The concept of common grace is seldom discussed outside of Calvinistic circles, although all Christian theologies must come to grips eventually with the issues underlying the debate over common grace. The phrase itself goes back at least to the days of colonial American Puritanism. I came across it on several occasions when I was doing research on the colonial Puritans’ economic doctrines and experiments. The concept goes back at least to John Calvin’s writings.
Before venturing into the forest of theological debate, let me state what I believe is the meaning of the word “grace.” The Bible uses the idea in several ways, but the central meaning of grace is this: A gift given to God’s creatures on the basis, first, of His favor to His Son, Jesus Christ, the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity, and second, on the basis of Christ’s atoning work on the cross. Grace is not strictly unmerited, for Christ merits every gift, but in terms of the merit of the creation – merit deserved by a creature because of its mere creaturehood – there is none. In short, when we speak of any aspect of the creation, other than the incarnate Jesus Christ, grace is defined as an unmerited gift. The essence of grace is conveyed in James 1:17: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”
Special grace is the phrase used by theologians to describe the gift of eternal salvation. Paul writes: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9), He also writes: “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). God selects those on whom He will have mercy (Rom. 9:18). He has chosen these people to be recipients of His gift of eternal salvation, and He chose them before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4-6).
But there is another kind of grace, and it is misunderstood. Common grace is equally a gift of God to His creatures, but it is distinguished from special grace in a number of crucial ways. A debate has gone on for close to a century within Calvinistic circles concerning the nature and reality of common grace. I hope that this essay will contribute some acceptable answers to the people of God, though I have little hope of convincing those who have been involved in this debate for 60 years.
Because of the confusion associated with the term “common grace,” let me offer James Jordan’s description of it. Common grace is the equivalent of the crumbs that fall from the master’s table that the dogs eat. This is how the Canaanite woman described her request of healing by Jesus, and Jesus healed her because of her understanding and faith (Matt. 15:27-28).
Background of the Debate
In 1924, the Christian Reformed Church debated the subject, and the decision of the Synod led to a major and seemingly permanent division within the ranks of the denomination. The debate was of considerable interest to Dutch Calvinists on both sides of the Atlantic, although traditional American Calvinists were hardly aware of the issue, and Arminian churches were (and are still) completely unaware of it. Herman Hoeksema, who was perhaps the most brilliant systematic theologian in America in this century, left the Christian Reformed Church to form the Protestant Reformed Church. He and his followers were convinced that, contrary to the decision of the CRC, there is no such thing as common grace.
The doctrine of common grace, as formulated in the disputed “three points” of the Christian Reformed Church in 1924, asserts the following:
- There is a “favorable attitude of God toward mankind in general, and not alone toward the elect, …” Furthermore, there is “also a certain favor or grace of God which he shows to his creatures in general.”
- God provides “restraint of sin in the life of the individual and in society, …”
- With regard to “the performance of so-called civic righteousness… the unregenerate, though incapable of any saving good… can perform such civic good.”
These principles can serve as a starting point for a discussion of common grace. The serious Christian eventually will be faced with the problem of explaining the good once he faces the biblical doctrine of evil. James 1:17 informs us that all good gifts are from God. The same point is made in Deuteronomy, chapter 8, which is quoted as the introduction to this essay. It is clear that the unregenerate are the beneficiaries of God’s gifts. None of the participants to the debate denies the existence of the gifts. What is denied by the Protestant Reformed critics is that these gifts imply the favor of God as far as the unregenerate are concerned. They categorically deny the first point of the original three points.
For the moment, let us refrain from using the word grace. Instead, let us limit ourselves to the word gift. The existence of gifts from God raises a whole series of questions:
Does a gift from God imply His favor?
Does an unregenerate man possess the power to do good?
Does the existence of good behavior on the part of the unbeliever deny the doctrine of total depravity?
Does history reveal a progressive separation between saved and lost?
Would such a separation necessarily lead to the triumph of the unregenerate?
Is there a common ground intellectually between Christians and non-Christians?
Can Christians and non-Christians cooperate successfully in certain areas?
Do God’s gifts increase or decrease over time?
Will the cultural mandate (dominion covenant) of Genesis 1:28 be fulfilled?
The Favor of God
This is a key point of dispute between those who affirm and those who deny the existence of common grace. I wish to save time, if not trouble, so let me say from the outset that the Christian Reformed Church’s 1924 formulation of the first point is defective. The Bible does not indicate that God in any way favors the unregenerate. The opposite is asserted: “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36). The prayer of Christ recorded in John 17 reveals His favor toward the redeemed and them alone. There is a fundamental ethical separation between the saved and the lost. God hated Esau and loved Jacob, before either was born (Rom. 9:10-13).
What are we to make of the Bible’s passages that have been used to support the idea of limited favor toward creatures in general? Without exception, they refer to gifts of God to the unregenerate. They do not imply God’s favor. For example, there is this affirmation: “The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works” (Ps. 145:9). The verse preceding this one tells us that God is compassionate, slow to anger, gracious. Romans 2:4 tells us He is longsuffering. Luke 6:35-36 says:
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.
I Timothy 4:10 uses explicit language: “For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe.” The Greek word here translated as “Saviour” is transliterated sōtēr: one who saves, heals, protects, or makes whole. God saves (heals) everyone, especially those who believe. Unquestionably, the salvation spoken of is universal – not in the sense of special grace, and therefore in the sense of common grace. This is probably the most difficult verse in the Bible for those who deny universal salvation from hell and who also deny common grace.
The most frequently cited passage used by those who defend the idea of God’s favor to the unregenerate is Matthew 5:44-45:
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
It is understandable how such verses, in the absence of other verses that more fully explain the nature and intent of God’s gifts, could lead men to equate God’s favor and gifts. Certainly it is true that God protects, heals, rewards, and cares for the unregenerate. But none of these verses indicates an attitude of favor toward the unregenerate beneficiaries of His gifts. Only in the use of the word “favor” in its slang form of “do me a favor” can we argue that a gift from God is the same as His favor. Favor, in the slang usage, simply means gift – an unmerited gift from the donor. But if favor is understood as an attitude favorable to the unregenerate, or an emotional commitment by God to the unregenerate for their sakes, then it must be said, God shows no favor to the unrighteous.
Coals of Fire
One verse in the Bible, above all others, informs us of the underlying attitude of God toward those who rebel against Him despite His gifts. This passage is the concomitant to the oft-quoted Luke 6:35-36 and Matthew 5:44-45. It is Proverbs 25:21-22, which Paul cites in Romans 12:20:
If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord shall reward thee.
Why are we to be kind to our enemies? First, because God instructs us to be kind. He is kind to them, and we are to imitate Him. Second, by showing mercy, we heap coals of fire on their rebellious heads. From him to whom much is given, much shall be required (Luke 12:47-48). Our enemy will receive greater punishment for all eternity because we have been merciful to him. Third, we are promised a reward from God, which is always a solid reason for being obedient to His commands. The language could not be any plainer. Any discussion of common grace which omits Proverbs 25:21-22 from consideration is not a serious discussion of the topic.
The Bible is very clear. The problem with the vast majority of interpreters is that they still are influenced by the standards of self-proclaimed autonomous humanism. Biblically, love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom. 13:8). Love thy neighbor, we are instructed. Treat him with respect. Do not oppress or cheat him. Do not covet his goods or his wife. Do not steal from him. In treating him lawfully, you have fulfilled the commandment to love him. In so doing, you have rendered him without excuse on the day of judgment. God’s people are to become conduits of God’s gifts to the unregenerate.
This is not to say that every gift that we give to the lost must be given in an attempt to heap coals of fire on their heads. We do not know God’s plan for the ages, except in its broad outlines. We do not know who God intends to redeem. So we give freely, hoping that some might be redeemed and the others damned. We play our part in the salvation of some and the damnation of others. For example, regenerate marriage partners are explicitly instructed to treat their unregenerate partners lawfully and faithfully. “For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife” (1 Cor. 7:16)? We treat our friends and enemies lawfully, for they are made in the image of God. But we are to understand that our honest treatment does make it far worse on the day of judgment for those with whom we have dealt righteously than if we had disobeyed God and been poor testimonies to them, treating them unlawfully.
God gives rebels enough rope to hang themselves for all eternity. This is a fundamental implication of the doctrine of common grace. The law of God condemns some men, yet it simultaneously serves as a means of repentance and salvation for others (Rom. 5:19-20). The same law produces different results in different people. What separates men is the saving grace of God in election. The law of God serves as a tool of final destruction against the lost, yet it also serves as a tool of active reconstruction for the Christian. The law rips up the kingdom of Satan as it serves as the foundation for the kingdom of God on earth.
Christ is indeed the savior of all people prior to the day of judgment (I Tim. 4:10). Christ sustains the whole universe (Col. 1:17). Without Him, no living thing could survive. He grants to His creatures such gifts as time, law, order, power, and knowledge. He grants all of these gifts to Satan and his rebellious host. In answer to the question, “Does God show His grace and mercy to all creation?” the answer is emphatically yes. To the next question, “Does this mean that God in some way demonstrates an attitude of favor toward Satan?” the answer is emphatically no. God is no more favorable toward Satan and his demons than He is to Satan’s human followers. But this does not mean that He does not bestow gifts upon them – gifts that they in no way deserve.
Total Depravity and God’s Restraining Hand
Law is a means of grace: common grace to those who are perishing, special grace to those who are elect. Law is also a form of curse: special curse to those who are perishing, common curse to those who are elect. We are all under law as creatures, and because of the curse of Adam and the creation, we suffer the temporal burdens of Adam’s transgression. The whole world labors under this curse (Rom. 8:18-23). Nevertheless, “all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). As men, we are all under law and the restraint of law, both physical and moral law, and we can use this knowledge of law either to bring us external blessings or to rebel and bring destruction. But we know also that all things work together for evil for them that hate God, to them who are the rejected according to His purpose (Rom. 9:17-22). Common grace-common curse, special grace-special curse: we must affirm all four.
The transgression of the law brings a special curse to the unregenerate. It is a curse of eternal duration. But this same transgression brings only a common curse to the elect. A Christian gets sick, he suffers losses, he is blown about by the storm, he suffers sorrow, but he does not suffer the second death (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14). For the believer, the common curses of life are God’s chastening, signs of God’s favor (Heb. 12:6). The difference between common curse and special curse is not found in the intensity of human pain or the extent of the loss; the difference lies in God’s attitude toward those who are laboring under the external and psychological burdens. There is an attitude of favor toward the elect, but none toward the unregenerate. The common curse of the unregenerate is, in fact, a part of the special curse under which he will labor forever. The common curse of the elect man is a part of the special grace in terms of which he finally prospers. The common curse is nonetheless common, despite its differing effects on the eternal state of men. The law of God is sure. God does not respect persons (Rom. 2:11), with one exception: the person of Jesus Christ. (Christ was perfect, yet He was punished.)
