Archive for the ‘Common Grace’ Category

Dordt and Common Grace

August 26, 2011

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

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Baking Clay Pots – Subtracting Water or Adding Hardness?

October 9, 2009

Louis Ruggiero (aka LouRugg) asked my friend Dr. White:

Oh and by the way, when Turretinfan said that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by taking away his common sense, I almost fell off my chair. Did he get that stuff from you, or did he make that one up on his own?

I answer:

One of the problems with the debate is that it does seem that LouRugg, despite apparently working on a book on Calvinism, has some significant gaps in his understanding of Reformed theology. That’s why he was apparently shocked that I didn’t argue that God zapped Pharaoh with hardening rather than withdrawing his blessing from him.

Where did I get the idea from? Well, I got it from Scripture. I got it from the fact that Paul contrasts hardening with mercy just as we might contrast light and darkness. Thus, I drew the inference that God’s hardening of a man is God’s act of not showing him some mercy. In the debate I called this God withholding from Pharaoh “common sense” though others might like the term “common grace.”

The passage in Romans 9 gave me further confirmation of this approach through the analogy of the potter and the clay. As I was thinking about the hardening and the potter, I thought: how does a potter harden a pot? The answer is, at least in part, by baking the pot – removing the water from the clay. The water that provides the softness is removed rather than some additional chemical that causes hardness being added. Now, I know that there are other things that go into the hardening of earthenware vessels, but that aspect is a significant one.

And it is not as though this is just a conclusion to which I arrived, but upon which I am at odds with the Reformed churches. Quite to the contrary, it is the widely held Reformed position. To wit,

John Gill:

God may be said to harden and blind, by denying them that grace which can only cure them of their hardness and blindness, and which he, of his free favour, gives to his chosen ones, (Ezek. 36:26, 27) but is not obliged to give it to any; and because he gives it not, he is said to hide, as he determined to hide, the things of his grace from the wise and prudent, even because it so seemed good in his sight, (Matthew 11:25, 26).

– John Gill, Of the Decree of Rejection

A.W. Pink:

Thus it was with each of us whilst in a state of nature. Sin blinds and hardens, and naught but Divine grace can illumine and soften. Nothing short of the power of the Almighty can pierce the calloused conscience or break the sin-petrified heart.

– A.W. Pink, The Restoration of David

R.L. Dabney:

Again: it is said, Scriptures teach, that the sin of the non–elect was not the ground of their preterition. “In John 10:26, continued unbelief is the consequence, and therefore not the ground of the Pharisees preterition” (Matt. 11:25; Rom. 9:11 18). “God’s will,” they say, “and not the non-sin, is the ground of His purpose to harden.” And “Esau was rejected as much without regard to his evil, as Jacob was elected without regard to his good deeds.” To the first of these points I reply, that the withholding of God’s grace is but the negative occasion of a sinner’s unbelief, just as the absence of the physician from a sick man is the occasion, and not the cause, of His death.

– R.L. Dabney, Predestination

Edward Payson:

The inspired writers teach us, very explicitly, that after a time, God ceases to strive with sinners, and to afford them the assistance of his grace. He gives them up to a blinded mind, a seared conscience, and a hard heart.

– Edward Payson, Sermon 18

John Calvin (who, you will note, suggests that in the case of Pharaoh God not only removed grace but also sent Satan):

