This Grace of God, According to Prof. Berkhof.

As one might expect, Prof. Berkhof, in his “Reformed Dogmatics’’, also treats this communicable attribute of God. On pages 71-72 he writes as follows: “The grace of God. The significant word “grace” is a translation of the Hebrew “chanan” and of the Greek “charis”. According to Scripture it is manifested not only by God, but also by men, and then denotes the favor which one man shows another, Gen. 33:8, 10, 18; Gen. 39:4; Gen. 47:25; Ruth 2:2; I Sam. 1:18; I Sam. 16:22. In such cases it is not necessarily implied that the favor is undeserved. In general it can be said, however, that grace is the free bestowal of kindness on one who has no claim to it. This is particularly the case where the grace referred to is the grace of God. His love to man is always unmerited, and when shown to sinners, is even forfeited. The Bible generally uses the word to denote the unmerited goodness or love of God to those who have forfeited it, and are by nature under a sentence of condemnation. The grace of God is the source of all spiritual blessings that are bestowed upon sinners. As such we read, of it in Eph. 1:6, 7; Eph. 2:7-9; Titus 2:11; Titus 3:4-7. While the Bible often speaks of the grace of God as saving grace, it also makes mention of it in a broader sense, as in Isa. 26:10, Jer. 16:13. The grace of God is of the greatest practical significance for sinful men. It was by grace that the way of redemption was opened for them, Rom. 3:24, II Cor. 8:9, and that the message of redemption went out into the world, Acts 14:3. By grace sinners receive the gift of God in Jesus Christ, Acts 18:27; Eph. 2:8. By grace they are justified, Rom. 3:24; 4:16; Titus 3:7, they are enriched with spiritual blessings, John 1:16, II Cor. 8:9; II Thess. 2:16, and they finally inherit salvation, Eph. 2:8; Titus 2:11. Seeing they have absolutely no merits of their own, they are altogether dependent on the grace of God in Christ. In modern theology, with its belief in the inherent goodness of man and his ability to help himself, the doctrine of salvation by grace has practically become a “lost chord”, and even the word “grace” was emptied of all spiritual meaning and vanished from religious discourses. It was retained only in the sense of “graciousness”, something that is quite external. Happily, there are some evidences of a renewed emphasis on sin, and of a newly awakened consciousness of the need of divine grace.”—thus far Prof. Berkhof.

We may note, in the first place, that also Prof. Berkhof proceeds from the common definition of grace as the free bestowal of kindness on one who has no claim to it, yea, who has forfeited all claim to it. And, secondly, he also writes that although the Bible often speaks of the grace of God as saving grace (is this so strange?—H.V.) it also makes mention of it in a broader sense, as in Isaiah 26:10 and Jeremiah 16:13. The professor, therefore, first quotes Isa. 26:10. That text reads: “Let favor be shewed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness: in the land of uprightness will he deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the Lord.” In connection with this particular passage we would note the following. The explanation of this text by Prof. Hepp of the Netherlands (this text, by the way, is the only proof which Prof. Hepp quotes in support of his contention that the word “grace” appears in Holy Writ as applicable to the reprobate wicked) is probably known to many of our readers, namely, that an overdose of common grace will not cause the wicked to learn righteousness. When Prof. Hepp quotes only Is. 26:10 in support of a general goodness of God, this must not be understood in the sense that, according to him, Is. 26:10 is the only Scriptural proof for “Common Grace”, but that the word “grace” appears but once in Holy Writ with the wicked as beneficiaries. He would, of course, maintain that God’s general goodness or grace is taught in many passages of the Word of God, but that other terms are used in the Word of God besides that of “grace”. As we have seen, also Prof. Berkhof quotes this text in support of a grace that is common.

