In a recent issue of the Banner (Sept. 3, 1971), in the department “Readers Ask,” Dr.. John H. Bratt is confronted by a rather knotty question, knotty, that is, for one who holds to and must defend the theory of common grace. The question is as follows:
This may sound like an absurd question. But there is a logical basis that can be claimed for it. The question from South Dakota is in this form: “The Christian Reformed Church subscribes to the doctrine of common grace. It believes that God loves all persons, because He made them. But God also made the devil. Does it follow, then, that He loves the devil also?”
Dr. Bratt concedes that this “looks like an ironclad line of argument.”
Perhaps this looked rather ironclad to him. If, however, I were a subscriber to the common grace theory of the Three Points—which I am not—it seems to me that I could present an argument which in a certain sense would be so ironclad that even Dr. Bratt could not escape it—except for the fact that as a good son of the Christian Reformed Church he could always find an “out” by the claim that “logic must give way to history and to the biblical givens.”
I would argue, first of all, from the First Point of 1924, to which Dr. Bratt certainly subscribes, and which he defended as a member of the Doctrinal Committee in the “Dekker Case” a few years ago. For the First Point states that “apart from the saving grace of God shown only to those that are elect unto eternal life, there is also a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to His creatures in general.” To this the First Point makes no exception. It follows, therefore, that since the devil is also one of God’s creatures, and is therefore included in “His creatures in general,” therefore the devil also must be a beneficiary of common grace. If Dr. Bratt denies this, it seems to me that he is militating against the language of the First Point. And let me remind him that there was a day when the wrath of the Christian Reformed Church against deniers of the Three Points was swift and cruel.
If I were a subscriber to the Three Points—which I am not—I would argue, in tee second place, from the Second Point of 1924. That point reads: “Relative to the second point, which is concerned with the restraint of sin in the life of the individual man and in the community, the synod declares that there is such a restraint of sin according to Scripture and the Confession. This is evident from the citations from Scripture and from the Netherland Confession, Articles 13 and 36, which God by the general operations of His Spirit, without renewing the heart of man, restrains the unimpeded breaking out of sin, by which human life in society remains possible.” I would argue that by quoting Article 13 of the Netherland Confession in proof of the statement that there is an operation of the Holy Spirit on the heart of the wicked, checking the process of sin within him, the Synod of 1924 actually, though utterly mistakenly, adopted the doctrine that there is an operation of common grace through the Holy Spirit upon the devil, whereby he is not as wicked as he might be. Fat this article of our Confession, which, by the way, speaks of providence, not of common grace, (and to which I subscribe—though I do not subscribe to the Three Points), includes the devil in the statement which the Synod of 1924 mistakenly cited in support of Point II. Let me quote the statement and italicize the pertinent expression: “This doctrine affords us unspeakable consolation, since we are taught thereby that nothing can befall us by chance, but by the direction of our most gracious and heavenly Father; who watches over us with a paternal care, keeping all creatures so under his power, that not a hair of our head (for they are all numbered) nor a sparrow can fall to the ground, without the will of our Father, in whom we do entirely trust, being persuaded that he so restrains the devil and all our enemies that without his will and permission they cannot hurt us.” Notice that when this article speaks of restraint, it mentions the devil and wicked men in one breath. The very: fact that Article 13 includes the devil should, of course, have cautioned anyone against imagining that this article teaches a common grace of God. But when the Synod nevertheless quoted this article to “prove” common grace, it followed that the devil as well as “all our enemies” is the recipient of common grace. Though Dr. Bratt may not like to teach this, I claim that it is “ironclad.”
It seems to me that in the light of this arbitrary exclusion of the devil from common grace, it is legitimate to ask: why not the poor devil? Why should he be singled out as the lone exception (with his cohorts) to the universal rule of common grace?
If I subscribed to the theory of common grace—which I do not—I would strengthen my ironclad argument by an appeal to other Christian Reformed thinkers. For example, I would turn for support to the book of the late Rev. John Gritter,God Loves. . . He at least does not dare to rule out completely the possibility that God loves the devil, though he can find no Biblical basis. He writes as follows:
Does God love these? At first blush this very question may sound foolish, almost blasphemous. God love these demons? How dare anyone mention it!
Yet these, too, are creatures of His, perverted, wicked, but still creatures of His power. They are dependent on Him. Even in their wicked activities against God and man they depend on Him. Strange to say, the power whereby they carry on must come from God. The fact that they can go on shows that God has a certain interest in them.
