Special Grace, Common Grace

From Bojidar Marinov’s Special Grace, Common Grace, and the “Decay of Culture”
{My words in square brackets.]

The postmillennialist sees the decay of culture around him and is deeply disturbed, but feels it can and will ultimately turn around for the better.

I found these words in an Internet forum. I understand why they were said; I can see the motivation behind them. […]

But his statement about the “decay of culture” around us is unfortunately wrong. I say “unfortunately” not because I want to see “decay of culture” and am disappointed that there is none. To the contrary, I rejoice in the fact that in our day we are not experiencing a “decay of culture.” I say “unfortunately” because his correct eschatology is in conflict with his theology and his social theory and, specifically, with his view of culture and his definition of decay and growth. And this is because of his lack of understanding of a deeper theological issue that has seldom been discussed in Christian circles and remains largely an obscure issue to most Christian pastors and laymen. […]

The issue I am talking about is special grace v. common grace and the implications of this issue to our interpretation of history, of society, and of our modern culture. Quite a few of us are familiar with the idea of special grace; after all, that’s what all the sermons in our more conservative churches are all about: the special grace of God to His elect. However, not so many are aware of the concept of “common grace,” at least not of the term. […]

In general, though, there is misunderstanding about common grace and its function and nature. And there is misunderstanding about the relationship between special grace and common grace. And there is misunderstanding about the cultural implications of special grace and common grace. And consequently, there is misunderstanding about the growth of the Kingdom of God in history. And the above comment, I believe, about the “decay of culture,” is an example of this misunderstanding.

This article will try to explain the problem and its solutions. I rely heavily on Gary North’s Dominion and Common Grace: The Biblical Basis of Progress.1 The other book that is helpful in understanding my position is R. J. Rushdoony, The Biblical Philosophy of History.2 For other reading on the subject, readers can follow the bibliographies in these two books.

[A good discussion of special grace is snipped from the original, for interest of brevity. – AP]

Common Grace

But what about common grace? Does God give grace to the sinners as well?

The modern truncated version of the Gospel refuses to accept that the word “salvation” in the Bible applies to much more to just “getting to heaven.” Thus, common grace is seldom spoken about, and most theologians don’t even have such a concept in their vocabulary. But the Bible has a much broader view of God’s salvation:

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 (1 Tim. 4:10).

It should be obvious why this verse requires that we expand our definition of salvation: There is no way that we call God a “Savior of all men,” which will include the unbelievers, if salvation is only “getting to heaven.” The verse agrees with other verses which call God the “Savior of the world” (John 3:16-17; 4:42; and others). Unless we want to fall into the heresy of unversalism (all men are saved irrespective of their faith), our definition of “salvation” must be broadened – not to make unsaved people saved but to include in “salvation” something of God’s work in history and on earth. God gives undeserved gifts to people (Is. 42:5), and those gifts are not the same as the gift of eternal salvation, nor the same as the gift of special favor and special revelation. God gives grace to all people, and this grace is called common grace. It is a gift which the unregenerate people receive, even if by the Law, God should send them directly to hell before they even receive their breathing, given the fact that all men are condemned in Adam. Human beings live, eat, breathe, love, work, make profit, have emotions, have property, experience aesthetic pleasures, do good works, etc. only because of God’s common grace to them. Men are not entitled to anything they have; it is all a gift from God.

Now, to make sure there is no misunderstanding, while the special grace of God is a sign of His favor to His elect, His common grace is not a grace given because of His favor. To the contrary, God’s common grace is given to unbelievers only for the purpose of condemning them even more in their rebellion. Similarly to the commandment in Prov. 25:21-22 to give food and water to your enemy, and this will be like “burning coals on his head,” God gives grace to the unbelievers for the same purpose. The Canaanites were given several extra generations of peaceful existence in the land not because God had any favor to them but only to allow them to fill their iniquity (Gen. 15:16). God gives the unregenerate enough rope to hang themselves.

[People think that God is kidding when He says in His word:

God is a just judge, And God is angry with the wicked every day. — Psalm 7:11, and
The wicked shall be turned into hell, And all the nations that forget God. — Psalm 9:17

God isn’t kidding.]

