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Chapter IV

The Basic Issue

It is to be regretted that the entire controversy over the views of Dr. Ralph Janssen in the ecclesiastical assemblies never examined his teachings in the light of the more fundamental question of common grace. While there were undoubtedly reasons for this, (reasons which we shall have to investigate in the course of this chapter), the fact remains that, while the immediate issues of Janssen's views on Scripture were dealt with at length, the basic and fundamental issue of common grace was ignored.

One may ask the question; What difference did it really make that common grace did not enter into the official decisions of any ecclesiastical assembly? Is it not true that Janssen was condemned and that his views were officially declared heretical? Did not the church reaffirm her commitment to the truth of Scripture as taught in the Reformed Confessions? This was, after all, what really mattered.

The difficulty with this line of reasoning is that, because the basic issue was never faced, Janssen's position was never really examined and his position never adjudicated. The underlying question was common grace. From Janssen's position on common grace flowed all his other views, so much so that Janssen's position cannot really be understood without taking common grace into consideration. Because, therefore, common grace continued to be an open question in the church, Janssen's position was never really successfully refuted. And this left the door open for his teachings to be perpetuated in the church by those who agreed with him on this basic question.

It may, of course, be argued that the assertion that common grace stands at the basis of Janssen's position is fallacious; that common grace was a peripheral issue; that Janssen's views could be considered entirely apart from this question. And this was precisely the position that Janssen's opponents took when Janssen repeatedly brought up common grace as the main prop of his position.

The four professors and four ministers faced this question and charged Janssen with trying to divert attention from the main issue by his insistence on discussing common grace,1 and they refused to enter the subject, insisting rather that all eight of them agreed on the truths of the Confessions.

Y.P. De Jong answered charges of Janssen in which Janssen claimed that his opponents were Anabaptistic and took an Anabaptistic position on common grace. De Jong, by a review of the entire case,2 attempted to show that Janssen was wrong and that the issue of Janssen's teachings could be decided apart from common grace.3

W. Heyns took much the same position in a personal letter to J.K. Van Baalen in which Heyns took exception to some things Van Baalen had written in his book, De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie (The Denial of Common Grace).4 In this letter Heyns, while accepting common grace himself as Biblical and Confessionally Reformed, insists that common grace need not necessarily lead to Janssen's position, especially on the relation between general revelation and common grace.5

Hoeksema, early in the controversy, expressed the same opinion. When in The Banner Janssen publicly accused Hoeksema of a denial of common grace, Hoeksema complained that Janssen never showed the connection between his views and common grace and that to discuss common grace would be a distraction from the point at issue.6

H.J. Kuiper7 deplored the fact that common grace was constantly being interjected into the debate. In discussing "Salient Points in the Dr. Janssen Controversy," he strongly insisted that "they have nothing in common."8

Apparently, after the controversy had been settled at the Synod of 1922, Hoeksema began to change his mind on this question. While still insisting that the issues in the Janssen case could be decided apart from the common grace question, nevertheless, he (and Danhof) began to say that not only was common grace always really the issue, but that if common grace were not repudiated, Janssen's views would once again prevail in the church.9

Later, Hoeksema became yet stronger in his conviction on the relation between common grace and the Janssen case. While still leaving the question of a doctrinal and intrinsic relation an open question, Hoeksema took the position that the historical relation between the two was clear enough. He quoted many as saying: "There would never have been a Danhof-Hoeksema case in our churches if there had been no Janssen case."l0 This historical relation was clear, according to Hoeksema, from three considerations. In 1918 - 1919, Hoeksema writes, he wrote against common grace and no one opposed what he said. In fact, he was reappointed editor of "Our Doctrine" in The Banner. Only when he criticized the 1920 decision on the Janssen matter did the issue of common grace and Hoeksema's denial of it come up. Secondly, J.K. Van Baalen wrote a pamphlet against Hoeksema's views on common grace, "De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie." Hoeksema pointed out that, although Van Baalen did not express himself on the Janssen case so as to reveal his own personal sentiments, he nevertheless repeatedly connected common grace and this case. Thirdly, Hoeksema pointed out that those who protested his teachings on common grace were all Janssen supporters. And this led him to wonder whether the relation between the Janssen case was doctrinal or personal.ll Still later Hoeksema again returned to this point. He wrote:

The fact that the four professors and others of the opponents of Doctor Janssen could unite with the pro-Janssen faction in their action against the three ministers that were deposed in 1924-1925, plainly reveals that, apart from superficial differences, there was fundamental agreement in principle. There was in the Janssen controversy an underlying principle which, had it not been violently and intentionally forced into the background, would have paralyzed every effort of the four professors to combat Doctor Janssen's views and would have aligned them from the beginning with the pro-Janssen faction against the Reverends H. Danhof and H. Hoeksema.
This underlying principle is the theory of common grace.12

Q. Breen essentially agreed with the position that two were related. He wrote:

While I have heard Dr. Janssen many times on the human element in Scripture, the prevailing connection with theology was the doctrine of common grace . . . . By uniting himself with our nature, God conferred an unspeakable honor upon all natural being but especially upon all mankind. He thereby blessed the unfoldment of intellectual pioneering in modern times. Some call this by the pejorative name of secularism, as if it were something to deplore. Some accept the modern world, as it were to play the game by its rule, and do very well, but they are uncertain about its intrinsic worth; thus they cannot in good conscience commit themselves gladly and imaginatively to exploring the secrets of nature and the riches of man's intellectual, emotional, and volitional gifts and history. All this is a sad loss to the religious sense. To the religious sense alone can the natural and human order appear as a moment to moment gift of God's providence, doubly made clear to Christians by the Incarnation; to which the proper response is gratitude; the acceptance of the gifts involves using them without a double mind, and their grateful use will add to the joy of it.13

