Sovereign Common Grace or Sovereign Special Grace?
And this more important theological question is this: Which order of grace – common or special – governs the world outside the church and the individual soul of man? Yes, we know that God sustains His elect through special grace, and He sustains the reprobates through His common grace. But what about the world? When God looks at the world outside the church and the souls of men, when He looks at the creation, or at the societies of man, or at the social institutions, or scientific endeavors, technological discoveries, at art and music and literature, at the total of our civilization today, does God look at it as something that just needs to be maintained and restrained (common grace), or does He look at it as something to be redeemed and saved (special grace)?
Book of the Week:
– Dominion and Common Grace by Gary North
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Welcome to Episode 15 of Axe to the Root Podcast, part of the War Room Productions, I am Bo Marinov, and for the next 30 minutes we will be talking some deep theology, and specifically, the theology of grace. It won’t be the shallow fables on God’s grace you typically hear from your so-called “Reformed” pastors and seminary professors; milk food that appeals to your emotions and only urges to “believe the Gospel more.” We will go into areas your so-called “Reformed” pastors seldom go into, mainly because they were not trained to apply their armchair theology to a comprehensive worldview, or may be because they are cautious to not appear too radical. 501(c)3, y’know. We will look at the doctrine of grace in a more comprehensive manner, not just how it applied to the salvation of your little soul, but also how it applied beyond that . . . and especially, how your understanding of grace affects your view of history, of the victory of the Gospel in history, and of the nature of the Great Commission.
Let me start with a personal disclaimer. I don’t like it when preachers, theologians, and seminary professors describe the Reformed doctrines as “doctrines of grace.” Not that I don’t believe in God’s grace; in fact, as you will learn in a few minutes, I have a very detailed theology about God’s grace and its practical applications in our life, individual and social. Not that the description is technically incorrect; to the contrary, by logical necessity, God’s grace is a major element of the Reformed doctrines, and it follows from the foundational truths of the Gospel. The description is technically correct, granted, but it has a skewed focus and emphasis. It is focused on man and his needs, not on God and His nature. When we make grace the center of our doctrines, we make God subservient to man and man’s needs. Man becomes the center of our preaching, and God is simply a serving spirit to cater to man’s salvation. When we make man the center of our preaching, our gospel becomes a very small gospel, limited to a few propositions about the individual salvation of man. Our gospel, then, is not comprehensive, it is shrunk and truncated, and our preachers end up calling us to gaze at our navels, treating us as immature children. In my sermon on “How Big Is the Gospel?” (somewhere on Sermon Audio) I have covered this problem of our pulpits and our churches as a whole, and I will talk about this problem of spiritualized navel-gazing in a future podcast.
For now, I would like to point out that the true description of the Reformed doctrine – and of the Gospel, for that matter – is that it is the doctrine of the Sovereignty of God. In the final account, it is the Sovereignty of God that is the foundation for everything else, and God’s grace is only one effect of the Sovereignty of God – one of many. Granted, it is a very important effect for man – man, after all, desperately needs that grace in order to survive – but whether God gives that grace or not, whether God decides to withhold some of this grace in particular circumstances or for particular purposes (as God withheld some from Paul in 2 Cor. 12:7-9), the Sovereignty of God continues to be the only constant in the universe. Our focus must be on God, His nature, and His purpose for His world and for each individual person in it. When our focus is on man and his need for salvation, we fail to see the greater picture of the Kingdom of God – or, which is worse, we reduce the Kingdom of God to a small realm of individual salvation and personal morality, and we become only peripheral onlookers. Those who insist on defining the Reformed doctrines as “doctrines of grace” are those who insist on truncating the Gospel to a few propositions about the salvation of man – and this is not Reformed. As Reformed Christians, our focus must be on the Sovereignty of God, in every area of life, not just in the area of personal salvation.
With this qualification, we can continue to our topic this week, and that is, the sovereign grace of God in the salvation of the world: what is it, how it operates, and why our view of the nature of that grace is important to how we preach the Gospel, what Gospel exactly we preach, and how we approach the application of that Gospel to the practical life of man and his society. I am also going to offer another qualification: For the sake of saving time, I am not going to discuss here the basic definition of the concept of grace. I expect my listeners to understand it; after all, if you are a Christian, you don’t need to be told what God’s grace to you the sinner is, and what the role of God’s grace is in your salvation.
