Van Til’s philosophy of the “Moment” is really the basic and essential part of his philosophy of history in as far as he makes an attempt to find room for the theory of common grace. His conception of common grace is not different from the current view of this theory as, for instance, adopted by the Christian Reformed Churches in the “Three Points”. In this respect it is literally true what he wrote in the introductory paragraph of his book: “To the perplexing problem of common grace we do not pretend to give an adequate answer. It is nothing essentially new that we bring.” The difference between his work and what has been offered before on this subject must be found in the method of approach. He does make an attempt to demonstrate the truth of “common grace” in a new way. That the conclusions of “common grace” are, in the main, correct, he never seriously doubts. But he set out to give the theory a new basis, or rather, to demonstrate its ground in a new light. This new method of approach, this new light, is philosophical rather than theological, rationalistic rather than exegetical. Never does Van Til argue from Scripture. Even that which he presents as the most fundamental principle of his philosophy, the most basic startingpoint, “the ontological trinity,” remains rather remotely in the background throughout the book. But in as far as he develops his history of philosophy in order to demonstrate the plausibility of “common grace”, his conception of the “Moment” occupies a very important place in that philosophy. Hence, we well take time out now to criticize that conception.
Van Til agrees that we can properly understand the meaning of history only if we view the “Moment”, all things in time, on the background of God’s eternal counsel. But the more I tried to get into his way of thinking and studied his philosophy of history, the more I became convinced that he fails exactly on this most important point. To me, to view all things on the background of the eternal counsel of God, means that every “moment” is eternally in God’s eternal purpose, and is, in that eternal purpose, related as means to an end to every other “moment”, while all the “moments” of history are related as means to the ultimate end: the highest revelation of the glory of God in the realization of His eternal covenant in Christ Jesus, the firstborn of every creature and the first begotten of the dead. For “known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” Before the mind of God are all things as they will be in the new heavens and the new earth, but also all the “moments” of history as by His infinite wisdom He has designed them in relation to the end, and they are thus before His divine mind, and in His sovereign concept ion eternally. Even time itself, and all that develops in time, is eternally in Him. With Him there is “no variableness neither shadow of turning.” Creation and Paradise, Adam and the state of righteousness, sin and grace, Christ, the cross, the resurrection, the exaltation, the elect and the reprobate, all things in their beginning, their development, and their final consummation, are before His divine mind, in His eternal good pleasure, in their proper relationship to one another from everlasting to everlasting. The elect in their glory, and all that must lead to their glory; the reprobate in their utter desolation, and all that must lead to their damnation,—all have their place in that good pleasure of the Most High unchangeably and forever. How otherwise could the Scriptures say that “whom he did foreknow he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified”? Or how could it possibly be said that “He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel”?. And this also implies that it is not the “moment” that determines the attitude of God, eiher to the elect or to the reprobate, but that it is His own good pleasure that sovereignly determines His attitude to the creature in the “moment”. This to me is the meaning of viewing the “Moment”, and all “Moments” and “moments” against the background of God’s eternal counsel.
Had Van Til really done this, he could not have said that God assumed an attitude of grace toward the elect and reprobate in Moment A., in Adam in the state of righteousness; nor that also the reprobate in that Moment were good, and performed good action in Adam (“a commonness of good action in official capacity”; and a “commonness in good up to a certain point between believers and non-believers”); nor that after the fall God hated both the elect and the reprobate; and that now, because the end is not yet, and the elect, are not yet perfect, neither the reprobate utterly damned, there is still a commonness in God’s attitude of grace toward both. For, in what Van Til calls Moment A. the elect and reprobate do not as yet exist historically as such, they were not yet born, neither had they done good or evil.. Hence, historically there could be no common attitude of God to the elect and the reprobate. Nor did they perform any good works, unless Van Til means to imply that the good works of Adam before the fall were imputed to the elect and to the reprobate, to all men. And if Van Til really wants to view Moment A., the state of righteousness in the light of, or on the background of the counsel of God, then he will have to see Adam, the father, the head, the root of the human race, as the first elect in Christ, who could be placed before the antithesis, disobey and fall into sin, yet fall on Christ and be saved. And then Van Til will have to view all God’s dealings with Adam in Paradise in the light of that counsel. The state of righteousness and the tree of life, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and the so-called “probationary command”, and the fall of the first man Adam must be viewed in that light; they all belong