H. Boer is also convinced of the close relation between Janssen's views and common grace. In a passage we referred to earlier, Boer identifies as perhaps the most basic question in the Janssen controversy the issue, "whether the God of general revelation (nature, common grace) is operative in the actions of the God of special revelation (redemption, special grace).''14 A bit later in the same article he writes: "One thing is certain: with respect to Hoeksema and Danhof the Synod of 1924 adopted Janssen's position."15

James Bratt also finds the question of common grace to be a central issue. He writes:

At issue in each case (The Janssen case of 1922 and the Hoeksema case of 1924) was the doctrine of common grace, which, positively or negatively, defined the various streams of the Dutch Reformed tradition and, as the theory relating "the people of God" to "the world," constituted the prime theological metaphor for the question of acculturation.16

In developing this thesis, Bratt points out that the four professors who opposed Janssen were "Confessionalists"17 that Hoeksema and Danhof were "Antitheticists;"18 and that Janssen and his supporters were "Progressive Calvinists."19 The Confessionalists or Pietists feared the charge of Anabaptism which had been levelled against the critics of Janssen and so broke with the Antitheticists.20 The Confessionalists won out in 1924 adopting a common grace which was not so much Kuyperian as evangelistic, making the preaching of the gospel to the unconverted possible.21

That the doctrine of common grace was an integral part of the Janssen controversy can, therefore, hardly be denied. But to assert such a relationship brings up several additional questions. In the first place, what was the history of this question of common grace in the controversy? We shall have to take a look at this matter, however brief, to understand how common grace entered into the controversy and became a part of it. In the second place, we shall have to ask and attempt to answer the question, Why did Dr. Janssen repeatedly bring up the issue of common grace to the extent, in fact, that it became almost the only element in his defense; and why did the opponents of Dr. Janssen not only, but also the Synod of 1922 refuse to enter into the question? In the third place, how did it come about that although the question was ignored by the opponents of Janssen and by the Synod of 1922, controversy over it nevertheless broke out after the Janssen case was settled, which controversy resulted in the decisions on common grace at the Synod of 1924 and the expulsion of Hoeksema, Danhof and Ophoff? These are historical questions and with them we shall deal in the remainder of this chapter. In the following chapter we shall take a closer look at the relation between common grace and the position of Janssen which was condemned by the Christian Reformed Churches.


We turn then, first of all, to a brief survey of the history of the doctrine of common grace during the time of the controversy.

At the time that the Janssen controversy broke out the membership of the Christian Reformed Church was composed almost exclusively of people who were either immigrants from the Netherlands or whose ancestors had come to America from the Netherlands. The earlier membership of the Christian Reformed Church was predominantly from the churches of the Afscheiding, which churches had left the State (Hervormde) Church in 1834. Among the churches of the Afscheiding the doctrine of common grace was present, almost from the beginning,22 and was part of the heritage of the immigrants who formed the Christian Reformed Church in her early years. During the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth, many who came from the Netherlands and joined the Christian Reformed Church were members of the Dolerende churches which had left the State Church in 1886 under the leadership of Dr. A. Kuyper. Especially after Dr. Kuyper had become involved in the political movements of the Netherlands, he developed a doctrine of common grace which was imbedded in the thinking of his followers and which was, in the early part of the twentieth century, taught in the Christian Reformed Church as well.

So, although the idea of common grace was present in the church from her very inception, it had received no systematic development, nor had it become, by any ecclesiastical decision, official teaching. It was, so to speak, just there; it, like Topsy, just "growed;" but it was, emphatically, an open question in the churches. That is, no one was bound to believe and teach the doctrine by virtue of the binding character of ecclesiastical decision.

Because the doctrine of common grace had received no official definition within the church, certain conflicts appeared in the Christian Reformed Church in the first decades of the century. Already as early as the First World War, Rev. J. Groen was arguing in favor of membership in neutral labor unions on the basis of common grace. He represented a number of American Calvinists who wanted the church, primarily Dutch, to break out of its ethnic boundaries to become involved in the American world. This involvement was implied in their understanding of Calvinism, particularly when common grace was maintained being traditionally Calvinist.

On the other hand, A. Kuyper had pressed hard in the Netherlands for separate Christian organizations and had been instrumental in organizing the Anti-revolutionary Party. While he had accomplished much of this work before beginning his development of his theories on common grace, Kuyperians in this country were also pressing for separate Christian organizations and were doing this in conscious opposition to those who favored involvement in the American world. Those favoring separate organizations were often charged with Anabaptism, a charge which Janssen may have picked up when he connected his views of Scripture with common grace.

All this may at first glance appear to be somewhat confusing. But certain elements of the struggle must be remembered if one is to understand the conflicting views of common grace which were present in the church, and the conflicting appeals to A. Kuyper.

