A Brief Answer to Common Grace

Rev. Robert Harbach

  1. Brief answer to the First Point of Common Grace:
    1. In the first point, the Christian Reformed Church adopted two dogmas:
      1. The first we may call the dogma of Common Grace. It teaches that God is gracious to all men in bestowing upon them the things of this present time, such as rain and sunshine, and all earthly things. This is what Synod meant when it spoke of a grace of God to "all creatures."
      2. The second we may call the dogma of Universal Grace. According to it, God is gracious in the preaching of the gospel to all that hear. This is what Synod meant when it referred to Canons II:5 and III-IV:8 and 9, and the "general offer" of the Gospel.
    2. As to the dogma of Common Grace:
      1. The Confessions do not express themselves on this point, although they do attribute the term "common grace" to the Arminians in Canons III-IV:5.
      2. It is, however, contrary to Scripture, which plainly teaches that God hates the wicked reprobates and that He uses even the things of the present time to their destruction. See the following: Psa. 5:5; Psa. 11:5; Psa. 73:17-20; Psalm 92:5-7; Prov. 3:33; Mal. 1:2-4; Rom. 9:13; I Pet. 3:12.
      3. The truth is that grace is not in things. All things are but means which God uses to the salvation of the righteous (elect) while He uses them to the destruction and damnation of the wicked (reprobate). And, because men also use these means as rational, moral creatures, they are responsible. Things are certainly common but grace is never common.
    3. As to the theory of Universal Grace:
      1. This is surely not proven by the passages from the Confession to which the Synod of 1924 referred. Canons II:5 merely teaches the general preaching of the gospel that is particular in contents. Canons III-IV:8 teaches that what God proclaims in the Gospel is unfeigned, that it is pleasing to Him that the called should come to Him and that He promises eternal life to them that come (the elect). Canons III-IV:9 emphasizes that the guilt of not coming is wholly the sinner's.
      2. Nor is this proven by the texts Synod quoted. Romans 2:4 merely teaches that the wicked despise the goodness of God that leads man to repentance. And Ezekiel 33:11 teaches that God has pleasure in the wicked that repents, and that is always the elect.
      3. The doctrine that God is gracious in the preaching of the Gospel to all that hear the preaching of it is, however:
        1. Contrary to the Reformed Confessions which plainly teach that God is gracious to the elect only: See Canons 1:6; II:8; III-IV:10; V:8, and Rejection of Errors II:6.
        2. Contrary to Scripture: Romans 8:29-30, Romans 9:13; Romans 9:16; II Cor. 2:15-16; Mark 4:11-12; Matth. 11:25-26; John 12:39-40.
  2. Brief Answer to the Second Point of Common Grace:
    1. The meaning of the Second Point:
      1. The second point of 1924 does not teach that God holds the sinner in His power, so that he cannot do anything against the will and providence of God. This is plainly taught in the Bible and in the Belgic Confession, Art. 13.
      2. But the second point teaches:
        1. That there is a gracious operation of the Holy Spirit which is not regenerating on the heart and mind and will of the sinner.
        2. That this operation commenced immediately after the fall and continues all through history.
        3. That as a result there is in man a remnant of his original goodness, so that he is not as depraved as he would be without this operation.
        4. That, because of this operation, the natural man is able to live a relatively good life in this life, and do good in the sphere of the world.
    2. Objection to the Second Point:
      1. The proof adduced by Synod for this point does not hold:
        1. From Scripture the Synod quoted the following passages: Gen. 6:3; Psa. 81:11-12; Acts 7:42; Rom. 1:24, 26, 28; II Thess. 2:6-7; Concerning these passages we note:
          1. Only one speaks of the Holy Spirit at all, namely, Gen. 6:3. However, the text does not speak of a restraining by the Spirit, but of a striving. This took place through the Word of God by the prophets.
          2. None of them speak of a restraint of sin.
          3. Three of them speak of the very opposite of restraint, namely, of a delivering over into sin by the wrath of God. See: Psa. 81:11-12; Rom. 1:24, 26, 28; Acts 7:42.
          4. II Thess. 2:6-7 does not refer to the Holy Spirit as is plain from the text itself.
