In the same number of the Reformed Journal from which we quoted in our last issue, the Rev. Daane has a second article under the heading “Common Grace versus Individualism”. In that article he expresses the very much mistaken idea that our conception of grace is individualistic. To do him justice I will quote rather extensively from his article.
“The history of religious thought shows that the doctrine of common grace has arisen only in the area of Reformed Theology. It did not, and could not, arise in Liberal or Fundamentalistic Christianity, for the simple reason that neither Liberalism nor Fundamentalism believes in the covenant. Both these versions of Christianity believe that God deals with men exclusively as individuals. Where God’s dealing with men is regarded as a strictly individual affair, there is no question as to what the elect and the reprobate have in common. There is here no question of common grace.
“Reformed theology, however, takes the idea of the covenant seriously. It believes that God, as Triune, is covenantal in His very nature; that man, created in God’s image, is also covenantal in his very nature; and that God, in harmony with His and man’s nature, always deals with mankind in terms of a covenant. Thus, God deals with the whole mass of mankind through the covenant of works, and with a large group of people through the covenant of grace. From this it is plain that God deals with mankind not first of all as so many individuals, but as a group.
“But Reformed theology believes also in election and reprobation. This means that within the large group there are both elect and reprobate,—individuals whom God intends to save and individuals whom God does not intend to save. At this point the question of common grace arises. God deals with mankind in terms of a group and has a general attitude toward the whole group. Yet the group contains elect and reprobate, toward each of which He has a special attitude. What, then, do the elect and reprobate, as members of a common group, have in common ? This is the question of common grace—a question that can arise only within a theology that takes seriously both the doctrine of the Covenant and the doctrine of election and reprobation.
“Rev. Herman Hoeksema claims to believe in the covenant of grace. Nevertheless, in common with the Fundamentalist and the Liberal, he believes essentially that God deals with mankind as individuals. For, in Hoeksema’s thought, God does not first of all deal with elect and reprobate together, in their covenantal historical relatedness. God has no common attitude toward both elect and reprobate. Consequently, Hoeksema denies both common grace and a common wrath. God only loves the elect, and He only hates the reprobate.
“It is a fact, however, that in the actual history of the covenant (and the Church), the elect and reprobate are related to each other. They are a group. But for Hoeksema that means nothing with respect to God’s attitude. According to Hoeksema’s thought, God does not deal with a group, but only with elect and reprobate individuals. Hence, for him, the “promise” is particular, and not general. It is only for the elect person; not for the reprobate. For that reason the question as to what baptism can mean for the reprobate infant would appear to be most disturbing for Hoeksema. And though it may be submerged, it is the very present question in the controversy now going on about “conditional theology” in the Protestant Reformed Church.
“Against this religious individualism—which Hoeksema shares with both Liberalism and Fundamentalism—Reformed theology maintains that God deals with mankind first as a group and only secondly with the individual as an individual. And even then He deals with the individual as a member of the group. This, Reformed theology maintains, is taking the covenant seriously. To think of the individual apart from the group, and to think of the elect and the reprobate out of the relationship to the covenant, spells an unbiblical individualism.”
How the Rev. Daane can write this is a mystery to me.
Individualism is nominalism. And to nominalism we always have been opposed. Individualism is Pelagianism. And Pelagianism we hate. If anyone has always been opposed to individualism, and instead proposed the organic idea, it is I. This I have always emphasized. This can be plain already from the definition of the problem of common grace which I offered in the preceding issue of the Standard Bearer. Even there we define the problem of common grace as concerning the question of God’s attitude over against and influence upon the whole of created things and their mutual connection and development in time, in connection with and in harmony with God’s counsel in general, predestination, with election and reprobation, the realization of God’s eternal covenant, etc. Always I emphasized that the problem of common grace concerns our conception of the attitude over against and operation upon of God with respect to the organic whole of temporal things, in connection with the counsel and good pleasure of God. I certainly, therefore, have no individualistic, particularistic conception of the tremendous work of redemption by the grace of God. Neither do I involve merely the church of God, as the body of Christ, which itself is already an organic conception, as the new mankind. This is indeed done by Dr. A. Kuyper. He does have an eye for the fact that God did not elect a number of individuals, to redeem them as severed branches of the tree of our race, but that the organism, as body of Christ, as the actual mankind, is saved and glorified by God. But he does not further apply this thought to the organic whole of all creatures. It is for that reason that Dr. Kuyper really presents the history of the world dualistically. On the one hand, He saves His church, the elect. But on the other hand, God also realizes what he calls His original creation ordinance. He presents the matter as if a breach, an essential breach, was made by Satan in the work of God, and that sin and death would actually hinder God in the realization of His original creation ordinance, were it not for the fact that at this juncture common grace intervened restrainingly. Unto this end he presents God as concluding a covenant of friendship with the ungodly world outside of Christ, in order that sinful man may choose God’s side against Satan. This is, according to him, really the covenant of God in Noah. Because of this, man may live a relatively good world life from the principle of a certain righteousness which was left him by common grace. All of history really becomes an interim. God carries out the covenant of His election, and saves the new mankind; but parallel with this line of the realization of God’s eternal covenant runs the line of common grace, along which God realizes His original creation ordinance. This is not individualism, but it is nevertheless dualism. And over against this we include all creatures in mutual connection and relation within the circle of the organic conception, and then make the distinction between the elect kernel and the reprobate shell. We maintain that upon the whole of created things in organic connection with each other, an operation of God’s grace, but also of His wrath, proceeds according to the counsel of His will and according to the nature of the creature in its own place in the whole.