After Kuyper became a minister solidly committed to Calvinism and the Reformed faith, he clearly showed that his emphasis on particular grace was strong and consistent. He not only insisted on grace only for the elect, but he also sharply repudiated the whole idea of the free offer of the gospel. During this period in his life, he began his interpretation of Calvinism as including the whole concept of separate Christian organizations. Among these organizations was the Anti-revolutionary Party. Riding the crest of the success of this party, Kuyper was able to gain election to Parliament. He saw clearly the possibility of becoming prime minister of the Netherlands, although, because his party did not have a clear majority, he could attain this goal only by forming a coalition with the Roman Catholics. This he did and served his country briefly as prime minister. But it was at this time that Kuyper also began to develop his views on common grace. In America, therefore, separate Christian organizations were not connected with common grace, and the issues of common grace could be discussed apart from the question of involvement in American life or living a life of separation.

In the September 5, 1918 issue of The Banner, Rev. Hoeksema, by Synodical appointment, took over the rubric, "Our Doctrine." Very shortly after this, while developing, in a lengthy series of articles, the doctrine of the kingdom of God, Hoeksema began to question the traditionally held views on common grace, especially as they had been taught and developed by A. Kuyper. He was not immediately averse to speaking of a certain common grace, but he insisted that this "so-called common grace" meant nothing more than that the reprobate in the human organism share in the blessings given the elect in special grace. But even then, this share in the blessings of special grace is an outward sharing, an outward blessing, while inwardly these very blessings are a curse. They could, so Hoeksema argued, be nothing else but a curse because the total depravity of the sinner made it impossible for him to have any receptivity at all in his heart for the grace of God.23

In the issue of January 1, 1919, Hoeksema referred to a new paper which had made its appearance, Christian Journal, which had criticized Anabaptism and warned against its dangers. Hoeksema noted that sometimes views are called Anabaptistic which are "nothing but pure Calvinism."24 References to the Christian Journal continued to appear in Hoeksema's writings, in which he criticized the writers for advocating a Calvinism which would establish an alliance between the church and the world.25 This argument was later put in slightly different words when Hoeksema spoke of some who interpret common grace to mean that "in this common grace a sphere is created in which the children of light and the children of darkness as such can find common ground, common principle, and work together in harmony."26 Apparently the discussion became rather heated, for in the February 20, 1919 issue, the editor, Rev. Henry Beets, felt compelled to write an editorial on the need for moderation on the part of those who opposed the Christian Journal.27

Hoeksema continued his analysis and criticism of common grace. He asked the question: Is there any favor, grace, or love to man outside of Christ? And: Does the natural man have any receptivity for this grace?28 He attacked common grace head on when he emphatically condemned the view that God took an attitude of favor towards the reprobate.29 He warned that common grace led to a spirit of broadmindedness in the church,30 and attacked common grace from the viewpoint of its efforts to establish the kingdom here below before Christ comes.31

While Hoeksema's critique was sharp and involved a fundamental denial of the whole concept of common grace, no one raised a voice against him and no one questioned his orthodoxy.32

The attention of the church, however, was soon directed to other matters. It was towards the end of 1919 that controversy began in the Seminary over the teachings of Prof. Janssen.33 In the initial stages of the controversy, the views of Janssen were debated without reference to common grace, but when H. Hoeksema began to discuss Janssen's views in The Banner subsequent to the Synod of 1920, Janssen responded to Hoeksema's criticism of his views by attacking Hoeksema's denial of common grace. In the issue of November 4, 1920, Janssen took up his reply. After criticizing Hoeksema on a number of other points, he wrote:


We can now sum up. Our discovery brings us face to face with a very discouraging fact. The unexpected has happened. In Rev. H. Hoeksema we are after all not dealing with a critic who is a sound Calvinist. In denying common grace he has broken with true Calvinism and has in so far joined ranks with Anabaptists. He has been found to deny one of the most important doctrines of our Reformed faith.34

This opening salvo marked the strategy which Janssen was to employ almost exclusively in his defense. In almost all his writings, including his pamphlets, his communications to the Curatorium and Synod concerning his views, and his articles in The Banner, Janssen returned again and again to this theme. However, although Hoeksema took the time to criticize Kuyper's views on common grace applied to the Noahic covenant and the history of Melchisedek, king of Salem,35 and although in these articles Hoeksema made some brief reply to Janssen's charges, nevertheless, neither Hoeksema nor Janssen's other opponents would allow the discussion to be turned into the channels of a controversy over common grace. This persisted throughout the controversy even through the Synodical discussions which led to Janssen's condemnation in June of 1922.

It was only after the settlement of the issue of Janssen's views and teachings that common grace became an issue in the ecclesiastical assemblies of the Church.36 This was partly due to the continued writings of Prof. Janssen and partly due to the writings of Janssen's supporters. While probably published just before the Synod of 1922 met, Janssen's pamphlet, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd was an answer to the pamphlet of the four professors and four ministers: Waar Het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat.37 Janssen continued his defense in this pamphlet and once again made extensive use of common grace in support of his position.

But after Synod met, two other pamphlets came from Janssen's pen: 1) Het Synodale Vonnis en Zijne Voorgeschiedenis Kerkrechtelijk Beoordeeld (The Synodical Judgment and its Preceding History Judged Church Politically), published in November of 1922, and, 2) De Synodale Conclusies, published in September of 1923. Although the first pamphlet is a church political treatment of the whole case, it also appeals to common grace and castigates Janssen's critics for their denial of common grace -- a denial in Janssen's opinion which had its fruit in church political errors. The second pamphlet, written over a year after the case was settled, is Janssen's final effort to defend his position. Why he continued to write at this late date is a question that probably cannot be answered; but it might be that the growing attack against Hoeksema and Danhof on the question of common grace led him to attempt to show 1) that he had been right all along in insisting that common grace was the underlying issue, and 2) that he saw a faint glimmer of hope in the possibility of a formal doctrine on the matter of common grace which would justify him and restore him to his position.

