Online Text Sermon - Common Grace
|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||Common Grace (Free Church School of Theology) ( Side A)|
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Grace is a term used, sometimes, to refer to a disposition in God Himself. His own attitude of favour, sometimes passing into love, which He extends to created beings. But then, there is another use of the term grace which derives from it, and this is that communication of divine, supernatural energy by which He does good to His creatures, and a degree of that goodness is according to His own sovereign pleasure. We readily can see that there are beings in the world who have been the recipients of grace. Angels have, in the sense that they have been kept from falling as they might have done. The elect saints of God have received grace, in so far as they have been wonderfully recovered in Christ by the Spirit. That we can see. What we can also understand readily is that there are beings for whom there is no grace. There is no grace whatsoever of course for Satan or fallen angels. They are entirely beyond the reach or capacity of grace. Similarly, sinners dying out of Christ have passed into the region where there is no grace or favour extended to them. All of that is basic, fundamental and elemental.
Now comes the question which has often perplexed thinkers in the church, and it is this: Is there grace in this life intended and extended by God to those who are not His people and who will never become His people? On that point, Christian thinkers have differed, as we shall see.
Let me, as a brief first division, look at the historical development of this perception of common grace. As with so many points of doctrine, we have to go back to Augustine. Augustine of course was the pre-eminent theologian of grace. His formulations were classic and were adopted by the Reformation. Augustine did not always use the term 'grace' to refer to saving grace. He puts it like this: Even the fact that simple men live as rational beings, as sinners and yet rational, is in his opinion a form of grace. A thousand years later at the Reformation it is Calvin, as you would expect - not Luther but Calvin - who gives a full-bodied form to the conception of common grace. I mention here five elements within the activity of common grace. You will find this to be a summary of what you have in Calvin's Institutes - the second book, and chapters 2 and 3. Five brief points from Calvin, to summarise his thoughts:
1) Common grace crushes the destructive power of sin, to a certain extent. Not entirely, but curbs it.
2) Common grace maintains a measure of order and morality on earth, so making life possible after the entrance of sin.
3) With this common grace God distributes gifts, talents and abilities among men, both converted and unconverted.
4) It promotes the development of the arts, of science and of general human culture; so the whole field of scientific progress, particularly the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. If Calvin were here today he would immediately subsume that progress under the terms of God's common grace.
5) It showers many temporal blessings on all mankind.
I ought to just say, in fairness to those who do not read Calvin that way, that Calvin does not use the term 'common grace', but he develops the concept in the manner that I have just outlined.
Coming to a second division, let me say one or two things by way of explanation of the way in which common grace is to be divided and understood. Theologians have divided common grace generally in this way, in three forms.
1) They speak about universal common grace that extends to all creatures, not simply to mankind; that God feeds the raven that cries, the wild beasts of the desert; He is merciful to all. His tenderness is "over all His works", not simply mankind. That is the most universal form of common grace.
2) What we call general common grace that applies in this life to all mankind. Whether believing or unbelieving, whether religious or irreligious, there is we believe this general benevolence of God expressed in providence.
3) There is what we call covenant common grace which, as the name would suggest, refers to those still higher favours that come to men and women who live under the sound of true gospel preaching. This knowledge is religious knowledge which is sound and true. It is based on Scripture and to a certain extent it shapes the characters of men, families and nations - even amongst those who are not elect.
Whatever divisions we assume to be useful for teaching purposes in expounding a doctrine, all grace is grace at the fountainhead. The point at issue is that, God determines how much grace He will give to each particular created order, created being. It is a fascinating reflection that God often gives much more common grace to those who hate Him and whom in a certain sense He hates; He gives more common grace to them than to those whom He loves, in this life. This is a commonplace fact, reflected in the Book of Job for instance and in Psalm 73 in which the psalmist for a time has stumbled as he observed how many common blessings God gave to the reprobate, but only when he went into the temple did he see that their latter end was total destruction.
We might pause to ask the question: Why does God give commonly, more outward blessings to the reprobate than to the elect? I offer you these three reasons: first, to teach us patience; second, to teach us that our heaven is not here but above; and third, to render sinners more guilty of their abuse of God's mercy when they appear before His tribunal at last. I put it to myself like this: That we should so live in this world as to understand that for the reprobate God just gives His blessings, but for the elect He gives Himself.
My next division is: How do we show that common grace and saving grace differ? Five brief points that show the difference:
1) Common grace may, and does, sweeten the nature of a sinner, but it never changes his will, it falls short of that. So no matter how much common grace any man may receive, it is grace that never alters his nature and never moves his will effectually to salvation.
