Prof. Hanko is professor emeritus of Church History and New Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.
Outstanding Features of the Book
While other volumes can be found with extensive quotes from Kuyper’s untranslated work on common grace, Sin and Grace contains the largest number of quotations of the as-yet-untranslated three-volume work which Kuyper wrote in defense of his views. Thus, the book has historical value because anyone who wishes to know what Kuyper actually taught on the subject of common grace can find it in this book in English in copious quotes and in Kuyper’s own language.
In close connection with the ready reference the book provides to Kuyper’s views, the book contains the most extensive analysis of this doctrine that is to be found anywhere in the English language.
The authors of Sin and Grace go to great lengths to show that Kuyper’s views were not only innovative and new to Reformed theology, but that in fact they were contrary to the historic Reformed position as outlined in the Reformed confessions. The authors show beyond doubt that Kuyperian common grace is contrary to Scripture above all. They do this by pointing out how few are the texts to which Kuyper appeals in support of his doctrine; and they do this by offering the correct exegesis of the few texts to which Kuyper appealed. There is much historical material in the book. There is also important exegetical material.
In proving the fact that the Reformed churches since the time of the sixteenth century Reformation held firmly to sovereign and particular grace, the authors give a ringing endorsement of the Secession of 1834. This is heart-warming, because even in Reformed circles the Secession is openly criticized. This endorsement is found, to cite but one example, in the following quote in which the Secession is referred to.
We learned to marvel at and regard Mother Church highly for her repeated effort to guard the principle of election by grace, regardless of disapproval, mockery, and scorn. At the roots of their spiritual life, the churches of the Secession, in our estimation, were thoroughly sound although they were limited in gifts, manpower, and means. They walked in the footsteps of Augustine, the Reformers, and the fathers of Dordt, according to the demands of their time, revering the gospel in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.
The authors refer to two characteristics in this endorsement. They refer to the strong emphasis on sovereign and particular grace found among most of the leaders of the Secession. And they refer to the fact that the Secession shook free from a State Church and established a free church within the Netherlands, i.e., free from government control. By this latter, the fathers of the Secession rooted the antithesis in sovereign election and reprobation, a decree of God which cut through the citizenry of the Netherlands itself and was such a high wall of separation that cooperation between the wicked and the righteous in that country was impossible. Kuyper broke down that wall and paved the way for cooperation between all the Dutch.
The book shows that even in Kuyper’s early days the doctrine of sovereign and particular grace was preserved. It was set down powerfully in Kuyper’s own book, Particular Grace, and was even originally the foundation for the establishment of the Free University in Amsterdam.
It is interesting that already in a book written in 1923 Revs. Danhof and Hoeksema prophesied that if Kuyperian common grace became the teaching of the church, worldliness would be the result.
[Common grace] brings the church and the world into mutual fellowship.
And, the authors claim, this is the intended purpose of common grace.
The very purpose of common grace is to maintain the relation between God’s people and the world. It directs itself toward the life of that world. It upholds the glory of God’s work of creation in that world. And it cooperates with particular grace to make possible the penetration of the Kingdom into that world.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book (and for PR readers, the most important) is the clear statement of the authors’ positive view of God’s purpose in creation and history. Although the book was written by men who had never given separation from the CRC a thought, the fundamentals of Herman Hoeksema’s theology are all to be found in a chapter in which the positive truth of particular grace is developed. All that the PRC have confessed in the seventy-five years of their existence, all these churches have maintained as a distinct and separate denomination, all is found in seminal form in this book. If anyone wishes to know what is distinctively PR, this book is must reading.
It is impossible to set down what that important chapter contains in a few brief paragraphs. Nevertheless, the heart and soul of the positive teachings of Herman Hoeksema are all there.
Hoeksema proceeds from the viewpoint that Scripture teaches that God’s purpose from the very outset of creation was the glory of His own name through the work of His own Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. He points out that all history, including the fall of our first parents, is subordinate to that one purpose. The glory of God through Christ is realized through the salvation of a church chosen from all eternity out of free grace, redeemed through the blood of the cross, rescued from this present evil world by irresistible grace merited on the cross and sovereignly given, and called to live in the world a life of the antithesis by spiritual separation from the wicked world. This antithesis is a separation expressed in a life lived out of regeneration by grace and manifested in a witness to the cause of God’s truth as revealed in sacred Scripture. To accomplish this, God makes His people His own covenant people, whom He forms through the Mediator of the covenant, whom He takes into his own covenant fellowship, and whom He calls to walk as His covenant people.
This is the explanation of history: Not a realization of the original cultural mandate through common grace in the world, but the final redemption of the whole creation through the work of Christ in the salvation of the elect by sovereign and particular grace. This world-and-life view is thoroughly biblical, reaches back into eternity, spans the centuries, giving meaning to all that happens, and carries us into the final perfection of heaven itself, where all shall be to God’s glory forever. This world-and-life view puts steel in the spines of those who suffer persecution for the cause of God, gives courage to those who seek to live an antithetical life, and demolishes every charge of Anabaptism.
There are many places in which the authors add spice to the book. One or two instances will suffice.
Hoeksema’s denial of common grace was well known in the churches and, even before the book was written, attracted criticism. Two critics are dealt with in the book.
The first critic was the editor of De Wachter, the Dutch denominational weekly paper. The editor criticized Hoeksema’s denial of common grace by attempting to show that Hoeksema was holding a position contrary to the fathers at Dordt. In support of this contention, the editor quoted from the opinions of various foreign delegates who submitted their opinions to the synod. These opinions “proved” that the fathers of Dordt believed that God’s common grace gave all men the light of nature, by which they were able to do good in the sight of God.
The trouble was that the editor quoted from foreign delegates, those chiefly from the province of Bremen, who were sympathetic to the Arminians and who did all they could to support the Arminian position. Their position was emphatically rejected by the synod itself.But this the editor did not tell his readers.
The second critic was Dr. V. Hepp from the Netherlands. A minister in the CRC had written Dr. Hepp (who held the chair of theology in the Free University) asking his advice on how to deal with a minister in the CRC, Hoeksema by name, who denied common grace.
Hepp’s suggestion was that the writer of the letter deal patiently with Hoeksema, because apparently Hoeksema had little knowledge of the Reformed faith as developed in the Netherlands over the centuries, Hoeksema was himself relatively young and did not yet know very much, and given time he would mature and learn more about these things and modify his views.
As Hoeksema recounts this, one can sense how he restrained himself and wrote only: “Dr. Hepp will excuse us if we say that this brought a smile to our faces.”
There are times when the book is eloquent in its defense of sovereign and particular grace; there are times when the book is intensely moving. Consider this paragraph:
It must not surprise us at all that throughout the ages it is precisely the doctrine of grace that has been contradicted. If we have learned from experience to taste that eternal election is meant for us, that we are God’s children, and that God wills to be our Friend; if we have learned that the bonds of God’s covenantal mercy have drawn us out of the estrangement and the bondage of sin and out of all the power of the enemy; then we have discovered indeed that the mystery of election is great. Then the humbled heart praises God’s mercies, and the mouth rejoices: “I am once again the possession of the Lord.” Then the Pelagian in us dies, and we, as far as we are concerned, desire to be saved only by grace. Then we understand men like David, Paul, Augustine, Luther, Ursinus, the Reformers, and the true martyrs. Then the doctrine of grace is indispensable for us but also gloriously pleasant.
Be sure to add this book to your library.