Perhaps the one person who was responsible more than any other in bringing common grace to the attention of the church was Jan Karel Van Baalen. A supporter of Janssen from the very beginning, Van Baalen wrote two books in which he attacked those who denied common grace. The first one was written sometime in 1922, probably after the Synod met, for it contains no direct attacks against the decisions of Synod. The title of the book is: De Loochening Der Gemeene Gratie,38 and it contains serious charges against those who deny common grace. Van Baalen defines the battle in the church as between Calvinism and Anabaptism;39 he accuses those who deny common grace of rationalism, in connection with which he pleads for a "two-track" theology;40 and in his development of the charge of Anabaptism against the deniers of common grace, he insists that these men hold to a view of grace which leads to separation from the world because it divorces nature from grace.41

Van Baalen's second book was entitled: Nieuwigheid en Dwaling.42 It was, in fact, an answer to two other pamphlets or books published by Hoeksema and Danhof in which they had answered Van Baalen's charges.43 This latter writing of Van Baalen was once again answered by Hoeksema and Danhof in the brochure: Langs Zuivere Banen (Along Pure Paths)44 . In his book, Niewigheid en Dwalling, Van Baalen was far less reluctant to take up the cudgel for Janssen. He upbraids Hoeksema for refusing to go into the matter of common grace during the Janssen controversy, even though Janssen repeatedly brought it up. Hoeksema, says Van Baalen, kept saying, "I refused to be side-tracked." But now, in Hoeksema's two latest writings, he enters the question after all.45 In a footnote he suggests that the reason why Hoeksema refused to go into the question of common grace during the controversy was that there was disagreement between Janssen's opponents over the question.46

The effect of all this controversy was another difficult and bitter struggle in the Christian Reformed Church which culminated at the Synod of 1924, at which Synod doctrinal pronouncements were made concerning common grace. These doctrinal pronouncements were later made binding in the church.47 The issues, therefore, proved to be of such compelling importance that not only additional controversy was created over them, but opponents of were themselves cast out of the Christian Reformed fellowship.


The second important question we face is: Why did Janssen persist in bringing up the issue of common grace? Was it the central issue he claimed it to be? And, if the answer to that second question is in the affirmative, as many, including Janssen's supporters, were convinced it was, why did the opponents of Janssen refuse to enter into scarcely any mention made of it in all the writings of Janssen's opponents, (other than the articles of Hoeksema in The Banner) and why did not the Synod of 1922 discuss it?

The answers to these questions are not so easily found. It is possible to take the easy route in answering these questions, and merely assert that Janssen, in his repeated insistence that common grace was the central issue, was dragging a red herring across his trail in the hopes that the real issues would indeed be lost sight of in the shuffle. It is also possible that Janssen operated on the principle that the best defense is an aggressive offense. This would presuppose that Janssen was aware of the fact that his opponents were not agreed on the question of common grace, that some favored it and that some opposed it. He, if this was his tactic, hoped to divide the opposition and, in this way, relieve the pressure which was being brought to bear on him.

Even if this explanation for Janssen's tactics is correct, the fact remains that Janssen had greater motivation than saving his own skin while bringing the opposition into disrepute. From all of Janssen's writings, it is clear that he firmly believed that the relation between his views and common grace was not a merely mechanical one, contrived in the emergency of the moment in an effort to divert the stinging criticism of his opponents, but that the relation between the two was close and necessary; that, indeed, his whole position on Scripture fell of its own weight if it was not firmly grounded in common grace. It is, however, to be regretted that Janssen did not always show the relationship between common grace and his views in greater detail and with greater clarity. Already Hoeksema complained about this failure of Janssen, and apparently considered Janssen's failure to demonstrate this relationship sufficient reason to put the question of common grace aside.48

But this criticism of Janssen must not be construed meaning that Janssen never made any effort to connect common grace with his views on Scripture. In his writings, general way and along general lines, he surely spoke of how his ideas were supported by common grace. His arguments are persuasive and give evidence of Janssen's careful thought on the matter.49

But, having established this, we are still faced with the question of why Janssen's opponents, particularly the members of the Majority Investigatory Committee and the four professors and four ministers50 refused to enter into the question of common grace, something which Hoeksema later regretted.