However, when we discuss grace at the level of individual salvation – the level at which all so-called “Reformed” seminary professors and pastors discuss it these days – we need to understand that the simple term “grace” is insufficient to describe the working of God’s Spirit with individual people. On one hand, we have the grace we all as Christians are aware of, God’s grace in salvation. Obviously, because of the original sin, and because of the individual specific sins of each one of us, we are all transgressors of the Law of God and therefore deserving eternal damnation. So to those elected to salvation, God has given His grace in justifying them on account of the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ, and in actively sanctifying them through changing their hearts and writing His Law on them. We know who we are by our profession of faith and our growth in active covenantal – that is, ethical/judicial – obedience to God’s Law. (We know that there are many whose “obedience” is anything but ethical/judicial – they may have just rational agreement with certain truths, or they may have a favorite set of ritual/liturgical motions, but none of these is active obedience, unless there is ethical/judicial sanctification.) God gives His salvific grace to His elect – that is, grace not only sufficient to their salvation, but also being salvation itself. He is the Savior of all who believe, and He is the Savior because he has shown grace to them – actively, sovereignly, not on account of anything they have done or will do, but only on account of His good will towards them.
But that’s not all about grace. The Bible says that God is the Savior of all who believe, but not only of them. In Titus 2:11 Paul says that “the grace of God has appeared that brings salvation to all men.” In fact, the Greek word for “bringing salvation” is not even a verb, it is an adjective and means simply “saving”; the text literally reads, “Has appeared the Grace of God saving to all men.” Some modern commentators, falling into hyper-Calvinism, try to read in it only “all elect men,” but the truth is, there is another statement by Paul that is even stronger and speaks of some form of salvation outside the group of those who believe, 1 Tim. 4:10: “For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.” There is no linguistic doubt about the meaning of the word “especially” in Greek (μάλιστα), and there is no doubt concerning the meaning of Paul’s statement: God is a Savior of all men, and “all men” here can’t be taken to mean only those who believe, because then a clause is added, “especially,” which applies only to those who believe. Thus, the Bible does speak of some sort of salvation which applies to all men, but then, there is salvation that is “special,” μάλιστα, only for believers. Obviously, if we only apply the words “salvation” and “grace” only to the elect, to those who believe, we will be contradicting clear Biblical verses. So we are forced to accept the Biblical testimony that there is salvation of sort and grace of sort for those who don’t believe. Our job now is to figure out – again, from the Biblical testimony – what this other “salvation” of sorts, what this other grace is.
Based on this obvious difference, Reformed theologians have come up with the term “special grace” which applies to the salvation of the elect. Special, as from the word “especially” in 1 Tim. 4:10. That grace, as we saw, is a full, complete grace. It’s not just temporary favors. It is eternal and comprehensive; it takes the whole man and restores him into the fellowship of God, into the Covenant of God, and into eternal life. It is redemptive and restorative not only in the passive sense, as taking him out of the pit, it is redemptive and restorative also in the active sense, that it restores the moral rightness of his heart and makes him actively desire to do good and be capable of doing good.
The other kind of grace, which God gives to those who don’t believe, theologians call “common grace.” To put it simply, it is not a redemptive, it is a restraining grace. On one hand, God restrains Himself from visiting upon them their iniquity. Clearly, if He acted according to His holiness without such grace, He would have killed them and sent them to hell before they were even born. All descendants of Adam and Eve deserve immediate death by the very nature of their covenant belonging to Adam’s line. But God restrains His own hand and let’s them live for a while, breathe, eat, enjoy life, experience love and joy. He even gives them knowledge and understanding, entrepreneurial spirit, art and literature skill and inspiration, economic, political, and military success – using them, of course, for His own purposes. Thus we have non-Christian innovators, entrepreneurs, scientists, writers, etc. On the other hand He restrains them from going to the logical end of their own rebellion against Him. If the unbelievers do not fall immediately to the bottom of their depravity, this is not because of some mythical “natural law” they supposedly acknowledge and obey – there is no such thing as “natural law” – it is because God sovereignly restrains their hands from doing the perfect evil their hearts would naturally incline them to. There is no redemption in common grace; there is only restraint and preservation for the day of judgment. In His common grace, God restrains them and restrains Himself. In the final day, though, He will remove that restraint of common grace and will judge the unbelievers without any grace whatsoever.
