It appears that the Rev. H.J. Kuiper, editor of the Banner, is aware of the fact that there are some in his churches who are slowly waking up to the truth that there is a plain contradiction between the doctrines of Common Grace and Total Depravity. And because the Rev. Kuiper is a true son of the Christian Reformed Churches he is not going to allow the pet child, called Common Grace, born in 1924, to be tagged—illegitimate. The editor of the Banner attempts to defend both of these doctrines in a series of editorials. We hesitated to comment on his articles until he was finished, but now that he has apparently completed them, we wish to call the attention of our readers to some of the salient points he offers in defense of both doctrines.
The editor tells his readers that he is not averse to a brotherly discussion on the doctrine of Common Grace. Of course, he wouldn’t like at all to see the discussion end up in a violent controversy and maybe another split in his churches. It was, no doubt, for that reason that he and the leaders in the Christian Reformed Churches have remained almost silent all these years on the subject. But now that several heads are bobbing up in his churches that refuse to be duped into silence any longer and are crying for a review of this doctrine, he cannot do much about it except to make some kind of a defense. And because his churches have traditionally embraced also the doctrine of Total Depravity, he must defend also that doctrine, for he sees how the wind is blowing. If Common Grace must be maintained, then Total Depravity must go. And if Total Depravity is maintained, then Common Grace is foolishness. Kuiper must by all means save Common Grace and at the same time keep the name REFORMED for his churches, and therefore, he must maintain the doctrine of Total Depravity also.
Rev. Kuiper calls the two doctrines “antipodes” and he explains: “we call them antipodes, not because the one is opposed to the other but because they denote truths which seem to be contradictory. In reality the one complements the other. These two are a good example of balance, so characteristic of the churches that hold to the Reformed creed.” He says further, “These two doctrines are related to each other in somewhat the same way as divine sovereignty and human responsibility, or the uni-personality and the two natures of Christ. In each case the one at first sight cancels the other. In reality, however, and in each instance the one is necessary for a correct delineation and the consistent maintenance of the other.” Kuiper evidently thinks that unless you maintain the doctrine of common grace you cannot explain the outward good the unregenerate do and you will have to call these “natural virtues” nothing but vices, or deny the doctrine of total depravity.
Now, he doesn’t want to call the, “natural virtues” of the ungodly “vices”, nor does he want to deny total depravity. So to get out of this conflicting circumstance he must find some way to make the “antipodes” come together . And that is what he tries to do in his series of articles. He is going to prove to you that the natural man is totally depraved. Then he is going to show you how to explain the good in the totally depraved.
He asks first of all: Does the sinner hate God? and implied in this question, of course, he also includes the neighbor. He warns that we must not play around with the truth expressed in the Catechism which asserts that man is “prone by nature to hate God and his neighbor.” We must not say that “prone” means that man has merely an inclination to hate God, but in reality he doesn’t. That certainly cannot be the meaning of the Catechism. No, man actually is a hater of God and his neighbor by nature. Kuiper asserts emphatically that “according to Scripture the depravity of the unregenerate extends to their entire inner life: their emotions, their will, and their intellect. Their emotional life is governed basically by enmity toward God and man; their will is enslaved by sin so that they are free only to do evil but not to do good; and their minds are darkened so that they cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God.” “Total depravity means that the sinner is not just a potential but an actual enemy of God and his neighbor; that this hatred is always present in his soul though he may not always be conscious of the fact and though his enmity does not always come to the surface.” And Kuiper makes bold to prove this both from Scripture and the writings of theologians of the past, among whom are Ursinus and Hodge.
Man’s total depravity,” according to the editor, “includes three things: enmity against God and man, total inability, and spiritual blindness.” When he speaks of “total inability” he also explains what he means by this vague expression. He says, “It is wrong to conclude from the word ‘total’ that man’s corruption, in his natural state, is complete only extensively, meaning that all the faculties of his soul have been touched by sin, but not that these are wholly polluted and perverted.” He insists that the term “total depravity” means “total loss.” However, he hastens to add that “total loss” need not mean complete destruction, and total depravity does not signify that every man is as wicked as he possibly can be or that all men are equally corrupt. He uses a rather cute illustration to show what he means by this. It was suggested to him by the dictionary he used to determine the exact meaning of the word “total.” In the insurance business the term “total loss” is used to describe the results of a fire or flood that has damaged a building and its contents, when all the contents of such a burned or flooded building have become valueless to the owner thereof. So it is with total depravity. “Not only has every faculty of the soul been touched with the pollution of sin. All its powers have been rendered valueless in the sight of God, the Owner. All are worthless in his sight, according to the perfect standard of his law.”
