Book: A Study of the Relation Between the Views of Prof. R. Janssen and Common Grace

Chapter V: The Relationship between Common Grace and Janssen's Views

We turn now to the specific question of the relation between common grace and Janssen's views. An examination of this question will soon uncover the fact that Janssen, in his writings, actually connected common grace with several different aspects of the controversy. In fact, one cannot help but gain the impression that the connection between common grace and some aspects of the controversy is so contrived that Janssen left the impression he was obsessed with his views. Some of these relationships are of little interest to us in this present paper; we mention them here only in passing.

In one of his pamphlets, Janssen makes the assertion that the relation between common grace and the Reformed faith is so close that one who departs on the question of common grace involves himself in a departure from the whole Reformed faith.l By making this radical statement, Janssen was going beyond anyone who had written on this subject in the past and was raising the doctrine to a position of importance with which hardly anyone would agree.

In another pamphlet, Janssen connects the whole question of common grace with the church political errors which, in his judgment, were committed by his opponents, by the Curatorium and by Synod. He argues that even natural principles of justice were violated; and his argument is that these natural principles of justice, found even outside the church among unregenerated men, were violated because of a denial of or a failure to recognize the importance of common grace. That is, these principles of justice which were violated were to be found among the unregenerate because of common grace. To run roughshod over them, therefore, is to deny common grace.2

This issue of the relation between common grace and church political errors is given extensive treatment and is broadened to include, in Janssen's opinion, many ethical breaches of conduct.3 Among these errors is Hoeksema's attack on Janssen's views shortly after the Synod of 1920. Janssen protested that Hoeksema, in his writings, rejected the authority of the Synod after it had decided in favor of Janssen, and, by this, had shown Anabaptistic tendencies which involved the Anabaptistic conception of grace. This conception of grace is connected with a denial of common grace, because it teaches only one kind of grace rather than two.4

Finally, Janssen attempted in a rather strained manner to connect common grace with the Bultema controversy.5 He argued that Bultema was deposed for Anabaptistic excesses, but that in Janssen's case Hoeksema and Danhof, equally guilty of Anabaptism, were allowed to remain in the church. The basic error of Anabaptism in both instances, according to Janssen, was "de loochening van her leerstuk der Gemeene Gratie" ("the denial of the 6 doctrine of common grace").6

These efforts of Janssen to bring the issue of common grace into every facet of the controversy strained the credulity of people, never seemed important enough by those who opposed Janssen to warrant an answer, were not even arguments taken up by Janssen's defenders, and were perhaps factors in making people wonder whether common grace was indeed the issue that Janssen claimed it was. A bad argument in defense of a truth can do more damage than a good argument against it. It is difficult to understand why Janssen, an extraordinarily able man, could not see the harm he was doing to his own defense of his position by introducing common grace as an element in almost every aspect of the problem.

All this ought not, however, to obscure the fact that Janssen made an excellent case for the proposition that the doctrine of common grace was important for his position. Janssen pointed out very clearly that his position stood solidly on the rock of common grace, and that, in the final analysis, to repudiate his position involved one in a repudiation of common grace. He did not always demonstrate this in connection with every single detail of his position; nor did he show how common grace was connected to his position on every point which his accusers brought against him; but he drew the lines clearly enough when he explained how he developed his position from the doctrine of common grace. And his arguments at this point are so convincing that it is not difficult to see that, given common grace, Janssen came to the conclusions he did on such questions as the nature of the miracles, the relation between general and special revelation, the relation between Scripture and heathen culture, etc.

If we ask ourselves the question, however, what precisely was Janssen's view of common grace? we are in something of a bind. Never in all his writings does he deal with the concept as such. One can look in vain for any clear and concise definition of common grace, or any development of the idea. This is somewhat strange considering the great importance he attached to the doctrine and considering the different views of common grace which were held in the Netherlands and in America. One would think that when a doctrine holds such a prominent place in a person's thinking he would be at great pains to define precisely what he meant by it. This lack detracts from the cogency of all Janssen's argumentation.

Nevertheless, from Janssen's repeated appeals to common grace, from the connections he makes between common grace and his views of Scripture, and from his citations of Kuyper and Bavinck especially, it is possible to conclude that Janssen held to the view of common grace set forth particularly by Dr. A. Kuyper. I.e., he held to a view of common grace which taught that, because of God's operations of common grace in the unregenerate, it was possible for the unregenerate to discover truth, do good in the sight of God, and contribute by means of this good to the knowledge and welfare of the church in the world. This view of common grace surely supported Janssen's positions on Scripture.

As we noticed in Chapter III, Janssen's views on Scripture are not always easy to distinguish sharply from each other. They are related. His views on Isagogics, e.g., cannot be separated from his views on the relation between revelation and heathen culture; and his views on inspiration cannot be understood apart from his position on a scientific and critical approach to Scripture. Because of this close relationship between various aspects of Janssen's position with regard to Scripture, it is somewhat difficult to distinguish clearly between the various ways in which Janssen connected common grace to his position. In the nature of the case, there is some overlapping. Nevertheless, it is possible to distinguish five separate areas in which the issue of common grace was, in Janssen's opinion, crucial. They are: 1) the relation between common grace and the borrowing of elements in heathen culture by the Israelites; 2) The relation between common grace on the one hand, and general and special revelation on the other, which relation involved also the legitimacy of a scientific and critical approach to Scripture; 3) The relation between common grace and the miracles; 4) The relation between common grace and the inspiration of Scripture; 5) The whole question of Anabaptism and the denial of common grace by the Anabaptists. We turn now to a discussion of these points, although not in this order, nor always completely separate from each other.