But if the effects of the law are common in cursing, then the effects of the law are also common in grace. This is why we need a doctrine of common grace. This doctrine gives meaning to the doctrine of common curse, and vice versa. The law of God restrains men in their evil ways, whether regenerate or unregenerate. The law of God restrains “the old man” or old sin nature in Christians. Law’s restraint is a true blessing for all men. In fact, it is even a temporary blessing for Satan and his demons. All those who hate God love death (Prov. 8:36b). This hatred of God is restrained during history. Evil men are given power, life, and time that they do not deserve. So is Satan. They cannot fully work out the implications of their rebellious, suicidal faith, for God’s restraint will not permit it.
The common grace which restrains the totally depraved character of Satan and all his followers is, in fact, part of God’s special curse on them. Every gift returns to condemn them on the day of judgment, heaping coals of fire on their heads. On the other hand, the common grace of God in law also must be seen as a part of the program of special grace to His elect. God’s special gifts to His elect, person by person, are the source of varying rewards on the day of judgment (I Cor. 3:11-15). Common grace serves to condemn the rebels proportionately to the benefits they have received on earth, and it serves as the operating backdrop for the special grace given to the elect. The laws of God offer a source of order, power, and dominion. Some men use this common grace to their ultimate destruction, while other use it to their eternal benefit. It is nonetheless common, despite its differing effects on the eternal state of men.
The Good That Men Do
The Bible teaches that there is no good thing inherent in fallen man; his heart is wicked and deceitful (Jer. 17:9). All our self-proclaimed righteousness is as filthy rags in the sight of God (Isa. 64:6). Nevertheless, we also know that history has meaning, that there are permanent standards that enable us to distinguish the life of Joseph Stalin from the life of Albert Schweitzer. There are different punishments for different unregenerate men (Luke 12:45-48). This does not mean that God in some way favors one lost soul more than another. It only means that in the eternal plan of God there must be an eternal affirmation of the validity and permanence of His law. It is worse to be a murderer than a liar or a thief. Not every sin is a sin unto death (I John 5:16-17). History is not some amorphous, undifferentiated mass. It is not an illusion. It has implications for eternity. Therefore, the law of God stands as a reminder to unregenerate men that it is better to conform in part than not to conform at all, even though the end result of rebellion is destruction. There are degrees of punishment (Luke 12:47-48).
But what is the source of the good that evil men do? It can be no other than God (James 1:17). He is the source of all good. He restrains men in different ways, and the effects of this restraint, person to person, demon to demon, can be seen throughout all eternity. Not favor toward the unregenerate, but rather perfect justice of law and total respect toward the law of God on the part of God Himself are the sources of the good deeds that men who are lost may accomplish in time and on earth. There are, to use the vernacular, “different strokes for different folks,” not because God is a respecter of persons, but because the deeds of different men are different.
The Knowledge of the Law
The work of the law is written on every man’s heart. There is no escape. No man can plead ignorance (Rom. 2:11-14). But each man’s history does have meaning, and some men have been given clearer knowledge than others (Luke 12:47-48). There is a common knowledge of the law, yet there is also special knowledge of the law – historically unique in the life of each man. Each man will be judged by the deeds that he has done, by every word that he has uttered (Rom. 2:6; Matt. 12:36). God testifies to His faithfulness to His word by distinguishing every shade of evil and good in every man’s life, saved or lost.
Perhaps a biblical example can clarify these issues. God gave the people who dwelt in the land of Canaan an extra generation of sovereignty over their land. The slave mentality of the Hebrews, with the exceptions of Joshua and Caleb, did not permit them to go in and conquer the land. Furthermore, God specifically revealed to them that He would drive the people out, city by city, year by year, so that the wild animals could not take over the land, leaving it desolate (Ex. 23:27-30). Did this reveal God’s favor toward the Canaanites? Hardly. He instructed the Hebrews to destroy them, root and branch. They were to be driven out of their land forever (Ex. 23:32-33). Nevertheless, they did receive a temporal blessing: an extra generation or more of peace. This kept the beasts in their place. It allowed the Hebrews to mature under the law of God. It also allowed the Hebrews to heap coals of fire on the heads of their enemies, for as God told Abraham, the Hebrews would not take control of the promised land in his day, “for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full” (Gen. 15:16). During that final generation, the iniquity of the Amorites was filled to the brim. Then came destruction.
The Canaanites did receive more than they deserved. They stayed in the land of their fathers for an extra generation. Were they beneficiaries? In the days of wandering for the Hebrews, the Canaanites were beneficiaries. Then the final payment, culturally speaking, came due, and it was exacted by God through His people, just as the Egyptians had learned to their woe. They cared for the land until the Hebrews were fit to take possession of it. As the Bible affirms, “the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just” (Prov. 13:22b). But this in no way denies the value of the sinner’s wealth during the period in which he controls it. It is a gift from God that he has anything at all. God has restrained the sinners from dispersing their wealth in a flurry of suicidal destruction. He lets them serve as caretakers until that day that it is transferred to the regenerate.
The Hivites of Gibeon did escape destruction. They were wise enough to see that God’s people could not be beaten. They tricked Joshua into making a treaty with them. The result was their perpetual bondage as menial laborers, but they received life, and the right to pursue happiness, although they forfeited liberty. They were allowed to live under the restraints of God’s law, a far better arrangement culturally than they had lived under before the arrival of the Hebrews. They became the recipients of the cultural blessings given to the Hebrews, and perhaps some of them became faithful to God. In that case, what has been a curse on all of them – servitude – became a means of special grace. Their deception paid off (Josh. 9). Only the Hivites escaped destruction (Josh. 11:20).
In the day that Adam and Eve ate of the tree of knowledge, they died spiritually. God had told them they would die on that very day. But they did not die physically. They may or may not have been individually regenerated by God’s Spirit. But they were the beneficiaries of a promise (Gen. 3:15). They were to be allowed to have children. Before time began, God had ordained the crucifixion. Christ was in this sense slain from the very beginning (Rev. 13:8). God granted them time on earth. He extended their lease on life; had they not sinned, they would have been able to own eternal life. God greatly blessed them and their murderous son Cain with a stay of execution. God respected Christ’s work on the cross. Christ became a savior to Cain – not a personal savior or regenerating savior, but a savior of his life. God granted Cain protection (Gen. 4:15), one of the tasks of a savior.
Meaning in History
Once again, we see that history has meaning. God has a purpose. He grants favors to rebels, but not because He is favorable to them. He respects His Son, and His Son died for the whole world (John 3:16). He died to save the world, meaning to give it time, life, and external blessings. He did not die to offer a hypothetical promise of regeneration to “vessels of wrath” (Rom. 9:22), but He died to become a savior in the same sense as that described in the first part of I Timothy 4:10 – not a special savior, but a sustaining, restraining savior. God dealt mercifully with Adam and Adam’s family because He had favor for His chosen people, those who receive the blessings of salvation. But this salvation is expressly historical in nature. Christ died in time and on earth for His people. They are regenerated in time and on earth. He therefore preserves the earth and gives all men, including rebels, time.
With respect to God’s restraint of the total depravity of men, consider His curse of the ground (Gen. 3:17-19). Man must labor in the sweat of his brow in order to eat. The earth gives up her fruits, but only through labor. Still, this common curse also involves common grace. Men are compelled to cooperate with each other in a world of scarcity if they wish to increase their income. They may be murderers in their hearts, but they must restrain their emotions and cooperate. The division of labor makes possible the specialization of production. This, in turn, promotes increased wealth for all those who labor. Men are restrained by scarcity, which appears to be a one-sided curse. Not so; it is equally a blessing. This is the meaning of common grace; common curse and common grace go together.
The cross is the best example of the fusion of grace and curse. Christ was totally cursed on the cross. At the same time, this was God’s act of incomparable grace. Justice and mercy are linked at the cross. Christ died, thereby experiencing the curse common to all men. Yet through that death, Christ propitiated God. That is the source of common grace on earth – life, law, order, power – as well as the source of special grace. The common curse of the cross – death – led to special grace for God’s elect, yet it also is the source of that common grace which makes history possible. Christ suffered the “first death,” not to save His people from the first death, and not to save the unregenerate from the second death of the lake of fire. He suffered the first death to satisfy the penalty of sin – the first death (which Adam did not immediately pay, since he did not die physically on the day that he sinned) and the second death (God’s elect will never perish).
At some time in the future, God will cease to restrain men’s evil (II Thess. 2:6-12). As He gave up Israel to their lusts (Ps. 81:12; 106:15), so shall He give up on the unregenerate who are presently held back from part of the evil that they would do. This does not necessarily mean that the unregenerate will then crush the people of God. In fact, it means precisely the opposite. When God ceased to restrain Israel, Israel was scattered. (True, for a time things went badly for God’s prophets.) But the very act of releasing them from His restraint allowed God to let them fill up their own cup of iniquity. The end result of God’s releasing Israel was their fall into iniquity, rebellion, and impotence (Acts 7:42-43). They were scattered by the Assyrians, the Babylonians, and finally the Romans. The Christian church became the heir to God’s kingdom (Matt. 21:43). The Romans, too, were given up to their own lusts (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28). Though it took three centuries, they were finally replaced by the Christians. The empire collapsed. The Christians picked up the pieces.
When God ceases to restrain men from the evil that they are capable of committing, it seals their doom. Separated from restraint, they violate the work of the law written in their hearts. Separated from God’s law, men lose God’s tool of cultural dominion. Men who see themselves as being under law can then use the law to achieve their ends. Antinomians rush headlong into impotence, for, denying that they are under law and law’s restraints, they throwaway the crucial tool of external conquest and external blessings. They rebel and are destroyed.
Wheat and Tares
The parable of the tares is instructive in dealing with the question: Does history reveal a progressive separation between the saved and the lost? The parable begins with the field which is planted with wheat, but which is sown with tares by an enemy during the night (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43). The parable refers to the kingdom of God, not to the institutional church. “The field is the world,” Christ explained (Matt. 13:38). The good wheat, the children of God, now must operate in a world in which the tares, the unregenerate, are operating. The servants (angels) instantly recognize the difference, but they are told not to yank up the tares yet. Such a violent act would destroy the wheat by plowing up the field. To preserve the growing wheat, the owner allows the tares to develop. What is preserved is historical development. Only at the end of the world is a final separation made. Until then, for the sake of the wheat, the tares are not ripped out.
The rain falls on both the wheat and the tares. The sun shines on both. The blight hits both, and so do the locusts. Common grace and common curse: the law of God brings both in history. An important part of historical development is man’s fulfillment of the dominion covenant. New productive techniques can be implemented through the common grace of God, once the care of the field is entrusted to men. The regularities of nature still play a role, but increasingly fertilizers, irrigation systems, regular care, scientific management, and even satellite surveys are part of the life of the field. Men exercise increasing dominion over the world. A question then arises: If the devil’s followers rule, will they care tenderly for the needs of the godly? Will they exercise dominion for the benefit of the wheat, so to speak? On the other hand, will the tares be cared for by the Christians? If Christians rule, what happens to the unrighteous?
