A rather striking illustration is used by Van Til to clarify his application of the “As If” theory. He criticizes Dr. Kuyper’s conception of “territories” (terreinen-leer), according to which the latter assigns to believers and unbelievers a certain common ground of living and cooperation. He, Van Til, does not agree with this theory, and admits that this conception of Kuyper’s is not to be harmonized with his doctrine oi the antithesis.
I may remind our readers that we criticized this “terreinen-leer” of Dr. Kuyper’s long ago, and even before attention was called to this element in Kuyper’s teaching in the Netherlands. Only we always held, and still hold, what Van Til is unwilling to admit, that this doctrine of “territories” or of a common ground in this world for the righteous and the wicked must and does inevitably and undeniably follow from the theory of common grace. For, according to this theory the elect and reprobate, regenerate and unregenerate, have a certain grace in common. Even this statement, without any further explanation or elaboration, leads to the conclusion, that there must be a common ground on which they agree and cooperate by virtue of this grace. For, common grace is not merely concerned with an “attitude” of God, supposed to be revealed in the many gifts God bestows upon the righteous and the wicked alike, but it is also a power for good, an operation upon the nature of fallen man, both the elect and the reprobate. And by this operation of grace the natural man is very really improved, without being regenerated. According to the Second and Third Points of 1924 this operation of grace is a working of the Holy Spirit in the unregenerate, restraining sin, tan influence of God whereby the sinner is so improved that he is able to perform civil righteousness. I am aware that sometimes this operation of grace is so explained that its effect is a mere negative restraint of sin. But this is not really the meaning of this part of the doctrine of common grace. Let us remember: (1) That a mere restraint could never be productive of some positive good. (2) That Dr. Kuyper presents this operation of common grace as having been begun in Paradise, at the fall, so that Adam did not fall so deeply as he would have fallen, had God not administered a dose of common grace. I refer to Kuyper’s illustration of the man that takes Parish green and to whom an antidote is administered. Common grace, therefore, does not operate in a totally depraved nature, according to this view, but in a nature which is not yet wholly corrupt, and whose total corruption is prevented for the time being by the antidote of common grace. (3) That Kuyper himself clearly saw that he would gain nothing by a theory of mere restraint. He very consciously faced the question, how mere restraint of sin in the totally corrupt sinner could possibly yield positive fruit in good works. Hence, he attributed to common grace a positive influence for good, even upon the mind and will of the unregenerate. But if there be such an operation of positive grace upon believers and unbelievers in this world, how can the conclusion be avoided that they have a common life, a common ground on which they cooperate? It is no longer a question of cooperation between righteous and wicked, but between men that are alike under the influence of a certain grace.’ And what is the common ground on which believer and unbeliever meet? In one word: the present world.
And such is not only the logical inference from the theory of common grace, but such are also its actual results.
I do not hesitate to characterize the common grace theory as downright modernism in principle, which is only worse than open modernism because it presents itself under the cloak of Calvinism!
Now, instead of this “terreinen-leer” Van Til would have the believer and unbeliever cooperate on an “As If” basis. This means that it is admitted that “cooperation pure and simple the believer cannot have, without compromise to his faith, at any point, with the unbeliever,” Van Til’s book, p. 31; but that actually they do cooperate “as if” they had anything in common.
And now the illustration of which I spoke in the beginning of this article. I quote from p. 31 of “Common Grace” by Van Til:
“To this we must now add that the non-believer is not epistemologically self-conscious. Only Satan and his host have reached that point. Yet some of the men of this world may seek to live close to their master. They are epistemologically self-conscious to such a degree as we may expect to see this side of the judgment day. Ought not in their case cooperation with the believer to be of the ‘as if’ variety? A reasonably self-conscious believer and a reasonably self-conscious non-believer may each build a house on adjoining plots of ground. While they build they have the ‘metaphysical situation’ in common. Both obtain their materials from the same source. Both have learned their skill from the same master builder. Quite courteously they assist each other with interchange of ideas and material. But only the believer has a clear title to his property. In fact the believer holds clear title to both plots of ground. He has, he says, inherited it from his Father who owns all things. Moreover he has warned his neighbor of this fact. He has offered to give his neighbor clear title to the ground on which he is building. The unbeliever has spurned this offer. He claims to hold title in his own right. He says he has inherited his title from the ‘Prince of this world’ himself. He denies that the bene vex had, or ever can have any claim to his property. He goes further than that, he claims to have inherited title to the ground on which the believer is building. Thus both parties claim title to both plots of ground. Their ‘common judgment’ is common only up to a certain point.”