2) Common grace is not limited by the decree of election, whereas saving grace is. So common grace is much wider in this life than saving grace.
3) Common grace can be resisted, and is always resisted. Saving grace, on the other hand, is irresistible and in the end always secures that the object of it is brought to faith in Christ.
4) Common grace restrains sin but never conquers it in the human heart. It leaves the sinner with a love of sin and a nature which is in accordance with sin. And it leaves him incapable of loving God and responding to the gospel. Saving grace causes the sinner to have a radical break with sin and inevitably to love God.
5) Common grace operates in a general way inclining men to morality, whereas saving grace inclines men to seek God until they find him in Christ.
Allow me to make one or two applications as we move on with our subject. I believe it is important for us to observe that there is an absolute distinction between common grace and saving grace, like this: No matter how cultured any human being may be, that is absolutely discontinuous with grace. The old public school notion of making boys into perfect little Christian gentlemen was very noble but it had nothing to do with saving grace. It was rather the cultivation of the unregenerate man. And there is an absolute distinction between the culture of the natural man and grace, saving grace.
We must also make an absolute distinction - perhaps we don't always do this - between grace and gifts. No matter what gifts a person may have, that is no evidence of grace in and of itself. I might be a great speaker, a great preacher, a great writer, a great pulpit orator - I might be all of these things; I might be eloquent in prayer; impressive in demeanour, but that is not necessarily the same as grace. I believe it is for this reason: that we must consider the dreadfulness of apostasy. Why did Christ choose Judas Iscariot? I'm sure that one of the reasons was to prove to the Church in all time coming that there is always occasion to watch, because it is so possible for common grace to look very much like saving grace. But common grace will sooner or later be exposed by circumstance, and it will prove itself. Sooner or later it will be nothing more than common. This is what Hebrews 6 and Hebrews 10 must speak about when they refer to tasting of the good Word of God and the powers of the world to come and so on; that when they turn back it is impossible to renew them to repentance: they crucify Christ to themselves afresh. They had all the appearance of grace but they only had common grace. They had no saving change. I'm bound to say in an application, this is one of the terrible dangers in the sensationalism of the present day 'Toronto Blessing' movement. If ever people begin to equate the sensationalism of these movements with true activity of grace itself, then they have confused and confounded two things which are totally distinct. It is sad to see that recently even Dr R.T. Kendall of Westminster Chapel has espoused the Toronto Blessing movement and given it his affinity. This is why the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 tells us, though we speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not this gospel love, this charity, which is the evidence of the new life, then we are still in an unregenerate state.
This leads us then to speak about the character of human goodness and the religion of the natural man. Fallen man in this life is in a state of total depravity, but not yet in a state of absolute depravity; the distinction being that absolute depravity is that condition in which man's inner character, being fully outworked, is as bad as he could possibly be. In this life of course we believe that that is true of none, not even of Adolph Hitler and men of that calibre. However, every totally depraved man is in this life moving rapidly towards absolute depravity. Already, as we have mentioned, Satan and fallen angels are in a state of absolute depravity. We must entertain the possibility that from some men common grace, at least of a certain kind, is totally removed insofar as the Scriptures tell us not to pray for those who have committed a sin unto death. If we were to know about any man, for instance, or any institution that belongs to the antichrist, then it would be our duty not to pray for it on the grounds that God had totally abandoned it.
This is to say that the good deeds of sinners, as they are called, are only definable as good in a specific sense. They benefit others in this life: a good father benefits his family; a good mother benefits her family; a good citizen benefits his community; a good neighbour benefits his community. All of these things are praiseworthy as far as they go. However, we must say, as Reformed theologians have always said, that these acts of benevolence and virtue are not spiritually good since they do not proceed from a true principle of love to God. Our Lord spends much time in His preaching, in the Sermon on the Mount and the Sermon the Plain, in differentiating between common and special grace. He does so right at the very beginning, for instance, of His Sermon on the Mount. The beatitudes, I submit to you, are Christ's setting forth the criteria for evaluating whether men who are religious have grace or have it not. His various beatitudes are a word picture of the person who has not simply common grace but special grace. That is why He builds up those beatitudes. It is because marks of grace and differentiation between special and common grace are all-important for Christian men and ministers to be familiar with. This is repeated many times in His preaching. I remind you of some of the famous texts: "every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit" (Matthew 7, 17) - a corrupt tree being there those that have common grace only but not special grace. Or again, our Lord brings in such teachings as this. He says, "Why callest thou me good?" (Matthew 19, 17), which is not of course a confession of sin, as the liberals suppose, but it is rather to throw us back on a true definition of goodness. It is to be defined in terms of God, and those who love God. They and they only have this goodness.