First of all, in connection with Is. 26:10, we would remark that if the word “grace” in this text refers to “Common Grace”, and if this text were to teach that this “Common Grace” is shown to the wicked, then this passage would teach us the very opposite of that which was always understood by the teaching of “Common Grace”. For the “Common Grace” theory has always taught that God’s common grace teaches the wicked righteousness. Did not the late Dr. A. Kuyper develop the conception that God by His operation of His common grace checks the process of sin and corruption within the individual sinner, yea, enables him to perform much good in the midst of the world? Is it not exactly the characteristic of this theory that the wicked learn righteousness in the civil sense of the word, that the process of corruption is restrained by the Lord so that the sinner is not wholly corrupt, and that he is enabled to lead a good, exemplary life in the midst of this world, yea, to such an extent that the wicked often put many children of God to shame? But now we are told, by Prof. Hepp, that a sinner can also receive an overdose of this general grace of God. And if he receives too much of this checking, restraining operation of the Lord he will not learn righteousness. And, secondly, as far as the true interpretation of this text is concerned, we would note the following. In the context of this word of God the church of God prays for the judgments of the Lord, that the Lord may come in the way of His judgments—see verses 8 and 9 of this chapter, where we read: “Yea, in the way of Thy judgments, O Lord, have we waited for. Thee; the desire of our soul is to Thy Name, and to the remembrance of Thee. With my soul have I desired Thee in the night; yea, with my spirit within me will I seek Thee early: for when Thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness.” And why does the Church of God long for these judgments? The answer is that these judgments, as far as the wicked are concerned, are the only way whereby they will learn righteousness, acknowledge that God is righteous (and this the wicked will do everlastingly). Fact is, when favor (grace) is shown to the wicked he will not learn righteousness; yea, in the land of uprightness he will deal unjustly and will not behold the majesty of the Lord. We must remember: the grace of God is continually shown to the wicked. In our interpretation of Is. 26:10 we proceed from the thought that this grace or favor is shown to the wicked. The ungodly, because they are organically in the covenant and therefore, due to the development of God’s covenant in the line of continued generations, are or constitute one people with the people of God according to election, come into contact with this grace of the Lord which is bestowed only upon the elect. They, too, hear the preaching of the gospel, taste, in a natural sense, those things which are a blessing only for the people of the living God. This applied also to the Old Dispensation. The covenants and the promises of the Lord, whereof we read in Rom. 9:4-5, were shared, organically, by all the people of Israel. But, the wicked never learns righteousness. Never will he acknowledge the living God. And therefore the Church of the living God prays that the Lord may come in the way of His judgments in order that, also as far as the wicked are concerned, every knee may bow and confess that God is God alone. Hence, it is clear that Isaiah 26:10 cannot be quoted in support of a “Common Grace”.

In addition to Is. 26:10 Prof. Berkhof also quotes Jer. 26:13: “Therefore will I cast you out of this land into a land that ye know not, neither ye nor your fathers; and there shall ye serve other gods day and night; where I will not shew you favor.” In the first place we would observe the rather obvious fact that the text declares literally that the Lord will not shew any favor unto them. Is it not strange that a text quoted in support of a general favor which declares that no favor will be shown them? One is surely struck with the thought that anyone, who quotes texts such as Jer. 16:13, must be desperate in his search for Scriptural proof of the theory of a general favor of God. Secondly, the exponents of such a general grace of God appeal to this text, I presume, because it presupposes that, whereas the Lord will not shew them favor in a strange land, He had shown them favor in the past, the land of Canaan. And to this we have no objection. However, let us please note the following. If favor had been shown them in the past, what right do the exponents of “Common Grace” have to interpret this favor or grace of Jer. 16:13 as a common, general, non-saving favor of God? For, if is indeed true that this people had been shown the favor of God in the land from which the Lord had driven them. The land of Canaan was the land of promise, the land of the temple and of the sacrifices and shadows and types and symbols—in that land the grace of God had been shown them abundantly, revealed to them, had surrounded them in abundance. Every day they had come into contact with this grace of the living God. The daily sacrifices at the temple were a continuous testimony of the amazing grace and pity of the Lord Who blots out all our sins in the blood of Jesus Christ, our Lord. But, does this mean that, while all that grace of God was revealed unto them, each one had individually been a personal recipient of the favor or grace of the Lord? To see the sacrifices day in and day out was surely no guarantee in itself that one’s sins were actually blotted out by the living God. If this outpouring of the grace of God throughout the Old Testament be considered a token of the general love or grace of God, but one conclusion is warranted: the blood of the Lamb of Calvary was intended by God to be for all men. And this is Arminianism. Hence, Jer. 16:18 acquainted us with the fact that the Lord had driven the people of Israel out of this land of the promise, and that, in a strange land, this favor of the Lord would not be shown unto them. And, surely, this does not imply that these ungodly, while in the land of Canaan, had personally been the objects of the love and favor of God. In this connection, I would like to refer the readers to Deut. 28 and Leviticus 23 and let them judge for themselves whether his presence in the land of Canaan assured every Israelite personally of the mercy and favor of the Lord.

