It is hardly conceivable that a stronger Scriptural proof can be quoted against the teaching of “Common Grace” than the explanation, by Christ Himself, of the Decalogue or the Law of the Ten Commandments, in. We read there: “Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked Him a question, tempting Him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus saith unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
The implication of these words of Christ, as far as the Decalogue is concerned, is readily understood. It is evident that our Lord refers in this passage to what is commonly known among us as the “two tables of the law.” We need not at this time, with a view to the purpose of this essay, dwell upon the controversial question which concerns the content of each table of the law. It is sufficient to observe that the law of God does refer to a two-fold relationship, namely, our relationship toward God and our relationship toward the neighbor. Christ Himself declares that we must love God with all our heart and soul and mind, and also that we must love our neighbor as ourselves. Notice that Jesus here establishes the unity of the law of the Lord. The obligation to love the Lord with all our being is not the greater of the two commandments. It is the great commandment. To be sure, we also read that it is first. But this does not mean that the other commandment is second in the sense that it is another, independent of the love of God. The fact remains that the Love of God is the great commandment. Hence, it is first in the sense that it is basic. It must always precede the other. Only in the love of God is the love of the neighbor possible. This must also determine our interpretation of the words of Christ when He declares that the second commandment is like unto it. This does not imply that, there is merely a certain resemblance between the two. But these commandments are alike essentially. The second commandment is and can never be anything else than a manifestation toward the neighbor of the love of God. We must, love our neighbor therefore unto the glory of the living God. Another kind of love of the neighbor can hardly be regarded as essentially like unto the first and great commandment.
The theory of Common Grace, as set forth by the lafe Dr. A. Kuyper, and embraced by the Christian Reformed Churches and embodied by them in their Three Points of 1924, is fundamentally duialistic because it creates two spheres of life, sets forth two purposes of God, an earthy and a heavenly. It is true, we know, that the Christian Reformed Churches, in 1924, did more than merely grant official recognition to the Kuyperian conception of Common Grace. They also embraced the heresy of Arminianism, as one may learn from Point One which speaks of the gospel as a Divine offer of salvation. We are interested now, however, in the theory of Common Grace.
The three chief elements in the theory of Common Grace are:
- That God, though with a view to eternity and the eternal blessedness of the Kingdom He is gracious only to the elect, with a view to things earthly and temporal is gracious to tall men.
- That there is a restraining influence, ever since the fall of man, of the common grace of God upon the physical and ethical corruption of the world and of the heart of man, so that the principle of total depravity cannot work through,
- That there is a positive influence of God’s common grace upon the mind and will of man, whereby he is so improved that he can still live a positively good world-life.
The Christian Reformed Churches have officially adopted this Kuyperian conception of Common Grace because they teach a general favor of God to all mankind and not only to the elect, a restraint of sin in the life of the individual man and of society, and the performance of so-called civic righteousness by the unregenerate, without the regeneration operation of the Holy Spirit, as being good before God.
It is evident therefore that this theory of Common Grace conceives of matters in a dualistic sense and makes distinction between two spheres of life. On the one hand the Lord is gracious only to His people for His name’s sake in Christ Jesus. According to this view the Lord has elected His own, in Christ Jesus, from before the foundation of the world, and He has reprobated others unto eternal damnation. (We should bear in mind, however, that reprobation, and also election, of course, are being silenced or distorted more and more in the present day—is it not being openly taught today and advocated in The Banner that the Lord hated Esau because of evil, and that sin is the ground for reprobation?—this is exactly what the Arminians advocated at the time of the Synod of Dordrecht.) Christ, then, died only for His own. His death must be viewed as atoning, vicarious, substitutionary, only for the elect. Only these elect are called by God out of the darkness into His marvellous light, are renewed by the Spirit of Christ Jesus, and only they can do those works which according to the Catechism are rooted in a true and living faith, purpose the glory of God, and are according to the law of God. And only these elect of God; are led irresistibly by God unto the city which has foundation. In a special sense it is true, then, that the Lord loves and is gracious only to the elect given to Christ by the Father.