The Scriptures speak about having "a form of godliness and denying the power thereof". And 'a form of godliness' (2 Timothy 3, 5) is that which men may have in a state of nature, under the influence of common grace, but the power of religion - which He distinguishes from that - is the work of regeneration operating in special grace. "Man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart" (1 Samuel 16, 7). Nevertheless, it is the duty of all those who have office in the church, when examining for membership, to be vigilant in trying to discover whether those applying for membership within the communicant bodies of our various churches may be deemed reasonably to have the fruits of saving grace.
There are three views upon which men have been received into membership of churches, where those churches have sought to be faithful to Scripture. We speak about those who seek a credible profession of faith, as the Presbyterians; those that seek an accredited profession of faith, usually Congregationals; and those who are content with a bare profession of faith, often liberals. These divisions of course are very important and very significant. But now, it seems to me that we should not allow persons into the membership of the church unless we have reason to believe about such candidates for membership that they credibly bear within their own soul and life the evidences of more than common grace. Clearly we do not believe in receiving into membership those who are only able to make a bare profession of faith, a mere 'say so', but there is a duty laid upon us as ministers to reasonably expect within the lives of those who come professing Christ, seeking communicant membership, that there should be evidence of the supernatural effects over and beyond common grace; that is to say haters of sin, love of truth, devotion to Christ.
I pass to consider the doctrine of common grace in controversy. I have on this occasion chosen to look at three controversies in the area of common grace. The first two we can look at briefly. The third is more significant.
The Arminians disagree with the Reformed attitude to common grace. They do not like this formulation at all. I quote to you one of their Arminian spokesmen, a Wesleyan Arminian called Pope. He says this: "Grace is no more grace if it does not include the saving intention of the giver." So if God, he said, is not intending, by giving us common grace, to give us all that belongs to the realm of grace, namely salvation and heaven, then you cannot call it grace at all. That is the way this Arminian writes and refers to it. The answer to that is, that grace is used in the Scriptures somewhat wider, as I think we will have occasion to observe.
The second area of controversy concerns those of the Reformed persuasion like ourselves. They disagree with the concept of saving grace because they believe and assert it involves also universal atonement. They say: How can we teach common grace and observe at the same time limited atonement? However, amongst Reformed writers themselves it is only fair to say that some ground God's giving of common grace in the sheer sovereignty of God irrespective of the atonement, whereas others base God's distribution of common favours in the atonement. I think it quite likely that in discussion we will divide up among ourselves quite clearly upon that point. It would be a good point to raise up in discussion. William Cunningham who represents Free Church thinking is of this opinion. Let me quote him: "Many blessings flow to mankind at large from the death of Christ." So he grounds these common mercies of life in the atonement. Why does God send rain, food, families, comforts, clothing, civil government, arts, sciences, culture, society, civilization, education? Why does God send these? In the view of Cunningham it is in view of the Cross. It's only fair to say that Reformed writers themselves have divided over that point. You see, that is not true at all. You cannot prove in Scripture that there is any correlation between the Cross and these common favours. It would be interesting to see what views men have in the group here when discussion time comes. We must observe at any rate, whenever we think of these controversies, we must observe that where special grace declines, common grace declines with it. And that special grace increases - as in revival, reformation; common grace comes back with it. So special grace and common grace, they ebb and flow, not in direct and immediate correlation, but in sympathy and in tandem one with another.
The third controversy is a recent one, and you will be familiar with the name of Herman Hoeksema of the Protestant Reformed Church. Herman Hoeksema is of the Dutch-American school of thought and his connections were originally with the Christian Reformed Church. In 1924 he broke with them and a new church was formed under his leadership called the Protestant Reformed Church. It is still alive and well and influential and, interesting enough, coming to this country with its influence too.
The Christian Reformed Church in 1924 was a great American denomination. It was so influenced by the great writer Abraham Kuyper, who was an outstanding theologian handling the subject of common grace, But in that year, 1924, the CRC added three points of practical theology as a sort of rider or corollary to its confessional documents. I have them here but I'll summarise them:
1) They taught that God manifests a certain grace in the preaching of the Gospel, not only to the elect unto eternal life but to all that hear the preaching of the Gospel, without distinction.