The Grace Of God, According to H. Bavinck.

Dr. H. Bavinck, discussing the “grace” of God as one of the aspects of God’s goodness, writes in his Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. II, pages 181-183, as follows, and we translate: “Much richer is the goodness of God when manifested unto them, who have not deserved any good, but all evil; then it bears the name of grace, “chen, techinnah, a.v. ehanan”, to be inclined towards, “charis, charidzomai”. This word also expresses the favor which one person finds with another or which is given unto another, Gen. 30:27; Gen. 33:8, 10; Gen. 47:29: Gen. 50:4, etc.; Luke 2:52. Used of God, it never has the creatures in general nor the Heathen but only His people for its object, (we underscore—H.V.). It is shown to Noah, Gen. 6:8, Moses, Ex. 33:12, 17; Ex. 34:9; Job 8:5; Job 9:15; Daniel 1:9, the meek and miserable; Prov. 3:34; Dan. 4:27 and then especially unto Israel as a people. His election and guidance, deliverance and redemption and all the blessings which it received in distinction from other peoples, are to be ascribed to God’s grace alone, Ex. 15:13, 16; Ex. 19:4; Ex. 33:19; Ex. 34:6, 7; Deut. 4:37; 7: Ex. 8:14, 17; Ex. 9:5, 27; Ex. 10:14 f.f.; Ex. 33:3; Is. 35:10; Is. 42:21; Is. 43:1, 15, 21; 54:5; 63:9; Jer. 3:4, 19; 31:9, 20; Ezek. 16; Hos. 8:14; 11:1, etc. In history and in the law, in psalms and in prophecy the key-note is always: Not unto us, O Lord, but unto Thy Name give glory, Ps. 115:1. He does all things for His Name’s sake, Num. 14:13 f.f.; Is. 43:21, 25 f.f.; 48:9, 11; Ezek. 36:22, etc. And therefore that grace is also repeatedly praised and magnified, Ex 34:6; II Chron. 30:9; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15; Ps. 103:8; Ps. 111:4; Ps. 116:5; Jonah 4:2; Joel 2:13; Zach. 12:10. In the New Testament that grace appears richer and deeper in content. “Charis” signifies, objectively, beauty, attractiveness, “gratie”, Luke 4:22 Col. 4:6; Eph. 4:29, and subjectively favor, inclination from the side of the giver and thanks, adoration from the side of him who receives. In God it expresses His free, sovereign, unmerited inclination, which is shown unto guilty sinners and which bestows upon them “diksaiosunee” and “dzooee” instead of the sentence of .death (diksaiosunee and dzooee are righteousness and life respectively, K.V.). As such it is a virtue and attribute of God, Rom. 5:15; I Pet. 5:10, which reveals itself in the sending of Christ, Who is full of grace, John 1:14 f.f.; I Pet. 1:13, and also in the bestowal of all manner of spiritual and bodily blessings, which are all gifts of grace and in themselves grace, Rom. 5:20; 6:1; Eph. 1:7: 2:5, 8; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2; Titus 3:7, etc., and which, once and for all, exclude all merits of man, John 1:17; Rom. 4:4, 16; 6:14, 23; 11:5 f.f.; Eph. 2:8; Gal. 5:3, 4. The doctrine of grace was developed in the Christian Church first by Augustus, but it did not usually denote a virtue of God, but all the blessings which are given of God out of grace in Christ unto the church. Grace was not usually treated under the attributes of God.”—thus far Bavinck.