Alongside of and parallel with this sphere of life, and quite independent of it, is the other sphere, created by the conception of the theory of Common Grace. It is earthy, of this world, Dr. Kuyper, we know, declared that Common Grace was nesessary for Special Grace, that the realization of God’s counsel of redemption with respect to His people in Christ Jesus would have been impossible without the preservation and continuance of this world through Common Grace, for, had it not been for the intervention of common grace, the world would have perished and the elect would never have been born. Be this as it may, the theory of Common Grace as such, together with its implications, is plain. According to this theory God is favorably inclined to all mankind, bestows upon all men the things of this natural life as tokens of iHis favor and grace. Also according to this view, although it is true that God is ever realizing His counsel of election and reprobation so that all things must work together for the realization of His eternal Kingdom, there is at the same time a restraining influence, ever since the fall of man, of the common grace of the Lord upon the physical and ethical corruption of the world and upon the heart of man, so that the principle of total depravity cannot come to full manifestation. Man, therefore, is simply not as corrupt as he would, have been had this common grace of God not intervened. And, finally, Common Grace teaches not only the checking of sin but also a positive influence of God’s Spirit upon the mind and will of man, whereby he can do positively, in this world, that which is good before God.
The practical result of this reasoning is that a world-life has been created, which, although it is not rooted in faith and therefore does not purpose the glory of God, and is not according to the law of God, meets with Divine approval. It is no longer true that whatever is not of faith is sin. It is no longer true that, whatever does not purpose the glory of God must be condemned. It must no longer be maintained that we are to walk as a distinct people of the living God and that antithetically over against the world which lieth in darkness. The axiom, “In the world but not of the world”, is true only in an abstract, relative sense of the word. Next to the sphere of life of God’s special grace another sphere has been created, with God’s approval, in which all men can labor together unto the realization of a common goal, the improvement and betterment of this world without the atoning cross of Jesus Christ, our Lord.
This theory of Common Grace makes a separation in the law of God between the two tables of that law which are obviously one. One surely can not doubt or dispute the fact, that the second table of the Law of God refers to that sphere of life which concerns the operation of common grace. This second commandment speaks of our relation to bur neighbor. It certainly refers to the field of authority, and therefore dictates to us what our policy must, be in the relationship of parents and children, capital and labor, rulers and subjects, etc. It holds before us our duty with respect to our neighbor’s person, his goods, his wife. In other words, the law of God, in this second table, covers all human relationships; and established our calling with respect to our earthly life in all its phases. The theory of Common Grace would divorce this earthy sphere from the law of God, and teach us that man is able, without the operation of the regenerating Spirit of God, to lead a life of civic righteousness which meets with God’s approval. It would have us believe that we can live lives, as parents and children, as rulers and subjects, with respect to our neighbors’ possessions, without the love of the living God, but which can nevertheless be approved by the living God.
And what is the answer of the Lord to this conception? We must love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind. This is the first and the great commandment. This commandment of God stands indeed above everything else. And how could it be otherwise? What else could the alone living God, Who alone is God, Who loves Himself and seeks Himself eternally, demand of man, whose calling and obligation it is to serve and love that God with all his heart and soul? And because this is true the commandment to love the neighbor is essentially like unto it. It is not another commandment. It is the same commandment now as dictating our calling with respect to one another. We must love God and ourselves. We must not love God and the neighbor. Besides, this would be altogether impossible. We cannot love God and Mammon, or God and the world. We must love God first, always first. This is the first and the great commandment. And in that love of God we must love the neighbor. This implies that our earthly sphere, the sphere of “civic righteousness” must not be divorced from the first table. They are inseparable. It is the love and the glory of God which we must show forth, also in our relation to one another. All things must be done out of faith, unto the glory of God. Whatever falls short of this purpose is sin. Only then, when we obey the first table of the law, will also the second table be written in our hearts. And therefore we proclaim a civic righteousness, not as divorced from the love of God, but as resulting from it and rooted in it.