The answer to this is, in our judgment, somewhat complex. It is true that disagreement existed between Janssen's opponents over the question of common grace. Janssen spoke of this more than once in his writings. He knew that Rev. Hoeksema rejected common grace. He knew too that H. Danhof agreed basically with Hoeksema on this question.51 He suggested the strong possibility that S. Volbeda, one of the four professors, agreed with Hoeksema and repudiated common grace. Janssen found the proof for this in Volbeda's inaugural address which, according to Janssen, had been criticized in the Netherlands for being unReformed on the question of common grace.52 He spoke as if he was not sure whether the other three professors believed in common grace or whether they repudiated it. His language seems to suggest that he had always thought they believed it, but that their opposition to his teachings on Scripture would almost lead one to believe that they did not. Perhaps, opines Janssen, they simply misunderstand the doctrine.53 At any rate, Janssen was convinced that L. Berkhof took a position contrary to common grace when he taught that the speeches of Paul in Athens and Lystra contained mistaken ideas. These speeches, Janssen said, were full of common grace, and to say that they included mistakes is to give evidence of denying common grace.54 Concerning F. Ten Hoor, Janssen noted that, while Kuyper was the greatest advocate of common grace, Ten Hoor was at odds with Kuyper; further, Ten Hoor seemed to want to limit common grace to the natural life in distinction from the spiritual life of regeneration -- a virtual denial of common grace, according to Janssen.55

Whether Janssen correctly evaluated the views of the professors is difficult to say. But subsequent history is clear. The four professors, as well as others agreed with Hoeksema in his opposition to Janssen.56 Yet they all also joined in condemning Hoeksema in 1924 for his denial of common grace. This would surely seem to suggest that they held to common grace in one form or another, although they might not have been agreed among themselves as to its precise nature.

What complicates the question is the fact that Janssen repeatedly appealed to Kuyper and Bavinck in his defense of common grace. Janssen's opponents, on the other hand, were somewhat ambiguous in their attitude towards Bavinck and Kuyper, and it is not easy to determine in their writings just exactly what their sentiments were. seems clear that, generally, Bavinck was held in higher esteem than Kuyper, and that the opposition to Kuyper was in some instances rather strong.57 In this context the questions arose: Were Janssen's appeals to Kuyper and Bavinck justified? Were Janssen's opponents taking a position at odds with these two giants of the Reformed faith?

In order to sort out these matters, it is necessary to backtrack a bit and ask some questions concerning what precisely was the common grace which was so much at issue. It is not always so easy to answer this question because common grace had never received official status in either the Churches in the Netherlands or in America. It was, more or less, a doctrine which was taught by many and assumed to be truly Biblical and Confessional without the question of the nature of common grace really being answered.

This lack of precise definition was especially true of the men of the Afscheiding. While it is doubtful to say the least that the ideas of common grace can be traced back' to Calvin and the fathers at Dort,58 these teachings could be found among some in the Netherlands prior to the Afscheiding who were influenced by the Nadere Reformatie. Whether all the fathers of the Afscheiding held to some kind of common grace is also doubtful.59 It is quite possible that De Cock himself did not. Nevertheless, the ideas were to be found strongly imbedded in the souls of many. Common grace was a part of the tradition of the Afscheiding -- of that there can be no question. But the common grace held among those who were spiritual sons of the Afscheiding was something quite different from the common grace found in A. Kuyper. And it is in these differences that, at least in part, the solution to the problem is to be found.

What were these differences? Some idea of them may be gained from consulting the writings of some of the men who influenced the Afscheiding and whose ideas were so influential among Afscheiding theologians.

A few decades before the Afscheiding, W.A. Brakel wrote concerning these ideas. While he is somewhat equivocal in his views, he very clearly held to some form of common grace. In writing on the subject of The Calling, Brakel writes:

Grace is distinguished as giving and that which is given. The giving grace is the mercy of God, as the fountain from which all that is good, which man receives, is given. That which is given are the gifts themselves . . . .
Grace is common or special. Common grace God shows to all men by bestowing physical bene- fits . . . . To this belongs also the good which God gives to all those whom He calls, giving them His Word, the means unto conversion and salvation. Along with this God usually gives enlightening, historical faith, conviction, being almost persuaded to become a Christian.60

Brakel had considerable influence on the men of the Afscheiding and remained in many circles one of the favorites among the "Oude Schrijvers" who were so frequently read in reading sermons in the churches and in the devotional readings of the members of the church.

To go back a bit more in time, Aegidius Francken writes concerning the natural knowledge of God which all men possess:

Is then this (natural) knowledge fruitless?
No, but it is still advantageous in many ways.
What is the advantage?
1. That natural knowledge of God serves to maintain human society, and suppresses wickedness in their licentious lives, without which the world would become a sepulcher of murderers.
2. It makes the sinner the more responsible before God (Romans 1:20).
3. It is moreover a powerful incentive to attain a higher knowledge which is saving.61

The idea of common grace held by some of the sons of the Afscheiding was a general attitude of favor and kindness on God's part towards all men which manifested itself in the bestowal of many temporal blessings and benefits. Common grace was often identified with God's providence, and the emphasis was placed on the fact that in His providence, God gives good gifts to men. God is good, the overflowing Fountain of all good, and hence His gifts are also always good. Yet, the emphasis fell on the fact that these gifts were grace, i.e., God's favor. On mankind in general these blessings consisted of such things as rain and sunshine, fruitful and prosperous years, health and strength, etc. Within the church, the unbelievers also received many additional blessings such as the preaching of the Word, the signs and seals of the sacraments, Christian nurture in home, church and school, etc.62

But the view of Kuyper on common grace was different. Hoeksema discusses this distinction at some length.63 After pointing out that Kuyper preferred to make distinction between gratie and genade,64 and after some discussion of Kuyper's view of common grace, Hoeksema sums it up as follows:

Which, then, are the three chief elements in the Kuyperian conception of common grace?
1. That God, though with a view to eternity and the eternal blessedness of the Kingdom He is gracious to the elect, with a view to things earthly and temporal He is gracious to all men.
2. That there is a restraining influence, ever since the fall of man, of the common grace of God upon the physical and ethical corruption of the world and of the heart of man, so that the principle of total depravity cannot work through.
3. That there is a positive influence of God's common grace upon the mind and will of man, whereby he is so improved that he can still live a positively good world-life.65

Without entering into the question of the differences over the free offer of the gospel, it is clear that the chief difference between Kuyper and the men of the Afscheiding on the question of common grace was this: the men of the Afscheiding were content to limit the blessings of common grace to the good gifts which God gave to men in general; Kuyper held to a more aggressive common grace, a grace which restrained sin and resulted in the ability of the natural man to do good.