But there is more. We saw above that special grace is not limited to individual salvation, that part of special grace is also special revelation – the Law of God – by which the regenerate are expected to live and build societies and cultures. In the same way, common grace is not limited to a person’s breathing and living and enjoying life; it includes implications for the civilization, just as special grace does. Special grace can build a civilization which is specifically based on God’s special revelation; common grace can build and preserve a civilization – for a while – based on God’s restraining hand. God restrains unbelievers in their sin, not letting them go to the logical end of their rebellion against Him. When fallen man is left to follow the dictates of his fallen heart, he and his society gradually lose all self-control and completely give themselves over to immorality, debauchery, laziness, passiveness, ignorance.

[And yes, such is the West today. It is increasingly a Satanic kingdom, due directly to the corruption of the Church.

But consider this: do lazy, brutal, immoral, passive, ignorant, cowardly, boring, and faithless societies inherit the earth? Are such cultures feared and dreaded?

Of course not! Satanic societies are failures! Sterile failures… bankrupt failures… defeated failures!

Why do Christians, filled with the Spirit of the Living God, fear dead men?]

Indeed, there are societies and people like that today. Modern anthropologists and sociologists call them “primitive” but in reality there is nothing “primitive” about them; to the contrary, these societies have developed their religious commitment against God to its logical end. But we also know that there are non-Christian societies today, and have been in the future, who build civilizations with all their good characteristics: law, order, industry, agriculture, commerce, technologies, art, literature, construction, roads, protection of property, families, etc. For a society to be able to develop these characteristics of a civilization, men in that society must be able to suppress the murderous instincts of their sinful hearts and cooperate with other people. This means they need to suppress their selfishness and serve others. But the sinful heart of man cannot produce willingness to such self-restraint. It is only the restraining hand of God which is responsible for the rise of the great civilizations in history. God gives common grace to cultures by making it impossible for the unregenerate to go to the logical end of their rebellion against Him, and thus they are able to do some good. Special grace builds a Christian civilization; common grace also builds civilizations that are better than the barbarism of the unrestrained human heart.

[More enlightening thoughts on common grace… and it’s dependence on special grace… snipped.]

[Here, the bolded words are stressed by me, not Marinov.]

While from the emotional standpoint of a modern Christian it may look as if it is disintegrating, or going down the drain economically, or being led to statism and socialism, the reality is that common grace is increasing in the United States and in the West in general. And it is increasing in the world in general. Economically, we live better and more prosperous lives than ever before, even if the economic growth is slowed down. In terms of safety, we are safer than ever before. Crime rates have gone down in both the US and Europe since the 1970s. Communism is dead meat, ideologically, and anyone who wants to promote it these days must use all kinds of verbal acrobatics in order to not sound hopelessly old-fashioned and irrelevant. The ideas of liberty are catching fire among the younger generation. The electronic media have slipped out of the control of the establishment gate-keepers. More and more, society is moving in favor of Biblical principles in every area of life, even if there is no significant religious revival in our modern world.5

This has all the characteristics of an increase in common grace. The world is not going back to barbarism and savagery. Yes, certain aspects of it may be. Or certain populations. Or certain regions. But in general, innovation, industry, future-orientation, technologies, law-abiding, liberty are increasingly accepted as prevalent social norms in the culture.

When there is increasing common grace, there can only be one reason: there is increasing special grace. We may not see it, but it is there. For the crumbs under the table to increase, there must be increasing loaves on the table. A spillover is possible only if there is increased quantity which spills over the brim. We have more converts. We have more knowledge about the Bible and what it says about righteousness and justice. We have more preaching, and it is more faithful to the Bible.

[So the Glorious Christian Leadership that has led us into these irreverent and powerless ghettos are being slowly squeezed out? Praise God Most High!

Now, let’s have some of those seminaries close.
And by “some”, I mean “all”: such unbiblical institutions need to be replaced by apprenticeships under the current pastor, just as the Biblical model demands!]

We have more Christian knowledge in every area of life than before – explicitly Christian, not baptized paganism supported by Biblical verses. We have more evangelism, and more missions. While there is a legitimate area for complaining about the current state of Christendom, God is still increasing His special grace to mankind, and as a result, we see increased common grace. When common grace increases, that is because special grace has increased. When special grace increases, there is no legitimate way to say that we see a “decay of culture.”