2) That there is a special operation of grace of an ethical nature, by the Holy Spirit, by which all men, apart from regeneration, are improved and reformed to such an extent that they do not break out in all manner of sin. (Obviously that has to do with the restraint, the curbing of sin that we saw in Calvin.)
3) That the natural man is able to do good in things civil, by virtue of an influence of God upon him which is not regenerative.
Those were the positions adopted by the CRC in America and added as practical points and riders and corollaries to their confessional position and forms of unity. However, Herman Hoeksema and those who followed him strenuously disagreed. This was what Hoeksema thought about doing this. He argued that common grace, as so defined, would be the death knell to the distinctive doctrines of the Reformed Faith. He believed it was catastrophic, moving away from Calvin and the old divines, and so he and his followers have been renowned, in that they have denied the existence of common grace - at least in the more important and more developed forms of it that we have mentioned earlier on. There are three books of Hoeksema's that I mention briefly in passing, for your information. In 1936 he wrote a book called The Protestant Reformed Churches in America in which he argues against those three positions that I have just read. In 1943 he wrote an Exposition of the Heidelberg Catechism. And in the fullest of his writings, The Reformed Dogmatics, he has very strenuously and fully argued against common grace. That is his magnum opus.
Let me say this about Hoeksema. He was an extraordinarily great man, a great preacher. He had the physique of a blacksmith, a man of titanic energy, a great writer, energetic, and a truly Reformed man. But this was his distinctive furrow: He moved, we would say, into an extreme position on this question of common grace, in that he denied it. Indeed there are three things about Herman Hoeksema that we are to take with us: first of all his denial of common grace; second, he and his followers had been ardent supralapsarians - God predestinating to life and death men as men, without respect to the entrance of sin within the decrees; and the third thing about Hoeksema's distinctives is this, his denial of the well-meant offer of the gospel.
What can we say about those things? I would like to suggest that Hoeksema and his followers have not helped. Indeed, I must quote to you from what the great Van Til, in his book on Common Grace and the Gospel, says. It's almost the last thing he says about Hoeksema in his article on the subject. "Hoeksema" he said "did not advance its proper form of expression in his theological writings" - that is to say, the doctrine of God's election and sovereignty. He hasn't helped. If you haven't read Van Til on common grace I do recommend it to you. It's very well worth reading, by Cornelius Van Til, very thoroughly argued and consistently worked out. That is his candid philosophical assessment of the writings of Herman Hoeksema. He is very sympathetic, very kind to Hoeksema, but he sees that Hoeksema, as he says, has not helped; he has not advanced our perception as churches of the nature of divine sovereignty. He has, if anything, not gone forward but rather backward.
Points we should watch from the Protestant Reformed Church are briefly these.
First - their denial of the well-meant offer of the Gospel. Many people in this country tend to say about the Protestant Reformed people that they are "hyper-Calvinists"; they deny that. If you want to follow up the details of that controversy, David J. Engelsma, one of their professors in Grand Rapids, has this book Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel. He says why they do not admit the description 'hyper-Calvinism'. They do not believe that God intends the church to preach the Gospel to the world of reprobate men with any good intention that they should be saved. God of course commands the church to preach to all the world. But in the case of those that are not elect, they say, God has no sincere offer of the Gospel to them. That's one thing we need to watch with these Protestant Reformed people.
At the heart of this difficulty I believe is this point. It is the distinction that I think we should make between God's wishing things to be so and God's willing things to be so. It took me some years before I came to appreciate this point. Does God wish the reprobate who hear the Gospel to be saved or does He not? Can God be said to wish for things that He does not will? Hoeksema says no, God's will is monolithic: what He wishes is what He wills, what is decreed; there is no overlap of any kind. He has eternal love for the elect, and eternally reprobated and hated those whom He will not bring to glory. That is not a position which our best writers adopt. I was rather shocked some years ago when I came to see that my own understanding at this point had been much defective, and I think you'll see just in a moment how it bears on common grace.
