Friday, August 26, 2011

Dordt and Common Grace

The expression "common grace" has an historical connection to the Remonstrants. That has led some Calvinists to reject entirely the term "common grace," and to make this a shibboleth of "true Calvinism" or "classical Calvinism." Such a shibboleth is foolish and mistaken, both because folks like Matthew Henry, Thomas Manton, and Jonathan Edwards used the term approvingly, but also because the Savoy Declaration and the London Baptist Confession use the term approvingly.

The term gets mentioned in the Canons of Dordt. The mention is in the context of the rejection of a Remonstrant error. The specific mention is this (at 3/4:V):

Who teach that corrupt and natural man can make such good use of common grace (by which they mean the light of nature) or of the gifts remaining after the fall that he is able thereby gradually to obtain a greater grace-- evangelical or saving grace--as well as salvation itself; and that in this way God, for his part, shows himself ready to reveal Christ to all people, since he provides to all, to a sufficient extent and in an effective manner, the means necessary for the revealing of Christ, for faith, and for repentance.

For Scripture, not to mention the experience of all ages, testifies that this is false: He makes known his words to Jacob, his statutes and his laws to Israel; he has done this for no other nation, and they do not know his laws (Ps. 147:19-20); In the past God let all nations go their own way (Acts 14:16); They (Paul and his companions) were kept by the Holy Spirit from speaking God's word in Asia; and When they had come to Mysia, they tried to go to Bithynia, but the Spirit would not allow them to (Acts 16:6-7).

(bold is the error being rejected)

Notice that the Canon does not say "Those who say 'common grace' are anathema." Instead, it is a particular view of the sufficiency of common grace that is at stake. This is significant, because it means that it is not the phrase itself that is rejected.

Note that "common grace" is defined to mean "the light of nature." The same synod, however, positively expressed the view of the synod on "common grace" or "the light of nature" in this way:

Article 4: The Inadequacy of the Light of Nature

    There is, to be sure, a certain light of nature remaining in man after the fall, by virtue of which he retains some notions about God, natural things, and the difference between what is moral and immoral, and demonstrates a certain eagerness for virtue and for good outward behavior. But this light of nature is far from enabling man to come to a saving knowledge of God and conversion to him--so far, in fact, that man does not use it rightly even in matters of nature and society. Instead, in various ways he completely distorts this light, whatever its precise character, and suppresses it in unrighteousness. In doing so he renders himself without excuse before God.

Notice that the synod positively affirms that man has the light of nature, it just rejects the sufficiency of that light of nature for salvation.

I would be remiss if I did not point out that the synod says of this common grace, that "man does not use it rightly even in matters of nature and society." That is a serious blow to those who today are departing radically from the teachings of the Reformers and asserting the sufficiency of the light of nature for matters of society.

There is not a symmetry between Scripture and the light of nature, such that the light of nature is sufficient for nature and society whereas the Bible is sufficient for faith. Instead, the light of nature is utterly insufficient. So taught the Reformers, so teach the Scriptures, and so ought we to believe.

-TurretinFan

13 comments:

Coram Deo said...

Reform is no answer for a culture like ours. Redemption is what is needed, and that occurs at the individual, not societal level. The church needs to get back to the real task to which we are called: evangelizing the lost. Only when multitudes of individuals in our society turn to Christ will society itself experience any significant transformation."
- John MacArthur

Dr. Van Til taught us that "There is no alternative but that of theonomy and autonomy" (Christian-Theistic Ethics, p. 134). Every ethical decision assumes some final authority or standard, and that will either be self-law ("autonomy") or God's law ("theonomy"). While unbelievers consider themselves the ultimate authority in determining moral right or wrong, believers acknowledge that God alone has that position and prerogative. The position which has come to be labeled "theonomy" today thus holds that the word of the Lord is the sole, supreme, and unchallengeable standard for the actions and attitudes of all men in all areas of life. Our obligation to keep God's commands cannot be judged by any extrascriptural standard, such as whether its specific requirements (when properly interpreted) are congenial to past traditions or modern feelings and practices.
-Greg Bahnsen from What Is "Theonomy"?

Theonomy can be defined simply as adherence to God's law, which would make all Christians, especially Reformed Christians, into theonomists. Here I define the term more narrowly as a school of thought within Reformed theology which prefers literal, specific, and detailed applications of Mosaic civil laws to modern civil government. The word "prefers" gives us some leeway. At points, the theonomists, like the rest of us, apply the law only in general and non-literal ways. But they tend more than the rest of us to prefer the specific and the literal.
-John Frame from Penultimate Thoughts on Theonomy

In Christ,
CD

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"Instead, the light of nature is utterly insufficient. So taught the Reformers, so teach the Scriptures, and so ought we to believe."

Proof positive and proof sufficient that TurretinFan is a...

Theonomist!!

and a

Dominionist!!

ChaferDTS said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Turretinfan said...

Agreed, ChaferDTS.

ChaferDTS said...