This is the problem of differentiation in history. Men are not passive. They are commanded to be active, to seek dominion over nature (Gen. 1:28; 9:1-7). They are to manage the field. As both the good and the bad work out their God-ordained destinies, what kind of development can be expected? Who prospers most, the saved or the lost? Who becomes dominant?
The final separation comes at the end of time. Until then, the two groups must share the same world. If wheat and tares imply slow growth to maturity, then we have to conclude that the radically discontinuous event of separation will not mark the time of historical development. It is an event of the last day: the final judgment. It is a discontinuous event that is the capstone of historical continuity. The death and resurrection of Christ was the last historically significant event that properly can be said to be discontinuous (possibly the day of Pentecost could serve as the last earth-shaking, kingdom-shaking event). The next major eschatological discontinuity is the day of judgment. So we should expect growth in our era, the kind of growth indicated by the agricultural parables.
What must be stressed is the element of continuous development. “The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof” (Matt. 13:31-32). As this kingdom comes into maturity, there is no physical separation between saved and lost. That total separation will come only at the end of time. There can be major changes, even as the seasons speed up or retard growth, but we should not expect a radical separation.
While I do not have the space to demonstrate the point, this means that the separation spoken of by premillennialists – the Rapture – is not in accord with the parables of the kingdom. The Rapture comes at the end of time. The “wheat” cannot be removed from the field until that final day, when we are caught up to meet Christ in the clouds (I Thess. 4:17). There is indeed a Rapture, but it comes at the end of time – when the reapers (angels) harvest the wheat and the tares. There is a Rapture, but it is a postmillennial Rapture.
Why a postmillennial Rapture, the amiIlennialist may say? Why not simply point out that the Rapture comes at the end of time and let matters drop? The answer is important: We must deal with the question of the development of the wheat and tares. We must see that this process of time leads to Christian victory on earth and in time.
Knowledge and Dominion
Isaiah 32 is a neglected portion of Scripture in our day. It informs us of a remarkable day that is coming. It is a day of “epistemological self-consciousness,” to use Cornelius Van Til’s phrase. It is a day when men will know God’s standards and apply them accurately to the historical situation. It is not a day beyond the final judgment, for it speaks of churls as well as liberal people. Yet it cannot be a day inaugurated by a radical separation between saved and lost (the Rapture), for such a separation comes only at the end of time. This day will come before Christ returns physically to earth in judgment. We read in the first eight verses:
Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment. And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. And the eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them that hear shall hearken. The heart also of the rash shall understand knowledge, and the tongue of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly. The vile person shall be no more called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful. For the vile person will speak villany, and his heart will work iniquity, to practise hypocrisy, and to utter error against the LORD, to make empty the soul of the hungry, and he will cause the drink of the thirsty to fail. The instruments also of the churl are evil; he deviseth wicked devices to destroy the poor with lying words, even when the needy speaketh right. But the liberal deviseth liberal things: and by liberal things shall he stand.
To repeat, “The vile person shall be no more called liberal, nor the churl said to be bountiful” (v. 5). Churls persist in their churlishness; liberal men continue to be gracious. It does not say that all churls will be converted, but it also does not say that the liberals shall be destroyed. The two exist together. But the language of promise indicates that Isaiah knew full well that in his day (and in our day), churls are called liberal and vice versa. Men refuse to apply their knowledge of God’s standards to the world in which they live. But it shall not always be thus.
At this point, we face two crucial questions. The answers separate many Christian commentators. First, should we expect this knowledge to come instantaneously? Second, when this prophesied world of epistemological self-consciousness finally dawns, which group will be the earthly victors, churls or liberals?
The amillennialist must answer that this parallel development of knowledge is gradual. The postmillenialist agrees. The premillennialist must dissent. The premil position is that the day of self-awareness comes only after the Rapture and the establishment subsequently of the earthly kingdom, with Christ ruling on earth in person. The amil position sees no era of pre-consummation, pre-final judgment righteousness. Therefore, he must conclude that the growth in self-awareness does separate the saved from the lost culturally, but since there is no coming era of godly victory culturally, the amillennialist has to say that this ethical and epistemological separation leads to the defeat of Christians on the battlefields of culture. Evil will triumph before the final judgment, and since this process is continuous, the decline into darkness must be part of the process of differentiation over time. This increase in self-knowledge therefore leads to the victory of Satan’s forces over the church.
The postmillennialist categorically rejects such a view of knowledge. As the ability of Christians to make accurate, God-honoring judgments in history increases over time, more authority is transferred to them. As pagans lose their ability to make such judgments, as a direct result of their denial of and war against biblical law, authority will be removed from them, just as it was removed from Israel in 70 A.D. True knowledge in the postmillennial framework leads to blessing in history, not a curse. It leads to the victory of God’s people, not their defeat. But the amillennialist has to deny this. The increase of true self-knowledge is a curse for Christians in the amillennial system. Van Til makes this fundamental in his book on common grace – his only systematically erroneous and debilitating book.
Van Til’s Amillennial Version of Common Grace
We now return to the question of common grace. The slow, downward drift of culture parallels the growth in self-awareness, says the amillennialist. This has to mean that common grace is to be withdrawn as time progresses. The restraining hand of God will be progressively removed. Since the amillennialist believes that things get worse before the final judgment, he has to see common grace as earlier grace (assuming he admits the existence of common grace at all). This has been stated most forcefully by Van Til, who holds a doctrine of common grace and who is an amillennialist:
All common grace is earlier grace. Its commonness lies in its earliness. It pertains not merely to the lower dimensions of life. It pertains to all dimensions of life, but to all these dimensions ever decreasingly as the time of history goes on. At the very first stage of history there is much common grace. There is a common good nature under the common favor of God. But this creation-grace requires response. It cannot remain what it is. It is conditional. Differentiation must set in and does set in. It comes first in the form of a common rejection of God. Yet common grace continues; it is on a “lower” level now; it is long-suffering that men may be led to repentance…. Common grace will diminish still more in the further course of history. With every conditional act the remaining significance of the conditional is reduced. God allows men to follow the path of their self-chosen rejection of Him more rapidly than ever toward the final consummation. God increases His attitude of wrath upon the reprobate as time goes on, until at the end of time, at the great consummation of history, their condition has caught up with their state.
Van Til affirms the reality of history, yet it is the history of continuous decline. The unregenerate become increasingly powerful as common grace declines. But why? Why should the epistemological self-awareness described in Isaiah 32 necessarily lead to defeat for the Christians? By holding to a doctrine of common grace which involves the idea of the common favor of God toward all creatures (except Satan, says Van Til), he then argues that this favor is withdrawn, leaving the unregenerate a free hand to attack God’s elect. If common grace is linked with God’s favor, and God’s favor steadily declines, then that other aspect of common grace, namely, God’s restraint, must also be withdrawn. Furthermore, the third feature of common grace, civic righteousness, must also disappear. Van Til’s words are quite powerful:
But when all the reprobate are epistemologically self-conscious, the crack of doom has come. The fully self-conscious reprobate will do all he can in every dimension to destroy the people of God. So while we seek with all our power to hasten the process of differentiation in every dimension we are yet thankful, on the other hand, for “the day of grace,” the day of undeveloped differentiation. Such tolerance as we receive on the part of the world is due to this fact that we live in the earlier, rather than in the later, stage of history. And such influence on the public situation as we can effect, whether in society or in state, presupposes this undifferentiated stage of development.
Consider the implications of what Van Til is saying. History is an earthly threat to Christian man. Why? His amil argument is that common grace is earlier grace. It declines over time. Why? Because God’s attitude of favor declines over time with respect to the unregenerate. With the decline of God’s favor, the other benefits of common grace are lost. Evil men become more thoroughly evil.
Van Til’s argument is the generally accepted one in Reformed circles. His is the standard statement of the common grace position. Yet as the reader should grasp by now, it is deeply flawed. It begins with false assumptions: I) that common grace implies common favor; 2) that this common grace-favor is reduced over time; 3) that this loss of favor necessarily tears down the foundations of civic righteousness within the general culture; 4) that the amillennial vision of the future is accurate. Thus, he concludes that the process of differentiation is leading to the impotence of Christians in every sphere of life, and that we can be thankful for having lived in the period of “earlier” grace, meaning greater common grace.
It is ironic that Van Til’s view of common grace is implicitly opposed to the postmillennialism of R. J. Rushdoony, yet his view is equally opposed to the amillennialism of the anti-Chalcedon amillennial theologian (and former colleague of Van Til’s), Meredith G. Kline, who openly rejects Rushdoony’s postmillennial eschatology. It is doubly ironic that Rushdoony has adopted Van Til’s anti-postmillennial version of common grace, meaning “earlier grace.”
Van Til’s amillennism colors his whole doctrine of common grace. Perhaps unconsciously, he selectively structured the biblical evidence on this question in order to make it conform with his Netherlands amillennial heritage. This is why his entire concept of common grace is incorrect. It is imperative that we scrap the concept of “earlier grace” and adopt a doctrine of common (crumbs for the dogs) grace.
A Postmillennial Response
In response to Van Til, I offer three criticisms. First, God does not favor the unregenerate at any time after the rebellion of man. Man is totally depraved, and there is nothing in him deserving praise or favor, nor does God look favorably on him. God grants the unregenerate man favors (not favor) in order to heap coals of fire on his head (if he is not part of the elect) or else to call him to repentance (which God’s special grace accomplishes). Thus, God is uniformly hostile to the rebel throughout history. God hates unregenerate men with a holy hatred from beginning to end. “Earlier” has nothing to do with it.
Second, once the excess theological baggage of God’s supposed favor toward the unregenerate is removed, the other two issues can be discussed: God’s restraint and man’s civic righteousness. The activity of God’s Spirit is important in understanding the nature of God’s restraint, but we are told virtually nothing of the operation of the Spirit. What we are told is that the law of God restrains men. They do the work of the law written on their hearts. This law is the primary means of God’s external blessings (Deut. 28:1-14); rebellion against His law brings destruction (Deut. 28:15-68). Therefore, as the reign of biblical law is extended by means of the preaching of the whole counsel of God, as the law is written in the hearts of men (Jer. 31:33-34; Heb. 8:10-11; 10:16), and as the unregenerate come under the sway and influence of the law, common grace must increase, not decrease. The central issue is the restraint by God inherent in the work of the law. This work is in every man’s heart.
Remember, this has nothing to do with the supposed favor of God toward mankind in general. It is simply that as Christians become more faithful to biblical law, they receive more bread from the hand of God. As they increase the amount of bread on their tables, more crumbs fall to the dogs beneath.