Hence, our conception is certainly not individualistic.
On the contrary, we proceed from the Scriptural idea that all creatures are one. God in the beginning did not create an aggregate of individual creatures, independent of one another, but a world, a kosmos, a harmonic, organic whole. God is one. The world is also one. In the midst of the earthly creation stood man, who had been formed after God’s own image, so that in a creaturely way he resembled God in true knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. This man stood at the head of creation, as being over the earthly world. And, he stood in God’s covenant of friendship from the beginning. This covenant certainly was not a certain covenant of works, in which man could merit and attain to eternal life on condition of obedience. But it was a living relation of friendship, in which God was the friend of man, and man was the friend- servant of the living God. In that covenant relation man stood as the friend-servant of the Most High, to represent Him in the earthly creation, take up in his own heart the praise and honor of all creatures, to interpret and express that praise and honor before the face of God, love the Lord his God with all his heart and mind and soul and strength, and, in the name of the Lord his God and according to His will rule over all creatures. He was officebearer, prophet, priest, and king,—with the commission, the command, and also the right, the power and also the authority to subject creation unto himself, and to cultivate it. In the heart of man lay the spiritual, ethical center of God’s creation. And through that central point the entire creation was united in love with God Himself. Also the creatures, each according to its nature, were taken up in God’s covenant of friendship and shared in the good favor of the Lord. And also those creatures, sustained by God’s omnipresent power, stood through man and each in its own place and according to its own nature in the service of God. All creatures must serve man as their king, in order that man may serve his God.
In this harmonic, organic relation of things to God a breach was struck by sin. Only we must immediately emphasize the truth that the breach was struck in the spiritual, ethical center of the earthly kosmos, that is, in the heart of man. Man violated the covenant of God. The break is therefore spiritual, ethical in character. An essential change m the relation of things was not brought about by sin. Sin can never have as its result that creation would be annihilated, neither that the mutual relation between the creatures and the relation of the creatures to man would be essentially changed, so that, for instance, creation would have been turned into a chaos, if common grace had not intervened, as Dr. Kuyper would have it. To be sure, the creature bears in connection with man the curse of God in this present time. It is subject to vanity. But the unity of creation was certainly not broken. The natural organic affinity continued undisturbed. To be sure, fallen man became very limited in his gifts and powers and natural light, so that he has retained merely a remnant of that natural light. But even in his fallen state he retained his position as the head of creation. And although it cannot be said that he is still officebearer of God, and that therefore he has the power and the right and the privilege to serve in God’s house, he certainly continues to stand before the demand in his position in creation and with all his gifts and means to serve the Lord his God in love. However, he cannot, will not, and cannot will to serve his God in love. For a spiritual, ethical breach was made in the relation of man to God. The life of his heart was subverted into its very opposite. The working of the image of God, whereby he with mind and will and heart and all his strength went out to God in the state of rectitude, was turned into its reverse. It is not quite correct merely to state that man through the fall lost the image of God. It is far less correct to say that he lost that image only in part. If this last thought is the result of the distinction of the image of God in a narrower and broader sense, it is better to abandon this distinction. But it is correct to say that the image of God turned about into its very opposite. His light became darkness. His knowledge changed into the lie. His righteousness became unrighteousness. And His holiness became impurity in all his affections and rebellion in all his willing and inclinations. His love changed into enmity against God. Sin is not merely a defect or lack, but privatio actuosa. And the servant and covenant friend of the Lord became a friend and covenant ally of the devil. Also thus, however, the Lord continues to sustain and govern creation by His providential power. And the entire organic existence of things remained essentially unaffected. If now in this state of things no further change is brought about, then the final result of history will be that the completed spiritual, ethical fruit of the life of creation is the opposite of that which it should be according to God’s creation ordinance.
