In our May 1 issue we posed the above question and promised to demonstrate by argument and evidence that the answer to the question is indeed a Yes-answer.
Before we produce Exhibit No. 1 in the case, we wish to call attention to one more facet of this question by way of introduction, There are those, both within and outside the Christian Reformed Church, who, on the one hand, do not approve of various tendencies toward worldliness and Arminianism and those evils which are sometimes rather vaguely referred to by that catch-all term liberalism. Their claim is that these ills are not as such the necessary outgrowth and fruit of the Three Points of 1924, but that they are rather due to a misuse and misapplication of the theory of common grace.
Now, of course, the position referred to really presupposes that there is a good and proper use and application of a bad doctrine possible, as well as a misuse and misapplication. And with this I cannot possibly agree. I hold, and the Protestant Reformed Churches have always held, that common grace, as embodied in the Three Points of 1924, is a bad doctrine. And a bad doctrine can, of course, never produce good fruits. A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit. And for the same reason I also hold that there is an intrinsic relationship between many of the current ills in the Christian Reformed Church and the theory of common grace as it was adopted in 1924. At this I hinted when in my previous editorial I made the point that common grace is the underlying issue. If my position was not clear, then let it be clear now. It is this: the current ills (for example, the worldliness referred to in Rev. VanBaren’s lecture, May 15 issue) are not due to a possible misuse and misapplication of the theory of common grace, but are a necessary outgrowth and consequence of the doctrines of the Three Points. As surely as the church never stands still with respect to its doctrine and walk, so surely common grace was bound to bear its fruits, practically speaking, in a virtually complete denial of the spiritual, ethical antithesis. And it is a rather striking fact that this has become true in our day in large measure both with respect to the official pronouncements of the church and with respect to the actual life and walk of many of its members. A walk hand in hand with the world has at the same time found justification in official synodical pronouncements which even literally appeal to the theory of comma n grace.
Hence, those who want to appeal to a possible misuse of common grace have a double duty incumbent upon them First of all, they must show that common grace is in itself a good, sound, Scriptural, Reformed doctrine. And I am referring, of course, to common grace as set forth in the Three Points, which have to this day not been repudiated. And, secondly, they must demonstrate that this allegedly good doctrine has a good and legitimate application and not necessarily bad results.
But I would also call attention to the fact that the Synod of 1924 seemed to fear a misuse and misapplication of the doctrines of the Three Points. That Synod adopted a “Testimony,” which, however, was never actually sent to the churches, but was only buried in the printed Acts. It will be worth our while to pay attention for a moment to that “Testimony.” For unintentionally that “Testimony” is almost prophetic. It reads as follows:
“Now synod expressed itself on three points that were at stake in the denial of Common Grace and thereby condemned the entire disregard for this doctrine, she feels constrained at the same time to warn our Churches and especially our leaders earnestly against all one-sided emphasis on and misuse of the doctrine of Common Grace. It cannot be denied that there exists a real danger in this respect. When Doctor Kuyper wrote his monumental work on this subject he revealed that he was not unconscious of the danger that some would be seduced by it to lose themselves in the world. And even now history shows that this danger is more than imaginary. And also Doctor Bavinck reminded us of this danger in his Dogmatics.
“When we consider the direction in which the spirit of the time develops round about us, it cannot be denied that our present danger lies more in the direction of worldly-mindedness than of false seclusion. Liberal theology of the present time really obliterates the distinction between the Church and the world. It is more and more emphasized by many that the great significance of the Church lies in her influence upon social life. The consciousness of a spiritual-ethical antithesis becomes increasingly vague in the minds of many, to make room for an indefinite notion of a general brotherhood. The preaching of the Word concerns itself largely with the periphery of life and does not penetrate into its spiritual centre. The doctrine of particular grace in Christ is more and more pushed to the background. There is a strong tendency to bring theology into harmony with a science that stands in the service of infidelity. Through the agency of the press and various—inventions and discoveries, which as such are, undoubtedly, to be regarded as good gifts of God, the sinful world is to a great extent carried into our Christian homes. (Is not this entire paragraph a graphic description of our own times? HCH)
“Because of all these and similar influences, exerted upon us from every side, it is peremptorily necessary that the Church keep watch over the fundamentals; and that, though she also maintains the above mentioned three points, she vindicates the spiritual-ethical antithesis tooth and nail. May she never permit her preaching to degenerate into mere social treatises or literary productions. Let her be vigilant that Christ, and He crucified and risen, always remains the heart of the preaching. Constantly she must maintain the principle that the people of God are a peculiar people, livingfrom their proper root, the root of faith. With holy zeal she must constantly send forth the call to our people, especially to our youth: ‘And be ye not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.’ With the blessing of the Lord this will keep our churches from worldly-mindedness, that extinguishes the flame of spiritual ardor and deprives the Church of her power and beauty.”
Concerning this Testimony the late Rev. Herman Hoeksema commented in his The Protestant Reformed Churches in America, pp. 91, 92, as follows:
“What shall we say about this testimony?
“It proves clearly how conscious the synod was of theconflict between the so-called doctrine of Common Grace and the maintenance of the spiritual-ethical antithesis of which this Testimony speaks. Not only is this consciousness evident from the very fact that she deemed it necessary to accompany the declaration of the three points by this Testimony, but she also plainly expresses this consciousness of the existing conflict in the words: ‘and that, though she also maintains the above mentioned three points, she vindicates the spiritual ethical antithesis tooth and nail.’ And in this respect the synod was right. She is sadly mistaken, however, when she labors under the impression that a pious testimony will prevent the influence of a false doctrine. The false doctrine is the theory; of common grace, even in as far as it is officially adopted in the three points. The inevitable result of that doctrine is obliteration of the distinction between the Church and the world, light and darkness, Christ and Belial, righteousness and unrighteousness. And the practical fruit is worldliness.” (emphasis added)
With the above we agree completely.
Is it not plain that common grace is in its very nature a denial of the antithesis? Is that not the very meaning of the word “common?” Does not this doctrine exactly mean that God Himself looks upon men “in common” in His favor—whether that be for time only or for eternity? And does this not mean that God Himself “obliterates” His own distinction between church and world, light and darkness, Christ and Belial, elect and reprobate?
And if God Himself does so, why should not the church follow suit?
And if the church follows suit, then what else can be the result than that the church becomes like the world than that which is described in the second paragraph of the Testimony quoted above?
What is described there has indeed come to pass in our day very clearly.