But Kuiper doesn’t stop there with his illustration. He says further, “On the other hand, the “total loss” of goods through fire does not necessarily imply that every damaged article has been consumed by the flames and burned to a crisp. Some of them, though valueless to the owner, may have value for someone else, let us say a dealer in second hand goods. Or a neighbor may desire them for repair material or at least for kindling wood. Total loss need not mean complete destruction.” And then he makes the statement we quoted before: “Thus total depravity does not signify that every man is as wicked as he possibly can be or that all men are equally corrupt. As streams from the fire hose have prevented the house and its contents from being completely consumed by the flames, so the common grace of God prevents the sinner’s total moral disintegration and makes it possible for him to be of some use in the world. And so we may thank God that life on earth is far more tolerable than the existence of the damned in hell.”
What Kuiper means by this is clearly stated in the Banner of January 1, where he declares: “though total depravity does not mean absolute depravity, it does mean that in principle the sinner is thoroughly corrupt. Yet he has not reached the extreme limit of wickedness. The development of the principle of sin within him is being retarded by the common grace of God. We can elucidate this by a comparison with the Christian in his spiritual condition here on earth. In principle he is already holy and sinless. John says that he who is born of God sinneth not. Nevertheless, as long as he is in this life he is far removed from the full development of that principle (Romans 7)
Now, striking it is that when Rev. Kuiper wants to prove that man is totally depraved he quotes the Scriptures and the Confessions, which, of course, throughout teach this doctrine in no uncertain terms. But when it comes to the invention of the “doctrine of total depravity in principle” you have no Scripture or Confession, but only Kuiper’s philosophy. Did not Kuiper ever stand in the rear of the sanctuary with the publican and hear him cry out: “God be merciful to me a sinner!”? Does he believe that the publican believed in total depravity in principle? or that David in Psalm 51 conceived of his natural depravity in the sense that it was only in principle? After reading Kuiper’s philosophy, I believe I would rather let David tell me what total depravity is.
Finally, Rev. Kuiper also has something to say of the “small traces of good” which are to be found in the naturally depraved man. He refers, of course, to what our Confession speaks of as “glimmerings of natural light.” He warns that this expression must not lead us to say that because the natural man possesses these so-called glimmerings that he is therefore not totally depraved. No, according to Kuiper, man is totally depraved, and this depravity has thoroughly permeated the whole man. Neither should we make these “natural” glimmerings “spiritual.” Kuiper even wants us to see with our Confessions that this natural light also becomes darkness. We must see, says Kuiper, that “were the sinner left entirely to himself and to the influence of corruption with which he is born, he would not have these glimmerings.”
He then asks: “What, then, explains their presence?” And he answers: “There is only one answer we can give in the light of Holy Writ. These traces or glimmerings are present in the sinner because of God’s common grace.” By a general operation of the Holy Spirit this grace came to the sinner immediately after the Fall. For Scripture reference he gives you Genesis 6:3 and I Samuel 16:14 which I will not quote nor criticize here because of lack of space.
Rev. Kuiper closes his discussion with a section in which he attempts an answer to the question: Why is common grace not mentioned in our creed? His answer is: All the elements of the doctrine of common grace are to be found in the Canons. That the term is not used is due to the fear of our fathers for Arminianism. The latter used the term. He closes his articles with this statement: “They (fathers of Dordt—M.S.) say that the glimmerings of natural light, and what is included in them remain in man after the Fall. They do not say why they have remained. The Synod of 1924, interpreting this Article 14, said: Those glimmerings, those traces, are the fruits of common grace. If that is not the proper interpretation of this article, then it is a virtual denial of the totality of man’s depravity, taught so emphatically in the self-same creed.” Well, maybe someday someone in his church will prove it to Rev. Kuiper that common grace is such a denial of total depravity. I hope so. He won’t listen to us.