 

Although the question of general and special revelation was by no means the most extensively discussed, it was probably the central issue. It is not certain why this matter did not receive more extensive treatment in the controversy, and the literature gives no indication of a possible reason, but one can surmise that such a reason exists in the fact that agreement was rather general in the Christian Reformed Church on several points. Most agreed that general and special revelation were to be distinguished from each other; most also agreed that general revelation, in distinction from special revelation, was common, i.e., to all men; and most agreed that general revelation was a fruit of God's common grace. It is also probably true that one could find agreement on the fact that general revelation gave to all men a certain knowledge of God, a certain ability to distinguish between good and evil, and a certain regard for good order and decency in society.7 Bavinck's rather extensive treatment of general revelation was accepted widely.Bavinck finds the value of general revelation in the following elements:

It is owing to general revelation that some religious and ethical sense is present in all men; that they have some awareness still of truth and falsehood, of good and evil, justice and injustice, beauty and ugliness; that they live in the relationship of marriage and the family, of community and state; that they are held in check by all these external and internal controls against degenerating into bestiality; that within the pale of these limits, they busy themselves with the production, distribution, and enjoyment of all kinds of spiritual and material things; in short, that mankind is by general revelation preserved in its existence, maintained in its unity, and enabled to continue and to develop in history.9

This is also connected to common grace by Bavinck:

The Christian, who sees everything in the light of the Word of God, is anything but narrow in his view. He is generous in heart and mind. He looks over the whole earth and reckons it his own, because he is Christ's and Christ is God's (I Cor. 3:21-23). He cannot let go his belief that the revelation of God in Christ, to which he owes his life and salvation, has a special character. This belief does not exclude him from the world, but rather puts him in position to trace out the revelation of God in nature and history, and puts the means at his disposal by which he can recognize the true and the good and the beautiful and separate them from the false and sinful alloys of men.
So it is that he makes a distinction between a general and a special revelation of God. In the general revelation God makes use of the usual run of phenomena and the usual course of events; in the special revelation He often employs unusual means, appearances, prophecy, and miracle to make Himself know to man. The contents of the first kind are especially the attributes of power, wisdom and goodness; those of the second kind are especially God's holiness and righteousness, compassion and grace. The first is directed to all men, and, by means of common grace, serves to restrain the eruption of sin; the second comes to all those who live under the Gospel and has as its glory, by special grace, the forgiveness of sins and the renewal of life.
But, however essentially the two are to be distinguished, they are also intimately connected with each other. Both have their origin in God, in His sovereign goodness and favor. The general revelation is owing to the Word which was with God in the beginning, which made all things, which shone as a light in the darkness and lighteth every man that cometh into the world (John l:l-9). The special revelation is owing to that same Word, as it was made flesh in Christ, and is now full of grace and truth (John l:l4). Grace is the content of both revelations, common in the first, special in the second, but in such a way that the one is indispensable for the other.
It is common grace which makes special grace possible, prepares the way for it, and later supports it; and special grace, in its turn, leads common grace up to its own level and puts it into its service. Both revelations, finally, have as their purpose the preservation of the human race, the first by sustaining it, and the second by redeeming it, and both in this way serve the end of glorifying all of God's excellencies.10

James Bratt, in discussing the Janssen case, also points out this relation. He writes:

In his own case, Janssen argued, their (Janssen's opponents, H.H.) removal of God's grace from the natural and common had forced his critics to denigrate man's residual abilities and misconceive the nature of miracles, revelation and science.11

H. Boer insists that this question lay at the very heart of the whole controversy. In a passage we quoted earlier, Boer says that perhaps the basic issue was "whether the God of general revelation (nature, common grace) is operative in the actions of the God of special revelation (redemption, special grace)." And he adds that the question was whether these two forms of revelation can be considered to intertwine and interact at those points in the Bible where the Bible seems to speak only of a super- natural mode of revelation.12 In a follow-up article, Boer elaborates a bit on this when he writes:

. . . conditions and happenings in the area of general revelation -- nature, history, the culture and religion of the peoples surrounding Israel, and the reflection of the Biblical writers -- could be and in fact were means used by God in imparting his redemptive revelation as given to us in the O.T.13

In the same article, referring to a protest of Q. Breen which was presented to the Synod of 1924, Boer says that Breen "places in the foreground again and again . . . the dimension of natural revelation" which "played a significant role as the bearer or medium of special revelation.."14

In an article in The Grand Rapids Press Dr. Boer says that Janssen taught that God's inspiration of the Bible availed itself of "historical, political, religious, and general cultural influences" in its composition; and that the basic issue was the value of general revelation in relation to special revelation.15

Dr. George Stob casts some interesting and undoubtedly correct light on this aspect of the question as it stood related to questions of encyclopedia, especially as the question created tensions in the Seminary. He writes:

But Ten Hoor noted that these (teachings of Janssen, H.H.) were differences on questions of principle with reference to which the Theological School stands or falls. They were questions about the relation of theological study to the science of learning in general, and about the relation of the Church to theological science. Ten Hoor held that theology is the queen of the sciences and is not to be subordinated to science or authorship in general, and that the church has absolute authority over theological science and the Theological School in which it is taught. In discussion with Curatorium Dr. Janssen declared that he was not ready to affirm that the church has the highest authority over theological science.16

Stob goes on to point out that Janssen was, on this point, in agreement with Kuyper who did not want theology to be under the control of the church, while Ten Hoor (and Heyns) feared that theology, not under the control of the church, would not be controlled by the Confessions and thus would lead to heresy. This was an important aspect of the case. If, as Janssen argued, theology is correlative with other sciences, it must be approached as any other science, and its study must take into account general revelation which is the study of the other sciences. If, however, theology is the queen of the sciences and stands over them, then general revelation will play no role in the pursuit of theology; Scripture alone will be its source book.

To sum up the point thus far, the issue of common grace was closely connected with Janssen's position because his starting point was the value of general revelation in Biblical studies, and general revelation was really the fruit of common grace. We must now point out specifically how Janssen related the two.