There is that song on The Love of God which is still sung among us: “The love of God is greater far than tongue or pen can ever tell It goes beyond the highest star and reaches to the lowest hell.” When we first hear it, we may object: The love of God reaching to hell? But then we reflect that God is love, always, and that God is everywhere, according to
and other places in the Bible. And we see that in a sense the love of God reaches even to hell. It would seem to touch those who are there.
On the other hand I know of no statement in the Bible which even remotely suggests that God loves these evil spirits. We know that there is no salvation for them. . . . We get the impression that there is no hope for them whatsoever. So it would seem to be the part of wisdom in this matter not to go beyond our depth in our thinking and to leave the matter to God.
So the question, once again, would seem to be—from an ironclad Christian Reformed viewpoint—quite legitimate: why not the poor devil? Common grace is common: it includes God’s creatures in general. The devil is one of God’s creatures. Why should he not be included in common grace?
But Dr. Bratt claims that at this point “logic must give way to history and to the biblical givens.”
A dexterous twist, indeed, if one can accomplish it! Logic must give way to biblical givens! In other words, the Biblical givens are not logical! Follow that proposition through, and you have the complete end of all exegesis and all understanding of the Scriptures.
But let that be. If only Dr. Bratt would furnish us with some Biblical, or even Confessional, givens, not only his questioner but also all of us could be convinced. Instead, however, he philosophizes about an alleged difference between absolute and total depravity, about man’s not having lost the image of God, about a remnant of God in man, about the redeemability and irredeemability of men and of devils. And all this without any Biblical givens! But let him speak for himself:
It is true that God loves His creatures. He made man good and He made angels good and He loved them. In the angelic ranks, however, a rebellion occurred. Some of them, under the leadership of Satan, turned against God. They made themselves absolutely depraved. There is within them no iota of good. There is with them no possibility of redemption. All that they are and do is evil. And the face of God, says the Bible, is against evil.
With respect to man the situation is different. Man listened to the devil and fell in the garden. But even though he became totally depraved, that is, every part of his being and every faculty of his soul was infected by sin, he did not become absolutely so. The image of God within him was blurred, but not erased. There is within him, as the confessions state, a remnant of good. There is with him the possibility of redemption through Jesus Christ. And therefore the Scriptures do intimate that God still loves him as a creature, but since the devil made himself unredeemable and unrelievably evil, there is no love of God for him.
These two brief paragraphs are so loaded with un-Reformed and un-Biblical thoughts that it is difficult to know where to begin with contradicting them. It is amazing to what lengths one will go to protect the theory of common grace and at the same time to try to extricate himself from the difficulties in which this theory involves him. Perhaps I should begin by pointing out that in all of this there is but one direct attempt even to mention a Biblical given. This is in the last sentence of the first paragraph quoted above. Even this, however, is incorrectly quoted and certainly misapplied. The reference, I take it, though Dr. Bratt gives none, is to Psalm 34:15, 16: “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry. The face of the Lord is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.” This is a passage which is quoted in I Peter 3:10-12 But let me call your attention to the fact, in the first place, that this passage does not merely speak of “evil,” but of evil-doers. And, in the second place, we ought to notice that while Dr. Bratt applies this “biblical given” to devils in contradistinction from men, the passage in Psalm 34 and I Peter 3 very plainly refers to men, that is, to evil men and to righteous men. The fact of the matter is that if Dr. Bratt had only looked this one Biblical given squarely in the face, he would have kept all his philosophy in his pen, and he would have been moved to inform his questioner that he should abandon the theory of common grace as being contrary to “Biblical givens,” and that then he would have no problems any longer with a possible love of God for the devil. In the second place, there is that fiction about total depravity and about the image of God in man being only blurred, but not erased. Let me call attention to the fact that there are no “Biblical givens” cited in support of this fiction. And, while it is claimed that the confessions find a remnant of good in man, no proof is offered in support of this claim. And I hasten to add that neither Biblical givens nor confessional supportcan be adduced. In fact, the statement that the image of God in man was blurred, but not erased, would seem to me to be almost too extreme even for an adherent of the theory of common grace. The fact of the matter is, however, that what Dr. Bratt chooses to call absolute depravity (“no iota of good” and, “All that they are and do is evil.”) is the confessional and Scriptural truth of totaldepravity, while what Dr. Bratt attempts to present as total depravity is not really total, but partial. This is as plain as the sun in the heavens. Dr. Bratt is attempting to blur the Reformed doctrine of total depravity. But all these statements are plainly contrary to the confessions and to Scripture.