3. Ancient writers sometimes manifest a superstitious dread of making a simple confession of the truth in this matter, from a fear of furnishing impiety with a handle for speaking irreverently of the works of God. While I embrace such soberness with all my heart, I cannot see the least danger in simply holding what Scripture delivers. when Augustine was not always free from this superstition, as when he says, that blinding and hardening have respect not to the operation of God, but to prescience (Lib. de Predestina. et Gratia). But this subtilty is repudiated by many passages of Scriptures which clearly show that the divine interference amounts to something more than prescience. And Augustine himself, in his book against Julian, [The French adds, “se retractant de l’autre sentence;” retracting the other sentiment.] contends at length that sins are manifestations not merely of divine permission or patience, but also of divine power, that thus former sins may be punished. In like manner, what is said of permission is too weak to stand. God is very often said to blind and harden the reprobate, to turn their hearts, to incline and impel them, as I have elsewhere fully explained (Book 1 c. 18). The extent of this agency can never be explained by having recourse to prescience or permission. We, therefore, hold that there are two methods in which God may so act. When his light is taken away, nothing remains but blindness and darkness: when his Spirit is taken away, our hearts become hard as stones: when his guidance is withdrawn, we immediately turn from the right path: and hence he is properly said to incline, harden, and blind those whom he deprives of the faculty of seeing, obeying, and rightly executing. The second method, which comes much nearer to the exact meaning of the words, is when executing his judgments by Satan as the minister of his anger, God both directs men’s counsels, and excites their wills, and regulates their efforts as he pleases. Thus when Moses relates that Simon, king of the Amorites, did not give the Israelites a passage, because the Lord 268“had hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate,” he immediately adds the purpose which God had in view—viz. that he might deliver him into their hand (Deut. 2:30). As God had resolved to destroy him, the hardening of his heart was the divine preparation for his ruin.

4. In accordance with the former methods it seems to be said,174174 Ezek. 7:26; Psalm 107:40; Job 12:20, 24; Isiah 63:17; Exod. 4:21; 7:3; 10:1; 3:19. “The law shall perish from the priests and counsel from the ancients.” “He poureth contempt upon princes, and causeth them to wander in the wilderness, where there is no way.” Again “O Lord, why hast thou made us to err from thy ways, and hardened our heart from thy fear?” These passages rather indicate what men become when God deserts them, than what the nature of his agency is when he works in them. But there are other passages which go farther, such as those concerning the hardening of Pharaoh: “I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.” The same thing is afterwards repeated in stronger terms. Did he harden his heart by not softening it? This is, indeed, true; but he did something more: he gave it in charge to Satan to confirm him in his obstinacy. Hence he had previously said, “I am sure he will not let you go.” The people come out of Egypt, and the inhabitants of a hostile region come forth against them. How were they instigated? Moses certainly declares of Sihon, that it was the Lord who “had hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate,” (Deut. 2:30). The Psalmists relating the same history says, “He turned their hearts to hate his people,” (Psalm 105:25). You cannot now say that they stumbled merely because they were deprived of divine counsel. For if they are hardened and turned, they are purposely bent to the very end in view. Moreover, whenever God saw it meet to punish the people for their transgression, in what way did he accomplish his purpose by the reprobate? In such a way as shows that the efficacy of the action was in him, and that they were only ministers. At one time he declares, “that he will lift an ensign to the nations from far, and will hiss unto them from the end of the earth;” at another, that he will take a net to ensnare them; and at another, that he will be like a hammer to strike them. But he specially declared that he was not inactive among theme when he called Sennacherib an axe, which was formed and destined to be wielded by his own hand.175175 Isa. 5:26; 7:18; Ezek. 12:13; 17:20; Jer. 2:.23; Isa. 10:15. Augustine is not far from the mark when he states the matter thus, That men sin, is attributable to themselves: that in sinning they produce this or that result, is owing to the mighty power of God, who divides the darkness as he pleases (August. de Prædest. Sanct).

5. Moreover, that the ministry of Satan is employed to instigate the reprobate, whenever the Lord, in the course of his providence, has any purpose to accomplish in them, will sufficiently appear from 269a single passage. It is repeatedly said in the First Book of Samuel, that an evil spirit from the Lord came upon Saul, and troubled him (1 Sam. 16:14; 18:10; 19:9). It were impious to apply this to the Holy Spirit. An impure spirit must therefore be called a spirit from the Lord, because completely subservient to his purpose, being more an instrument in acting than a proper agent. We should also add what Paul says, “God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth,” (2 Thess. 2:11, 12). But in the same transaction there is always a wide difference between what the Lord does, and what Satan and the ungodly design to do. The wicked instruments which he has under his hand and can turn as he pleases, he makes subservient to his own justice. They, as they are wicked, give effect to the iniquity conceived in their wicked minds. Every thing necessary to vindicate the majesty of God from calumny, and cut off any subterfuge on the part of the ungodly, has already been expounded in the Chapters on Providence (Book 1 Chapter 16–18). Here I only meant to show, in a few words, how Satan reigns in the reprobate, and how God works in both.