This difference was, in our judgment, a significant factor in the history of the Janssen case in general, and in the refusal of the opponents of Janssen to take up the question of common grace.

When Dr. Janssen appealed to Kuyper and Bavinck in his defense of common grace he certainly did this with justification. Both emphatically taught a doctrine of common grace, and as we noticed above taught a view of common grace which was significantly different from the generally accepted view held among the descendants of the Afscheiding.66 Hoeksema admitted as much when he in his attack on the doctrine of common grace specifically repudiated Kuyper's teachings.67

However while Janssen appealed to Kuyper and Bavinck in support of his teachings on common grace, Janssen was wrong when he deduced from this that Kuyper would have agreed with him on all his views on Scripture. The copious quotations from Kuyper and Bavinck which fill the Majority Report of the Investigatory Committee are proof of this.68 Without doubt Kuyper would have repudiated sharply Janssen's position had he been in a position to do so.

This leaves us with a problem: Janssen appealed to Kuyper and Bavinck in support of his position, but both these men showed in their writings that they would not have agreed with Janssen if they had had opportunity to express themselves. How can this be?

The answer lies in the area or areas to which common grace is to be applied. While Kuyper and Bavinck applied the doctrine to many different areas, such as the arts, the knowledge of God, etc., they never applied the doctrine to Biblical studies. Janssen did this and came up with his views. It was from Janssen's viewpoint a consistent application of the doctrine to the area of his particular interests.

There are two elements here that must be taken into account. On the one hand, Janssen's opponents, for the most part men in the tradition of the Afscheiding, held to a different view of common grace than did Kuyper, Bavinck and Janssen himself.69 On the other hand, Janssen's opponents themselves did not agree on the question of common grace. Hoeksema and Danhof certainly denied it in any form, especially as the controversy developed. What Volbeda believed on the doctrine cannot be determined. Janssen may have been right when he accused Volbeda of denying this doctrine altogether, although Volbeda, obviously, went along with the decisions of the Synod of 1924 on common grace and consented to the expulsion of Hoeksema, Danhof and Ophoff. The four professors, H.J. Kuiper, and other opponents of Janssen were probably believers in common grace, but the their precise views on the subject cannot be determined.

Against this background we must understand the reasons why Janssen's critics refused to enter into the question of common grace. In the first place, it is clear that it was possible to consider Janssen's views on Scripture apart from this basic question of common grace. This was possible because Janssen's views could be considered only on the basis of the teachings of the Confessions on the doctrine of Scripture. And this is, finally, what the Investigatory Committee and the Synod of 1922 did. In the second place, it is undoubtedly true that Janssen's insistence on bringing in the issue of common

grace would surely have been a diversion which could have endangered the case against Janssen. If the churches had become involved in a lengthy discussion of common grace, this would have so dominated the controversy, especially because no clear consensus existed in the churches, that the issues of Janssen's teachings would have been blurred. In the third place, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for Janssen's opponents to present a united front in their attack upon Janssen if the differences over their thinking on common grace had entered into their investigation and discussion. It may be that Janssen sensed this and hoped to "divide and conquer." But whatever Janssen's personal motives may have been, the fact remains that common grace would have torn the ranks of Janssen's critics and made any condemnation of Janssen's views impossible.

From the viewpoint, therefore, of the controversy itself, the church may be thankful that the discussion over common grace was postponed until Janssen's views were adjudicated and condemned. But it remained a striking fact that the issue of common grace would not die; that it was resurrected shortly after the Janssen controversy was settled; and that the men who brought it up were themselves Janssen's supporters. That Hoeksema took the lead in the condemnation of Janssen; that Janssen's supporters were mainly instrumental in forcing the issue in the churches, resulting in the expulsion of Hoeksema; that those who sided with Hoeksema in opposing Janssen later became his accusers and condemners are some of the ironies of history not easily explained.70


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1. Berkhof, et. al. Waar het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat, pp. 4, 15. Return

2. This was written after the Synod of 1922. Return

3. Y. P. De Jong, "Naar Aanleiding van het 'Document,'" The Witness 1 (November, 1922): 185. Return

4. The letter is found in the personal file of Prof. Heyns and is dated September 3, 1922. The book to which Heyns refers has as its full title: De Loochening Der Gemeene Gratie: Gereformeerd of Doopersch? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans - Sevensma, 1922). Return

5. Heyns was one of the four professors who objected to Janssen's teachings and co-authored the pamphlet, Waar het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat. Return

