Everything below – except the headers (“The Truth”, “The Mistake, Illustrated”, etc) – are taken from Appendix C of The Days of Vengeance: this appendix was written by Gary North.
It’ a long read. I believe that it is worth it.
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).
The Mistake, Illustrated
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.”
 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.
The Mistake, Spelled Out
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
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?
A Reasonable Mistake, Corrected
It is understandable how such verses [Luke 6:35-36, Matthew 5:44-45], 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.
Why God Gives Gifts and Grace to His Enemies
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.
Special Curses, Common Curses
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.)
Special Grace, Common Grace
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 Sinners Do
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.
Blessing the Wicked
[…other examples snipped…]
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.
Salvation for Actual Sinners, in History
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.
Justice and Mercy, At the Cross
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).
The End of Restraints on the Wicked… and the End of Common Grace
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 Discussion:
Useful, but Skipped Here
Read the book, Appendix C, to get the details.
Amillennialism: “Common Grace Leads to the Triumph of Evil, In Time and On Earth”
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.
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.
The Van Tillian Mistake
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.
Common Grace: Crumbs For the Dogs
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.
The Baseball Bat of Reality
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.
Only Christian Obedience to God Brings Victory
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.
as a Herald of the Special Curse
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.
Great Blessings to the Wicked,
as a Prelude to Death, Hell, and the Lake of Fire for the Wicked
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. Ina 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.
The Final Rebellion Before the Final Judgement
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).
Pious Words and Sweet Feelings are WORTHLESS and POWERLESS Without Obedience to Biblical Law
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.
Amillennialists: The Tares Grow Stronger Over Time, While the Wheat Grows Weaker
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. Inshort, 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 is False
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.
Wheat and Tares: Both Permitted to Grow… But Only the Wheat will Dominate the Future
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.
Consistent Evil Becomes Suicidal, Impotent Evil
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. […] 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.
Common Grace Allows Cooperation Between Good and Evil Men
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.
No Common Ground with the Wicked
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.
God’s People Must Regain Their Faith
in the Victory of Christ,
and the Authority of Biblical Law
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.