The Arminian doctrine of " prevenient grace " is very unbiblical. It in the end makes God's grace effectiveness to depend on the human will instead of the grace of God as the effective cause of the change of the human will to come to faith in Jesus.The place the will of man as supreme in that case on salvation. Essentially the Arminian must change the clear exposition of John 6:37; 44; 65. And also create a disjunction in Romans 8:29-30 between on the " called " part of there from it's foundation on God's eternal purpose and broke up up from foreknew and predestined. The light of creation nor the light of conscience nor the outword preaching of the gospel in itself is sufficient to bring one to faith. Those are best viewed as part of the general calling and distinct from the specific calling which is given only to the elect which effectively brings one to faith in Jesus. The efficacious drawing and calling is the work of the omipotence of God which can not be resisted by the will of man but rather works inwardly in an elect person and empowers them to come to him in faith. The Arminian refuses to see the distinction between the general call and the specific call to the elect that is taught in Scripture.

Turretinfan said...

Still agreed. :)

natamllc said...

TUAD

I would say TF is also a Solomonist and the Peterist:

Solomon prayed: "...2Ch 6:36 "If they sin against you--for there is no one who does not sin--and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy,..."

Peter wrote: "1Pe 5:11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. "

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Nata,

TFan has made himself an enemy of both God-loving Arminians and God-loving R2Kers.

TFan, whether intentionally or not, is a divisive fellow.

Tsk, tsk. A bad man.

/sarcasm alert!

Randall van der Sterren said...

Common grace does not mean "the light of nature" in contemporary usage. If anything, it refers roughly to providence.

You see, later generations have redefined the term, with Abraham Kuyper as the leading light. This view was championed by the Christian Reformed Church of the 1920s and then by Van Til.

So when people discuss common grace these days, they mean this:

-- "In addition to the saving grace of God, shown only to those who are elected to eternal life, there is also a certain favor, or grace, of God shown to his creatures in general.
Since the fall, human life in society remains possible because God, through his Spirit, restrains the power of sin.

-- God, without renewing the heart, so influences human beings that, though incapable of doing any saving good, they are able to do civil good.

--God, without renewing the heart, so influences human beings that, though incapable of doing any saving good, they are able to do civil good."

When people teach common grace, that's the view they teach. For example, see this article by Scott Clark in TableTalk.

Further, when people reject common grace, the above view is what they attack. The view you describe is largely neglected today. Often when people read the term common grace in older works, they confuse the two.

The Puritan said...

Kline, in his Kingdom Prologue, starting at page 153, gives a good, basic description of common grace, distinguishing it from saving grace of course and showing how it plays out in God's plan of redemption.

I reference it because I recently had occasion to look it up in regards to another discussion. Of course many good Reformed systematic theologies will give an on-the-mark definition of common grace as the term is used today.

natamllc said...

TF: "The expression "common grace" has an historical connection to the Remonstrants. That has led some Calvinists to reject entirely the term "common grace," and to make this a shibboleth of "true Calvinism" or "classical Calvinism." Such a shibboleth is foolish and mistaken, both because folks like Matthew Henry, Thomas Manton, and Jonathan Edwards used the term approvingly, but also because the Savoy Declaration and the London Baptist Confession use the term approvingly."

Amen to that in light of a few of verses from Peter:

1Pe 5:10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

...

1Pe 5:12 By Silvanus, a faithful brother as I regard him, I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.

...

2Pe 1:2 May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.

...

2Pe 3:15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,
2Pe 3:16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.
2Pe 3:17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.
2Pe 3:18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.


I especially count the "patience of the Lord" as synonymous with His Grace, "all" of His Grace which gives me His salvation bringing me into the very dynamics of Life in Christ in this life until I, too, pass to His Eternal Glory, in Christ!

natamllc said...

TF: "There is not a symmetry between Scripture and the light of nature, such that the light of nature is sufficient for nature and society whereas the Bible is sufficient for faith. ...".

Herein there is a key to the "light" of nature and the "Light" of the Glory of the Gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit sanctifies the Elect by according to the Will of God, Our Heavenly Father.

Interesting that Satan doesn't much care about either. He would just as much see humans under the light of nature destroy nature as He would see Christians blinded to the Light!

This is war! It is until death.

And there is no easy road in front of anyone, Christian or reprobate, unless of course either one sides with Satan and his sin of rebellion against the Gospel of Jesus Christ of which Paul writes:

2Co 4:3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing.
2Co 4:4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
2Co 4:5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.
2Co 4:6 For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
2Co 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

...

1Ti 1:18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare,
1Ti 1:19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith,
1Ti 1:20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.


You have to admit that Jesus does have a sense of humor with some? Here Paul hands over Hymenaeus and Alexander to Satan so the old blasphemer has to teach a couple of wayward souls not to blaspheme! :)

steelikat said...

"Notice that the synod positively affirms that man has the light of nature, it just rejects the sufficiency of that light of nature for salvation."

Thanks, Turretinfan. I never could figure out how to make careful distinctions in regards to that sort of question. Your article was very helpful.