Already in 1921, when writing in The Banner, Janssen described common grace in some detail. He wrote that by His common grace "God curbs sin and upholds this world of ours." Without common grace the fall of man would have brought ruin to the creation. This same common grace "perpetuated the ordinances of creation," and preserved remnants of the divine image, the seed of religion and the consciousness of God in man. Because of common grace one found among the pagans men of genius, high morality, proverbial virtue and men possessing lofty conceptions of God.17

In his brochure, Voortzetting . . . , Janssen writes that what we find in Scripture indeed belongs to God's revelation, but not in every respect to God's particular grace in Christ. He adds that men in the church who deny common grace also deny this. He writes:

What Holy Scripture gives us, indeed belongs in all its parts to God's revelation, but not in all its parts to God's particular grace, to God's grace in Christ. People among us, where God's common grace is either seriously denied or misunderstood, have not understood this sufficiently.18

Further, in developing this thesis and in attempting to show that this idea has been taught in the Reformed Churches since the time of Calvin, he explains that this view affects the doctrine of inspiration, of the relation between Israel and the surrounding nations, etc., because revelation did not simply fall from heaven, but the knowledge of it came from heaven and from the heathen; i.e., it came from special revelation and general revelation.19 A few particular points are worth notice.

Janssen speaks specifically about what modifications common grace brought about in Old Testament studies. He points out that Abraham was not separate from the heathen in Canaan, but had much contact with the Canaanites. Because common grace preserved the remnants of the knowledge of God among them, Abraham could find in their thinking and religion much that was congenial to his thoughts and much that he could learn from them and incorporate into his own religion.20 He quotes Kuyper and Bavinck at length on this point and points out that Bavinck wrote that Israel's religion was in part determined by heathen religions: "Israel's religion was raised on the broad foundation of the original religion of mankind."21 He concludes by saying that Israel's history and the history of Israel's religion "must not be considered apart from the religion and culture of the Ancient Eastern peoples."22

In Crisis . . . , Janssen connects his conception of general revelation with the natural sciences, and explains how they have bearing on the question of our approach to miracles.23 His position is that the approach of general revelation and common grace to the interpretation of miracles is crucial for a correct understanding of them.

There can be no question about it that revelation and grace always are related to each other in Scripture. If one, therefore, holds to a general revelation (at least, in the sense in which this concept had been maintained by Kuyper, Bavinck, and some earlier theologians) in addition special revelation, one is also compelled by the logic of the matter to hold to a general grace in addition to a special grace. It is apparently for this reason that H. Hoeksema, after his repudiation of common grace, subjected the whole concept of general revelation to careful exegetical scrutiny. And in doing this, he finally came to reject the concept altogether. This is not to say that Hoeksema denied a certain communication of truth by God through a manifestation of Himself to all men; Romans l:18ff. is clear on that. But he did insist, as also Romans 1 makes clear, that this is the revelation of God's wrath (vs. 18), and that its purpose is only to leave man without excuse (vs. 20).24

 

This position of Janssen on the question of general revelation had ramifications for various aspects of his teachings on Scripture. It is well, however, to observe while Janssen discusses over and over again his position on common grace and repeatedly charges his opponents with a denial of this doctrine, he does not often deal with the specific charges which were brought against him. The references to these specific charges, with the possible exception of the question of miracles, are few and far between. Janssen is more concerned with the broader questions than with the specific points at issue.

First of all, Janssen taught that elements of the religion which were found among the patriarchs and Israel came from heathen and pagan sources. His argument was that the fruit of God's gracious revelation to all men was that certain elements of the truth were also revealed to the wicked, that these elements of the truth were preserved among them, and that they were incorporated into the religion of those who were the objects of God's special grace and special revelation because of the close contact between the two. Hence, we can acquire a better understanding of what Scripture tells us by a close study of pagan civilization, belief and culture.

Many examples of this are referred to in Janssen's writings. As early as November of 1920, Janssen, in summarizing his views on common grace, said that common grace must be taken into account in the interpretation of Scripture and revelation, for it works its power in the heathen world.25

We noticed above how the presence of common grace in the heathen made it possible for Israel to borrow ideas from heathen nations for its own religion, and how, therefore, Israel's history and the history of Israel's religion must "not be considered apart from the religion and culture of the Ancient Eastern peoples."26 But many more examples of Janssen's position on this matter may be cited. Abraham could borrow his idea of immortality from the heathen and Israel could borrow its idea of the resurrection and eternal life from the same source, because these ideas were preserved in heathen peoples by common grace. Yet, because they were the fruit of common grace they were imperfect, and this explains the imperfection of these ideas in Abraham and among the Israelites.27

While Janssen does not explain in detail, he claims that the views of his opponents in which they differ from his in connection with the life of Samuel and Saul are due to their erroneous dualistic and anti-common grace position. The chief point here is that Samuel was determined to purify the elements of heathendom which remained in Israel's religion. Samuel had hoped would co-operate with him in this, although Saul proved bitter disappointment. Janssen's point is that this purpose of Samuel gives evidences of the fact that Israel's religion incorporated in it elements of heathen religions, although these elements needed purifying. Thus we have evidence of common grace.28

Much the same is done in his defense of his views on Samson. While he makes a comparison between Samson and Achilles, he argues that those who object to certain legendary elements in the story of Samson are guilty of denying common grace and fall into Anabaptistic dualism. He writes:

... Indeed, if we pay attention a moment to the history of the world, that is to say, to the broad terrain where God works with his common grace, then we discover that the time in which God raised up Judges was a period in history in which heroes appeared. In Greece, Asia and in other lands we see heroes appear. This phenomenon in the history of people must be correctly considered as a confirmation of the historicity of the history of the Judges in the area of particular revelation. With respect to Greece and Asia this history is preserved for us in no other way than in the form of poetry, but later discoveries have indicated that we have to do with historical reality. There were heroes in those days. In the study of the heroes in Israel, raised up by God, we may with good reason pay attention to the heroes of other people. But the analogy between Israel and the heathen, between the judges and the heroes of other people, goes farther. Bavinck, as we said, says, "There is nothing in Israel, which cannot be found to be analogous with other people." In this way we have pointed out (referring to his teachings in the Seminary, H.H.) other details of comparison between Samson and, e.g., the heroes of Greece. The four professors and the four preachers, (referring to the authors of the pamphlet, Waar Het in de Zaak ..., H.H.) however, who deny and misunderstand the doctrine of common grace are, as is to be expected, fiercely opposed to the analogy which we made between Samson and the Greek heroes. This idea on their dualistic basis, profane, natural- istic, and whatever else. That leads them to the notion that we do not consider Samson to be an historical person. One sees that a deep chasm yawns between the four professors and four preachers, and our view, the Reformed position. In the nature of the case, a clash cannot be avoided. Their dualistic viewpoint is principally different from ours. It always leads again to strife between them and us. A reconciliation is not possible.29