Third, the amillennial view of the process of separation or differentiation is seriously flawed by a lack of understanding of the power which biblical law confers on those who seek to abide by its standards. Again, we must look at Deuteronomy, chapter eight. Conformity to the precepts of the law brings external blessings. The blessings can (though need not) serve as a snare and a temptation, for men may forget the source of their blessings. They can forget God, claim autonomy, and turn away from the law. This leads to destruction. The formerly faithful people are scattered. Thus, the paradox of Deuteronomy 8: covenantal faithfulness to the law – external blessings by God in response to faithfulness – temptation to rely on the blessings as if they were the product of man’s hands – judgment. The blessings can lead to disaster and impotence. Therefore, adherence to the terms of biblical law is basic for external success.
Ethics and Dominion
As men become epistemologically self-conscious, they must face up to reality – God’s reality. Ours is a moral universe. It is governed by a law-order which reflects the very being of God. When men finally realize who the churls are and who the liberals are, they have made a significant discovery. They recognize the relationship between God’s standards and the ethical decisions of men. In short, they come to grips with the law of God. The law is written in the hearts of Christians. The work of the law is written in the hearts of all men. The Christians are therefore increasingly in touch with the source of earthly power: biblical law. To match the power of the Christians, the unregenerate must conform their actions externally to the law of God as preached by Christians, the work of which they already have in their hearts. The unregenerate are therefore made far more responsible before God, simply because they have more knowledge. They desire power. Christians will some day possess cultural power through their adherence to biblical law. Therefore, unregenerate men will have to imitate special covenantal faithfulness by adhering to the demands of God’s external covenants. The unregenerate will thereby bring down the final wrath of God upon their heads, even as they gain external blessings due to their increased conformity to the external requirements of biblical law. At the end of time, they revolt.
The unregenerate have two choices: Conform themselves to biblical law, or at least to the work of the law written on their hearts, or, second, abandon law and thereby abandon power. They can gain power only on God’s terms: acknowledgement of and conformity to God’s law. There is no other way. Any turning from the law brings impotence, fragmentation, and despair. Furthermore, it leaves those with a commitment to law in the driver’s seat. Increasing differentiation over time, therefore, does not lead to the impotence of the Christians. It leads to their victory culturally. They see the implications of the law more clearly. So do their enemies. The unrighteous can gain access to the blessings only by accepting God’s moral universe as it is.
The Hebrews were told to separate themselves from the people and the gods of the land. Those gods were the gods of Satan, the gods of chaos, dissolution, and cyclical history. The pagan world was faithful to the doctrine of cycles: there can be no straight-line progress. But the Hebrews were told differently. If they were faithful, God said, they would not suffer the burdens of sickness, and no one and no animal would suffer miscarriages (Ex. 23:24-26). Special grace leads to a commitment to the law; the commitment to God’s law permits God to reduce the common curse element of natural law, leaving proportionately more common grace – the reign of beneficent common law. The curse of nature can be steadily reduced, but only if men conform themselves to revealed law or to the works of the law in their hearts. The blessing comes in the form of a more productive, less scarcity-dominated nature. There can be positive feedback in the relation between law and blessing: the blessings will confirm God’s faithfulness to His law, which in turn will lead to greater convenantal faithfulness (Deut. 8:18). This is the answer to the paradox of Deuteronomy 8: it need not become a cyclical spiral. Of course, special grace is required to keep a people faithful in the long run. Without special grace, the temptation to forget the source of wealth takes over, and the end result is destruction. This is why, at the end of the millennial age, the unregenerate try once again to assert their autonomy from God. They attack the church of the faithful. They exercise power. And the crack of doom sounds – for the unregenerate.
Differentiation and Progress
The process of differentiation is not constant over time. It ebbs and flows. Its general direction is toward epistemological self-consciousness. But Christians are not always faithful, any more than the Hebrews were in the days of the judges. The early church defeated Rome, and then the secular remnants of Rome compromised the church. The Reformation launched a new era of cultural growth, the Counter-Reformation struck back, and the secularism of the Renaissance swallowed up both – for a time. This is not cyclical history, for history is linear. There was a creation, a fall, a people called out of bondage, an incarnation, a resurrection, Pentecost. There will be a day of epistemological self-consciousness, as promised in Isaiah 32. There will be a final rebellion and judgment. There has been a Christian nation called the United States. There has been a secular nation called the United States. (The dividing line was the Civil War, or War of Southern Secession, or War between the States, or War of Northern Aggression – take your pick.) Back and forth, ebb and flow, but with a long-range goal.
There has been progress. Look at the Apostles’ Creed. Then look at the Westminster Confession of Faith. Only a fool could deny progress. There has been a growth in wealth, in knowledge, and culture. What are we to say, that technology as such is the devil’s, that since common 6race has been steadily withdrawn, the modern world’s development is the creative work of Satan (since God’s common grace cannot account for this progress)? Is Satan creative-autonomously creative? If not, from whence comes our wealth, our knowledge, and our power? Is it not from God? Is not Satan the great imitator? But whose progress has he imitated? Whose cultural development has he attempted to borrow, twist, and destroy? There has been progress since the days of Noah – not straight-line progress, not pure compound growth, but progress nonetheless. Christianity produced it, secularism borrowed it, and today we seem to be at another crossroad: Can the Christians sustain what they began, given their compromises with secularism? And can the secularists sustain what they and the Christians have constructed, now that their spiritual capital is running low, and the Christians’ cultural bank account is close to empty?
Christians and secularists today are, in the field of education and other “secular” realms, like a pair of drunks who lean on each other in order not to fall down. We seem to be in the “blessings unto temptation” stage, with “rebellion unto destruction” looming ahead. It has happened before. It can happen again. In this sense, it is the lack of epistemological self-consciousness that seems to be responsible for the reduction of common grace. Yet it is Van Til’s view that the increase of epistemological self-consciousness is responsible for, or at least parallels, the reduction of common grace. Amillennialism has crippled his analysis of common grace. So has his equation of God’s gifts and God’s supposed favor to mankind in general.
The separation between the wheat and the tares is progressive. It is not a straight-line progression. Blight hits one and then the other. Sometimes it hits both at once. Sometimes the sun and rain help both to grow at the same time. But there is maturity. The tares grow unto final destruction, and the wheat grows unto final blessing. In the meantime, both have roles to play in God’s plan for the ages. At least the tares help keep the soil from eroding. Better tares than the destruction of the field, at least for the present. They serve God, despite themselves. There has been progress for both wheat and tares. Greek and Roman science became static; Christian concepts of optimism and an orderly universe created modern science. Now the tares run the scientific world, but for how long? Until a war? Until the concepts of meaningless Darwinian evolution and modern indeterminate physics destroy the concept of regular law – the foundation of all science?
How long can we go on like this? Answer: until epistemological self-consciousness brings Christians back to the law of God. Then the pagans must imitate them or quit. Obedience to God alone brings long-term dominion.
Law and Grace
The dual relationship between common law and common curse is a necessary backdrop for God’s· plan of the ages. Take, for example, the curse of Adam. Adam and his heirs are burdened with frail bodies that grow sick and die. Initially, there was a longer life expectancy for mankind. The longest life recorded in the Bible, that given to Methuselah, Noah’s grandfather, was 969 years. Methuselah died in the year that the great flood began. Thus, as far as human life is concerned, the greatest sign of God’s common grace was given to men just before the greatest removal of common grace recorded in history.
This is extremely significant for the thesis of this essay. The extension of common grace to man – the external blessings of God that are given to mankind in general – is a prelude to a great curse for the unregenerate. As we read in the eighth chapter of Deuteronomy, as well as in the twenty-eighth chapter, men can be and are lured into a snare by looking upon the external gifts from God while forgetting the heavenly source of the gifts and the covenantal terms under which the gifts were given. The gift of long life was given to mankind in general, not as a sign of God’s favor, but as a prelude to His almost total destruction of the seed of Adam. Only His special grace to Noah and his family preserved mankind.
Thus, the mere existence of external blessing is no proof of a favorable attitude toward man on the part of God. In the first stage, that of covenantal faithfulness, God’s special grace is extended widely within a culture. The second state, that of external blessings in response to covenantal faithfulness, is intended to reinforce men’s faith in the reality and validity of God’s covenants (Deut. 8:18). But that second stage can lead to a third stage, covenantal or ethical forgetfulness. The key fact which must be borne in mind is that this third stage cannot be distinguished from the second stage in terms of measurements of the blessings (economic growth indicators, for example). An increase of external blessings should lead to the positive feedback of a faithful culture: victory unto victory. But it can lead to stage three, namely, forgetfulness. This leads to stage four, destruction. It therefore requires special grace to maintain the “faithfulness-blessing-faithfulness-blessing…” relationship of positive feedback and compound growth. But common grace plays a definite role in reinforcing men’s commitment to the law-order of God.
Everyone in the Hebrew commonwealth, including the stranger who was within the gates, could benefit from the increase in external blessings. Therefore, the curse aspect of the “common grace-common curse” relationship can be progressively removed, and common grace either increases, or else the mere removal of common cursing makes it appear that common grace is increasing. (Better theologians than I can debate this point.)
The Reinforcement of Special Grace
Nevertheless, without special grace being extended by God – without continual conversions of men – the positive feedback of Deuteronomy 8 cannot be maintained. A disastrous reduction of blessings can be counted on by those who are not regenerate if their numbers are becoming dominant in the community. When regenerate Lot was removed from Sodom, and the unregenerate men who had been set up for destruction by God no longer were protected by Lot’s presence among them, their crack of doom sounded (Gen. 18, 19). And the effects were felt in Lot’s family, for his wife looked back and suffered the consequences of her disobedience (19:26), and his daughters committed sin (19:30-38). But it had been Lot’s presence among them that had held off destruction (19:21-22).
The same was true of Noah. Until the ark was completed, the world was safe from the great flood. The people seemed to be prospering. Methuselah lived a long life, but after him, the lifespan of mankind steadily declined. Aaron died at age 123 (Num. 33:39). Moses died at age 120 (Deut. 31:2). But this longevity was not normal, even in their day. In a psalm of Moses, he said that “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we flyaway” (Ps. 90:10). The common curse of God could be seen even in the blessing of extra years, but long life, which is a blessing (Ex. 20:12), was being removed by God from mankind in general.
The Book of Isaiah tells us of a future restoration of long life. This blessing shall be given to all men, saints and sinners. It is therefore a sign of extended common grace. It is a gift to mankind in general. Isaiah 65:20 tells us: “There shall be no more thence an infant of days, nor an old man that hath not filled his days: for the child shall die an hundred years old; but the sinner being an hundred years old shall be accursed.” The gift of long life shall come, though the common curse of long life shall extend to the sinner, whose long life is simply extra time for him to fill up his days of iniquity. Nevertheless, the infants will not die, which is a fulfillment of God’s promise to Israel, namely, the absence of miscarriages (Ex. 23:26). If there is any passage in Scripture that absolutely refutes the amillennial position, it is this one. This is not a prophecy of the New Heavens and New Earth in their post-judgment form, but it is a prophecy of the pre-judgment manifestation of the preliminary stages of the New Heavens and New Earth – an earnest (down payment) of our expectations. There are still sinners in the world, and they receive long life. But to them it is an ultimate curse, meaning a special curse. It is a special curse because this exceptionally long life is a common blessing – the reduction of the common curse. Again, we need the concept of common grace to give significance to both special grace and common curse. Common grace (reduced common curse) brings special curses to the rebels.