However, although all this was affected through the willful disobedience of the first man, it must never be forgotten that it all took place according to the counsel and the will of God. Accidents, from the viewpoint of God, never occur. God is God. He is in heaven, and does all His good pleasure. Not merely in spite of the attempts of Satan and sin, but even through those wicked attempts, at all times He proceeds directly to His goal. History is no interim. Never is God hindered by the creature. With Him there is no change or shadow of turning. Also the fall, therefore, is wholly according to the counsel and will of God, and it serves Him in the realization of His purpose. He had provided something better for His people. His objective, His final objective, was not attained with the rest of creation, with the rest of the seventh day. That rest was but a figure of the eternal rest in the heavenly tabernacle of God, in the eternal kingdom, in which all things will be united in Christ as their head, when all things in heaven and on earth will eternally be concentrated in the heart of Christ. For He, according to the epistle to the Colossians,, is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creatures, and that, to be sure, as the firstborn from the dead, as the head of the body, the beginning, in order that in Him all things should be united, and that He in all things should have the preeminence. And through Him all things were created, that are in heaven and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones or dominions or principalities or powers, all things were created by Him and for Him. For it pleased the Father that in Him should all the fullness dwell. Thus it is according to God’s eternal good pleasure. The eternal covenant of friendship must be established in Christ and be realized by Him unto its final, eternal and heavenly destiny, when the tabernacle of God shall be with men. Therefore God immediately at the fall maintains His covenant in spite of Satan and sin, but that covenant now as eternally firmly established in Christ. Through the realization of that covenant immediately after the fall the friendship with Satan in the heart of man is brought to naught. And through the operation of grace enmity is wrought in the heart of man against Satan. Here, however, we face the decree of predestination. Not all the children of Adam have been predestined to enter into the eternal covenant of God’s friendship. Grace follows the line of election. Only the kernel is affected by grace. The shell is rejected. It is exactly through this that the antithesis is realized in the midst of the world. Fact is that also now the creatures in the natural sense continue to exist in organic relationship and connection. Also grace, even as sin, does not bring about an essential change in the temporal existence of things. Out of one blood God created the entire human race. From a mere natural viewpoint all men are one. They are not mere individuals. Man ever continues to stand in organic connection with the whole race and with the entire kosmos in the midst whereof he moves and develops. There is, therefore, no individualism. Nor is there dualism. Nature and grace are no contrasts. And even now we may remark that grace can never become the cause for man who became partaker of it to go out of the world. To be sure, the antithesis of sin and grace is called into being by the breach of sin and by the entrance of grace, the latter developing along the line of election. All things continue to exist and develop according to their own nature, sustained by God’s almighty power, in natural affinity with one another. But amidst this temporal existence of things there arises and develops the spiritual, ethical antithesis of sin and grace, of light and darkness, of the love of God and enmity against Him, of life and death, of heaven and hell. And through all this God does His own good pleasure, and He leads all things to their eternal destiny, the eternal separation of chaff and wheat, the eternal realization of His covenant of friendship.
From all this it ought to be perfectly evident to the Rev. Daane that we do not teach a certain individualism, but are quite averse to this conception, and emphasize the organic relationship of all things. The Rev. Daane asks the question: “What, then, do the elect and reprobate, as members of a common group, have in common?” Our answer is: they have all things in common in this present world, except grace. This is the truth of Scripture, as I am ready to prove. And this is also the plain truth of our Reformed Confessions. Grace is never common. The sinful and corrupt creature can qua talis never be pleasing to God. But outside of Christ he is the object of His dislike, wrath and indignation, hatred and curse. Only as that creature has been incorporated into and is eternally beheld in Christ, can it be pleasing to God and the object of His sovereign favor. Only from that eternal counsel of election can the grace of God in Christ go out to him. That this is true is very evident from all that our Confessions teach. In the Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 10, we read: “Will God suffer such disobedience and rebellion to go unpunished? By no means; but is terribly displeased with our original as well as actual sins; and will punish them in his just judgment temporally and eternally, as he hath declared, ‘Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things, which are written in the book of the law, to do them.’ ” And again, in Canons III, IV, 1-3, we read: “Man was originally formed after the image of God. His understanding was adorned with a true and saving knowledge of his Creator, and of spiritual things; his heart and will were upright; all his affections pure; and the whole man was holy; but revolting from God by the instigation of the devil, and abusing the freedom of his own will, he forfeited these excellent gifts; and on the contrary entailed on himself blindness of mind, horrible darkness, vanity and perverseness of judgment, became wicked, rebellious, and obdurate in heart and will, and impure in his affections.
