The Doctrine of Sin The Third Period 730-1517 A.D., Protestant Doctrine Of Sin According To Calvin

We concluded our preceding article by calling attention to Point Three of the Three Points of 1924 and expressing the conviction that this conception is in violent conflict with all the writings of Calvin. In II, 2, 6, toward the close of this paragraph, Calvin writes: “And this liberty is not diminished, although we are corrupt, and the slaves of sin, and capable of doing nothing but sin.” And in II, 2, 18. Calvin writes:

We now proceed to show what human reason can discover, when it comes to the kingdom of God, and to that spiritual wisdom, which consists chiefly in three things—to know God, His patterns) favor towards us, on which depends our salvation, and the method of regulating our lives according to the rule of the law. In the two first points, but especially in the second, the most sagacious of mankind are blinder than moles. I do not deny that some judicious and apposite observations concerning God may be found scattered in the writings of the philosophers; but they always betray a confused imagination. The Lord afforded them, as we have before observed, some slight sense of His Divinity, that, they might not be able to plead ignorance as an excuse for impiety, and sometimes impelled them to utter things, by the confession of which they might themselves be convinced. But they saw the objects presented to their view in such a manner, that by the sight they were not even directed to the truth, much less did they arrive at it; just as a man, who is traveling by night across a field, sees the coruscations of lightning extending for a moment far and wide, but with such au evanescent view, that so far from being assisted by them in proceeding on his journey, he is re-absorbed in the darkness of the night before he can advance a single step. Besides, those few truths, with which they, as it were, fortuitously besprinkle their books, with what numerous and monstrous falsehoods are they defiled!

In the light of these quotations, that there is no love, grace, mercy of God except as in Christ Jesus, and then only of Him in the Church of God, through the Spirit of sanctification, that the preaching of the gospel is of no benefit to the reprobates, that Common Grace does not restrain sin, neither enables him to do any good; yea, that the doctrine of the Three Points is not to be found within Calvin’s doctrine of Common Grace, we understand that Calvin’s doctrine in this question is very limited in scope. 

Let us note here the place which is ascribed in the present day to the doctrine of Common Grace, as set forth in the Three Points and taught subsequently by the advocates and defenders of this doctrine. First, as far as the Three Points are concerned. Common Grace is not merely a grace which extends to the realm of nature. But it also extends to the realm of grace. For God does not merely show grace to the elect, which, then, is particular, but also to the entire creation. The Common Grace of the present day is not only a grace found among the heathen outside the realm of grace, but it is definitely common, embracing also the reprobate. Besides, the Common Grace of today is surely a denial of Particular Grace. Actually, Common Grace consists of an offer of Particular Grace. God’s love and grace, always particular in the writings of Calvin, are meant by the Lord for all men. Secondly, according to late leaders such as H. Bavinck and A. Kuyper, Common Grace is the basis for Special Grace. And another wrote once that Calvin never tires of speaking of God’s Common Grace to all men. In fact, Common Grace is greater in scope than Particular Grace. Particular Grace extends only to the elect, but Common Grace is the basis for the Particular, and extends to all men. In fact, this Common Grace would also reach out to the godless into all eternity, for the gospel is a well-meaning offer of salvation in Christ to all. 

Is it any wonder that a church, advocating and teaching a theory of Common Grace, should proclaim a social gospel, and that more and more this social gospel is being preached today. Should we be too surprised when a social gospel is increasingly receiving the emphasis, proclaiming a universal fatherhood of God and a universal brotherhood of men, calling attention to segregation and integration, social inequalities and injustices, also nationally and internationally, and setting forth a remedy in which all men can share and which can make this world a better place in which to live? Does not God love all men? This is surely a universal fatherhood of God. And if God loves all men, should not all men love one another? More and more the fundamental truths of Christ’s particular atonement and of the Kingdom of Heaven as antithetically opposed to the kingdom of darkness and of this world are being silenced and replaced by a social gospel which can be of benefit to the whole world, without the Christ and without His cross. 

What a tremendous difference we notice in Calvin’s Doctrine of Common Grace. Calvin’s Common Grace extends only to the realm of nature. And also in this connection the reformer speaks of a common and particular grace, in the sense that some persons are more richly gifted then others. But when Calvin speaks of the realm of grace, then he maintains an essential distinction, expressed on page 62 of Calvin’s Calvinism, namely that the redeemed are distinguished from the children of destruction exactly by grace, and we quote:

In a word, most true is that which Augustine testifies: “That the redeemed are distinguished from the children of perdition by grace alone, which redeemed ones that common mass of original corruption would have gathered to the same perdition but for the free grace of God. Whence it follows, that the grace of God to be preached is that by which He makes men His elect, not that by which He finds them as such.