Let me cite some statements of our confessions on this score:
Heidelberg Catechism, Q. and A. 5: “. . . I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbor.”
Heidelberg Catechism, Q. and A. 8: “Are we then so corrupt that we are wholly incapable of doing any good, and inclined to all wickedness? Indeed we are; except we are regenerated by the Spirit of God.”
Netherland Confession, Art. 14: “For the commandment of life, which he had received, he transgressed; and by sin separated himself from God, who was his true life, having corrupted his whole nature; whereby he made himself liable to corporal and spiritual death. And being thus become wicked, perverse, and corrupt in all his ways, he hath lost all his excellent gifts, which he had received from God, and only retained a few remains thereof, which, however, are sufficient to leave man without excuse; for all the light which is in us is changed into darkness . . .” Canons III, IV, 1: “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.” Note: some blurring!
Canons III, IV, 4: “There remain, however, in man since the fall, the glimmerings of natural light, whereby he retains some knowledge of God, of natural things, and of the differences between good and evil, and discovers some regard for virtue, good order in society, and for maintaining an orderly external deportment. 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.” Note again: some blurring!
It is plain from the above that the view of natural man as the confessions see him is in full harmony with Dr. Bratt’s description of the devil’s so-called absolute depravity. There is within him “no iota of good.” And again: “All that they are and do is evil.” And the same is the plain teaching of Scripture.
Here are just a couple of “Biblical givens:”
Romans 3:10-18: “As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Ephesians 2:1-3: “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”
Romans 8:7, 8: “Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”
Ephesians 5:8a: “For ye were sometimes darkness . . .”
In the third place, there is the fiction about the depravity of the devil being absolute, in distinction from that of man being not absolute. Now it is indeed possible to speak in a sound sense of thefall in the world of angels being absolute. That is, there is no salvation for any of the fallen angels. They are all reprobate. The elect angels never fall, and in that sense they do not need to be saved. Only part of the angels fell; and, because they fell without a mediator and saving head, all the devils are fallen absolutely. With men this is different. The entire human race, including both elect and reprobate, fell. Elect men, however, are not fallen absolutely, because they have a Mediator and Saving Head: when they fell, they fell upon Christ. Reprobate men, however, are fallen absolutely. They are hopelessly lost because they fell outside of Christ. But this is by no means the distinction which Dr. Bratt draws.
In the fourth place, there is the highly dangerous statement, “There is with him (man) the possibility of redemption through Jesus Christ.” There is here the plain implication that while, according to Dr. Bratt, the devil made himself unredeemable and unrelievably evil, man did not do so. The fact of the matter is that man also made himself, on his part, unredeemable and unrelievably evil! For his part, the depravity and fall of man are hopeless! Man is indeed totally depraved, and there is nothing in his fallen nature that can render him redeemable and savable. It is exactly the Scriptural and Reformed doctrine of sovereign grace that elect men are savable—only, however, through the almighty grace of God—because they are in Christ from before the foundation of the world. There is nothing in the sinful nature of man that is adapted to his salvation in any sense. There is no connecting point for the salvation of man in his fallen and depraved nature. Once more: as far as man is concerned, there is no possibility of redemption. The only possibility is of God; and that possibility, which is an actuality through the sovereign grace of God in Christ Jesus, is realized wholly upon the dark background of human impossibility.
But what is the basic trouble here?
It is this, that throughout this entire reasoning process. Dr. Bratt refuses to work with and from the fundamental Biblical givens of election and reprobation. So far his insistence upon common grace leads him from the Reformed truth!
All of this is confirmation, by the way, once more of the fact that common grace is still the issue.
In the remainder of his brief article, Dr. Bratt sounds a warning against universalism and neo-universalism of today. And he correctly makes the point that this universalism does not square with the gospel of the Scriptures. The trouble is that Dr. Bratt is principally incipient 7 or inconsistent—universalism. And while he may in a sense try to hold on to the truth of sovereign predestination—which, of course, is the key to opposing universalism—the very act that he writes without any reference to election and reprobation and without reckoning with this fundamental Biblical truth is in itself the evidence of his own incipient universalism.
And on his basis, the question is indeed legitimate: Why not common grace for the poor devil?