6. H. Hoeksema, "On Common Grace." The Banner (March 24, 1921): 181-182. Return

7. Also one of the co-authors of Waar het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat. Return

8. H. J. Kuiper, "Salient Points In The Dr. Janssen Controversy," The Banner (April 28, 1921): 261. Return

9. H. Danhof & H. Hoeksema, Niet Doopersch maar Gereformeerd: Voorloopig Bescheid aan Ds. Jan Karel Van Baalen betreffende De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie. (Grand Rapids: Grand Rapids Printing Co. no date), pp. 4-5. This same viewpoint appears in H. Danhof & H. Hoeksema, Van Zonde en Genade. (Grand Rapids: The authors), p. 78. Return

10. H. Hoeksema, "De Jongste Kerkelijke Strijd." The Standard Bearer (November, 1924): 13. Return

11. Ibid., pp. 13-14. Return

12. Hoeksema, The History of the Protestant Reformed Churches. p. 23. Return

13. Breen, "My Reflections on Prof. Ralph Janssen and on the Janssen Case of 1922." pp. 10-11. Return

14. Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years . . . ," p. 1-9. Return

15. Ibid., p. 23. Return

16. James D. Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1984). p. 105. Return

l7. Ibid., p. 106. Return

18. Ibid., p. 108. Return

19. Ibid. Return

20. Ibid., p. 110. This break came about when Hoeksema and Danhof were put off the staff of The Witness. Return

21. Ibid., p. 114. This distinction between a Kuyperian common grace and an evangelistic common grace is an interesting one, and is an indirect reference to the adoption of the doctrine of a free offer in connection with common grace. Kuyper would have none of the free offer. We shall return to this question a bit later. Return

22. This matter will enter our discussion again. Return

23. H. Hoeksema, "The Fallen King." The Banner (October 31, 1918): 789. Return

24. Hoeksema, "Pseudo-Calvinism," The Banner (date): 6. This is interesting because the charge of Anabaptism was to be levelled against the opponents of Janssen, and this charge was always made in connection with a denial of common grace. Return

25. Ibid., p. 7. See also later articles. Return

26. Hoeksema, "The Fallen King and his Kingdom." The Banner (February 13, 1919): 6. Return

27. H. Beets, "Moderation, Brethren! Let the past Speak." The Banner (February 20, 1919): 3-4. The Christian Journal was written by men of the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church of America. G.G. Haan, in this discussion, came to the defense of the magazine; see, Haan, "Darts and Daggers." The Banner (February 20, 1919): 7. D.H. Kromminga, later a member of the Minority Investigatory Committee, wrote an article warning against this "New Movement." Kromminga, "Lead us not into Temptation." The Banner (April 3, 1919): 214-215. Return

28. Hoeksema, "The Fallen King and his Kingdom." The Banner (April 10, 1919): 230. Return

29. Hoeksema, "The Fallen King and his Kingdom." The Banner (April 17, 1919): 248-249. Return

30. Hoeksema, "The Fallen King and his Kingdom." The Banner (April 24, 1919): 261-262. Return

31. Hoeksema, "The Fallen King and his Kingdom." The Banner (May l, 1919): 277-278. See also Hoeksema, "The Fallen King and his Kingdom." The Banner (June 12, 1919) 374-375. Return

32. See footnote 11 and the material to which it is added. Hoeksema himself called attention to this fact. Return

33. See Chapter II. Return

34. R. Janssen, "Reply to Rev. Herman Hoeksema." The Banner (November 4, 1920): 667-668. Return

35. H. Hoeksema, "The New King and His Kingdom." The Banner (November 4, 1920): 666-667; (November 11, 1920): 683-684; 56 (January 6, 1921): 5-6. Return

36. We offer only a brief sketch of this history, because our concern is not so much with the subsequent controversy which culminated in the deposition of Hoeksema, Danhof and Ophoff, but with the relation between the issue of common grace and the views of Dr. R. Janssen. Return

37. We have referred to both these pamphlets earlier. The date of Janssen's pamphlet is June, 1922, the month in which the Synod met in Orange City. Return

38. Van Baalen, De Loochening Der Gemeene Gratie. Return

39. Ibid., P. 9. He also devotes an entire chapter, beginning on page 75, to this question. Return

40. Ibid., pp. 35-38. Return

41. Ibid. See especially pp. 75-81. Return

42. Van Baalen, Nieuwigheid en Dwaling. Return

43. H. Danhof & H. Hoeksema, Niet Doopersch Maar Gereformeerd, and Van Zonde en Genade, both of which we have referred to earlier. Return

44. The full title is: Danhof & Hoeksema, Langs Zuivere Banen: Een Wederwoord aan Bezwaarde Broederen (Kalamazoo: Dalm Printing Co., no date.) Return

45. Van Baalen, Nieuwigheid en Dwaling, 86-89. Return

46. Ibid., p. 88. This observation of Van Baalen is undoubtedly correct. If the issue of common grace had been taken up, Janssen's opponents would have been, hopelessly divided. See below. Return

47. Interestingly enough, the Synod itself did not make these decisions binding at its sessions in 1924. They were made binding only when Hoeksema, Danhof and Ophoff had been deposed by their respective Classes for refusal to sign the doctrinal statements of 1924, which depositions were upheld by the Synod of 1926. See H. Hoeksema History of the Protestant Reformed Churches, for detailed discussion of this history. Return