This same principle applies throughout Scripture. David's ideas concerning bringing the ark to Jerusalem and building the temple came in part from heathen religions and made him more progressive, while the prophet was more conservative; and this too is connected with common grace. Janssen writes in connection with this point: In the second place, however, we must point out that we must never lose from sight that, in revelation and inspiration, God never suppresses the gifts of common grace. The personal disposition of the organs of revelation are in fact maintained in revelation and inspiration . . . . Revelation and inspiration are organic and reckon, for this reason, with the gifts of common grace There is an "adaptation of divine revelation in the prophetic personality." Because of this, the prophets were usually conservative people.30

The names of the patriarchs could very well have come, according to Janssen, from heathen sources; the body of Mosaic legislation had its roots in laws found in old Mesopotamian civilizations; and all these evidences of heathen religion in the religion of the Jews are to be ascribed to common grace which preserved remnants of the truth among the pagans of Israel's day In connection with his discussion of the objections of his opponents on this question, Janssen says: "Common grace -- this is very clearly evident -- is the wall of separation between our opponents and Reformed theology"31 In fact, although Janssen only mentions this in passing, he believed that his views on the canonical character of the Song of Solomon be interpreted as a natural love song) as well as his opinions on Ecclesiastes and Proverbs, ought also to be interpreted in terms of the influences of pagan thought, in which much truth was preserved by common grace in the religion of the Israelites. This is also Janssen's justification for his adoption of the source-theory of parts of Scripture; i.e., that the Pentateuch, e.g., was not written by Moses only, but was taken from many different sources.32

Through all these direct references to events in the Old Testament runs the repeated refrain that the differences between him and his opponents are differences over the doctrine of common grace. In Janssen's opinion, they are differences which strike at the heart of true Calvinism and the Reformed faith. Janssen repeatedly urges upon his readers that he, with his views of common grace, stands in the Calvinistic and Reformed tradition. His opponents have departed from it.

 

It is clear that the position outlined above reflects a certain view of inspiration. This subject of inspiration was, in various connections, also discussed by Janssen, though somewhat briefly. An examination of these references will show that Janssen, in connecting common grace with inspiration, was intent on emphasizing, and indeed was compelled to emphasize, the human element in Scripture -- although he always insisted he did not deny the divine element.33

In discussing the view that Israel's religion was, in part, received from heathen sources, Janssen pointed out that a denial of this involves a mechanical view of inspiration, while Reformed theology, and he as a part of this tradition, held to organic inspiration. Leaning heavily on Bavinck's statements concerning common grace and quoting from him, Janssen writes:

On the basis of organic inspiration Bavinck spoke, without hesitation, of "revelation to Abraham and thus the religion of Abraham," of "revelation to Israel" and "the Israelite religion," of "development and progress in the area of worship," of the religious ideas of the organs of revelation. A mechanical view of revelation will have nothing of this. Here, in the idea of a mechanical revelation, one has a dualism that indeed speaks of revelation, but has nothing to say of "ideas of God" belonging to the prophets, of "religious ideas, " of organs of revelation, etc.34

Organic inspiration, so Janssen argues, emphasizes the human element and thus leaves room for other cultural influences on the authors of Scripture. Thus organic inspiration and common grace are related. Mechanical inspiration has no room for any human element, denies general revelation, denies common grace, and thus is dualistic and Anabaptistic.

Janssen argues that Calvin already overcame this dualism with his doctrine of common grace, and that this principle of common grace must be applied to the truths of revelation and inspiration. When this is done, mechanical view of inspiration is impossible and an organic view of inspiration must be maintained.35

Thus revelation did not simply fail from heaven, but the knowledge of it came from heathen sources as well as from God. In connection with the narrative of creation, he describes his opponents' position:

Concerning the creation narrative, what is imparted through revelatio specialis (special revelation) is mostly accepted in such a way that it cannot be considered by us as anything else than mechanical. What the creation narrative contains must have its origin exclusively in particular revelation. The narrative, as it were, fell out of heaven. The considerations and reflections concerning God, the world as called into existence by God, the unity of the creation, -- considerations which God has given to man, to all men, and which He, by virtue of His common grace, has preserved from destruction, must be ignored ....36

In applying the principle of common grace to the relation between Babylonian and Mosaic law, Janssen specifically argues that common grace, as it operates in the unregenerate, must be considered as the broad basis or foundation for God's particular revelation and inspiration. In fact, the so-called human factor in Scripture is all but identified with common grace as that operates in the heathen world: "The common grace human factor must never be denied or misunderstood. It is completely the basis of particular grace (God's revelation)."37 Again he says, "Common grace is the broad basis or foundation with which the whole of particular revelation and inspiration must reckon."38 He speaks of "The human factor (a common grace element) ...."39

Janssen, quite clearly, meant considerably more by the so-called human factor in revelation than that God used men to write the words of Scripture. He broadened the whole concept to include the elements of truth which were found in the heathen world and which were incorporated into Scripture; and he did this in connection with a definition of inspiration which rejected verbal inspiration and interpreted inspiration as thought inspiration. These "thoughts" came from the heathen world outside Israel as well as from God.40

 

The same general principles of the operation of common grace among the heathen were applied to the whole question of miracles. It will be remembered that Janssen was accused of denying the supernatural element in miracles, an accusation which he strenuously denied, but which was accepted by the Synod of 1922 and on the basis of which, along with other points, Janssen was condemned.