        2. As to the proof adduced from the Confessions:
          1. Belgic Conf., Art. 13, does not speak of an influence of the Holy Spirit, but of the Providential power of God; nor of an inward restraint of sin, but the restraint of sinners and devils.
          2. Art. 36 does not speak of an influence of the Spirit but of the power of the police or magistrate.
      2. The Second Point itself is contrary to Scripture and the Confessions:
        1. To Scripture:
          1. It postulates a remnant of good in natural man, which is contrary to all those passages of Holy Writ that speak of the depravity of the natural man. For these, see the discussion under Point III.
          2. Scripture teaches directly the opposite from the main tenant of the Second Point when it declares that God delivers men over into ever greater corruption by His wrath. See: Rom. 1:24-28; Psalm 51:5.
        2. To the Confessions: Canons III-IV:4 speaks of "remnants of natural light." These remnants are not due to an operation of Common Grace. Even with these remnants, however, the natural man is still wholly depraved and incapable of doing any good even in things natural and civil.
  3. Brief Answer to the Third Point:
    1. The meaning of the third point:
      1. The meaning of the third point of 1924 is not:
        1. That the natural man through the remnants of natural light that are left in him after the fall is able to distinguish between good and evil; has some knowledge of God and of things natural.
        2. That the natural man is able to see that the law of God is good for himself, and that, therefore, there is on his part an attempt to live in outward conformity with that law.
        3. That the third point does not intend to express this is evident from:
          1. The fact that the deposed ministers taught exactly this before 1924. It was this view which Synod condemned.
          2. The fact that no special influence of the grace of God is necessary to explain these things in the natural man. The confessions explain them as remnants of natural light. Synod, however, speaks of an influence of God on the natural man, whereby he is able to do civil righteousness.
          3. From the evident connection between the second and third points.
      2. But the third point teaches:
        1. That there is an influence of God, of the Holy Spirit, on the mind and will of the natural man, which is not regenerating, but improves him.
        2. That because of this influence, he is able to live a relatively good life in this world, and his works are not always sinful before God.
    2. Objections to the third point:
      1. It is contrary to the Reformed Confessions:
        1. The proof from the confessions to which Synod referred does not hold:
          1. Canons III-IV:4:
            1. Speaks of a remnant of natural light and not of an influence of God on the natural man.
            2. It emphasizes that even in things natural and civil the natural man wholly pollutes this natural light and holds it in unrighteousness.
          2. Netherlands Confession, Art. 36:
            1. Does not speak of any good that the natural man can do, but of a good order and decency which God establishes among men.
            2. Nor does it refer to an influence of God on the natural man, but to the power of the magistrates.
        2. For proof from the confessions to the contrary, see: Heidelberg Catechism, L.D. III,Q. 8; L.D. 33, Q. 91; Belgic Confession, Art. 14; Canons III-IV:1-4.
      2. It is contrary to Scripture:
        1. Synod tried to sustain the Third Point by the following passages:
          1. II Kings 10:29-30. (But Jehu saw in God's commandment a means to satisfy his own ambition, and very well executes the command--but becomes blood- guilty in doing so, and does not depart from the ways of Jeroboam (See Hosea l).
          2. II Kings 12:2 and 14:3. (At best the examples of Jehoash and Amaziah prove an attempt to live in outward conformity to the law. In the case of Jehoash this was under the influence of a godly priest.)
          3. Luke 6:33. (a proof that sinners do no good and have no reward.)
          4. Romans 2:14. (The work of the law in the hearts of the Gentiles--not the law itself.)
        2. For proof to the contrary, that is, for positive proof from Scripture that the unregenerate cannot do good, see: Psalm 14:1-3; Matt. 7:16-20; Romans 1:28- 32; and Romans 3:9-18.

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