So far so good, as long as we are talking about the individual salvation of man. As I have pointed to many times, this is all modern so-called “Reformed” preachers talk about. We have preachers today who have specialized in producing long and teary sermons of personal individual self-examination, making man and his salvation to be the center of God’s plan. This, is, of course, because of the false reading of the two most misused and abused verses in the history of modern Christianity: John 3:16-17. These verses are always quoted with a focus on individual salvation, as if everything God wanted to say in them has to do only with individual souls. The truth is, though, when we read the very text of these verses, it becomes clear that the individual salvation of man is only a means to a greater goal. Here’s the Biblical text:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
The obvious frame is the salvation of the world. The individual souls are only a means to that end, within that greater frame. There is no focus there on individual souls. There’s a Kingdom to be re-conquered and restored. 1 Cor. 15:1-28 speaks of what the Gospel is; and starting with the sacrifice of Christ, the description ends with “all things being subjected to Him.” That is, the focus of Christ’s work is the salvation of the world, which means not only what’s inside the church and the individuals souls, but what is outside the church and outside the individual souls. There are nations to be converted and discipled, according to the Great Commission in Matt. 28:18-20, and nations are cultural and judicial entities; that is, their laws, institutions, their very cultural fabric and worldview need to be converted, and they must be made to worship Christ in everything they do, judicially, economically, politically, educationally, etc.
Christian Reconstructionists, from R.J. Rushdoony and Gary North and Greg Bahnsen to the lowest of us, have been talking and preaching and teaching this comprehensive meaning of the Gospel; some of our opponents have also mentioned that there may be, perhaps, some cultural aspect of the Gospel. Of course, everyone acknowledges that there was – at least in the beginning – a covenant for dominion, something we call the Dominion Mandate, or the Cultural Mandate. The question many times is, to what extent is that Dominion Covenant still in force today. We believe it is fully in force; our more pietistic opponents believe that it is only partially in force. But behind that very important difference, there is a more important, theological difference, which has to do with God’s grace in the Dominion Covenant. And this more important theological question is this: Which order of grace – common or special – governs the world outside the church and the individual soul of man? Yes, we know that God sustains His elect through special grace, and He sustains the reprobates through His common grace. But what about the world? When God looks at the world outside the church and the souls of men, when He looks at the creation, or at the societies of man, or at the social institutions, or scientific endeavors, technological discoveries, at art and music and literature, at the total of our civilization today, does God look at it as something that just needs to be maintained and restrained (common grace), or does He look at it as something to be redeemed and saved (special grace)?
I hope there is no need to explain to my listeners what the importance of this question is. Every Christian should be able to understand the difference between redemption and non-redemption. And every Christian should be able to understand that without special grace, there is no redemption; redemption is not a common thing which God just grants outside the sacrifice of Christ. And every Christian should ask himself the question: Is history and the world after the Cross being redeemed by the work of Christ on that Cross? Or has God abandoned history and the world to whatever His enemies want to do with them, only marginally restraining them from collapsing into chaos? The answer to the question of sovereign common grace or sovereign special grace will give us the answer to the questions: How big is our Gospel? How comprehensive must our preaching be? How far do Christ’s blessings go to dispel the darkness and challenge the Curse? And, following from these questions, How does history operate in the world after the Cross? What is the Biblical philosophy of history? Does history manifest the power of the Gospel, or is the power of the Gospel irrelevant to history and therefore hidden and invisible?
The view of the seminarian establishment in the US – the supposedly “Reformed” one – is that the sovereign order governing the world, history, and human society, is the common grace order. This view was summarized in 1979 by Meredith Kline. At the time, Meredith Kline was a professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; later he took a teaching position at Westminster West. Kline had an impressive career as a professor and an author, and most of his career was devoted to creating a concept of the covenant that established common grace as the ruling grace of history, and God’s special grace as limited and constrained to the individual heart of man and perhaps the church. He had some original work on the structure of God’s Covenant, but even there, his commitment to the concept of sovereign common grace was so deep that he almost made the covenant found in the Five Books of Moses derivative from the suzerain-vassal treaties in the ancient Middle East. Biblically, of course, God’s covenant drew on no human common grace treaties. According to the Westminster Confession, the Covenant on Mt. Sinai was part of God’s Covenant of Grace, meaning God’s covenant of salvation, meaning God’s special grace. While some of Kline’s insights into the details of the covenant structure were helpful, his overall work dragged the Reformed world towards dualism and truncating the saving grace of the Gospel. Kline was a very strong believer in sovereign common grace, not in sovereign special grace, as we will see in a moment.