– John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 2, Chapter 4

The bottom line, though is that LouRugg should at least have read the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) which states the general Reformed position (the London Baptist Confession saying essentially the same thing):

VI. As for those wicked and ungodly men whom God, as a righteous judge, for former sins, doth blind and harden; from them he not only withholdeth his grace, whereby they might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon their hearts; but sometimes also withdraweth the gifts which they had; and exposeth them to such objects as their corruption makes occasion of sin; and withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan; whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God useth for the softening of others.

Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 5, Section 6

While God can send Satan to render us even more obstinate, it is sufficient for God to remove his grace from us. Like the earth that God softens with his showers (Psalm 65:10) or hearts can become instead hard and parched simply by his removal of the water of grace. And he can turn that parched ground into a pool if He wishes as well (Isaiah 35:7), showing mercy on whom he will show mercy and hardening whomsoever he wishes (Exodus 33:19 and Romans 9:15&18).

-TurretinFan

Common Grace vs. Prevenient Grace

December 30, 2008

One reader asked, “How does the Arminian concept of prevenient grace differ from the Calvinist concept of common grace? It seems to me that they each describe one and the same thing.”

In Calvinist circles, the term “common grace” is used to describe a number of things. One definition provides three aspects:

1) “a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to His creatures in general;”
2) “the restraint of sin in the life of the individual man and in the community;” and
3) an influence in which, “God, without renewing the heart, so influences man that he is able to perform civil good” and, thus, “the unregenerate, though incapable of doing any saving good, can do civil good.” (source)

In contrast, Wesley (one of the most influential Arminian writers) defined prevenient grace thus (I’m not sure whether these are Wesley’s own words or a distillation of his thought … they seem to be accurate, and I could not find a more pithy quotation directly from him.):

Human beings are totally incapable of responding to God without God first empowering them to have faith. This empowerment is known as “Prevenient Grace.” Prevenient Grace doesn’t save us but, rather, comes before anything that we do, drawing us to God, making us want to come to God, and enabling us to have faith in God. Prevenient Grace is Universal, in as much as all humans receive it, regardless of their having heard of Jesus. It is manifested in the deep-seated desire of most humans to know God.

(source)

One could loosely compare the two by saying that common grace simply places a limit on the depth of man’s depravity, whereas prevenient grace removes man’s depravity. Common grace makes man not as wicked as he otherwise would be, but prevenient grace makes man essentially morally neutral.

The two are quite different. It’s worth noting that some Calvinists use the term “common grace” to refer more broadly to things like the fact that God sometimes gives common physical goods to both regenerate and unregenerate alike (for example, God may give rain to water the crops of both a god-fearing farmer and his neighbor the god-hating farmer). Other times, people use the term “common grace” to refer to the outward restraints on human wickedness, such as civil government and parents.

Likewise, prevenient grace is sometimes given a range of meanings. I’ve heard the preaching of the gospel referred to, by an Arminian, as prevenient grace. Indeed, some Arminians would say that every favor or opportunity that God gives to man before he believes, prevenes (goes before) that faith, and consequently can be labeled prevenient grace.

Thus, while the central meanings of the two terms are largely unrelated, there is occasionally overlap, where a Calvinist might loosely refer to something as “common grace” and an Arminian might loosely refer to it as “prevenient grace.”

I should point out that not all Calvinists agree with using the term “common grace.” I understand the historical, linguistic, and logical rational for that disagreement (I think), but I view it as a scruple. I’m not going to debate the issue here, and I hope that I won’t unnecessarily offend my scrupulously Calvinistic friends by referring to their views that way. On the other hand, I don’t endorse the idea of saying that a person is a “hyper-Calvinist” if they don’t use the term “common grace,” or find the three points above to be an inaccurate statement of doctrine. I realize that puts me at odds with such notable contemporary bloggers as Phil Johnson, but that’s just something I’ll have to live with. And I’m not going to debate that issue here, either.

Having explained the differences between “common grace” and “prevenient grace,” I hope I will have answered my reader’s question.

-TurretinFan


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