Reformed and Presbyterian churches are ardent advocates of general grace. They teach a grace of God for all in the preaching of the gospel, which grace has its source in a will of God to save all. This is the doctrine of the “well-meant offer of thegospel.” Some of their theologians boldly proclaim general grace in the form of a death of Christ for all men. Norman Shepherd has recently written that “the Reformed evangelist can and must preach to everyone on the basis of John 3:16, ‘Christ died to save you'” (The Call of Grace: How the Covenant Illuminates Salvation and Evangelism (P&R, 2000, pp. 84, 85). Those who deny this general grace are banished from the fellowship of Reformed Christianity, accused of perversion of the truth—”hyper-Calvinists!”—and made pariahs.
The doctrine of the “well-meant offer of the gospel” is the general grace teaching that Kuyper opposes in Particular Grace. The teaching of general grace extends the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ to more people than the elect. And this is the teaching of the “well-meant offer.”
Kuyper demolishes the theory of the “well-meant offer.” The thesis of the book is that the saving grace of God in Jesus Christ is consistently particular—for the elect alone. Kuyper begins his treatment by showing that the three favorite texts of the proponents of general grace do not teach that God is gracious to all men. The three texts are I John 2:2, I Timothy 2:4, and II Peter 3:9. These are three of the favorite texts of the defenders of the “well-meant offer.” Concerning the explanation ofII Peter 3:9, that God sincerely desires the repentance and salvation of all men without exception, Kuyper declares that this “is the most absurd thinking one could imagine and is without rhyme or reason” (p. 47).
Describing the Amyraldian form of the false doctrine of general grace that both he—Kuyper—and the Reformed church in the seventeenth century condemned, Kuyper perfectly describes also the present day error of the “well-meant offer”:
There exists a twofold grace. The one which comes to man externally and which people could identify with the academic term “objective” grace. The other is the grace which internally touches one’s soul and, therefore, is of a “subjective” nature. The first kind of grace holds before man and offers to him what it is that he must believe; and it is only that second kind of grace that makes man inwardly able to take and to assimilate what is offered to him. That first grace on that basis directs itself to all persons; the second grace is granted only to a few (p. 168).
The refuge of Reformed theologians in Kuyper’s day who taught general grace was the notion of two wills of God. With one will—predestination—God desires the salvation of the elect only. With His other will—a will of general grace—God desires the salvation of all without exception. Exactly this is the defense of the “well-meant offer” by Reformed and Presbyterian theologians today. God has two contradictory wills, although the defenders of the “well-meant offer” think to camouflage the contradiction by calling it “paradox” or “mystery.”
Kuyper devotes an entire chapter to this notion. Significantly, the chapter is entitled “The Essence and Virtues of the Lord God.” The idea, says Kuyper, that the almighty and omniscient God, who has decreed to save only some in Christ and to reprobate others, has an intention to save all without exception “infringes upon the Godhead of the Divine Being. It abolishes God’s essence in the Divine Being. This may not be tolerated. This doctrine must be opposed” (p. 77). Scripture distinguishes between the will of God’s decree and the will of God’s command. The former consists of that which God wills to do; the latter, of that which God commands us to do. Between the two is no contradiction. Indeed, they are two aspects of the one will of God. But to teach that God Himself both wills to save only some sinners and to save all sinners without exception is “the height of absurdity.” “What would one get then? There would be, on the one hand, a will of God to work for the salvation of all himself, and on the other hand, a will of God to execute a plan himself according to which all would not be saved” (p. 79).
Chapter 26 is especially powerful against the general grace theory of the “well-meant offer.” The title of the chapter is “Preaching: To Whom?” Kuyper faces the charge against particular grace that it can preach only to the elect. Kuyper denies the charge. So strongly does he deny this that he declares that if we knew who the reprobate were we would preach the gospel to them. Kuyper gives several reasons why the gospel must be preached to all promiscuously. None of these reasons is a desire of God to save the non-elect. Kuyper does not compromise the doctrine of particular grace. The purpose of God with having the gospel preached to the reprobate sinner (whom God alone knows) is to expose his wickedness and to leave him without excuse.
By no means is the book only controversy. There is lively, warm explanation and development of the glorious gospel of salvation by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Kuyper is fresh. Kuyper is fervent. Kuyper storms the heart of the believer. There is a lovely description of the personal nature of the mystical union of the believer with Jesus Christ. There is a provocative description of the phrase “the sin of all mankind” in Question and Answer 37 of the Heidelberg Catechism. There is a profound, moving description of the “wreck” of God’s created world by the sin of man in Adam. There is an indignant criticism of self-centered, self-indulgent prayer—the kind of prayer that a contemporary writer has made out of the prayer of Jabez, but also, alas, all too often the kind of prayer that we raise, sometimes for days on end.
And exists there the regenerated heart that can resist the plea of Abraham Kuyper to give God His due?
If you cannot harmonize man’s activity and God’s activity in the work of salvation, and on that basis think it necessary to subtract something either from man or from God, would it not be more humble, proper, and safe for man to abandon himself rather than to detract, even in the least little bit, from the inviolability of the being and the attributes of God? And where in general you already think it advisable to seek God’s honor and glory, does this not become still more of an obligation if it is no longer possible to talk about man’s inviolability, but only of the activity of a sinner, that is, of a human being who spiritually is neither sound nor innocent anymore? (p. 254)
Marvin Kamps has done a masterful work of translating. Kuyper is by no means the easiest Dutch writer to translate. Resolutely determined to give Kuyper’s very own words and thoughts in English, Kamps has nevertheless succeeded in producing a smooth, flowing translation that is eminently clear and readable. In addition, the translator has provided helpful footnotes to identify various references by Kuyper to persons and books, as well as to explain statements by Kuyper that might not otherwise be understood. The translator’s introduction gives information about Kuyper, his writing of Dat de Genade Particulier is, and the translation. A brief appendix explains Kuyper’s distinction between general grace, which he condemned, and common grace, which he held.
The volume is a handsome, burgundy, hardcover book with gold lettering. It runs to xx +356 pages. The cost is $29.95.
It can be ordered from the Reformed Free Publishing Association, 4949 Ivanrest Ave., Grandville, MI 49418-9709, USA. Telephone: (616) 224-1518. E-mail: email@example.com