There will be peace on earth extended to men of good will (Luke 2:14). But this means that there will also be peace on earth extended to evil men. Peace is given to the just as a reward for their covenantal faithfulness. It is given to the unregenerate in order to heap coals of fire on their heads, and also in order to lure rebels living in the very last days into a final rebellion against God.
Final Judgment and Common Grace
An understanding of common grace is essential for an understanding of the final act of human history before the judgment of God. To the extent that this essay contributes anything new to Christian theology, it is its contribution to an understanding of the final rebellion of the unregenerate. The final rebellion has been used by those opposing postmillennialism as final proof that there will be no faith on earth among the masses of men when Christ returns. The devil shall be loosed for a little season at the end of time, meaning his power over the nations returns to him in full strength (Rev. 20:3). However, this rebellion is short-lived. He surrounds the holy city (meaning the church of the faithful), only to be cut down in final judgment (Rev. 20:7-15). Therefore, conclude the critics of postmillennialism, there is a resounding negative answer to Christ’s question: “Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on earth” (Luke 18:8)? Where, then, is the supposed victory?
The doctrine of common grace provides us with the biblical answer. God’s law is the main form of common grace. It is written in the hearts of believers, we read in Hebrews, chapters eight and ten, but the work of the law is written in the heart of every man. Thus, the work of the law is universal – common. This access to God’s law is the foundation of the fulfilling of the dominion covenant to subdue the earth (Gen. 1:28). The command was given to all men through Adam; it was reaffirmed by God with the family of Noah (Gen. 9:1-7). God’s promises of external blessings are conditional to man’s fulfillment of external laws. The reason why men can gain the blessings is because the knowledge of the work of the law is common. This is why there can be outward cooperation between Christians and non-Christians for certain earthly ends.
From time to time, unbelievers are enabled by God to adhere more closely to the work of the law that is written in their hearts. These periods of cultural adherence can last for centuries, at least with respect to some aspects of human culture (the arts, science, philosophy). The Greeks maintained a high level of culture inside the limited confines of the Greek city-states for a few centuries. The Chinese maintained their culture until it grew stagnant, in response to Confucian philosophy, in what we call the Middle Ages. But in the West, the ability of the unregenerate to act in closer conformity to the work of the law written in their hearts has been the result of the historical leadership provided by the cultural triumph of Christianity. In short, special grace increased, leading to an extension of common grace throughout Western culture. Economic growth has increased; indeed, the concept of linear, compound growth is unique to the West, and the foundations of this belief were laid by the Reformers who held to the eschatology known as postmillennialism. Longer lifespans have also appeared in the West, primarily due to the application of technology to living conditions. Applied technology is, in turn, a product of Christianity and especially Protestant Christianity.
In the era prophesied by Isaiah, unbelievers will once again come to know the benefits of God’s law. No longer shall they twist God’s revelation to them. The churl shall no longer be called liberal. Law will be respected by unbelievers. This means that they will turn away from an open, consistent worship of the gods of chaos and the philosophy of ultimate randomness, including evolutionary randomness. They will participate in the blessings brought to them by the preaching of the whole counsel of God, including His law. The earth will be subdued to the glory of God, including the cultural world. Unbelievers will fulfil their roles in the achievement of the terms of the dominion covenant.
This is why a theology that is orthodox must include a doctrine of common grace that is intimately related to biblical law. Law does not save men’s souls, but it does save their bodies and their culture. Christ is the savior of all, especially those who are the elect (I Tim. 4:10).
Antinomian Revivalism vs. Reconstruction
The blessings and cultural victory taught by the Bible (and adequately commented upon by postmillennialists) will not be the products of some form of pietistic, semi-monastic revivalism. The “merely soteriological” preaching of pietism – the salvation of souls by special grace – is not sufficient to bring the victories foretold in the Bible. The whole counsel of God must and will be preached. This means that the law of God will be preached. The external blessings will come in response to covenantal faithfulness of God’s people. The majority of men will be converted. The unconverted will not follow their philosophy of chaos to logical conclusions, for such a philosophy leads to ultimate impotence. It throws away the tool of reconstruction, biblical law.
The great defect with the postmillennial revival inaugurated by Jonathan Edwards and his followers in the eighteenth century was their neglect of biblical law. They expected to see the blessings of God come as a result of merely soteriological preaching. Look at Edwards’ Treatise on the Religious Affections. There is nothing on the law of God in culture. Page after page is filled with the words “sweet” and “sweetness.” A diabetic reader is almost risking a relapse by reading this book in one sitting. The words sometimes appear four or five times on a page. And while Edwards was preaching the sweetness of God, Arminian semi-literates were “hot-gospeling” the Holy Commonwealth of Connecticut into political antinomianism. Where sweetness and emotional hot flashes are concerned, Calvinistic preaching is no match for antinomian sermons. The hoped-for revival of the 1700s became the Arminian revivals of the early 1800s, leaving emotionally burned-over districts, cults, and the abolitionist movement as their devastating legacy. Because the postmillennial preaching of the Edwardians was culturally antinomian and pietistic, it crippled the remnants of Calvinistic political order in the New England colonies, helping to produce a vacuum that Arminianism and then Unitarianism filled.
Progress culturally, economically, and politically is intimately linked to the extension and application of biblical law. The blessings promised in Romans, chapter eleven, concerning the effects of the promised conversion of Israel (not necessarily the state of Israel) to the gospel, will be in part the product of biblical law. But these blessings do not necessarily include universal regeneration. The blessings only require the extension of Christian culture. For the long-term progress of culture, of course, this increase of common grace (or reduction of the common curse) must be reinforced (rejuvenated and renewed) by special grace – conversions. But the blessings can remain for a generation or more after special grace has been removed, and as far as the external benefits can be measured, it will not be possible to tell whether the blessings are part of the positive feedback program (Deut. 8:18) or a prelude to God’s judgment (Deut. 8:19-20). God respects His conditional, external covenants. External conformity to His law gains external blessings. These, in the last analysis (and at the last judgment), produce coals for unregenerate heads.
The postmillennial system requires a doctrine of common grace and common curse. It does not require a doctrine of universal regeneration during the period of millennial blessings. In fact, no postmillennial Calvinist can afford to be without a doctrine of common grace – one which links external blessings to the fulfillment of external covenants. There has to be a period of external blessings during the final generation. Something must hold that culture together so that Satan can once again go forth and deceive the nations. The Calvinist denies that men can “lose their salvation,” meaning their regenerate status. The rebels are not “formerly regenerate” men. But they are men with power, or at least the trappings of power. They are powerful enough to delude themselves that they can destroy the people of God. And power, as I have tried to emphasize throughout this essay, is not the product of antinomian or chaos-oriented philosophy. The very existence of a military chain of command demands a concept of law and order. Satan commands an army on that final day.
The postmillennial vision of the future paints a picture of historically incomparable blessings. It also tells of a final rebellion that leads to God’s total and final judgment. Like the long-lived men in the days of Methuselah, judgment comes upon them in the midst of power, prosperity, and external blessings. God has been gracious to them all to the utmost of His common grace. He has been gracious in response to their covenantal faithfulness to His civil law-order, and He has been gracious in order to pile the maximum possible pile of coals on their heads. In contrast to Van Til’s amillennialist vision of the future, we must say: When common grace is extended to its maximum limits possible in history, then the crack of doom has come – doom for the rebels.
Epistemological Self-Consciousness and Cooperation
Van Til writes: “But when all the reprobate are epistemologically self-conscious, the crack of doom has come. The fully self-conscious reprobate will do all he can in every dimension to destroy the people of God.” Yet Van Til has written in another place that the rebel against God is like a little child who has to sit on his father’s lap in order to slap his face. What, then, can be meant by the concept of increasing epistemological self-consciousness?
As the wheat and tares grow to maturity, the amillennialist argues, the tares become stronger and stronger culturally, while the wheat becomes weaker and weaker. Consider what is being said. As Christians work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, improving their creeds, improving their cooperation with each other on the basis of agreement about the creeds, as they learn about the law of God as it applies in their own era, as they become skilled in applying the law of God that they have learned about, they become culturally impotent. They become infertile, also, it would seem. They do not become fruitful and multiply. Or if they do their best to follow this commandment, they are left without the blessing of God – a blessing which He has promised to those who follow the laws He has established. In short, the increase of epistemological self-consciousness on the part of Christians leads to cultural impotence.
I am faced with an unpleasant conclusion: the amillennialist version of the common grace doctrine is inescapably antinomian. It argues that God no longer respects His covenantal law-order, that Deuteronomy’s teaching about covenantal law is invalid in New Testament times. The only way for the amillennialist to avoid the charge of antinomianism is for him to abandon the concept of increasing epistemological self-consciousness. He must face the fact that to achieve cultural impotence, Christians therefore must not increase in knowledge and covenantal faithfulness. (Admittedly, the condition of twentieth-century Christianity does appear to enforce this attitude about epistemological self-consciousness among Christians.)
Consider the other half of Van Til’s dictum. As the epistemological self-consciousness of the unregenerate increases, and they adhere more and more to their epistemological premises of the origins of matter out of chaos, and the ultimate return of all matter into pure randomness, this chaos philosophy makes them confident. The Christian is humble before God, but confident before the creation which he is to subdue. This confidence leads the Christian into defeat and ultimate disaster, say amillennialists, who believe in increasing epistemological self-consciousness. On the other hand, the rebel is arrogant before God and claims that all nature is ruled by the meaningless laws of probability-ultimate chaos. By immersing themselves in the philosophy of chaos, the unbelievers are able to emerge totally victorious across the whole face of the earth, says the amillennialist, a victory which is called to a halt only by the physical intervention of Jesus Christ at the final judgment. A commitment to lawlessness, in the amillennial version of common grace, leads to external victory. How can these things be?
Amillennialism Has Things Backwards
It should be clear by now that the amillennialist version of the relationship between biblical law and the creation is completely backwards. No doubt Satan wishes it were a true version. He wants his followers to believe it. But how can a consistent Christian believe it? How can a Christian believe that adherence to biblical law produces cultural impotence, while commitment to philosophical chaos – the religion of satanic revolution – leads to cultural victory? There is no doubt in my mind that the amillennialists do not want to teach such a doctrine, yet that is where their amillennial pessimism inevitably leads. Dutch Calvinists preach the cultural mandate (dominion covenant), but they simultaneously preach that it cannot be fulfilled. But biblical law is basic to the fulfillment of the cultural mandate. Therefore, the amillennialist who preaches the obligation of trying to fulfil the cultural mandate without biblical law thereby plunges himself either into the camp of the chaos cults (mystics, revolutionaries) or into the camp of the natural-law, common-ground philosophers. There are only four possibilities: revealed law, natural law, chaos, or a mixture.