Let me quote to you from two writers. First of all, John Murray on The Free Offer of the Gospel, vol. IV in the collected writings - pages 131-132. John Murray says this: "We have found that God himself expresses an ardent desire for the fulfilment of certain things which He has not decreed in His inscrutable sovereignty to come to pass; this is indeed mysterious." Can I go over that again, because it's so fundamental for this discussion with respect to the subject of common grace? "We have found that God himself expresses an ardent desire for the fulfilment of certain things which he has not decreed in his inscrutable counsel to come to pass." Years ago I would have found that absolutely unpalatable. But now, believing it and knowing it, I must have been really a follower of Hoeksema. I discovered that that is not the view of our best writers. I quote him again in another sentence: "There is in God" says John Murray "a benevolent lovingkindness towards the repentance and salvation of even those whom He has not decreed to save. This pleasure, will, desire, is expressed in the universal call to repentance." And if it should just not cross your mind, why we are speaking at the moment about the call of the Gospel, it is because the call of the Gospel is the highest form, in our thinking, of this common grace of God, that sinners - the reprobate - all have the honour and privilege of hearing this greatest invitation to glory, is the acme and the pinnacle of all God's lovingkindnesses to men. So what applies to this subject applies to all lesser forms of it.
That's Murray. Let me come to W.G.T. Shedd. I'm quoting Shedd [regarding God's desire for the salvation of the reprobate]: "This divine desire in God is constitutional." I find that very helpful. "This divine desire in God is constitutional. It springs from the compassionate love of the Creator towards the soul of the creature. It is indeed strange to human view that an omnipotent Being should forbear to bring about what He sincerely desires." You will find this in Turretin, and I do believe you will find it in Calvin. If you want the reference to Shedd, I give it to you - Dogmatics, vol. 1, p. 453 - an extremely useful discussion of the attitude of God towards the creature, reprobate as well as elect. And all of this shows us that in our thinking about God's attitude to the reprobate our best writers, as it seems to me, have left a place for what to us is an undefinable mystery. That though God has by His decree excluded many sinners from eternal life and blessing in the highest sense, yet in this life He shows them favour, kindness and a form of love, at least to the level of common goodness. That's really why I asked Mr Peters to read that passage of Scripture that he did read: "But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful" (Luke 6, 35-36). I cannot see how we can do justice exegetically to those beautiful words unless it means that our kindness to the reprobate, and to the unthankful, and to the Christ-opposers whom we meet in this world, that our disposition of kindness is engendered upon us and given us as an instruction to fulfil because it is patterned after God's attitude. Let me read those significant words again: "He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil."
You can see how Herman Hoeksema and his disciples escaped from the implications of this assertion that God is kind and does good and shows favour and gives common grace to the reprobate. What they say is this: "Ah no! It is true of course that in His providence God lavishes all kinds of things upon reprobate men - sunshine, rain, and family, the good life, money, pleasure, happiness, the postponement of their death and judgement... But, they say, these things are not grace. These things are expressions of God's wrath, because the wicked misuse them all, and God sees that He will destroy them all and punish them the more severely for having abused these things when they come to the end of life." Well I believe that Hoeksema's insight of course is in a measure true, but why should we not say that both these things are true but are two aspects of looking at the same thing. God, because He is constitutionally good, to use a phrase of W.G.T. Shedd... God's goodness because it is in Himself to be good, and He cannot be other than good; because that is so, He must needs have a benevolent attitude towards even those that hate Him: the love of benevolence. This is not the love of complacency which He has towards His elect who love Him. We must not confuse the categories, because there is a sense in which the God who loves the Christian is also angry with the Christian because of his sin. There's a true sense in which that is so. The fact of the matter is that the reprobate and the elect in this life are both in an imperfect state, and because that is so there is room in God for the exercise of what we call common grace and common mercy. The righteous and the wicked rub shoulders together in this present world. Soon they will not do so. Soon there will be an infinite gulf between them. The righteous will have unmitigated love, and the wicked unmitigated wrath. But in this life, whilst we are in a still imperfect condition in which all God's purposes have not yet been fulfilled, there is a room surely for the expression of what we could call the common mercies of God to men that hate Him. That is how it seems to be to me. It seems also that is what Christ is teaching in that passage. I do not think it is doing justice to Scripture to represent every favour of God towards the unconverted as really nothing more than a curse in disguise. Take for instance where Paul is giving a list of the blessings of the Jews. Romans 9:4 "...to whom [them] pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law..." (Romans 9, 4). He uses that list of favours to show them that these were blessings that God had given to them with a good mind, and with a good will. Similarly, Ezekiel 33:11, you have the same thing: God has "no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" (Ezekiel 33, 11). One of the practical fears that I have, which I cannot affirm because I do not know the Protestant Reformed people well - there were transferred persons from Ireland who were in closer proximity to the group over there - one of the fears I have is that if we were to adopt the Hoeksema attitude towards the preaching of the Gospel and the attitude of God to the unconverted and to the lost, I believe it would produce a kind of Christianity which is strong on controversy but weak on compassion and preaching evangelistically with fervour and zeal. I doubt if you would ever refer to McCheyne coming out of the kind of theology which is taught in the Protestant Reformed Church. I'm not trying to say this unkindly, and it may be that people can correct me, but that is the suspicion that I have, that our view of God is all important to evangelism. Unless we believe that God wants our hearers to be converted, then it's doubtful whether we can preach with all the fullness and unction that we ought to have, persuading men that God desires all our hearers, and all hearers, to believe. There is a sincere offer and a well-meant offer in God, and if that is so at the highest point of God's favours to the unconverted, it is so all the way down the line to lesser favours - even rain, sunshine, food and drink.