48. H., Hoeksema, "Not Satisfied." The Banner (January 27,1921): 56. Return

49. We shall pursue this in detail in the next chapter. Return

50. Two of the four ministers were, of course, members of the Majority Investigatory Committee. Return

51. Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, p. 4. Return

52. Ibid., p. 5. Return

53. Janssen, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd, p. 3. Return

54. Ibid., p. 24; Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, p. 8. Return

55. Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, p. 7. Return

56. H. J. Kuiper, e.g. Return

57. This was true of Foppe Ten Hoor. See above. The opposition to Kuyper, such as it was, could be explained in part by the fact that the opponents of Janssen were mostly men of the Afscheiding. Return

58. This point was also a minor issue in the early stages of the controversy over common grace. For an examination of this question, see my article on "The History of the Free Offer of the Gospel," Protestant Reformed Theological Journal (November, 1985): 25-36. Return

59. H. Algra, Het Wonder van de Negentiende Eeuw (Kampen: J.H. Kok, 1965), pp. l51ff., where Algra tells of a controversy among the men of the Afscheiding, which arose because Brummelkamp was suspected of being too broad in his preaching by virtue of his views on the free offer of the gospel, a doctrine always connected with common grace (as in the first point of 1924). Return

60. W. A. Brakel, Redelijke Godsdienst (Leiden: D. Donner, 1893). Vol. I., p. 729. The translation is ours. Return

61. Aegidus Francken, Kern der Christelijke Leer Second Edition (Groningen: Theologische Boekhandel, 1893). pp. 11, 12. It is especially the third advantage of natural knowledge which carries with it the idea of common grace, although common grace is not specifically mentioned. The value of this quotation, though early (the original edition was published in 1713), rests upon the continued use of this book in the churches of the Afscheiding. My father, in a private conversation, has told me that when he was pastor in Hull, Iowa in the early '30s the people of his congregation, all Afscheiding people, often spoke of Francken's book as the book of instruction which had been used in their Catechism classes in Afscheiding Churches in the Netherlands. Return

62. Among these same Afscheiding people was sometimes to be found the idea of the general offer of the gospel. This was intimately related to common grace and was often interpreted, in fact, as being a manifestation of common grace. See for further information on this subject my article, "The History of the Free Offer of the Gospel," Protestant Reformed Theological Journal (April, 1986): 41-55, especially pp. 46-51. A. Kuyper himself wanted no part of the free offer of the gospel, and in this too is to be found a distinct difference between his view of common grace and that held among the sons of the Afscheiding. See A. Kuyper, Dat de Genade Particulier Is (Kampen, J.H. Kok, 1909). See especially "Part One". See also D. Engelsma, Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1980). See especially Chapter 7. Return

63. Hoeksema, History of the Protestant Reformed Churches, pp. 309-314. Return

64. The two words must both be translated "grace," for the English language has no words to describe the difference. Kuyper referred gratie to common grace and genade to the particular grace bestowed only on the elect. See Hoeksema, Ibid., p. 309. Return

65. Ibid., p. 313. See, for Kuyper's own development of this position, A. Kuyper, Calvinism (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1943). These contain Kuyper's "Stone Lectures." See also H.R. Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1972). See especially chapters 8 and 16 in which Kuyper's views on common grace are developed and extensive quotations from Kuyper's magnum opus on the subject of common grace, De Gemeene Gratie, are given. A. Kuyper, De Gemeene Gratie (Amsterdam: Hoveker & Wormser, 1902). Three volumes. Return

66. That Bavinck agreed essentially with Kuyper on this question is beyond doubt. Why he came to agree with Kuyper is another question. Bavinck had his spiritual roots in the Afscheiding and disappointed many people from Afscheiding churches when he moved from his chair in the Seminary in Kampen (an Afscheiding school) to take the chair of Dogmatics in the Free University. Return

67. H. Hoeksema, "The New King and His Kingdom." The Banner (November 4, 1920): 666-667; (November 11, 1920): 683-684; 56 (January 6, 1921): 5-6. It is interesting to observe that in his earlier writings on the subject, Hoeksema still speaks of grace in the tradition of the Afscheiding when he refers to an overflow of "blessings" which come to the reprobate; but he adds as some of the old fathers, that these blessings are really a curse. See e.g. Hoeksema, "The Fallen King and his Kingdom." The Banner (May 8, 1919): 297; (May 15, 1919): 313. This too would seem to add weight to the idea that differences existed between Kuyper's views and the traditional views of the Afscheiding. It is also interesting to note in passing that Hoeksema, while still in the Netherlands, agreed with Kuyper on common grace. There are some evidences in his sermons preached in Fourteenth Street Christian Reformed Church, his first charge, that he still held to these views. See G. Hoeksema, Therefore Have I Spoken: A Biography of Herman Hoeksema (Grand Rapids: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1964). pp. 96ff. Return

68. See Reports and Decisions in the Case of Dr. R. Janssen, pp. 25-26, 29-35, 37-40, and elsewhere. Return

69. This also undoubtedly explains the tensions between Janssen's opponents and the writers in Religion and Culture, which paper defended vigorously Kuyper's views on common grace. Return

70. It is interesting, and beyond the scope of this present study, to observe that both the Afscheiding conception of common grace, along with the free offer of the gospel, and Kuyperian common grace were incorporated into the three doctrinal statements adopted by the Synod of 1924. Disagreements over common grace among Janssen's opponents will also explain the fact that when Hoeksema and Danhof wanted to develop their views on common grace in The Witness (an anti-Janssen paper), they were refused and their resignations accepted; and this would perhaps explain why eventually The Witness and Religion and Culture merged. See Hoeksema, History of the Protestant Reformed Churches, p. 22. Return


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