This question of miracles involved various other questions. It involved the question of the relation between the natural and the supernatural; the question of whether God used means in performing miracles, or whether the miracles were all performed immediately; the question of whether some of the miracles involved additional creative works of God (as in the miracle of water from the rock in the wilderness, the feeding of Israel with manna, the multiplication of the oil for the widow, etc.); the question of a scientific and empirical approach to Scripture; and the question of the use of the natural sciences in explaining the miracles. And in every aspect of this problem arose the question of the relation of common grace to the performance and interpretation of the miracles.

In general, the following points may be mentioned as integral parts of Janssen's interpretation of miracles. In the first place, he held that, generally speaking, God used the ordinary means of providence to perform miracles. Miracles were not unusual events which could not be explained in terms of the ordinary providence of God, but the miraculous element in miracles was in the appropriate time at which they occurred and in their significance for the history of Israel. Thus, e.g., the walls of Jericho did not fall because of a direct and intervening act of God, but fell because of an earthquake. The miraculous element is to be found in the fact that God's ordinary providence brought the earthquake about at the crucial time when Israel was ready to begin its conquest of Canaan.41

In the second place, Janssen held that the view of miracles which his opponents held denied God's use of means in performing them. He repeatedly charged his opponents with making miracles immediate, while Scripture clearly taught that they were mediate. After all, God is repeatedly described as making use of the ordinary powers of creation and of the ordinary workings of His providence to effect miracles. God used a wind to dry the waters of the Red Sea before Israel and to bring quails to His people in the wilderness.

In the third place, this interpretation of miracles which denied means was basically a division, in Janssen's opinion, between the natural and the supernatural. It was false dichotomy which taught that the natural sphere had no connection with nor relation to the supernatural sphere; that the view resulted, therefore, in an Anabaptistic dualism of nature and grace, or of the natural and the supernatural.

To all this, common grace was once again related. It is not always so clear exactly how Janssen related common grace to these various elements, but apparently he saw this relationship in different ways.

One way in which common grace entered into the question was Janssen's use of the natural sciences to explain the miracles On the one hand, Janssen insisted that a knowledge of the natural sciences is necessary to explain the miracles Geology, e.g., is a natural science which we must use in interpreting the miracles But here too the natural sciences are the fruit of general revelation and God's common grace. He writes:

We must also bear in mind that Geology is a science which has been given us from God. In His common grace God gave that science to man. And however much we have to appreciate its discoveries with discriminating judgment, yet we must not proceed to consider this science as an error or work of Satan.42
... They (the four professors, H.H.) also here give occasion to fear a misunderstanding on their part of common grace. We fear a "deviation of science" on their part, a deviation, as Bavinck has said, (Alg. Genade, p. 34) which is a fruit of Anabaptistic origin.43

Thus, Janssen's argument is that because the natural sciences are the fruit of common grace, they discover truth. As such, they will aid us in understanding the miracles, which are phenomena in nature to which science has access. Thus a knowledge of Geology will help us understand how the walls of Jericho fell, for it will explain earthquakes which were the means God used in His ordinary providence to accomplish this end.

The critical-empirical method as applied to Scripture must also be applied to a study of the miracles, in Janssen's opinion, and this too involves the question of common grace.44 As the critical-empirical method is used in the study of the sciences (all gifts of God's common grace), so must this same method be applied to Scripture in order that we may learn how the miracles actually took place. In other words, Janssen seems to be saying (he is not always very clear on this) that the critical-empirical method applied to Scripture will enable us to apply our scientific knowledge to Scripture and thus learn how the miracles were performed in a way which does not contradict the material of Scripture. In this connection he writes:

The empirical method -- we must still add this -- belongs, if one reckons correctly, to the light which God has given us in the natural science, which is a fruit of his common grace. Whenever this science makes a declaration, it is not only our privilege, but much more our obligation to listen, even though with discriminatory judgment.45

And, so Janssen argues, because miracles are only God's ordinary providence, they are subject to empirical-critical analysis.

A further aspect of the question of miracles, an aspect which stands inseparably related to what we have observed above, is the question whether the miracles were performed mediately or immediately. Janssen refers to this many different times. It is, for Janssen, an important question; for if, as he claims, the wonder is mediate, the Scriptures give us the data concerning the wonder, but empirical investigation is necessary to determine the means by which the wonder was performed.46

A slightly different approach to this question is the problem which Janssen has with the position of his opponents who are willing to assert that God sometimes engaged in new creative activity in the miracles. Janssen repudiates this as an assault on the doctrine of common grace because common grace has as its point of departure an originally created world.47 He writes:

The wonder -- this is the view of our opponents -- must not be pulled down from the immediate, supernatural sphere (grace) to the mediate, natural sphere. These two spheres (those of grace and nature) are dualistically separated from each other and, standing over against each other, they are irreconcilable. The water out of the rock (in the miracle of Rephidim) must not be connected with the natural "sphere." It must be created. So also with the oil, the bread, the fish, and also the manna. Rather, it is true that Scripture, theological science (in particular, the doctrine of common grace), and natural science (gifts of common grace), proceed from the principle that the cosmos was complete and nothing, such as water, oil, bread, manna, etc., was added to it. Our erring opponents do not hesitate to enter into all this so that they place themselves in opposition to the teaching of Scripture, theological science, and the other sciences. And they persist in their opposition to the truth of Scripture and the sciences by unReformed views.48

Likely, the point here is that if miracles made use of means, no new creation or creative work of God was possible. The use of means precludes creative activity.