So stop whining. We haven’t got the foggiest idea what a “decay of culture” is. We, I mean, we in America.

The question then is: Don’t we see increased opposition from the unregenerate to our Christian faith, to the institutional churches; don’t we see increased opposition to family values, or to any kind of Christian values in the society? And isn’t this opposition a sign of the decay of our culture? In the past, there was no such opposition. Today, there is. It is becoming harder and harder to be a Christian these days.

In a previous article, A “Post-Christian World” and a “Post-Mom Home”, I explained why the challenges we are facing today cannot be taken to mean that the world is becoming post-Christian, or that there is some kind of decay in the culture. The world is actually getting better and better, because of God’s increased special grace, and therefore God’s increased common grace. The world is much safer, much more prosperous, and much more open to Christianity today than it was 40 years ago. There are many more resources today – produced by the increased special grace and the increased common grace – that we can use to advance the Gospel and build the Christendom. Any of us who goes back 40 or 100 years, will feel miserable in a world where he has to spend much of his time struggling to survive, without much time to learn and grow spiritually and intellectually. And the world was much worse back then ethically as well. It was full of many more thieves, brigands, tyrants, etc., than there are today.

But increased common grace in a culture will lead to increased resources and prosperity; and we should expect that increased resources and prosperity will eventually spill over into the hands of the enemies of God as well. The enemies of God are not able of themselves, based on their religious commitments, to produce such abundance of resources; abundance is the specific product of spreading of the Gospel around the world. But once they have access to more resources through the common grace of God, we should expect them to use those resources against God, or since God is not reachable, against the people of God. The classic example in the Bible is the Assyrian Empire which became mighty only because of Jonah: Jonah’s message gave them special revelation and special grace; that special grace produced common grace in the following generations which helped them build a successful empire, even if most people were unregenerate; and at the end, the successful empire fought against the people of God who had apostatized. (And at the end, God put an end to the common grace, but that’s a topic for another article.) Ultimately, it was Jonah’s missionary success which spelled the end of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by putting in the hands of Nineveh the religious tools which would make them powerful enough to defeat Israel. The same thing can be said about Rome: it was the common grace crumbs, the influence of the Law of Moses, which set Rome on the way to becoming a great civilization, later to building all the roads which spread the Gospel throughout the inhabited world; but that empire also used these resources to strike against Christianity. In the recent history of the world, the old pagan India was content to remain under the British dominion. It was the influence of European education, with its Christian worldview, which inspired a generation of young educated Indians to rebel against the British. The old pagan India was never defeated so decisively as when the British gave India independence: for the very notions of liberty and independence could not have come from the pagan religions in India. And today, in America, the only reason the enemies of Christianity have the resources to kick against the pricks is because of the Christendom which produced these resources in the first place. Van Til said that an unbeliever who rebels against God is like a child who has to sit in his father’s lap in order to slap him on the face. In the same way, to be successful against God, unbelievers are forced to accept God’s common grace and more and more imitate Christian ethics and wisdom. God must be laughing really hard at the scene. And we should be too.

The increased resistance of the enemies of Christianity is only proof that we are winning the cultural war. The success of the Gospel will inevitably make some unbelievers accept at least some of the truths of the Gospel only to become stronger and better prepared to oppose us. Such challenge is not a sign of the “decay of culture” but exactly the opposite: it is a sign that we are more successful in teaching and preaching God’s special revelation to the world.

The “decay of culture” is not decay. There is no decay; there is increased common grace which makes unbelievers better able to rebel. And there is a church that is lagging behind in its understanding of Christ’s Kingdom, of His special grace, of His common grace, and of the connection between the two. More maturity brings more responsibility: and more challenges. And more challenges is not decay.

It’s called growth.

May I add that half-hearted pseudo-conversions only mean a greater fall of the enemy, from a greater height.

Every empire of man will lie, broken and quiet, before the everlasting Kingdom of God.

And we won’t have to wait till some pie-in-the-sky future to see it happen.

Au contraire , we have seen it happen already before our eyes, in time and on earth.

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