We would note, briefly, the following in connection with this quotation of the late Dr. Bavinck. In the first place, Prof. Bavinck remarks that the concept, “grace”, was not usually treated under the attributes of God, but then when the doctrine of the salvation of the church was discussed. However, we do well to bear in mind that “grace” is an attribute of God. God did not become “gracious” because of or in relation to His people. “Grace” does not merely denote a relation or attitude of the living God toward His people: it also denotes an attribute, a perfection of the living God Himself. God did not become “gracious”, but He Himself is grace. In fact, we do well to bear this in mind in connection with all the attributes of the Lord. His relation or attitude toward man, or His people, is surely determined by what He is in Himself. Secondly, it is also worthy of note that this eminent theologian declares that the word “grace” never applies in Scripture to the creature in general or the heathens. This is something which the exponents of “Common Grace” may well bear in mind—they may well ponder, deliberate upon the phenomenon that, if the “grace” of God be common, at least the word “grace”, as such is not used in that sense in the Word of God. However, in connection with this observation of Dr. Bavinck, this does not mean that that theologian denied the theory of “Common Grace”. In the first place, we understand, this applies only to the word “grace”—this statement of Dr. Bavinck does not rule out the possibility that words such as mercy, compassion, etc., do appear as applicable to all. And, in the second place, the expression, “creatures in general” refers, we should bear in mind to creation, or the creature in distinction from men, people, moral-rational creatures. Another item worthy of note in this quotation of Dr. Bavinck is that there is nothing in it which suggests any kind of “Common Grace”. This is probably due to the fact that he proceeds from the thought the word nowhere occurs in the Word as applicable to the creatures in general or the heathens. And, finally, although he does declare that “grace” means beauty, attractiveness, he, too, proceeds from the common definition of grace as unmerited favor.

Meaning Of The Word: Grace.

The word, “grace”, (“Chen” in the Hebrew and “Charis” in the Greek) does not mean fundamentally: unmerited favor. Fact is, this is simply not the fundamental meaning of the word. We, too, for example, speak of a “graceful” animal, or of someone as having a gracious attitude, and we do not refer to unmerited favor, although the word, “gracious”, is fundamentally the same as “grace”. Besides, if “grace” were merely unmerited favor, could not the same be said of all the other virtues of God? What, then, would be the difference between God’s grace and His pity or longsuffering or kindness? To say that the grace of God is the Lord’s attitude of undeserving kindness (undeserving on our part) would not be saying anything about this particular attribute of the Lord.

The Hebrew word for “grace” is “chen”. The root idea of this word is: to incline, to bow, to form a curve. From this root idea the word also developed the derivative idea: to be graceful in form. And so the word obtained the meaning: beauty, attractiveness.

This idea of grace (beauty, attractiveness) is surely expressed in Prov. 22:11: “He that loveth pureness of heart, for the grace of his lips the king shall be his friend.” The idea of this text is that he that loveth purity of heart shall be characterized by such beauty and pleasantness of speech, that even kings shall seek his fellowship. The meaning is, of course, that from the root motive of love or inner purity proceeds speech that is truly graceful, truly beautiful, and therefore pleasant.

The same significance applies to the Greek “charis”. This word, too, means fundamentally: beauty, charm, attractiveness. “Charis” is that which affords joy because of its beauty, pleasantness. This meaning of the word is evident in Luke 4:22, which reads: “And all bare Him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, Is not this Joseph’s son?” The expression, “gracious words”, reads literally: words of grace. Some would interpret this expression in the sense that His speaking was with grace and charm, that His manner was gracious, that, while speaking with power and authority, He spoke also with tenderness and love. They declare that not only the form but also the content of Jesus’ message here was full of love and tenderness and mercy; it was not a message of judgment and doom, but a word of hope and cheer, and this in the general sense of the word. However, this interpretation of Luke 4:22 is surely erroneous. Luke 4:22 certainly refers to Is. 61:1-2, and in this latter passage the inspired prophet, Isaiah, speaks, not only of the “acceptable year of the Lord,” but also of this day as “the day of vengeance of our God.” To declare, therefore, that Jesus’ message was not a message of judgment is a direct denial of Is. 61:1-2. Besides, if the message of the Christ in Luke 4 is so gracious, so full of tenderness and pity and compassion in the general sense of the word, how must we account for the reaction among His listeners upon this message which He proclaims there in the synagogue of Nazareth? Why is it that they violently lay their hands upon Him, take Him unto the edge of the city with the purpose to cast Him down to destruction? There was evidently something in the words of the Christ which they did not relish. Christ condemned them as blind, prisoners, etc.; they resented this preaching of the Christ; hence, this day was for them a day of vengeance and judgment and surely divinely intended to be such.

That Jesus’ words were words of grace means that His words were words of beauty and charm. Christ must have been a charming speaker. It is obvious that the word “grace” in Luke 4:22 must retain its proper meaning of beauty, charm, attractiveness. This is the original meaning of the word and also its significance in Luke 4:22.

(to be continued)