The opponents of Janssen, however, insisted that Janssen was confusing the issue in this matter of means. They did not deny that God sometimes made use of means in the performance of miracles, but they insisted that the question was whether miracles were supernatural or ordinary providence. The point was, evidently, that the four professors and four ministers did not deny God's use of means in the performance of miracles, but they took the position, as opposed to Janssen, that God's use of means was in a way unlike His usual way of working. The east wind, e.g., blows at regular intervals and is part of God's ordinary providence. But when that same east wind blows in such a way that a dry path is made through the Red Sea so that Israel could pass through the sea without getting wet, then God works in a supernatural way.49

The whole question of the use of means in the miracles was not addressed extensively by Janssen's opponents; and this was, perhaps, because the issue, as presented by Janssen, was confused. While the Scriptures undoubtedly refer to various means which God used in performing various miracles, in other instances such use of means is not at all clear. Scripture, e.g., speaks of the fact that the walls of Jericho fell at the sound of the trumpets and the shouting of the people, but Scripture does not indicate that these noises were "means" to cause the walls of Jericho to fall. If the multiplication of the loaves and fish at the time when Jesus fed five thousand people involved the "means" of these loaves and fishes, it was certainly a different use of means than the wind which brought the quails to Israel in the wilderness. Janssen apparently assumed that because in some miracles means were used, all miracles involved the use of means. This is not evident from Scripture.

The question of the use of means in miracles was, however, a question which was subordinate to a broader and more crucial question, the relation between the natural and the supernatural. Janssen repeatedly makes a point of this question and directly connects it with common grace and Anabaptistic error. In his earliest brochure, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika he already refers to this matter. He writes that the Anabaptists, by their denial of common grace, make an absolute separation between the natural and the supernatural, between nature and grace. This is the underlying thought behind the denial of the use of means in the working of miracles, in Janssen's opinion.50

This idea is referred to many times in subsequent writings. On page 9 of his brochure, Voortzetting ...,51  Janssen makes the bold assertion that the position of his opponents involves a separation of the supernatural from the natural by a denial of the mediacy of miracles, and that this is Anabaptistic dualism and a repudiation of common grace. And he returns to this theme repeatedly in this brochure. He writes:

As we said in our first brochure where such a dualism is held the doctrine of common grace can find no shelter.52

In his Het Synodale Vonnis . . . , Janssen summarizes what in his mind are the chief issues. He writes concerning the true Reformed faith that it teaches God's common grace; that it holds a doctrine of creation which does not maintain a later creation of such things as water oil etc.; that it has respect for an organic view of revelation and inspiration which maintains the unity of the natural and the supernatural as over against the "two-sphere" teaching of Anabaptism, which is unable to reconcile the two; that it holds to a science which does not commit the Anabaptistic error of minimizing science as fruit of God's common grace.53

Janssen, once again, does not work out the argument so that it is clearly presented and the relationships shown. But it is possible to deduce from his writings what he means. When Janssen argues that common grace precludes additional creation, he is most likely arguing that true science is the fruit of common grace; that science shows very clearly that the amount of matter (and/or energy) in the creation is constant; and that, therefore, common grace teaches that God engaged in no further creative work after the six days of the creation week.

In his argument concerning Anabaptistic dualism, he argues from the premise that Anabaptism taught the inherent evil of the material world, a position in their alleged principle of world-flight; that Anabaptism had a view of grace which held to only one kind of grace; and that this was a denial of common grace which is a second kind of grace. In this way Anabaptism held to a total separation between the realm or sphere of the natural and the super- natural because the latter was evil and the former good. So, if miracles are performed without the use of natural Janssen claimed his opponents taught, this can only be because the natural is of no use to the super natural. The natural operates on one level of history, wicked, carnal, untouchable by God's people, of no use to God Himself. The supernatural is an entirely separate level of activity which operates wholly apart from the natural. Thus Anabaptism teaches a dualism which is basically irreconcilable, and, because common grace is the bridge between the natural and supernatural in Reformed theology, an Anabaptistic dualism is also a denial of common grace.54

This whole question of Anabaptistic dualism and its relation to the denial of common grace emerged after the Synod of 1922 as one of the central issues in the common grace controversy, which resulted in the expulsion of Hoeksema, Ophoff and Danhof. While it is beyond our present purposes to enter into the common grace controversy after 1922, a brief reference to the discussion of the question of Anabaptism in connection with that subsequent controversy will shed some light on this problem.

Rev. J.K. Van Baalen opened this chapter of the controversy with his book, Der Loochening Der Gemeene Gratie: Gereformeerd of Doopersch?55  He identified the battle in the Christian Reformed Church as fundamentally a battle between Calvinism and Anabaptism.56 One chapter is devoted to proving that Hoeksema and Danhof are really Anabaptists. He does this by distinguishing between a right and a left wing in the Anabaptist movement and pointing out that, while these two ministers do not hold to all Anabaptist views, they nevertheless take the Anabaptist position on the doctrine of grace.57 By their doctrine of absolute separation from the world, so Van Baalen argues, the Anabaptists denied common grace and made a separation between nature and grace. This dualistic conception of Anabaptism was, in Van Baalen's opinion, identical to the error of Hoeksema and Danhof.58

This book of Van Baalen was answered by Hoeksema and Danhof in a brochure with the title, Niet Doopersch maar Gereformeerd: Voorloopig Bescheid aan Ds. Jan Karel Van Baalen betreffende De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie.59  In this brochure the two authors, though agreeing with Janssen that the issue of common grace was the basic issue in the Janssen controversy, insist that the issue was rightly decided on other grounds. But they warn that, should common grace not be repudiated by the church, Janssen's views would ultimately prevail.60 The main theme of the brochure is, however, a defense vs. the charge of Anabaptism. In their defense they argue that, while Anabaptism advised a physical separation from the world, the Bible spoke only of spiritual separation. Common grace broke down this spiritual separation and paved the way for spiritual union between the world and the church.