This leads me to my next point. It is somewhat speculative and may not be completely accurate. It is an idea which ought to be pursued, however, to see if it is accurate. I think that the reason why the philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd, the Dutch philosopher of law, had some temporary impact in Dutch Calvinist intellectual circles in the late 1960s and early 1970s is that Dooyeweerd’s theory of sphere sovereignty – sphere laws that are not to be filled in by means of revealed, Old Testament law – is consistent with the amillennial (Dutch) version of the cultural mandate. Dooyeweerd’s system and Dutch amillennialism are essentially antinomian. This is why I wrote my 1967 essay, “Social Antinomianism,” in response to the Dooyeweerdian professor at the Free University of Amsterdam, A. Troost.
Either the Dooyeweerdians wind up as mystics, or else they try to create a new kind of “common-ground philosophy” to link believers and unbelievers. It is Dooyeweerd’s outspoken resistance to Old Testament and New Testament authority over the content of his hypothesized sphere laws that has led his increasingly radical, increasingly antinomian followers into anti-Christian paths. You cannot preach the dominion covenant and then turn around and deny the efficacy of biblical law in culture. Yet this is what all the Dutch adherents to common grace have done. They deny the cultural efficacy of biblical law, by necessity, because their eschatological interpretations have led them to conclude that there can be no external, cultural victory in time and on earth by faithful Christians.
Epistemological self-consciousness will increase, but things only get worse over time. If you preach that biblical law produces “positive feedback,” both personally and culturally – that God rewards covenant-keepers and punishes covenant-breakers in time and on earth – then you are preaching a system of positive growth. You are preaching the dominion covenant. Only if you deny that there is any relationship between covenant-keeping and external success in life – a denial made explicit by Meredith G. Kline – can you escape from the postmillennial implications of biblical law. This is why it is odd that Greg Bahnsen insists – perhaps for tactical reasons – on presenting his defense of biblical law apart from his well-known postmillennialism. Kline attacked both of Bahnsen’s doctrines in his critique of Theonomy, and Bahnsen in his rebuttal essay did respond to Kline’s criticisms of his postmillennial eschatology, but he again denies that eschatology has anything logically to do with biblical ethics. But Kline was correct: there is unquestionably a necessary connection between a covenantal concept of biblical law and eschatology. Kline rejects the idea of a New Testament covenantal law-order, and he also rejects postmillennialism.
Amillennial Calvinists will continue to be plagued by Dooyeweerdians, mystics, natural-law compromisers, and antinomians of all sorts until they finally abandon their amillennial eschatology. Furthermore, biblical law must be preached. It must be seen as the tool of cultural reconstruction. It must be seen as operating now, in New Testament times. It must be seen that there is a relationship between covenantal faithfulness and obedience to law – that without obedience there is no faithfulness, no matter how emotional believers may become, or how sweet the gospel tastes (for a while). And there are blessings that follow obedience to God’s law-order. Amillennialists, by preaching eschatological impotence culturally, thereby immerse themselves in quicksand – the quicksand of antinomianism. Some sands are quicker than others. Eventually, they swallow up anyone so foolish as to try to walk through them. Antinomianism leads into the pits of impotence and retreat.
What is meant by epistemological self-consciousness? It means a greater understanding over time of what one’s presuppositions are, and a greater willingness to put these presuppositions into action. It affects both wheat and tares.
In what ways does the wheat resemble the tares? In what ways are they different? The angels saw the differences immediately. God therefore restrained them from ripping up the tares. He wanted to preserve the soil-the historical process. Therefore, the full development of both wheat and tares is permitted by God.
What must be understood here is that the doctrine of special grace in history necessarily involves the doctrine of common grace. As the Christians develop to maturity, they become more powerful. This is not a straight-line development. There are times of locusts and blight and drought, both for Christians and for satanists (humanists). There is ebb and flow, but always there is direction to the movement. There is maturity. The creeds are improved. This, in turn, gives Christians cultural power. Is it any wonder that the Westminster Confession of Faith was drawn up at the high point of the Puritans’ control of England? Are improvements in the creeds useless culturally? Do improvements in creeds and theological understanding necessarily lead to impotence culturally? Nonsense! It was the Reformation that made possible modern science and technology.
On the other side of the field – indeed, right next to the wheat – self-awareness by unbelievers also increases. But they do not always become more convinced of their roots in chaos. The Renaissance was successful in swallowing up the fruits of the Reformation only to the extent that it was a pale reflection of the Reformation. The Renaissance leaders rapidly abandoned the magic-charged, demonically inspired magicians like Giordano Bruno. They may have kept the humanism of a Bruno, but after 1600, the open commitment to the demonic receded. In its place came rationalism, Deism, and the logic of an orderly world. They used stolen premises and gained power. So compelling was this vision of mathematically autonomous reality that Christians like Cotton Mather hailed the new science of Newtonian mechanics as essentially Christian. It was so close to Christian views of God’s orderly being and the creation’s reflection of His orderliness, that the Christians unhesitatingly embraced the new science.
What we see, then, is that the Christians were not fully self-conscious epistemologically, and neither were the pagans. In the time of the apostles, there was greater epistemological awareness among the leaders of both sides. The church was persecuted, and it won. Then there was a lapse into muddled thinking on both sides. The attempt, for example, of Julian the Apostate to revive paganism late in the fourth century was ludicrous – it was half-hearted paganism, at best. Two centuries earlier, Marcus Aurelius, a true philosopher-king in the tradition of Plato, had been a major persecutor of Christians; Justin Martyr died under his years as emperor. But his debauched son, Commodus, was too busy with his 300 female concubines and 300 males to bother about systematic persecutions. Who was more self-conscious, epistemologically speaking? Aurelius still had the light of reason before him; his son was immersed in the religion of revolution – culturally impotent. He was more willing than his philosopher-persecutor father to follow the logic of his satanic faith. He preferred debauchery to power. Commodus was assassinated 13 years after he became Emperor. The Senate resolved that his name be execrated.
If a modern investigator would like to see as fully consistent a pagan culture as one might imagine, he could visit the African tribe, the Ik. Colin Turnbull did, and his book, The Mountain People (1973), is a classic. He found almost total rebellion against law – family law, civic law, all law. Yet he also found a totally impotent, beaten people who were rapidly becoming extinct. They were harmless to the West because they were more self-consistent than the West’s satanists.
The Marxist Challenge
Marxists, on the other hand, are a threat. They believe in linear history (officially, anyway – their system is at bottom cyclical, however). They believe in law. They believe in destiny. They believe in historical meaning. They believe in historical stages, though not ethically determined stages such as we find in Deuteronomy. They believe in science. They believe in literature, propaganda, and the power of the written word. They believe in higher education. In short, they have a philosophy which is a kind of perverse mirror image of Christian orthodoxy. They are dangerous, not because they are acting consistently with their ultimate philosophy of chaos, but because they limit the function of chaos to one area alone: the revolutionary transformation of bourgeois culture. (I am speaking here primarily of Soviet Marxists.) And where are they winning converts? In the increasingly impotent, increasingly existentialist, increasingly antinomian West. Until the West abandoned its remnant of Christian culture, Marxism could flourish only in the underdeveloped, basically pagan areas of the world. An essentially Western philosophy of optimism found converts among the intellectuals of the Far East, Africa, and Latin America, who saw the fruitlessness of Confucian stagnation and relativism, the impotence of demonic ritual, or the dead-end nature of demon worship. Marxism is powerful only to the extent that it has the trappings of Augustinianism, coupled with subsidies, especially technological subsidies and long-term credit, from Western industry.
There is irony here. Marx believed that “scientific socialism” would triumph only in those nations that had experienced the full development of capitalism. He believed that in most cases (possibly excepting Russia), rural areas had to abandon feudalism and develop a fully capitalist culture before the socialist revolution would be successful. Yet it was primarily in the rural regions of the world that Marxist ideas and groups were first successful. The industrialized West was still too Christian or too pragmatic (recognizing that “honesty is the best policy”) to capitulate to the Marxists, except immediately following a lost war.
Marxists have long dominated the faculties of Latin American universities, but not U.S. universities. In 1964, for example, there were not half a dozen outspoken Marxist economists teaching in American universities (and possibly as few as one, Stanford’s Paul Baran). Since 1965, however, New Left scholars of a Marxist persuasion have become a force to be reckoned with in all the social sciences, including economics. The skepticism, pessimism, relativism, and irrelevance of modern “neutral” education have left faculties without an adequate defense against confident, shrill, vociferous Marxists, primarily young Marxists, who began to appear on the campuses after 1964. Epistemological rot has left the establishment campus liberals with little more than tenure to protect them.
Since 1965, however, Marxism has made more inroads among the young intellectuals of the industrialized West than at any time since the 1930s – an earlier era of pessimism and skepticism about established values and traditions. Marxists are successful among savages, whether in Africa or at Harvard – epistemological savages. Marxism offers an alternative to despair. It has the trappings of optimism. It has the trappings of Christianity. It is still a nineteenth-century system, drawing on the intellectual capital of a more Christian intellectual universe. These trappings of Christian order are the source of Marxism’s influence in an increasingly relativistic world.
Satan’s Final Rebellion
In the last days of this final era in human history, the satanists will still have the trappings of Christian order about them. Satan has to sit on God’s lap, so to speak, in order to slap His face – or try to. Satan cannot be consistent to his own philosophy of autonomous order and still be a threat to God. An autonomous order leads to chaos and impotence. He knows that there is no neutral ground in philosophy. He knew Adam and Eve would die spiritually on the day that they ate the fruit. He is a good enough theologian to know that there is one God, and he and his host tremble at the thought (James 2:19). When demonic men take seriously his lies about the nature of reality, they become impotent, sliding off (or nearly off) God’s lap. It is when satanists realize that Satan’s official philosophy of chaos and antinomian lawlessness is a lie that they become dangerous. (Marxists, once again, are more dangerous to America than are the Ik.) They learn more of the truth, but they pervert it and try to use it against God’s people.
Thus, the biblical meaning of epistemological self-consciousness is not that the satanist becomes consistent with Satan’s official philosophy (chaos), but rather that Satan’s host becomes consistent with what Satan really believes: that order, law, power are the product of God’s hated order. They learn to use law and order to build an army of conquest. In short, they use common grace – knowledge of the truth – to pervert the truth and to attack God’s people. They turn from a false knowledge offered to them by Satan, and they adopt a perverted form of truth to use in their rebellious plans. They mature, in other words. Or, as C. S. Lewis has put into the mouth of his fictitious character, the senior devil Screwtape, when materialists finally believe in Satan but not in God, then the war is over. Not quite; when they believe in God, know He is going to win, and nevertheless strike out in fury – not blind fury, but fully self-conscious fury – at the works of God, then the war is over.