Now, I would like to see two such neighbors, both of whom claim the right of all the property, and who tell each other over their backyard fence that the other fellow has no right to exist in this would,—I like to see them cooperate with each other even on an ‘as if’ basis. I am afraid that not much would come of their friendly interchange of ideas and materials, as long as they stand in this attitude over against each other. If the believer wants to live with his unbelieving neighbor on the basis of an ‘as if, especially with one who openly professes that he things from his father the devil, he must not good confession, he must not only act, but also speak ‘as if’ they do the same thing when they build a house. That, I think, Scripture teaches plainly. They hated Christ, they will also hate those that are His. And the more they openly confess the Lord Jesus, the more they must expect to experience the hatred of the world. And this is also verified in experience. If you want to live on a friendly footing of cooperation with those that are enemies of Christ, you must compromise in word as well as in deed, especially with a view to the concrete things of this world and the present life. As long as you enclose your religion within the four walls of your church, and limit it to your private life and to your home, you may not encounter opposition. But when you begin to insist that Jesus is Lord always and everywhere, and try to apply your confession to such things as houses and lots, you will make it impossible to live on an “as if” basis with the wicked.
And yet, I do not believe that Van Til here offers the correct conception of the antithesis between sin and grace, between the wicked and the righteous. It is my conviction that this particular believer would not speak the truth, but would speak very foolishly, if he made the claim that he has a clear title, not only to his own, but also to his neighbor’s lot, and that his neighbor had no title to his lot at all. It is perfectly true, of course, that in Christ the believer is the rightful heir of the world, but that has reference to the future world, not to the present. The righteous shall inherit the earth, to be sure, but that is after this present world shall have been destroyed by fire, and the new heavens and the new earth shall have been created. It is also true, that in a sense all things in this world are ours, for Christ is surely Lord, and all things must serve His purpose. They all move and develop around Him and His Church, so that all things are subservient to their salvation. In that sense that wicked neighbor who professes the devil as his Lord, his plot of ground, his house and all he does, and all the wicked, yea, life and death are the believer’s. But that does not mean that the believer can claim that his neighbor’s plot of ground is his also. That is exactly not the case. It belongs to the common “metaphysical situation” as Van Til calls it, that the wicked and the righteous in this world have all things in common, also lots and houses. That particular plot of ground very really belongs to his neighbor in the providence of God, and not to the believer, nor will he ever possess that particular plot of ground through any clear title from Christ. Such a title to that particular plot of ground in this present world the believer does not possess, and Christ did not merit it for him.
That, therefore, I consider a mistake. When the believer acts under the acknowledgement that that particular plot of ground is his unbelieving neighbor’s, and not his, he does not act on an “as if” basis at all.
What, then, might the believing neighbor say to that wicked man that built his house on a neighboring plot of ground? He may and should say this: “God gave you that plot of ground, and it remains His. Before God no man can have any absolute right of possession. That plot of ground is capital with which you may work as His servant. And what is true of that plot of ground is true of your building material, of your skill and strength to build your house. It is true, in fact, of all you are and have, of your body and soul, of your gifts and talents, of your money and possessions, of your wife and children, of your name and position in this world. It is all God’s, and it can be yours only in the sense that with it you must love and serve the Lord your God. Do not speak of your rights. You have no rights in the absolute sense of the word. Rather speak of obligation to glorify God in your body and soul, and with all you have. That is your sacred calling. And if you do not fulfill that calling, but simply use this world, your lots and houses and all things for the lust of your own flesh, God is terribly angry with you, and He will punish you both in time and in eternity. And this calling you can never fulfill, for you are dead through trespasses and sins. But this is possible for those that are in Christ Jesus. I advise you, therefore, to seek forgiveness of your sins in His blood, and grace to be delivered from the dominion of sin, that you may see your house and lot in the proper light, and glorify God with it.”