This theme was to be developed more fully, not only over against Van Baalen, but also over against many who had by this time taken up their pens against Hoeksema and Danhof. This was done in a book entitled, Van Zonde en Genade.61  Reference is made in this book to the Janssen controversy again, and the writers once more insist that Janssen's view of Scripture could indeed be drawn, as Janssen insisted, from the broad base of common grace. This was true because if the natural light which the unregenerated man possesses is true light, then the Scriptures could arise out of that natural light. And, if this is true, then the line of distinction between sin and grace, nature and the miracle, reason and revelation disappears.62 But the positive point of the book is the authors' firm conviction that the antithesis is one between sin and grace, an antithesis which requires spiritual separation, a separation which is not Anabaptistic, but Biblical, and a denial of common grace.

To both these writings Van Baalen once again responded in his book, Nieuwigheid en Dwaling. But nothing really new appeared in this book that had to do with the charge of Anabaptism. It is important, however, to note that Prof. W. Heyns, in personal correspondence with Van Baalen after the publication of Van Baalen's book, De Loochening der Gemeene Gratie, took issue with Van Baalen's contention that deniers of common grace were Anabaptists.63 It is true, Heyns argues, that both Hoeksema and Danhof on the one hand, and Anabaptists on the other hand, speak of only one grace. But their view of grace has significant and important differences. The fact that both the Anabaptists and the deniers of common grace find no good in the world does not mean that the view of both are identical. Heyns finds proof for this in many of the older writers who followed the same line as Hoeksema and Danhof and were not Anabaptistic. Many, Heyns says, were subjective Pietists.

This is an important observation on the part of Prof. Heyns, for, although he was one of those who criticized Janssen's teachings (and co-authored, Waar Het in de Zaak Janssen Om Gaat),64  he disagreed with Hoeksema and Danhof on their denial of common grace. In fact, he has some praise for the book which Van Baalen wrote. But Heyns very clearly does not believe that a denial of common grace is necessarily Anabaptistic.

To sum up, therefore, the charge of Anabaptism which was made by Janssen was a charge which was closely connected to his insistence on the relevancy of common grace to the debate. Janssen charged his opponents, by their denial of common grace, with making such a sharp distinction between the natural and the supernatural that they became Anabaptistic in their position. Janssen insisted that it was Anabaptistic to deny that Scripture revelation could come from heathen sources; to teach miracles were so completely supernatural that no could be employed; to ignore the findings of the explanation of the miracles; in fact, to refuse to make use of the scientific - critical method in one's approach to and study of Scripture. And all this was Anabaptistic because of a denial of common grace.

When some of Janssen's critics in fact did deny common grace, the charge of Anabaptism was picked up and brought against them. And this became the occasion for additional controversy in the church.

In summary, two conclusions may be drawn from all this. The first is that Janssen considered the matter of common grace to be decisive for his position and made it the cornerstone of his defense. It must have riled him that no one agreed to take him up on this specific issue and that no ecclesiastical assembly would face his real defense. In the second place, although Janssen dragged in the common grace question where it did not clearly belong, his defense of his views of Scripture with the common grace argument was persuasive. It is perhaps true, as Janssen's opponents insisted, that the issues could be decided on other grounds and without entering into the common grace question; but it remains a fact that Janssen's position, while emphatically condemned, was not really challenged and the basic premises of Janssen were not examined and judged. His defense is forceful and clear; his position unmistakable in most instances; his description of the relation between common grace and his view of Scripture beyond dispute.

To this question, regardless of any other consideration, the Synod should have addressed itself. That it did not is to be deplored. Its failure to do this only led to additional controversy and greater grief.

After many years had passed, Hoeksema wrote that Janssen continued to have respect for him and often sent him greetings.65 It could very well be that Janssen's respect for Hoeksema, in spite of Hoeksema's fierce opposition to his position, was due to the fact that Janssen recognized that Hoeksema alone had dealt honestly with Janssen in recognizing the importance of common grace for the entire controversy.

 

 

1 Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, p. 12. Return

2 Janssen, De Synodale Conclusies, pp. 11-15. Return

3 Janssen, Het Synodale Vonnis en Zijne Voorgeschiedenis Kerkrechtelijke Beoordeeld, pp. 2-29. Return

4 Janssen, "The Erroneous Views and Unwarranted Criticisms of Rev. H. Hoeksema." The Banner (March l0, 1921): 149-150. Janssen is not very clear on the question of how a rejection of the authority of Synod could be Anabaptistic, but he apparently means that the Anabaptists were opposed to civil authority, and that Hoeksema resembled them in this respect. But how this fits in with the whole question of grace is not clear. Return

Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, p. 52. The Bultema controversy was settled at the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1918, two years before the Janssen controversy first appeared on the Synod. Bultema was condemned for denying the kingship of Christ over the church. Return

6 Ibid. Return

7 Canons III & IV, Art. 4 was usually connected with general revelation. Return

8 See for such a treatment, H. Bavinck, Our Reasonable Faith (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1956). Chapters III, IV. This is an English translation by Henry Zylstra of the Dutch book, Magnalia Del.Return

9 Ibid-, p. 59. Return

10 Ibid, PP. 37, 38. W. Masselink deals extensively with the relation between general revelation and common grace in a book which bears the title: General Revelation and Common Grace (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1953). See especially chapters 3-5 Return

11 Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America: A History of a Conservative Subculture, p. 108. Return

12 Boer, "Ralph Janssen After Fifty Years..., " p. 19. Return

13 Boer, "Aftermath," p. 21. Return

14 Ibid., p. 22. For quotations from Q. Breen's protest (as well as others) see Acts of Synod, 1924, pp. 163-191. These pages include also the decisions taken. Return

15 Boer, "Broad Concessions Tragic, Man Says," p. D4. Return

16 Stob, "Christian Reformed Church and Her Schools," p. 280. While Stob is speaking here of the early controversies in 1902-1906, they never were really resolved and continued to be the background against which the common grace controversy was fought. Return

17 Janssen, "Reply to Rev. Herman Hoeksema." The Banner (January 13, 1921): 24. Return

18 Janssen, Voortzetting van den Strijd, p. 59. The translation here, as in all future quotations from Janssen's Dutch writings, is ours. Return

