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Whereas the Passion Trilogy of Dr. Schilder has had and still enjoys wide publicity, we need not dwell at length to acquaint the readers with its nature and content. A few remarks will suffice.

In it the author considers and contemplates the suffering of Christ’s death in its threefold stages. Volume I treats of Christ’s entering into His suffering and brings the discussion up to Christ’s being taken captive in Gethsemane; in Volume II the author considers Christ’s passing through His suffering. This volume brings the discussion up to His being condemned by Pilate to be crucified; and, finally, Volume III treats of Christ’s crucifixion, death and burial.

In this article, as the title shows, we are interested in examining, determining Dr. Schilder’s conception of “Common Grace” as this appears in the pages of these three volumes.

The brilliant essays contained in these volumes do not purport to be scientific treatises on dogmatic subjects; in vain does one look for a dogmatic system of doctrine. But that is neither their aim or nature. There is, however, a certain sequence of thought attempted and discernable. The author repeatedly refers to other essays in this Trilogy; the underlying organic unity of the Suffering of Christ is repeatedly emphasized.

But doctrine, pure and simple, we do not find. At best we receive glimpses of the author’s conception of certain doctrinal phases of Reformed Theology. Dr. Schilder has definite doctrinal presuppositions and biases from which he proceeds in contemplating Christ’s suffering.

One of these presuppositions is what is commonly denominated “Common Grace”. Hence we come upon passages in which he attempts to demonstrate the bearing that this truth (as he understands it) has upon the Passion of Christ, either in a given case, or in the place that Common Grace occupies in relationship to Christ and the whole history of the world.

With such passages we meet in each of these three books.

In Volume I, chapter 13, pages 220, 221, the author treats John 13:5-15 under the heading, “Christ Washing His Disciples’ Feet”. The point in this act of Christ, the author emphasizes, is not merely an example to mankind, how they out of their native strength and good-will should behave toward each other. It is far more not only, but also different. Christ here demonstrates that only by the power of His obedience, (the Lord’s Supper) His exaltation, sending of the Spirit at Pentecost (Regenerating Spirit) is there any power of love and service. For, according to the author, the native love of mankind is, that which proceeds from Common Grace and is taken up in the circle-process activity (Cirkelgangs-proces) of our natural life, wherein love and hate, sympathy and antipathy, inclination and repulsion, wedding day and day-of-battle constantly interchange and balance each other without end, without end, without end. . . .” Here the author suggests the “Vanity of vanities” of which the book of Ecclesiastes speaks. This latter is the “Vicious Circle” of all human (activity “under the sun”. Christ’s washing of His disciple’s feet is, however, the “straight line” of the saving-history (heiligs-geschiedenis) that will reach its Consummation in the “last day”.

Here Common Grace is viewed by the author in contrast with Saving Grace, and, its poverty is shown. This is the ever-recurring theme of the author on “Common Grace” near to the cross “Common Grace” is not strong but weak; it cannot solve one of the world’s problems, nor can it heal its ills.

In keeping with this view Schilder writes, Vol. II, pages 41-46, that the history of the world, and of mankind, nature and history apart from Christ’s Mediatorial work, apart from God’s special revelation and saving grace, is in the throes of a very vicious circle, an endless cycle of ever-recurring woes. This is the teaching of the book of Ecclesiastes. We have, in the case of the high priest’s servant’s striking of Jesus’ face, a particular instance of this universal evil and “vicious circle”. And thus this particular act of this servant of Annas demonstrates the poverty of Common Grace and General revelation! Christ’s rebuking this servant is His drawing of the straight line of redemptive history.

As can be expected, the author also sees in the Sanhedrin and the false witnesses accusing Jesus a personification of the “vicious circle”. The title of the chapter treating this particular phase of Christ’s suffering is: “The vicious circle judges Jesus”. One wonders whether this is meant, to be taken seriously, or whether this is meant to be characterization; it may also be merely a flowery term employed: for literary effect. Vol. II, pages 60-81.

Should it be taken seriously, we would here have the presentation that it was the weakness of Common Grace and of general revelation judging Christ! Certainly a paradox, but is it Scriptural, or merely human fancy?!

However this may be, the author again finds the “Vicious Circle” of Common Grace in the successive beasts coming up out of the sea seen, by Daniel in the night visions. This is not only indicated, according to the author, in the fact that the one beast always devours the preceding one,but also in the “restlessness of the sea”. In Daniel 7:13 in the vision of the Son of Man, the “vicious circle” is conquered, and the straight line of David’s throne is, seen realized in the Christ. And in Caiaphas’ hall Christ, while being condemned by the “vicious circle” conquers the vicious circle! Vol. II, pages 119-130.

