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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

Christ Gaining Our Trust, Being Present in Places He Hates

‘You must learn that Christ is no mere censor, but a Saviour who saves us by gaining our trust and confidence more and more, and letting us live our total life in Him. He is much more concerned about where we are going, than about how far on we have got.’ This chap’s Christ was a drill sergeant and he thought that was what I was advocating. No: I was thinking of a Christ who would be with him when he went off the deep end and betrayed his fallen self and made an ass of himself, and, in private, denied his own, true, holy nature. A Christ who was always kindly, always there, not to his sin, but to him. Who was willing to be dragged to places and into thoughts that He hated, because He loved him and would not let him go.

-William Still, The Work of the Pastor, Kindle Loc. 553

This is probably one of the best quotes in the book. An appropriate text is 1 Corinthians 6:15, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!”

Since we are united to Christ as believers, Christ is said to dwell in us, and us in him. Hence, he is ever-present with us. Hence, he goes places with us that he himself hates. This will cause you to react in one of two ways – either to run from him, or to run away from where you are trying to take him.

And all the while, says Still, he is teaching us more and more to trust him. All the while he is teaching us to confide in him – seeking our confidence. This is how he sanctifies us.

The Ten Predicaments

Therefore Peter Martyr did well resemble the Decalogue to the ten Predicaments, that, as there is nothing that has a being in nature, but what may be reduced to one of those ten; so neither is there any Christian duty, but what is comprehended in one of these, that is, consequentially, or reductively.

-Anthony Burges, A Vindication of the Moral Law, Kindle Loc. 161.

Everything boils down to the 10. This idea lines up nicely with Samuel Bolton’s contention that all of the Levitical laws serve as appendices to the 10 Commandments.

The Mortification of Sin by Looking to Jesus

Here’s another talk I gave recently if you’d like to hear me discuss my take on the doctrine of sanctification. What role does the Law play in sanctification? How do we put sin to death? How do we become more holy?  Listen and you’ll hear what I believe to be the Bible’s answer:

Charles Hodge: Mosaic Covenant as ‘Renewed Proclamation of the Covenant of Works’

Besides this evangelical character which unquestionably belongs to the Mosaic covenant, it is presented in two other aspects in the Word of God. First, it was a national covenant with the Hebrew people. In this view the parties were God and the people of Israel; the promise was national security and prosperity; the condition was the obedience of the people as a nation to the Mosaic law; and the mediator was Moses. In this aspect it was a legal covenant. It said. “Do this and live.” Secondly, it contained, as does also the New Testament, a renewed proclamation of the original covenant of works. It is as true now as in the days of Adam, it always has been and always must be true, that rational creatures who perfectly obey the law of God are blessed in the enjoyment of his favour; and that those who sin are subject to his wrath and curse. Our Lord assured the young man who came to Him for instruction that if he kept the commandments he should live. And Paul says (Rom. ii. 6) that God will render to every man according to his deeds; tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil; but glory, honour, and peace to every man who worketh good. This arises from the relation of intelligent creatures to God. It is in fact nothing but a declaration of the eternal and immutable principles of justice. If a man rejects or neglects the gospel, these are the principles, as Paul teaches in the opening chapters of his Epistle to the Romans, according to which he will be judged. If he will not be under grace, if he will not accede to the method of salvation by grace, he is of necessity under the law.

These different aspects under which the Mosaic economy is presented account for the apparently inconsistent way in which it in spoken of in the New Testament. (1.) When viewed in relation to the people of God before the advent, it is represented as divine and obligatory. (2.) When viewed in relation to the state of the Church after the advent, it is declared to be obsolete. It is represented as the lifeless husk from which the living kernel and germ have been extracted, a body from which the soul has departed. (3.) When viewed according to its true import and design as a preparatory dispensation of the covenant of grace, it is spoken of as teaching the same gospel, the same method of salvation as that which the Apostles themselves preached. (4.) When viewed, in the light in which it was regarded by those who rejected the gospel, as a mere legal system, it was declared to be a ministration of death and condemnation. (2 Cor. iii. 6-18.) (5.) And when contrasted with the new or Christian economy, as a different mode of revealing the same covenant, it is spoken of as a state of tutelage and bondage, far different from the freedom and filial spirit of the dispensation under which we now live.

-Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 2, p. 375

Hodge’s statement eloquently sets forth the traditional Reformed understanding of the Mosaic covenant as being a part of the Covenant of Grace while at the same time setting forth a proclamation of the Covenant of Works. This is similar to the argument I make HERE (with Samuel Bolton, Matthew Henry, and Herman Ridderbos), that the statement in Romans 8:2 “the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death,” refers to one law. The Law is a law of sin and death to those outside Christ, but it is the law of the Spirit of life for those in Christ. It is our orientation toward the law that determines how we will relate to it.