How, then, can we cooperate with such men? Simply on the basis of common grace. Common grace has not yet fully developed. But this cooperation must be in the interests of God’s kingdom. Whether or not a particular ad hoc association is beneficial must be made in terms of standards set forth in biblical law. Common grace is not common ground; there is no common ground uniting men except for the image of God in every man.
Because external conformity to the terms of biblical law does produce visibly good results – contrary to Prof. Kline’s theory of God’s mysterious will in history – unbelievers for a time are willing to adopt these principles, since they seek the fruits of Christian culture. In short, some ethical satanists respond to the knowledge of God’s law written in their hearts. They have a large degree of knowledge about God’s creation, but they are not yet willing to attack that world. They have knowledge through common grace, but they do not yet see what this means for their own actions. (To some extent, the Communists see, but they have not yet followed through; they have not launched a final assault against the West.)
The essence of Adam’s rebellion was not intellectual; it was ethical. No one has argued this more forcefully than Van Til. The mere addition of knowledge to or by the unregenerate man does not alter the essence of his status before God. He is still a rebel, but he may possess knowledge. Knowledge can be applied to God’s creation and produce beneficial results. Knowledge can also produce a holocaust. The issue is ethics, not knowledge. Thus, men can cooperate in terms of mutually shared knowledge; ultimately, they cannot cooperate in terms of a mutually shared ethics.
What of the special curse? What is the ethical rebel’s ethical relation to God? Common grace increases the unregenerate man’s special curse. When common grace increases to its maximum, the special curse of God is revealed: total rebellion of man against the truth of God and in terms of the common grace – knowledge, power, wealth, prestige, etc. – of God, leading to final judgment. God does remove part of His restraint at the very end: the restraint on suicidal destruction. He allows them to achieve that death which they love (Prov. 8:36b). But they still have power and wealth, as in the Babylonian Empire the night it fell.
Pagans can teach us about physics, mathematics, chemistry, and many other topics. How is this possible? Because common grace has increased. They had several centuries of leadership from Christians, as well as Enlightenment figures who adopted a philosophy of coherence that at least resembled the Christian doctrine of providence. They cannot hold the culture together in terms of their philosophy of chaos – Satan’s official viewpoint – but they still can make important discoveries. They use stolen capital, in every sense.
Christians Must Lead
When there is Christian revival and the preaching and application of the whole counsel of God, then Christians can once again take the position of real leadership. The unbelievers also can make contributions to the subduing of the earth because they will be called back to the work of the law written in their hearts. Common grace will increase throughout the world. But Christians must be extremely careful to watch for signs of ethical deviation from those who seemingly are useful co-workers in the kingdom. There can be cooperation for external goals – the fulfilling of the dominion covenant which was given to all men – but not in the realm of ethics. We must watch the Soviets to see how not to build a society. We must construct countermeasures to their military offenses. We must not adopt their view of proletarian ethics, even though their chess players or mathematicians may show us a great deal. The law of God as revealed in the Bible must be dominant, not the work of the law written in the hearts of the unrighteous. The way to cooperate is on the basis of biblical law. The law tells us of the limitations on man. It keeps us humble before God and dominant over nature. We shall determine the accuracy and usefulness of the works of unregenerate men who are exercising their God-given talents, working out their damnation with fear and trembling.
Strangers within the gates were given many of the benefits of common grace – God’s response to the conversion of the Hebrews. They received full legal protection in Hebrew courts (Ex. 22:21; 23:9; Deut. 24:17). They were not permitted to eat special holy foods (Ex. 29:33; Lev. 22:10), thereby sealing them off from the religious celebrations of the temple. But they were part of the feast of the tithe, a celebration before the Lord (Deut. 14:22-29). Thus, they were beneficiaries of the civil order that God established for His people. They also could produce goods and services in confidence that the fruits of their labor would not be confiscated from them by a lawless civil government. This made everyone richer, for all men in the community could work out the terms of the dominion covenant.
We are told that the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit (I Cor. 2:14-16). We are told that God’s wisdom is seen as foolishness by the unregenerate (I Cor. 1:18-21). We are told to beware, “lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Col. 2:8). There is an unbridgeable separation philosophically between unbelievers and believers. They begin with different starting points: chaos vs. creation, God vs. man. Only common grace can reduce the conflict in application between pagan and Christian philosophy. The ethical rebellion of the unregenerate lies beneath the surface, smoldering, ready to flare up in wrath, but he is restrained by God and God’s law. He needs the power that law provides. Therefore, he assents to some of the principles of applied biblical law and conforms himself to part of the work of the law that is written on his heart. But on first principles, he cannot agree. And even near the end, when men may confess the existence of one God and tremble at the thought, they will not submit their egos to that God. They will fight to the death – to the second death – to deny the claims that the God of the Bible has over every part of their being.
Thus, there can be cooperation in the subduing of the earth. But Christians must set forth the strategy and the tactics. The unregenerate man will be like a paid consultant; he will provide his talents, but the Lord will build the culture.
Common Grace vs. Common Ground
We must not argue from common grace to common ground. We cannot do so because with the increase of common grace we come closer to that final rebellion in all its satanic might. Common grace combines the efforts of men in the subduing of the earth, but Christians work for the glory of God openly, while the unregenerate work (officially) for the glory of man or the glory of Satan. They do, in fact, work to the glory of God, for on that last day every knee shall bow to Him (Phil. 2:10). The wealth of the wicked is laid up for the just (Prov. 13:22). So there are no common facts, ethically speaking.
At that final day, when their rebellion begins, all of Satan’s host will know about the facts of God’s world, for common grace will be at its peak. Nevertheless, they turn their backs on God and rebel. All facts are interpreted facts, and the interpretation, not the facts as such – there are no “facts as such” – is what separates the lost from the elect. Inevitably, the natural man holds back (actively suppresses) the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). No philosophical “proofs” of God (other than a proof which begins by assuming the existence of the God revealed in the Bible) are valid, and even the assumption of the existence of the God of the Bible is not sufficient to save a man’s soul. Only God can do that (John 6:44). There is no common ground philosophically, only metaphysically. We are made in God’s image by a common Creator (Acts 17:24-31). Every man knows this. We can, as men, only remind all men of what they know. God uses that knowledge to redeem men.
The unbeliever uses stolen intellectual capital to reason correctly – correctly in the sense of being able to use that knowledge as a tool to subdue the earth, not in the sense of knowing God as an adopted son knows Him. His conclusions can correspond to external reality sufficiently to allow him to work out his rebellious faith to even greater destruction than if he had not had accurate knowledge (Luke 12:47-48). He “knows” somehow that “2 plus 2 equals 4,” and also that this fact of mental symmetry can be used to cause desired effects in the external realm of nature. Why this mental symmetry should exist, and why it should bear any relation to the external realm of nature, is unexplainable by the knowledge of natural man, a fact admitted by Nobel prize-winning physicist, Eugene Wigner.
Christians, because they have a proper doctrine of creation, can explain both. So the unbeliever uses borrowed intellectual capital at every step. Christians can use some of his work (by checking his findings against the revelation in the Bible), and the unbeliever can use the work of Christians. The earth will be subdued. The closer the unbeliever’s presuppositions are to those revealed in the Bible (such as the conservative economist’s assumption of the fact of economic scarcity, corresponding to Gen. 3:17-19), the more likely that the discoveries made in terms of that assumption will be useful. By useful, I mean useful in the common task of all men, subduing the earth. Thus, there can be cooperation between Christians and non-Christians.
Unbelievers appear to be culturally dominant today. Believers have retreated into antinomian pietism and pessimism, for they have abandoned faith in the two features of Christian social philosophy that make progress possible: 1) the dynamic of eschatological optimism, and 2) the tool of the dominion covenant, biblical law. We should conclude, then, that either the dissolution of culture is at hand (for the common grace of the unregenerate cannot long be sustained without leadership in the realm of culture from the regenerate), or else the re- generate must regain sight of their lost truths: postmillennialism and biblical law. For common grace to continue, and for external cooperation between believers and unbelievers to be fruitful or even possible, Christians must call the external culture’s guidelines back to God’s law. They must regain the leadership they forfeited to the speculations of self-proclaimed “reasonable” apostates. If this is not done, then we will slide back once more, until the unbelievers resemble the Ik and the Christians can begin the process of cultural domination once more. For common grace to continue to increase, it must be sustained by special grace. Either unbelievers will be converted, or leadership will flow back toward the Christians. If neither happens, we will return eventually to barbarism.
Understandably, I pray for the regeneration of the ungodly and the rediscovery of biblical law and accurate biblical eschatology on the part of present Christians and future converts. Whether we will see such a revival in our day is unknown to me. There are reasons to believe that it can and will happen. There are also reasons to doubt such optimism. The Lord knows.
We must abandon antinomianism and eschatologies that are inherently antinomian. We must call men back to faith in the God of the whole Bible. We must affirm that in the plan of God there will come a day of increased self-awareness, when men will call churls churlish and liberal men gracious (Isa. 32). This will be a day of great external blessings – the greatest in history. Long ages of such self-awareness unfold before us. And at the end of time comes a generation of rebels who know churls from liberals and strike out against the godly. They will lose the war.
Therefore, common grace is essentially future grace. There is an ebb and flow throughout history, but essentially it is future grace. It must not be seen as essentially prior or earlier grace. Only amillennialists can hold to such a position – antinomian amillennialists at that. The final judgment appears at the end of time against the backdrop of common grace. The common curse will be at its lowest point, the prelude to special cursing of eternal duration. The final judgment comes, just as the great flood came, against a background of God’s external benefits to mankind in general. The iniquity of the Amorites will at last be full.
Does the postmillennialist believe that there will be faith in general on the earth when Christ appears? Not if he understands the implications of the doctrine of common grace. Does he expect the whole earth to be destroyed by the unbelieving rebels before Christ strikes them dead-doubly dead? No. The judgment comes before they can do their work. Common grace is extended to allow unbelievers to fill up their cup of wrath. They are vessels of wrath. Therefore, the fulfilling of the terms of the dominion covenant through common grace is the final step in the process of filling up these vessels of wrath. The vessels of grace, believers, will also be filled. Everything is full. Will God destroy His preliminary down payment on the New Heavens and the New Earth? Will God erase the sign that His word has been obeyed, that the dominion covenant has been fulfilled? Will Satan, that great destroyer, have the joy of seeing God’s word thwarted, his handiwork torn down by Satan’s very hordes? The amillennialist answers yes. The postmillennialist must deny it with all his strength.