19 Ibid. See pp. 64-81 for the entire discussion with its many references to past thinkers. Return

20 Ibid., pp. 68ff. Return

21 Ibid ., p. 68. Bavinck is quoted here. Janssen gives us no references, and it is thus impossible to check up on the context in which these words were written. Return

22 Ibid., p. 70. Return

23 Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, pp. 38-39. We shall give some additional attention to this question when we face the specific problem of the relation between common grace and the miracles. On this same point see, Janssen, De Synodale Conclusies, p. 10. Return

24 I well remember discussing these matters at length during the years when I was studying under Hoeksema in Seminary. He came to the position that revelation is inseparably connected with grace and that it is particular as grace is particular. Return

25 Janssen, "Reply to Rev. Herman Hoeksema." The Banner (November 25, 1920): 716. Return

26 Janssen, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd, p. 70. Return

27 Ibid., p. 78. Return

28 Ibid., pp. 87-90. The charge of dualism appears again and again in Janssen's writings, but usually in connection with his charges of Anabaptism. We shall consider this matter when we consider the question of Anabaptism. Return

29 Ibid-, pp. 93-94. Return

30 Ibid., p. 83. Return

31 Ibid., p. 86. Return

32 Ibid-, pp. 59-63. While Janssen never discusses the charges made against him in connection with his interpretation of the prophets, apparently he intends that the same principle apply. Return

33 It remains a fact, as the majority of the Investigatory Committee pointed out, that Janssen never dealt with the divine element in inspiration in his teaching. The same can be said of his writings in connection with the controversy. Although he assured the Synod of 1920 and the Curatorium that he held to the doctrine of divine inspiration, one looks in vain for it in his articles in The Banner and in his brochures. Return

34 Ibid., p. 69. Return

35 Ibid., pp. 68-70. It must be remembered however, as we pointed out earlier, that Janssen equated organic inspiration with thought inspiration. See Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, pp. 44-48. In this connection, Janssen quotes Ten Hoor as teaching the same thing. Return

36 Janssen, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd, p. 81. It is also in this discussion (as well as a few other places) that Janssen acknowledges the fact that the revelation which came from pagan sources bore some corruption with it and had to be purified by divine revelation. Return

37 Janssen, De Synodale Conclusies, p. 46. Return

38 Ibid., p. 40. Return

39 Ibid., p. 47. Return

40 We shall examine this question a bit more closely in the next chapter. Return

41 See our discussion of this in Chapter 3. Return

42 Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, pp. 38-39. Return

43 Ibid., p. 39. See also, R. Janssen, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd, 8, where Geology is described as a gift of God's common grace. Return

44 Ibid., footnote, p. 6. The relation which Janssen means to establish between common grace and the critical-empirical method is not defined here, although he claims that a rejection of this method involves a rejection of common grace. Return

45 Ibid., p- 37. See the whole section, pp. 33-43, for a discussion of this matter. In this section Janssen also refers to the science of Archeology as a gift of God's common grace which helps us to understand the culture in which Israel lived and developed its religion. See p. 43. This latter idea is also developed in De Synodale Conclusies, pp. 31, 36, where Janssen says that the empirical-critical approach must also be taken into account in exegesis when one explains a text in its whole cultural and social context. Return

46 Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, pp. 13-16, 28, 38. See also De Synodale Conclusies, pp. 10, 69. Return

47 Janssen, De Crisis in de Christelijke Gereformeerde Kerk in Amerika, p. 33. He quotes Kuyper's Gemeene Gratie in support of this contention. See also Voortzetting Van Den Strijd, p. 8. Return

48 Janssen, De Synodale Conclusies, p. 69. Return

49 Berkhof, et. al., Waar Het In De Zaak Janssen Om Gaat, p. 21. The figure we have used here is ours for purposes of illustrating the point. The use of "super- natural" vs. "ordinary" is, in our judgment, unfortunate. We shall say a bit more about this in the next chapter. Return

50 Ibid., pp. 30, 34-39. Return

51 Janssen, Voortzetting Van Den Strijd, p. 9. Return

52 Ibid., p. 50. See also p. 68 where Bavinck is quoted in support of this assertion, and pp. 93, 94. Return

53 Ibid., p. 41. Return

54 This line of argumentation is not to be found in the form in which I have put it in any of Janssen's writings. But it seems to be Janssen's general line of argumentation implicit in his charges against his opponents. Return

55 Van Baalen, Der Loochening Der Gemeene Gratie: Gereformeerd of DooperschReturn

56 Ibid., P. 9. Without referring directly to the Janssen controversy, it is clear that Van Baalen had this struggle in mind. Return

57 Ibid., pp. 75ff. It is interesting that already in this book Van Baalen levelled the charge of rationalism against Hoeksema and Danhof because they pleaded for a consistent and logically coherent theology. Van Baalen was evidently aware of the logical inconsistencies of his position for he pleads for a "two-track theology," pp. 35-38. Return

58 Ibid., p. 81. Return

59 Danhof & Hoeksema, Niet Doopersch maar GereformeerdReturn

60 Ibid., pp. 4, 5. Return

61 Danhof & Hoeksema, Van Zonde en Genade (Grand Rapids: The authors, July, 1923). The date does not appear in the book, but can be found in Van Baalen's answer to these two writings: Nieuwigheid en Dwaling, p. 7. Return

62 Ibid., pp. 9-11. Of interest is that in this same section Hoeksema and Danhof explain that their withdrawal from the staff of The Witness was because of disagreements over common grace, 1l. See also pp. 78-80.Return

63 W. Heyns, letter dated September 3, 1922. (From the personal file of W. Heyns, in Heritage Hall, Calvin College & Seminary, Grand Rapids.) Return

64 Berkhof, et. al., Waar Het in de Zaak Janssen Om GaatReturn

65 H. Hoeksema, "Of Love and Hatred," The Standard Bearer (May l, 1954): 340. Return

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