God loves only His people in Christ Jesus. Outside of that Church of God everything is curse. Then the gospel is a savor of death unto death, and never anything else. And, according to Calvin, Common Grace, consisting of external gifts, is found alone among the godless. In the sphere of Divine grace, the godly and the ungodly are distinguished exactly by grace, and they have nothing in common. We would not expect anything else from Calvin, the defender of God’s sovereign will over against Pelagianism. It is true that Calvin speaks of a common grace to all men in the realm of nature, but he confuses the grace of God with the things, and the Lord bestows upon them only temporal mercy. 

This view of Calvin receives added emphasis when we note the heresies which Calvin opposed. 

First, he opposed the heresy that all good gifts were ascribed to the devil. That God was the source of all these things was denied. It is for this reason that Calvin writes the following in II, 2, 16: “Yet let us not forget that these are most excellent gifts of the Divine Spirit, which for the common benefit of mankind He dispenses to whomsoever He pleases.” It has been contended that Calvin never tires of writing that God’s mercy, favor and goodness are bestowed upon all. Fact is, however, that also these thoughts of the reformer must be viewed in the light of Calvin’s defense of God’s sovereignty. Over against this heresy, that these gifts were ascribed to the devil, Calvin maintains that the sovereign Lord is the Source of all good and He alone. How strange it would be that Calvin, the man of God’s sovereign election, who consistently separated the church and the world, should rejoice particularly in a favor of God to all men! Incidentally, to emphasize that all good gifts are from the Lord, Calvin, in the paragraph from which we quoted, in II, 2, 16, writes that it was necessary that the Spirit of God should infuse into Bezaleel and Aholiab the understanding and skill requisite for the construction of the tabernacle. 

Secondly, Calvin opposed the Pelagian conception which denied man’s corruption and maintained an election upon foreseen faith. That Calvin opposed this heresy bitterly is acknowledged by all. But we must not forget that this sovereign election was also the key-note of God’s election as-a nation. Repeatedly he asserts that also this election of Israel as a nation was a proof of God’s sovereignty. Besides, we must note that God’s so-called Common Grace was not a burning issue in those days. And it is simply a fact that Calvin was a wonder of God’s grace in the midst of an age of blindness and heresy. 

Calvin’s Common Grace, although broad in content, is nevertheless very limited in scope. It is very limited because, as the portion shared by elect and reprobate, it is to be limited only to the realm of nature. It is very limited because it is to be found only in temporal things, and is of no meaning for that which is spiritual and eternal. And this grace is very limited also because it is never the key-note of Calvin’s writings. In the present day, they speak jubilantly of God’s Common Grace; Calvin, however, rejoices in the doctrine of God’s Special Grace. Today they say that we must not concern ourselves with God’s hidden will; Calvin declares that the revealed will must be explained in the light of God’s hidden will. 

Finally, what is the Divine purpose of this common grace as set forth in the writings of Calvin? It is peculiar of Calvin that he, in connection with his doctrine of Common Grace, always maintains the doctrine of God’s sovereign grace, and that he always seeks the purpose of Common Grace in this, that the Lord maintains His righteousness, and all men are rendered inexcusable before God. 

This question, or rather its answer is called in the present day a problem which cannot be solved, and will ever remain a problem here below. Today they are afraid to proclaim the clear teaching of Ps. 73. They are correct when they declare that Asaph’s problem consisted in the prosperity of the wicked. But they err when they declare that Asaph’s problem was solved when he trusted in the Lord but that the problem, as such, remained unsolved. In the present day what is revealed is separated from that which is eternal. And they do not seek the solution by comparing the things that are seen with the things that are eternal and unseen. 

This failure to solve the problem of Asaph might be understandable if the Scriptures denied us this solution. The Common Grace theorists would have us believe that there are two tracks running through this world and that these tracks are parallel. They prefer to speak of two spheres, the earthy and the heavenly, and declare that they cannot be reconciled. They would have us believe that an offer of salvation to all who hear the gospel may be in conflict with God’s eternal decree of election and reprobation, but hasten to add that this conflict is not real but only as existing in our defective minds. The conflict lies only in our thinking. And I repeat: this would be understandable if only the Scriptures supported this contention. But such is not the case. The Word of God does not separate the things that are present and earthy from the things that are eternal, and surely teaches us to view them in the light of each other. And that this is also the position of Calvin we will see, that Lord willing, in our following article. Then we will briefly point to this.