Let me summarise the blessings of common grace, and then close. One blessing is the merciful stay of execution upon those who are unbelievers. God said to Adam, "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (Genesis 2, 17). There are three forms of death, but Adam did not die all three forms of death there and then. There was a postponement - a stay of execution. So it is with sinners in this world. God does not execute immediately those judgements upon them which they most deserve.
Then there is the restraint of sin in society. This world is not the hell on earth it will be after the Judgement Day. There is some merciful operation of God, not least to the government and the peace force, which Paul refers to in Romans 13 as the 'minister of God' - strange phrase if indeed it does not indicate mercy to men in this life, the ministry of God to us for good, a restrainer of evil. However, when society casts off truth and Gospel light we must admit that there is also, going along with that, a withdrawal not only of special grace but also common grace. I believe this is what we saw in this country in the 1960s. Even politicians who are not Christians admit that the 1940s and 50s made for a different type of peace in society, but the 60s was a turbulent age. I saw it happening with my own eyes and I'm sure that it was God at that time saying, "Very well. You don't like the theology of the Gospel. I will take away therefore the common blessings. You don't want the special blessings; you won't have the special blessings either." So the pop movement rushed in and all of that happened and was the ruination, almost, of our modern society in this western world. I see that really as very much men being 'given over' to a reprobate mind and doing things that are inconvenient and against the Word of God.
The public sense of morality and religion is one of the favours and blessings of common grace, together with civil righteousness. But above all, at the highest point, as I have said, of all the favours of God for those who are not His people, is the preaching of the Gospel, the preaching of the truth. So the nub of the question is this, in the common grace controversy: Does God mean these common favours as grace to men, or does He not? Personally, I say yes, so that we might be patterned after the character of God of whom it is said, that we might be children of the Father in heaven; God intends that His mercy should lead men to repentance - Romans 2.
In closing then, let me say this. We must however be careful because, like every other controversy, truth is finely poised. I have over the years noticed the danger emanating from those who are on the side of the debate taken by Abraham Kuyper. You may know that there was a saying that there were three forms of Reformed faith. There's Calvinism, Hyper-Calvinism and Kuyper-Calvinism. Kuyper-Calvinism is that form, at least not in Kuyper himself but in his disciples - who always goes farther than the master - the tendency to wish to consider the Reformed view of everything: the Reformed view of the theatre; the Reformed view of holidays; the Reformed view of sport; the Reformed view of culture. Our early forefathers would have found little or no place, I suspect, for that. They would simply have said: That is the world and a Christian shouldn't touch it. It seems to me that we must remember that the cultural mandate - which Kuyper was so concerned to promote and his disciples have taken very far - must always be regarded as subordinate to two other mandates: first of all the mandate to be holy, which is the sanctification mandate; and the other mandate of evangelism, the evangelistic mandate. These mandates are far more prominent and important to us than the cultural mandate which, in view of the state of the world and of sin, must sink into a back seat but doesn't always do so. We do, sadly, meet with those who are on the side of Abraham Kuyper, who take his view I think far too far and they really try to become theologians of subjects which are unworthy of a Christian's concern. It's very sad to know that the CRC has declined catastrophically in the past hundred years. To what extent that is due to their view of common grace is another matter, as I think we've mentioned.
Common grace of course is time bound. Special grace will in every case become glory, but common grace is now running out at a great rate. God's patience and goodness are very quickly running out. It's very fascinating to think that time is the only platform upon which God's patience finds exhibition. Once eternity comes there will be no place to exhibit the patience of God. No doubt that's one reason why He keeps the world in being so long. The clock of common grace is swiftly ticking away and will soon be exhausted for ever. Your duty and mine in this great work is therefore, as Richard Baxter would tell us, to preach the Gospel with all our might, as dying men to dying men.
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