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Paradoxes of Common Grace

Common Grace: the Law written on the heart of man

Let’s talk common grace again.

Van Til makes the point that common grace is the only explanation for many of the paradoxes of Scripture. How is it that the Bible can say that all men inherently know God while also saying that they don’t know God?:

ALL MEN KNOW GOD BUT DON’T KNOW GOD

All men know God. Every fact of the universe has God’s stamp of ownership indelibly and with large letters engraved upon it…

Yet these same men to whom we must testify that they know God, must also be told that they do not know God… (p. 150)

How is it that Scripture can say all men have God’s law written on their conscious yet say that only believers truly have the law written on their hearts?

THE LAW IS WRITTEN ON ALL MEN’S HEARTS YET IS NOT WRITTEN ON ALL MEN’S HEARTS

The requirement of God comes clearly home to the consciousness of man. In this sense the law of God is written in his heart… (p. 152).

At the same time the Bible says to these men that they do not have the law of God written on their hearts. According to the promise of God to Jeremiah (Jer. 31:31) he will write his law upon the hearts of his people (p. 153).

The answers to these questions come in the form of the doctrine of common grace.

God’s creation of Adam was an act of common grace, not saving grace. The law was written on his heart in the ‘common’ manner, not in the saving manner. The law is written on (unregenerate) man’s heart via his conscious and knowledge that there is a Creator. The law is written on the (regenerate) believer’s heart via his relationship with the Holy Spirit, who causes him to love the law of God in the inner man. He is not only aware of the law, he loves the law.

Adam knew God, but didn’t know God. He knew him as his creator but didn’t know the grace of regeneration. So it is with all men before God clothes them with the garment of the sacrifice.

All quotations from Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel

As Solomon Used the Cedars of Lebanon

Cedars of Lebanon Common Grace

Let’s talk common grace.

The earth is the Lord and its fullness. When talking about the doctrine of common grace, Van Til makes the point that this fullness includes the cultural works of man. As Solomon uses the cedars of Lebanon to build the temple, Christians are called to subject the stuff of the world to the gospel and use it for God’s fuller purpose in the service of Christ:

It is in this program of God, it is in connection with this work of Christ by which the world that was cursed of God should be reconciled unto him for the greater glory of God, that common grace must have a part. All things in history must serve this glorious consummation…

For those who reject the Christ and those who have never heard of Christ, but who have sinned in Adam, are still laborers, even though unwillingly, in the cultural task of man…All the skills of those who are artificers in iron and brass, all the artistry of painters and sculptors and poets, are at the service of those who, under Christ, are anew undertaking the cultural task that God in the beginning gave to man…

It is the meek who shall inherit the earth. The earth and its fullness thereof belong to the Lord and to those to whom in his sovereign grace he gives it.

To them therefore belong all the common gifts of God to mankind. Yet that it may be the earth and the fullness thereof that is developed, the covenant keepers will make use of the works of the covenant breakers which these have been able and compelled to perform in spite of themselves. As Solomon used the ceders of Lebanon (1 Kings 5:8-10), the products of the rain and the sunshine that had come to the covenant breakers, and as he used the skill of these very covenant breakers for the building of the temple of God, so also those who through the Spirit of God have believed in Christ may and must use all the gifts of all men everywhere in order by means of them to perform the cultural task of mankind

-Cornelius Van Til, Common Grace and the Gospel, pp. 136, 137, 138

Christ Plays on Every Station: Common Grace and the Law Written on Man’s Heart

If God does not confront man everywhere, he cannot confront him anywhere. That’s a paraphrase. That’s also inherent in the concept of common grace and the law written on the heart of man.

In an essay in his book Common Grace and the Gospel, Cornelius Van Til uses this analogy to describe Paul’s teaching in Romans 1-2:

The main point is that if man could look anywhere and not be confronted with the revelation of God then he could not sin in the biblical sense of the term. Sin is the breaking of the law of God. God confronts man everywhere. He cannot in the nature of the case confront man anywhere if he does not confront him everywhere. God is one; the law is one. If man could press one button on the radio of his experience and not hear the voice of God then he would always press that button and not the others. But man cannot even press the button of his own self-consciousness without hearing the requirement of God (p. 203).

This is our attempt to suppress the truth, Romans 1-style.

Christians often do the opposite. Doug Wilson made this point in a blog post years ago. He said something to the effect that Christians think they’ve found the right station. So they keep the dial tuned in to that station and that station alone. Which sounds great. Until your wife (or you) gets tired of K-Love.

A major point of our book is going to be that Romans 1 applies to Christians too. For instance, Romans 1:23 describes truth-suppressing, idol-worshiping man like this:

“[They] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.”

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a sermon that pointed out the fact that this is an obvious allusion to Psalm 106:20:

“They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.”

To whom is Psalm 106 referring? It’s talking about Israel. It’s talking about religious people.

Van Til makes the point that if God is to confront man anywhere, he must confront him everywhere. Christians and non-Christians alike are bent toward suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. One way we do this, as Christians, is by not looking for God’s glory everywhere. We convince ourselves that he’s not speaking on every radio station. But he is. He’s there, confronting us with his law and his gospel. Yes, even in secular culture. Not just in sunsets and the ocean.

Charles Spurgeon (see HERE) sometimes quoted the hymn Say Not, My Soul. I’ve never heard the hymn in church. You probably haven’t either. But here’s the first stanza:

Say not, my soul, ‘From whence
Can God relieve my care’
Remember that Omnipotence
Hath servants everywhere.

