Thursday, June 17, 2010

Nadere Reformatie on Common Grace

Herman Kuiper, Calvin on Common Grace, Appendix, pp. i-iv:

Petrus van Mastricht, professor at Utrecht in the latter half of the seventeenth century, and author of a work on Reformed Dogmatics which still has an excellent reputation, recognizes two kinds of divine grace besides saving grace. He speaks of a universal grace, by which God dispenses what he terms natural gifts to each and every creature. According to this author we must attribute to this universal grace food and drink and all those things which are necessary for the preservation of man and beast, and especially those gifts and powers which belong to the nature of man and constitute him a free agent. Van Mastricht also makes mention of a common grace, by which God grants promiscuously to both the elect and the reprobate gifts which pertain to men as moral beings. To this common grace he attributes not only such gifts as ingenuity, wisdom, prudence and all the moral virtues found among the heathen and the unbelieving, but also those gifts which seem to be much more closely related to the benefits of saving grace, namely, the external preaching of the Word and a certain illumination by the Holy Spirit such as is found in men who have temporary faith. 1

Johannes à Marck [(1656-1731)], another very prominent theologian, published in 1686 a compendium which exerted great influence on many succeeding generations of Reformed thinkers. In treating of divine grace he first of all distinguishes between grace as a divine attribute and grace in the sense of the gifts of God's gratuitous favor. With respect to grace in the latter sense he accepts among others the division of common and saving grace. 2 It is remarkable, however, that he usually speaks of a more common grace instead of simply saying common grace when he refers to the divine grace granted to the non-elect. So, for instance, he declares that temporary faith differs from saving faith not only as to its duration but also [as] to its origin, its origin being not truly saving grace, but a more common grace. 3 It is also worthy of note that this writer considers the external preaching of the Gospel, which extends beyond the circle of the elect, a fruit of the more common grace of God, 4 and that he teaches that many of the blessings which redound to those who perish, such as the proclamation of the Gospel, the abolition of idolatry and the illumination of the Spirit, are blessings which proceed from the sacrifice of Christ 5 -- an idea also found with Turretinus 6 and Witsius. 7

Wilhelmus à Brakel, a minister of the Gospel in Rotterdam, published in the year 1700 a popular dogmatics bearing the title Redelyke Godsdienst [The Christian's Reasonable Service]. However men may differ as to the merits of this work, it can hardly be gainsaid that Brakel was in his day the spokesman of a large group of Reformed believers. Speaking of the grace of God, Brakel, after combatting various divisions of grace which he considered erroneous, presents his own scheme in Vol. I, Chapter 30, Section 26. Here it is: [what follows is translated from The Christian's Reasonable Service, Vol. 2, p. 215, one of at least three places à Brakel addresses and distinguishes common and saving grace in this systematic theology: "(1) There must be a distinction between the gift of grace and the given grace. The gift of grace is the goodness of God, the fountain from whom proceeds all the good which a man receives. Given grace refers to the benefits which man receives, has, and possesses. ... (2) Grace is either common or special. God bestows common grace upon all men by granting them temporal benefits. “Nevertheless He left not himself without witness, in that He did good, and gave us rain from heaven” (Acts 14:17). To this grace also belongs all the good which God bestows all who are called, by giving them the Word–the means unto repentance and salvation. “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men” (Titus 2:11). In addition to this, God generally gives illumination, historical faith, convictions, and inner persuasions to almost become a Christian (cf. Heb. 6:4-6).

Special grace is the effectual call whereby man is illuminated with wondrous spiritual light, effectually changing his wil, and thus in very deed translating him out of darkness into light, out of death to life, and from the dominion of sin and the devil to Christ and His kingdom."]

From this citation it is clear that Brakel attributes to common grace the bodily blessings men receive, the preaching of the Gospel, historical faith and all those gifts of the Spirit which are granted to those who have temporary faith.

1 P. van Mastricht, Theoretico-Practica Theologia, II, 17, 18....II, 17, 16...II, 17, 17...II, 17, 32...

2 Johannes à Marck, Compendium Theologiae Christianae Didactico-Elencticum, IV, 42...

3 idem, XXII, 8...

4 idem, XVIII, 16...

5 idem, XX, 24...

6 F. Turretinus, Institutio Theologiae Elencticae, XIV, 14, 11...

7 H. Witsius, De Oeconomia Foederum Dei, II, 9, 4...


  1. According to Prof Hanko common grace was "originally invented" by Abraham Kuyper.

    "I am aware of the fact that Dr. Kuyper originally invented this idea of common grace because he was searching for a why to explain that there is a lot of seeming good in the world" - Herman Hanko, PRC Pastor

  2. Hi Gil,

    Thank you for reading my blog, brother! I think that this extract from Herman Kuiper's excellent study of Calvin and his doctrine of common grace, and other Reformed theologians such as a'Brakel, a'Marck, Van Mastricht, Witsius and Turretin who all shared agreement that the God shows unmerited favor, or grace, commonly to both the just and the unjust, the elect and the non-elect, as well as saving grace to the elect only, helps to make the case, as I have tried to show with other pre-Kuyper quotes on the subject on this blog, that common grace did not originate with Kuyper, but in fact has long been an important Scriptural doctrine affirmed by his predecessors in the Reformed Faith. Blessings!

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