His article of 1979, “Comments on an Old-New Error,” was designed to attack Christian Reconstruction and specifically Greg Bahnsen, for their postmillennialism and theonomy. Since Kline’s days’ anti-Theonomy has been a shape-shifter, always changing its arguments, at times rejecting the validity of the Law of God today, at times accepting some limited validity and applicability to our society today. But Kline was adamant and consistent: There could be no validity or applicability of the Law of God, as delivered to Moses, to our world today. He was consistent because he had a fundamental theological commitment: to sovereign common grace. In his article, when he got down to the fundamental theological difference between anti-theonomy and theonomy, he said the following:
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.
The “insuperable” theological objection, you see. The sovereignty of common grace over special grace – which also means the sovereignty of commonness over redemption – was such an important part of Kline’s theology, he fantasized that it was an “insuperable theological objection” to Christian Reconstruction. Kline’s theology didn’t allow for a sovereignty of Christ’s work over all. For him, the common grace God gave to mankind was the original grace, starting from the Garden, and it was only “formalized” after the Flood. That much he said in the same paragraph:
That order was formalized in the post-diluvian world by the divine covenant of Genesis 9 and by the terms of that covenant it is in force as long as the earth endures, that is, until the cosmic re-creation at the consummation (cf. 2 Pet, 3: 7, 11-13).
We will talk in another post in the future about Meredith Kline’s stunning theological blindness on this particular passage: Seriously, God had just given, in the Flood, the greatest example of the subjection of common grace to special grace as the ruling order of history. And yet, Kline claims that the covenant after the Flood – made with the special elect who were given a special salvation from the curse on mankind – was a “formalization” of the order of common grace as the ruling order? But this we will leave this for another time.
What is more important is that this sovereignty of common grace over history led him to deny any covenantal foundations, or manifestations, or progress in history. He continued in the same paragraph, in his attempt at refuting the philosophy of history of Christian Reconstruction:
A basic and essential structure of that common grace order is the institution of the common state. This civil institution, unlike the nation Israel, which was separated unto a distinctive institutional identity as a holy, redemptive, theocratic kingdom, is not a holy but rather common institution, with its citizenry a mixture of both the holy and the non-holy. It does not, as did the Israelite kingdom, possess special guarantees of a material prosperity unfailingly equal to the measure of its obedience to the law of God nor does it enjoy the promise of an ultimate perfecting of its beatitude. Its prospect is that of eventual termination rather than consummation. And meanwhile it 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 wisdom.
Translated into a human language, what Kline is saying here is this: There is absolutely no discernible cultural, political, economic, judicial, financial, institutional, or any other difference between a nation that is obedient to God and His Law and a nation that is in direct rebellion against God and His Law. More than that, since he acknowledges that God is the one moving history, Kline is declaring that God does absolutely nothing to exhibit in history, on earth, in the life of nations and cultures, the superiority of His Gospel over false religions. If a person is dropped in a nation without knowing which one it is, he would never be able to tell if that nation is obedient to God or not from its level of justice and righteousness, from its economic prosperity, from its levels of technological progress. A nation obedient to God can be as low as any pagan nation in terms of safety and abundance; a nation rebellious against God can rise to be long-term prosperous and safe and just. Whatever God does to a nation has nothing to do with the nation’s covenant standing before God. When God directs history, He does it through a different covenant than that in Christ. That covenant is ethically neutral, because it has no stipulations nor any ethical demands to man. God acts in it entirely separately from any ethical system.
You know how modern Pelagians and semi-Pelagians – that is, Arminians – like to argue that God is still sovereign but He has chosen to lay aside His own sovereignty when it comes to the salvation of man. Well, here, Kline argues that when it comes to history and the world, God has laid aside His own ethical nature and has chosen to deal with the world in an ethically neutral way, not taking in account man’s obedience or disobedience, and not making history manifest the holiness of God’s character.
Kline’s elevation of common grace to the pedestal of sovereign grace in history has had some deep consequences. It has laid the foundation for the restoration of the rhetoric of the “two-kingdoms” by modern antinomian and amillennial theologians. The “two kingdoms” rhetoric is entirely predicated on the idea that God has restricted the redemption of Jesus Christ (special grace) to individuals and the church, while He rules the world through the non-redemptive, ethically-neutral order of common grace. David Van Drunen of Westminster Seminary in Escondido, CA, in his book, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, uses this specific point of sovereign common grace in history to reject the idea of redemption in history and of society. After declaring that he believes that Christians should work out the implications of their faith in the society, he specifically says that they should do it without any expectations for any redemptive fruit of their efforts. Here’s the quote from his book:
A Christian, therefore, does not have [emphasis in the original] to adopt a redemptive vision of culture in order to affirm these important truths. A biblical two kingdoms doctrine provides another compelling way to do so. According to this doctrine, God is not redeeming [emphasis in the original] the cultural activities and institutions of this world, but is preserving them through the covenant He made with all living creatures through Noah in Genesis 8:20-9:17.