to God’s dealing with Adam according to His eternal good pleasure. It is not clear from Van Til’s book just what place he gives to sin in the light of the counsel of God, and in the dealings of God with Adam. He speaks of Moment A., the state of righteousness and of Moment B., the state of things after the fall and in Christ. But, viewed in the light of God’s counsel, what is the relation between the two Moments? How do we advance from Moment A. to Moment B.? The advance is made through the fall and disobedience of the first man Adam. But how about that “moment” of sin, when viewed on the background of the counsel of God. Shall we say that God willed Adam to fall? Or shall we prefer the statement that God permitted Adam to fall? I far prefer the former statement, for God is the Lord. But whether you prefer the one or the other, the point is that the fall of Adam is eternally in the counsel of God as a “moment” fixed by His sovereign decree. Well, then, when God realizes this eternal “moment” of His counsel in time, and so deals with Adam that he falls into sin and death (a statement to which even the weakest Reformed man will not obj ect), did He so deal with Adam in His love or in His hatred of Adam? Was it eternal love that motivated God in planting the tree of knowledge of good and evil, in issuing the “probationary” command, in arranging for the temptation through the serpent, or hatred? Van Til proposes that God loved Adam before the fall, and that He hated him after the fall. How did God consider Adam in His own dealings with Adam that led up to the fall? If we would view all things in the light of God’s counsel this question must needs arise and ought to be answered. Now, my answer, and I am persuaded that it is the answer of Scripture, is that God loved Adam with an eternal love, not as Adam but as the first elect in Christ; that, moreover, there was an entire Church, a multitude of elect in Adam’s loins; and that all God’s dealings with Adam were absolutely motivated by that sovereign love of God to Adam and to the Church that was in his loins in Christ. He loved him as elect in the state of righteousness, He loved him when He so controlled all things that he fell, and He loved him as an elect after he had fallen. For, according to the election of grace, Adam fell upon Christ. There was, then, never a moment in Adam’s existence that God hated Adam.
And the same is true of the elect. Indeed, when one views Adam in Paradise in the state of righteousness, in the light of, on the background of God’s eternal counsel, he stands there, too, as the father of all the elect, as the progenitor of the Church according to the flesh. The Church was in his loins. And God loved Adam as the progenitor of that Church, no doubt but He also loved that elect Church in him. Even Christ, according to the flesh, was in Adam’s loins, for Christ is “the son of. . . .Adam, the son of God.” Now, when God caused that Church in Adam to fall into sin and death, did He do so in His love or in His hatred? In His eternal love. And when that Church in Adam had fallen, did He hate or love that Church, and did He deal with that Church, even immediately after the fall, in His love or in His hate ? In His love. For He had provided some better thing for that Church than the first paradise. He had prepared for them a city. He loved the elect in Adam before the fall, He loved them in the fall, He loved them after the fall. And mark you well, this is not an abstraction, as if it were thus only in God’s eternal counsel, but this eternal love was in every “moment” of God’s dealings with His Church. You may object that they, nevertheless, became “children of wrath, even as the others”. We have no objection to this. God’s holy wrath is kindled against all sin, in the elect and in the reprobate. But do not forget, that if you view this wrath of God against the elect’s sin on the background of God’s eternal counsel, it is a wrath of love, a wrath that is borne to the end in their stead by Christ Jesus their Lord.
And how about the reprobate? They also were in Adam’s loins. And, if we are to believe Van Til, God loved the reprobate in Adam in the state of righteousness, and after the fall He hates them. But when he states this, he surely does not look at the “Moment” on the background of God’s counsel. Fact is, that he considers God’s attitude to the reprobate entirely in the light of the “Moment”. Van Til emphasizes that, in order to find a solution of the problem of “common grace” we must lay greater emphasis than heretofore on the element of time. It is my opinion that he does this to such an extent that he carries the element of time into God’s counsel itself, and that he lets that element control and determine the attitude of God to the elect and to the reprobate. But in this way, he very really presents God Himself as changeable. God changes His attitude as the “Moment” changes. I am quite sure, of course that he is far from intending to teach that there is variableness in God. But in his presentation of the “Moment” he nevertheless, makes God change His attitude repeatedly. Yet, this is quite contrary to the Word of God. Fact is, that God hated the reprobate in the loins of Adam in the state of righteousness, in the event of the fall, and after the fall. And all His dealings with them are motivated by that sovereign hatred of His good pleasure. “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth; it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” And it is not difficult to see, ‘when you view history on the background of the counsel of God, that this sovereign hatred of God’s good pleasure, is the motive of all God’s dealings with Adam in the state of righteousness and after, that is, as far as the reprobate are concerned. For it were better for them that they had never been born!