There is continuity in life, despite discontinuities. The wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just. Satan would like to burn up God’s field, but he cannot. The tares and wheat grow to maturity, and then the reapers go out to harvest the wheat, cutting away the chaff and tossing chaff into the fire. Satan would like to turn back the crack of doom, return to ground zero, return to the garden of Eden, when the dominion covenant was first given. The fulfillment of the dominion covenant is the final act of Satan that is positive – an extension of common grace. After that, common grace becomes malevolent – absolutely malevolent – as Satan uses the last of his time and the last of his power to strike out against God’s people. When he uses his gifts to become finally, totally destructive, he is cut down from above. This final culmination of common grace is Satan’s crack of doom.
And the meek – meek before God, active toward His creation – shall at last inherit the earth. A renewed earth and renewed heaven is the final payment by God the Father to His Son and to those He has given to His Son. This is the postmillennial hope.
By now, I have alienated every known Christian group. I have alienated the remaining Christian Reformed Church members who are orthodox by siding with the Protestant Reformed Church against Point I of the 1924 Synod. There is no favor in God’s common grace. I have alienated the Protestant Reformed Church by arguing for post-millennialism. I have alienated the premillennialists by arguing that the separation between wheat and tares must come at the end of his- tory, not a thousand years before the end (or, in the dispensational, pretribulational premillennial framework, 1007 years before). I have alienated postmillennial pietists who read and delight in the works of Jonathan Edwards by arguing that Edwards’ tradition was destructive to biblical law in 1740 and still is. It leads nowhere unless it matures and adopts the concept of biblical law as a tool of victory. I have alienated the Bible Presbyterian Church, since its leaders deny the dominion covenant. Have I missed anyone? Oh, yes, I have alienated post-millennial Arminians (“positive confession” charismatics) by arguing that the rebels in the last day are not backslidden Christians.
Having accomplished this, I hope that others will follow through on the outline I have sketched relating common grace, eschatology, and biblical law. Let those few who take this essay seriously avoid the theological land mines that still clutter up the landscape. There are refinements that must be made, implications that must be discovered and then worked out. I hope that my contribution will make other men’s tasks that much easier.
 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559), Book II, Section II, chapter 16; Il:III:3; III:XIV:2.
 Dogs in Israel were not highly loved animals, so the analogy with common grace is biblically legitimate. ”And ye shall be holy men unto me: neither shall ye eat any flesh that is torn of beasts in the field; ye shall cast it to the dogs” (Ex, 22:31). If we assume that God loves pagans the way that modern people love their dogs, then the analogy will not fit.
 Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1954), pp. 20-22. This essay was reprinted in Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel (Nutley, New Jersey: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1974), same pagination.
 Gary North, “Aren’t There Two Kinds of Salvation?”, Question 75 in North, 75 Bible Questions Your Instructors Pray You Won’t Ask (Tyler, Texas: Spurgeon Press, 1984).
 Gary North, Moses and Pharaoh: Dominion Religion vs. Power Religion (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985), ch. 12: “Continuity and Revolution.”
 Van Til, Common Grace, pp. 82-83.
 Ibid., p. 85.
 Kline rejects Van Til’s assertion that common grace declines over time. Kline says that this is what the Chalcedon postmillennialists teach – which simply is not true, nor even implied by their eschatology – and in doing so Kline breaks radically with Van Til. It is unlikely that Kline even recognizes the anti-Van Til implications of what he has written. “Along with the hermeneutical deficiencies of Chalcedon’s millennialism there is a fundamental theological problem that besets it. And here we come around again to Chalcedon’s confounding the biblical concepts of the holy and the common. As we have seen, Chalcedon’s brand of postmillennialism envisages as the climax of the millennium something more than a high degree of success in the church’s evangelistic mission to the world. An additional millennial prospect (one which they particularly relish) is that of a material prosperity and a world-wide eminence and dominance of Christ’s established kingdom on earth, with a divinely enforced submission of the nations to the world government of the Christocracy…. The insuperable theological objection to any and every such chiliastic construction is that it entails the assumption of a premature eclipse of the order of common grace…. In thus postulating the termination of the common grace order before the consummation, Chalcedon’s postmillennialism in effect attributes unfaithfulness to God, for God committed himself in his ancient covenant to maintain that order for as long as the earth endures.” Meredith G. Kline, “Comments on an Old-New Error,” Westminster Theological Journal, XLI (Fall 1978), pp. 183, 184.
 It is one of the oddities in the Christian reconstruction movement that R. J. Rushdoony categorically rejects amillennialism, calling it “impotent religion” and “blasphemy,” and yet he affirms the validity of Van Til’s common grace position, calling for the substitution of Van Til’s “earlier grace” concept for “common grace.” Rushdoony’s anti-amillennial (and therefore by implication anti-Van Till essay appeared in The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, III (Winter 1976-77): “Postmillennialism versus Impotent Religion.” His pro-“earlier grace” statement appeared in his review of E. L. Hebden Taylor’s book, The Christian Philosophy of Law, Politics and the State, in The Westminster Theological Journal, XXX (Nov. 1967): “A concept of ‘earlier grace’ makes remnants of justice, right, and community tenable; a concept of ‘common grace’ does not” (p. 100). “The term ‘common grace’ has become a shibboleth of Dutch theology and a passageway across the Jordan and into Reformed territory of those who can feign the required accent. Has not the time come to drop the whole concept and start afresh?” (p. 101).
 Methuselah was 969 years old when he died (Gen. 5:27). He was 187 years old when his son Lamech was born (5:25) and 369 years old when Lamech’s son Noah was born (5:28-29). Noah was 600 years old at the time of the great flood (7:6). Therefore, from the birth of Noah, when Methuselah was 369, until the flood, 600 years later, Methuselah lived out his years (369 + 600; 969). The Bible does not say that Methuselah perished in the flood, but only that he died in the year of the flood. This is such a remarkable chronology that the burden of proof is on those who deny the father-to-son relationship in these three generations, arguing instead for an unstated gap in the chronology.
 Stanley Jaki, The Road of Science and the Ways to God (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978); Science and Creation: From eternal cycles to an oscillating universe (Edinburgh and London: Scottish Academic Press,  1980).
 Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure (rev. ed.; New York: Free Press of Glencoe, 1957), ch. 18: “Puritanism, Pietism, and Science”; E. L. Hebden Taylor, “The Role of Puritanism-Calvinism in the Rise of Modern Science,” The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, VI (Summer 1979); Charles Dykes, “Medieval Speculation, Puritanism, and Modern Science,” ibid.
 On the opposition to Edwards’ toleration of revivalism, not from theological liberals but from orthodox Calvinistic pastors, see Richard L. Bushman, From Puritan to Yankee (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1967). Bushman also explains how the Great Awakening was a disaster for the legal remnants of biblical law in the colony of Connecticut. The political order was forced into theological neutralism, which in turn aided the rise of Deism and liberalism.
 John Murray’s excellent commentary, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1965), contains an extensive analysis of Romans 11, the section dealing with the future conversion of the Jews. Murray stresses that God’s regrafting in of Israel leads to covenantal blessings unparalleled in human history. But the Israel referred to in Romans 11, argues Murray, is not national or political Israel, but the natural seed of Abraham. This seems to mean genetic Israel.
A major historical problem appears at this point. There is some evidence (though not conclusive) that the bulk of those known today as Askenazi Jews are the heirs of a converted tribe of Turkish people, the Khazars. It is well-known among European history scholars that such a conversion took place around 740 A.D. The Eastern European and Russian Jews may have come from this stock. They have married other Jews, however: the Sephardic or diaspora Jews who fled primarily to western Europe. The Yemenite Jews, who stayed in the land of Palestine, also are descendants of Abraham. The counter-evidence against this thesis of the Khazars as modern Jews is primarily linguistic: Yiddish does not bear traces of any Turkic language. On the kingdom of the Khazars, see Arthur Koestler, The Thirteenth Tribe: The Khazar Empire and Its Heritage (New York: Random House, 1976).
If the Israel referred to in Romans 11 is primarily genetic, then it may not be necessary that all Jews be converted. What, then, is the Jew in Romans 11? Covenantal? I wrote to Murray in the late 1960s to get his opinion on the implications of the Khazars for his exegesis of Romans 11, but he did not respond.
 Gary North, The Sinai Strategy: Economics and the Ten Commandments (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1986), Appendix C: “Social Antinomianism.”
 Kline says that any connection between blessings and covenant-keeping is, humanly speaking, random. “And meanwhile it [the common grace order] must run its course within the uncertainties of the mutually conditioning principles of common grace and common curse, prosperity and adversity being experienced in a manner largely unpredictable because of the inscrutable sovereignty of the divine will that dispenses them in mysterious ways.” Kline, op. cit., p. 184. Dr. Kline has obviously never considered just why it is that life insurance premiums and health insurance premiums are cheaper in Christian-influenced societies than in pagan societies. Apparently, the blessings of long life that are promised in the Bible are sufficiently non-random and “scrutable” that statisticians who advise insurance companies can detect statistically relevant differences between societies.
 “What these studies present is a position in Christian (normative) ethics. They do not logically commit those who agree with them to any particular school of eschatological interpretation.” Greg L. Bahnsen, By This Standard:
The Authority of God’s Law Today (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985), p. 8. He is correct: logically, there is no connection. Covenantally, the two doctrines are inescapable: when the law is preached, there are blessings; blessings lead inescapably to victory.
 Kline, op. cit.
 Greg L. Bahnsen, “M. G. Kline on Theonomic Politics: An Evaluation of His Reply,” Journal of Christian Reconstruction, VI (Winter, 1979-80), No. 2, especially p. 215.
 On the magic of the early Renaissance, see Frances Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (New York: Vintage,  1969).
 Edward Gibbon, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Milman edition, 5 Vols. (Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, ), I, p. 144.
 Ethelbert Stauffer, Christ and the Caesars (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1955), p. 223.
 Gary North, Marx’s Religion of Revolution: The Doctrine of Creative Destruction (Nutley, New Jersey: Craig Press, 1968), pp. 100-1.
 Martin Bronfenbrenner, “Radical Economics in America: A 1970 Survey,” Journal of Economic Literature, VIII (Sept. 1970).
 Gary North, “The Epistemological Crisis of American Universities,” in Gary North (ed,), Foundations of Christian Scholarship: Essays in the Van Til Perspective (Vallecito, California: Ross House Books, 1976).
 C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York: Macmillan, 1969), Letter 7.
 Murray, Romans, commenting on Romans 1:18.
 Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1963), attacks the traditional Roman Catholic and Arminian proofs of God. They do not prove the God of the Bible, he argues, only a finite god of the human mind.
 Eugene Wigner, “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences,” Communications on Pure and Applied Mathematics XIII (1960), pp. 1-14. See also Vern Poythress, “A Biblical View of Mathematics,” in Gary North (ed), Foundations of Christian Scholarship, op. cit., ch. 9. See also his essay in The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, I (Summer 1974).