We need to understand this very important point: When common grace is taken as the sovereign grace in history, John 3:16-17 is turned on its head. There is no redemption for the world. There is no salvation for the world. These men claim to be Reformed, and therefore they are supposed to believe that man’s depravity is total, and therefore the Curse has affected everything man does – including his social institutions. And then they turn around and say that God has made a covenant to preserve the Curse??? What other conclusion can one take out of this but that God has committed Himself in a covenant to preserve depravity and the Curse on the earth, and not let the power of the Gospel bring redemption to the society and its institutions? The only alternative to such conclusion is that the world is ethically neutral, and God makes ethically-neutral covenants – and yet, in the same paragraph Van Drunen energetically denies the charge that he believes in an ethically-neutral world! So, which one is it? Is the world ethically-neutral or is God in a covenant to preserve the Curse?
The sovereign common grace position is hopelessly schizophrenic, of course, but it is the only position that can gives any foundation for a theological resistance to Christian Reconstruction – that is, theonomy and postmillennialism. And this is why such schizophrenic dualism is supported by the modern seminaries. It is self-contradictory, but then again, it is the last line of defense against a comprehensive Gospel of comprehensive redemption and victory of the Gospel in history.
There is a small group who also believes in a sort of a two kingdoms doctrine, and therefore in sovereign common grace and limited special grace: the so-called “covenanters.” In their view, the two kingdoms of God are the kingdom of power (which is the order of common grace), and the kingdom of grace (which is the order of special grace). This view follows from the Aristotelian natural-law tradition of the Romanist scholasticists and it was uncritically adopted by some early Presbyterian and Puritan writers, for which reason the modern “covenanters” prefer to call it the “historical two kingdoms doctrine.” It differs, in their view, from the other two-kingdoms doctrine in that it is optimistic and postmillennial – that is, they do believe in redemption for society, for the world outside the individual soul of man and outside the church. This, of course, is even more schizophrenic that Kline’s doctrine, for it presupposes redemption under common grace, outside the special grace of God, and therefore outside the special work of the Redeemer on the Cross. If human institutions are under God’s common grace and are being redeemed without an atonement, then the next logical step is for unrepentant individuals to get redemption without an atonement. The only logical conclusions from this – if they cared to go to its logical end – is soteriological universalism (God saves all) or statism (the state without Christ is an agent of God’s redeeming grace). The small group existing today have not gone to these logical conclusions, but over the last 2 centuries we have seen one group after another, originally heirs of the old Reformed churches in England and Scotland, fall either into universalism or socialism. They have just followed the logic of their own position.
I have been asked many times to explain the position of Christian Reconstruction on the issue of common grace vs. special grace. R.J. Rushdoony didn’t specifically develop a doctrine on the issue, but Gary North had a book devoted to it: Dominion and Common Grace. Since Gary North published his book, new developments have arisen that require and even more careful examination of the issue, which we will do, in the future. The doctrine of how God deals with the world outside the individual soul of man – is it redemptively, or is it neutrally – is a very important theological question, and it is at the foundation of our understanding of preaching the Gospel and of our theology of social action. If we say that the Reformed doctrines are doctrines of grace (tentatively, as I said in the beginning), then understanding the working of the grace of God is crucial to our understanding of the working of the redemption of the Gospel.
I will start with this: The ruling order in history is God’s special grace. From before the beginning of the world, to eternity, there is not a single moment of history and a single square inch of the universe that is not ruled by, shaped by, governed, and controlled by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross. There is no covenant God has ever made that was not based on or not predicated on the blood of Christ. Covenant without blood is not a real covenant, and no blood is worth before Him but the blood of His own Son alone. God has not covenanted to preserve the curse, and God has not covenanted to maintain institutions that do not explicitly, by constitutional commitment, serve Him and Him alone. Every plant that God didn’t plant will be uprooted (Matt. 15:13), and the pagan cultures and institutions of the world were not planted by God.