There is another aspect of “Common Grace” which the author elucidates upon in other connections of the suffering of Christ. Here the idea of the “vicious circle” is not so apparent. There are two factors emphasized here. 1. The fact that in this world revelation is never fully adequate. That which is revealed is always greater than the revelation of it. 2. The reality that we are “not yet” in the full revelation of God’s wrath. The author also speaks in this connection of the “not yet” of the full revelation of grace. And grace also is always much greater than is revealed!

To begin with the first of these “factors”, we notice that the author treats of this in Vol. Ill, pages 3-6. He here treats of the “curse” in general’ the curse of the law under the Mosaic institution. He tries to show how man cannot really apply the full implication of the curse and how this became evident under the written law, the Word of God. He employs an illustration to clarify this point. The earth is surrounded by the fog- atmosphere (damp-kring) and the rays of the sun are thus moderated. On other planets this is not so. Thus man lives in the “damp-kring van Gemeene Gratie” and the full rays of God’s wrath do not strike him down, although they do penetrate unto him. When Dr. Schilder would state this in plain terms he states this as foils: 1. That the law, as Word of God, can never express His will to punish perfectly (volkomen). 2. That, here on earth, the law never tallows itself to be isolated from the dispensation and purpose of the grace of God.

One again wonders just how serious this must be taken. For the author writes on page 7, “Hell—that is that place where God maintains the will of His punitive justice in full depth, and where no semblance of common grace moderates the unbroken rays of His wrath.” (waar geen schijn meer van gemeene gratie ooit tegen- houdt de ongebroken uitstraling van Zijn toorn). Is common grace then not real grace according to this remark? Merely “schijn”?

As we noticed above, there is also a second factor. , It is the factor of the “not yet”. In connection with the agonizing cry of Christ on the cross taken from Psalm 22, “My God, my God. . . .”, Schilder makes the observation that (all that takes place in history of the suffering of being forsaken of God is “not yet” the full measure of the wrath of God. For God’s children the “forsakenness” is purely subjective, it is really divine pedagogy of love; for the wicked here then cannot “yet” suffer the complete forsakenness, neither can the wicked in hell—not until after the resurrection unto damnation. Antichrist cannot be punished as much here, as the one receiving the least stripes in hell! Of course, on Calvary Christ suffered the full measure. Vol. III, 381-383.

In this connection we can also call attention to an observation in. these volumes concerning the “Sign of Cain.” In Vol. I, pages 418-421 the author is contemplating the meaning of Jesus’ restoration of Malchus’ ear in Gethsemany. He thinks to find here, among three other matters of importance, that Christ here applies and fulfills the sign of Cain instead of the vengeance of Abel’s blood. (Gen. 4) He applies it in not killing this Malchus and fulfills it in the positive work on the cross. This “Kainsteeken” is common grace. Christ applies the common grace rule.

Many questions land difficulties present themselves in this presentation. Cain is called the reprobate seed of the serpent on the one hand, killing Abel, the Church. Cain receives a Common Grace sign, and Christ fulfills it here and the sign to the reprobate speaks better things than Abel’s blood?!

But this is not meant to be a critique. Then we would have designed our treatment differently. Neither will the space allotted us allow for any adequate criticism. We feel, therefore, that we may conclude this article with the following remarks:

  1. It is very much to be doubted whether one is able to construe an organic system of thought, a conception of the whole from the data thus, given above. The conception of “Common Grace” is not proven here, it is rather assumed as being axiomatically true. But we are allowed at best only glimpses of it as applied to “history” and to the life of the individual.
  2. There are, however, certain impressions that I received in this study that I here submit: a. That “Common Grace” is here viewed by Dr. Schilder more negatively than positively. We do not anywhere see common grace extolled as a Calvinistic outbudding of the human race. Common Grace is poor (Vicious Circle); it merely is “not yet” full wrath! Nowhere does the author speak of it as a positive attitude of favor toward the wicked, b. What Dr. Kuyper in his Stone-lectures calls the positive development in the human race Egypt-Babylon-Medes and Persians-Greece Rome, Schilder calls the “Vanity of Vanities”, the vicious circle of the preacher. The great virtues of the heathen, so extolled by Dr. Kuyper, and by many Common Grace enthusiasts of today, Schilder calls “Vicious Circle,” in the place of justice there is unrighteousness.
  3. Finally, I’m not too certain that Dr. Schilder today would still subscribe to all he wrote on this subject 15-16 years ago. When one reads his “Heidelberg Catechism” (1940) we see quite a different conception, for instance, of “God’s wrath” Vol. II, pages 86-102. Here he no longer speaks of a “Gemeene-Gratie-Damp-kring”. Schilder, himself, wrote in De Reformatie, “Hoeksema heeft misschien dingen geschrever warmee hij het niet meer eens is; ik ook”. This was, in 1940.

I believe that the reader will do well to bear these facts in mind in evaluating this data.