Omnipotence has servants everywhere. This is why (in the quote linked above) Spurgeon said God’s truth is “viral.” Gerard Manly Hopkins put it this way: “Christ plays in ten thousand places.” Here, it’s more like ‘Christ plays on every channel.’ He plays everywhere, always. But we have to have ears to hear and eyes to see.

Using All Means and Helps Towards the Understanding of the Scriptures

If we thus ask the guidance and teaching of the Holy Spirit, it will follow, dear friends, that we shall be ready to use all means and helps towards the understanding of the Scriptures. When Philip asked the Ethiopian eunuch whether he understood the prophecy of Isaiah he replied, “How can I, unless some man should guide me?” Then Philip went up and opened to him the word of the Lord. Some, under the pretense of being taught of the Spirit of God refuse to be instructed by books or by living men. This is no honouring of the Spirit of God; it is a disrespect to him, for if he gives to some of his servants more light than to others—and it is clear he does—then they are bound to give that light to others, and to use it for the good of the church. But if the other part of the church refuse to receive that light, to what end did the Spirit of God give it? This would imply that there is a mistake somewhere in the economy of gifts and graces, which is managed by the Holy Spirit. It cannot be so. The Lord Jesus Christ pleases to give more knowledge of his word and more insight into it to some of his servants than to others, and it is ours joyfully to accept the knowledge which he gives in such ways as he chooses to give it. It would be most wicked of us to say, “We will not have the heavenly treasure which exists in earthen vessels. If God will give us the heavenly treasure out of his own hand, but not through the earthen vessel, we will have it; but we think we are too wise, too heavenly minded, too spiritual altogether to care for jewels when they are placed in earthen pots. We will not hear anybody, and we will not read anything except the book itself, neither will we accept any light, except that which comes in through a crack in our own roof. We will not see by another man’s candle, we would sooner remain in the dark.” Brethren, do not let us fall into such folly. Let the light come from God, and though a child shall bring it, we will joyfully accept it.

-Charles Spurgeon, from his sermon, How to Read the Bible

Should Christians Read and Quote Non-Christians?

John Calvin on Paul’s reference to a Cretan author in Titus 1:12:

12 One of themselves, a prophet of their own
I have no doubt that he who is here spoken of is Epimenides, who was a native of Crete; for, when the Apostle says that this author was “one of themselves,” and was “a prophet of their own,” he undoubtedly means that he belonged to the nation of the Cretans. Why he calls him a Prophet–is doubtful. Some think that the reason is, that the book from which Paul borrowed this passage bears the title Περὶ Χρησμῶν “concerning oracles.” Others are of opinion that Paul speaks ironically, by saying that they have such a Prophet — a Prophet worthy of a nation which refuses to listen to the servants of God. But as poets are sometimes called by the Greeks ( προφὢται) “prophets,” and as the Latin authors call them Vates , I consider it to denote simply a teacher. The reason why they were so called appears to have been, that they were always reckoned to be ( γένος θεῖον καὶ ἐνθουσιαστικόν)a divine race and moved by divine inspiration.” Thus also Adimantus, in the Second Book of Plato’s treatise Περὶ Πολιτείας after having called the poets υἵους Θεῶν “sons of the gods,” adds, that they also became their prophets. For this reason I think that Paul accommodates his style to the ordinary practice. Nor is it of any importance to inquire on what occasion Epimenides calls his countrymen liars, namely, because they boast of having the sepulcher of Jupiter; but seeing that the poet takes it from an ancient and well-known report, the Apostle quotes it as a proverbial saying. (228)

From this passage we may infer that those persons are superstitious, who do not venture to borrow anything from heathen authors. All truth is from God; and consequently, if wicked men have said anything that is true and just, we ought not to reject it; for it has come from God. Besides, all things are of God; and, therefore, why should it not be lawful to dedicate to his glory everything that can properly be employed for such a purpose? But on this subject the reader may consult Basil’s discourse (229) πρὸς τοὺς νέους, ὅπως ἂν ἐξ ἑλλ κ.τ.λ

Read the whole thing HERE. I came across this quote in an article by the Calvinist International a while back.

Calvin’s answer (to ‘Should we read and quote non-Christians’) is obviously ‘Yes.’

This is interesting to me for a number of reasons:

1) I like reading non-Christians and quote them regularly. It’s nice when Calvin has your back. (I decided to post this today because I am going to meet one of my own favorite ‘heathen’ authors today at a book reading).

2) It acknowledges common grace in non-Christian authors, which implicitly endorses the reading of non-Christian authors as a source of learning (rather than simply reading with a view toward critique).

3) Calvin explicitly says superstition is the only thing that keeps us from reading such.

4) Paul calls the Cretan a “prophet.” Calvin has no great explanation for this. But if you take G.K. Chesterton’s idea that a prophet is essentially someone who sees the world (under the sun) as it actually is, then there should be no quibbles about some non-Christians having a quasi-prophetic perception of the world. Chesterton put it this way:

…If we see what is the real trend of humanity, we shall feel it most probable that he was stoned for saying that the grass was green and that the birds sang in spring; for the mission of all the prophets from the beginning has not been so much the pointing out of heavens or hells as primarily the pointing out of the earth.

Religion has had to provide that longest and strangest telescope – the telescope through which we could see the star upon which we dwelt…

So then, a worldly prophet is someone who sees the world, particularly the age, with insight, and therefore can accurately describe the state of the fallen world. We are called to learn from such.

This doesn’t bode well for those who would tell us we should only read books from ‘trusted sources’ that will surely never lead us astray. Holding such a position, Calvin says above, is from nothing other than superstition.