“Man after the fall begat children in his own likeness. A corrupt stock produced a corrupt offspring. Hence all the posterity of Adam, Christ only excepted, have derived corruption from their original parent, not by imitation, as the Pelagians of old asserted, but by the propagation of a vicious nature.
“Therefore all men are conceived in sin, and by nature children of wrath, incapable of saving good, prone to evil, dead in sin, and in bondage thereto, and without the regenerating grace of the Holy Spirit, they are neither able nor willing to return to God, to reform the depravity of their nature, nor to dispose themselves to reformation.”
And do not say that this doctrine of total depravity and of the natural man being nothing but a child of wrath is changed by the so-called “glimmerings of natural light” which man after the fall still possesses. For in the same article of the Canons, III, IV, 4, which speaks of these glimmerings of natural light, we are taught as follows: “But so far is this light of nature from being sufficient to bring him to a saving knowledge of God, and to true conversion, that he is incapable of using it aright even in things natural and civil. Nay further, this light, such as it is, man in various ways renders wholly polluted, and holds it in unrighteousness, by doing which he becomes inexcusable before God.” And not only this, but also Scripture teaches the same truth throughout. To quote only Romans 1:18: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.”
We claim, therefore, that while the organism of the human race as such, outside of Christ, is the object of His displeasure and wrath, the church, the body of Christ, the organism of the elect, is the object of His favor and good pleasure in Jesus Christ our Lord. There proceeds out of the eternal good pleasure of God in Christ an operation of grace upon the elect kernel of our race, in connection with the organic whole of all creatures. And by that wonder of grace that elect kernel in Christ, always in connection with the whole of things, is redeemed, saved, liberated, glorified, lifted up out of darkness and guilt and sin and death and curse and vanity into the state of heavenly glory, the glory of God’s covenant of friendship. On the other hand, as we said, the wrath of God abides upon the reprobate shell, outside of Christ. And an operation proceeds from God’s wrath, indignation, and repulsion and hardening, whereby this reprobate shell becomes ripe for destruction.
In all this God proceeds directly to His goal. He never takes a detour. He never retraces His steps. His work is never frustrated. His purpose is never thwarted at any moment in history. This development and operation of God’s grace and aversion, drawing and casting off, blessing and cursing, softening and hardening, continues constantly according to His eternal good pleasure and in connection with the operation of His providence and the organic development of our race. In the actual sense of the word one can therefore never speak of a checking of this process. To be sure, the end does not appear immediately at the beginning. The development, or, if you will, the process of grace and sin is according to God’s good pleasure and connected by His providential management with the organic existence of all things. But that process is not restrained. It proceeds as rapidly as possible. For Christ comes quickly, and His reward is with Him, to give unto every man according as his work shall be.
It ought to be plain to anyone that can read that this conception is quite contrary to the idea of individualism. Instead we offer the organic development of all things in connection with the final goal, the eternal covenant of friendship, when the tabernacle of God shall be with men. And we maintain that upon the whole of created things in organic connection with each other, an operation of God’s grace, but also of His aversion, of election, but also of reprobation, proceeds according to the counsel of His will and according to the nature of the creature, each in its own place in the whole.
In that sense we also understand that God loves the world in its elect kernel, so that whosoever believeth shall be saved, but the wrath of God abideth upon whosoever believeth not. Thus we understand that Christ is the head of the church, but also the beginning of the creation of God, and therefore also the end, the firstborn of all creatures and the firstborn from the dead, in whom all the fullness should dwell, and by whom and for whom all things were created. In that sense we understand that God purposed by Himself to gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and which are on the earth.. Then we can also understand the covenant with Noah, which certainly is no separate covenant with the world outside of Christ, but God’s eternal covenant of friendship revealed to the church as recently delivered by the flood. With the elect kernel in Christ, in connection with the whole of created things, Noah becomes heir of the world by the grace of God. The sign thereof we have in the all-embracing rainbow, painted by the sunlight upon the dark clouds. The covenant of friendship in Christ Jesus our Lord is established with the organism of the elect.
From the above it ought to be perfectly plain that the Rev. Daane errs when he accuses us of individualism.
And now, once more I invite a discussion with the Rev. Daane on the subject of common grace, provided he bases his discussion with me on the ground of Scripture and our Reformed Confessions.