The creation was not an act of common grace. The world was not originally created to host enemies of God; it was created “very good.” This is why Peter in his sermon in Acts 2 could speak of the last day as “the restoration of all things,” pointing back to the world before the Fall. The Day of Judgment, the triumph of special grace and the destruction of common grace for the world, is the full restoration of the original creation. Thus, the original creation was special grace, it was only meant for the covenanted people of God. Thus, special grace is not some side aberration in history, not limited and restricted to individuals and the church, God created the world in an act of special grace, for His special people, and He runs everything through the order of salvation, based on the atonement of Jesus Christ. Remember, the Book was written before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8; 17:8). Special grace was active in the very creation, not introduced later.
Common grace was introduced later, after the Fall, as an exception within the order of salvation. When God destroyed the world in the Flood, He showed that outside His salvation, nothing in the world – humans, their civilization, their institutions, their culture, art, technology – has any meaning to His plan. He could destroy the wicked and all their achievements and institutions and cultures, and He wouldn’t care. He did the same to Sodom and Gomorrah: His only rule was that if there were any covenant people in these cultures, He would spare the cultures; if not, they were to be destroyed. That is, special grace ruled over common grace. He did the same to Israel throughout her history: when Israel abandoned God’s order of special grace, God saw no point in preserving Israel as a culture, except for His specific plan of introducing the Savior. The less special grace there is in a culture, the less common grace. The more special grace, the more common grace.
Common grace, therefore, in the words of James Jordan, is like crumbs under the table of special grace; or like overflow from the cup of special grace. Whether we are aware of it or not, whether we admit it or not, the Gospel rules the world, and through the Gospel, Christians rule the world. The more we preach the Gospel, and the more people in a culture convert to Christ and start acting as Christians, according to their new faith, the more that culture is going to experience also increased common grace: more political stability and liberty, more economic prosperity, more technological advance and scientific breakthroughs, higher IQ, lower crime and poverty. A culture that experiences a growth of conversions will inevitably eventually become different that cultures who don’t have such Gospel growth. The special grace is not limited to the church, it rules over the society, and therefore the atonement and redemption rule over the society. As Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me, in heaven and on earth.” All authority now is in the hands of the Lord, and He is not an ethically-neutral lord, He is the Redeemer, and there is no separation between His power and His grace, nor between His rule and His redemption. Whatever He rules over is not preserved; it is judged. And it is judged in history, either to redemption or to destruction.
With the order of salvation – not the order of ethically-neutral preservation – being the governing order of the world, we can understand history, and we can make sense of history. History is governed not by ideas, nor by impersonal material factors, nor even by some mysterious occult will of God separate from His Gospel. History is governed by the faith of the faithful. This in itself is a revolutionary idea, and that’s why I have called R.J. Rushdoony’s book, The Foundations of Social Order, the most unique book written in the history of Christendom. In it, Rushdoony developed the historical implications of the doctrine of sovereign special grace. History is nothing more than the perfection of the creeds over time; it is creedally determined. Thus, we have the Western civilization: not a common development, not based on some “natural law” or common ideology between Christians and non-Christians, but a direct fruit of the creedal faithfulness of Christians in their confessing their faith and working it out in practice. Were all of the people in the West saved? Absolutely not. Was there a lot of common grace? Of course. But that common grace came only because there was a lot of special grace. Even atheists in the West eventually became more moral and prosperous and intelligent – because they lived in a civilization shaped by the worldview informed by the Creeds. Rushdoony’s book is a superb study into the true origins of the Western civilization.
But the most important conclusion from this view of sovereign special grace is this: The world around us is not going to hell. It is a ripe fruit for salvation and redemption. Paul told us in Romans 8:20-21:
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
And that creation includes everything, even the human institutions and laws. God is not preserving the creation in its cursed state, Kline and the modern seminarians notwithstanding. God is revealing us as His sons, and through us is redeeming His creation, in history, on earth, until He Himself comes down to complete the process in the last day.
The book I will assign for reading this week is Gary North’s Dominion and Common Grace. Much better than I did here, Dr. North explains the significance of the issue between common grace and special grace, and shows how our understanding of it informs our preaching of the Gospel and our Christian action in the world today.
And I will dare return your attention back to my mission in Bulgaria. I am a missionary. My heart is out there on the mission field, where there is my small chunk of the creation to redeem – Bulgaria. And, if you want a larger vision, Eastern Europe. It’s a ripe field. I have a tried method, and a proven record – flood the market with good, Christian, covenantal, practically applied literature. It has worked. I need your help to make it work even more. Visit Bulgarian Reformation.com and donate. God bless you all.