Pristine Grace

Is it common....
Part 2
by Eileen Beckett
Is it common....

A bit of history

The development and history of ‘common grace’ is very interesting, so I’ll address a brief history to give some relevance to the subject. It revolved around the Reformed Church of the Netherlands (the state church) and it’s apostasy from the great Truths of scripture. Rationalism (human reason or understanding is the sole source and final test of all truth) had taken hold and gradually the fundamental truths were denied, i.e.; predestination, total depravity, the Lord’s vicarious atonement, Christ Himself had become the ideal man and these things were not considered essential to the faith. 

In 1834 God brought reformation to the Church in the Netherlands and a new church was formed which was faithful to the Truths taught by scripture and these churches were called the Secession churches. There soon arose a controversy in these new churches and it was over the question of ‘common grace’. The common grace to which some in this new denomination held to had two elements: a general attitude of favor which God has towards all men, and a general well-meant gospel offer in which God expresses His desire to save all who hear the gospel. When the members of this church immigrated to the United States they became the founders of the CRC. Their version of common grace began to be taught within the CRC.

However another version of ‘common grace’ soon began to be taught by Dr. Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) and was introduced by him into the church. Kuyper thought that separating from the state church was a mistake and it was here that Kuyper’s ‘common grace’ became important. It was common belief that the Dutch were a chosen people of God and that they were called to be the source of a worldwide Reformed influence, causing the Reformed faith to be universally adopted. Within the state church however, there were countless unbelievers who, as citizens of the Netherlands, were and remained members. He had to have an explanation for the idea that all members of the state church could work together within the church and the culture to establish that worldwide influence for the Reformed faith and ‘common grace’ was born. He claimed for himself that he was the author of this doctrine and recognized himself that his doctrine of ‘common grace’ was a novelty and an innovation. Briefly this is the ‘common grace’ theory that he taught:

Common grace ‘ a non-saving favor of God to all humans; an operation of the Holy Spirit within the reprobate which, without regenerating them, restrains sin in them so that they are only partially depraved; and the ability of unbelievers, by virtue of this grace of the Holy Spirit, to do good works, especially on behalf of a culture which is truly, though not ultimately good’. (Common Grace Revisited, pub 2003, Reformed Free Publishing Association)

The two different camps, each with their own version of ‘common grace’ found their home in the CRC. There was great controversy between these two groups and many feared a church split. The divisions among them however were healed by the adoption of “The Three Points of Common Grace” of 1924. The first point was the point of the Secession churches, the second and third were the points of Abraham Kuyper; the breach was healed by adopting one decision which approved both kinds of 'common grace.'

Within the CRC there were many who never held to either view of ‘common grace’ and upon being asked to submit without reservations to the ‘three points’ as adopted, three ministers and their consistories refused and instead insisted on the Truth of sovereign and particular grace, believing that this is what the church had emphasized throughout its history. The three ministers; Rev. Henry Danhoff, Rev. George Ophoff and Rev Herman Hoeksema were deposed from office and through this controversy the Protestant Reformed Church was founded.

It is truly a fascinating history to read (as history can be) and I certainly won’t touch upon the full scope as within that scope lie issues implied such as: Does God love all men or only the elect? Is He merciful to everyone or only to His own people? Does God desire to save all men or does He will to save only some? Does God have two wills or only one? And the list goes on! The Canons of Dordrecht was written in defense of many of these things and is used on both sides of the controversy.

A recent book written by Dr. Richard Mouw, entitled “He Shines in All That’s Fair” revisits this controversy and so brings it once again to our attention.