Kuyper: Common Grace (Part III)
One of the most prominent and controversial themes in Kuyper’s theology is that of common grace. Kuyper maintained a distinction between common grace and special grace, both of which originate with God’s divine grace. While special grace is that redeeming and transforming grace of God limited to those who have faith in Jesus, common grace extends to all people, restraining evil and encouraging human beings to perform actions beneficial to others. Common grace is the reason that unregenerate men and women care for one another, reconcile marriages, sacrifice for others, give to the poor, etc. Total depravity, our inherited sin nature a result of the fall of Adam, accounts for the evil in society. Common grace is the residual good present in creation after the Fall that suffuses everything from science to society. All men benefit from God’s common grace. No man or society is as bad as it could be.
Though all men receive God’s common grace, not all men have the same response to God. As a result, there are considerable differences between the worldviews of the recipients of common versus special grace. This difference between Christians (special and common grace) and non-Christians (common grace only) Kuyper called antithesis. Since antithesis permeates all spheres of society and across all academic disciplines, one might be inclined to think that agreement between Christians and non-Christians in any field would be impossible.
However, God’s bestowal of common grace bridges the unregenerate mind with regenerate mind, enabling them together to apprehend common truth, facilitating agreement between both groups. As a result, Christians and non-Christians can vote together on moral issues, work together on medical cures, and teach in the academy together. Because common grace permeates all the disciplines, God’s glory is refracted in them. Hence Art for Art’s sake is eternally empty, but Art for God’s sake is worship. Kuyper traced his views on common grace back to John Calvin asserting that his own thinking was not truly original, but truly Calvinistic. As a result, he argued that Calvinism is more than a soteriology or theological system, it is an entire world and life view.
Carrying his mature Calvinism with him to America, Kuyper traveled across the States speaking in major cities, churches, and schools. At Princeton he delivered the famous Stone Lectures on Calvinism and was awarded an honorary doctorate. Kuyper continued to write, reform, and teach up until his last days. His writing extended from intensely theological, such as Sacred Principles of Theology, to deeply devotional, as reflected in his devotional writings in Near Unto God. Although Kuyper is remembered as an astounding scholar and statesman, his contributions to society and the church flowed from the deep well of his personal communion with God. In Near Unto God he writes:
The fellowship of being near unto God must become reality, in the full and rigorous prosecution of life. It must permeate and give color to our feeling, our perceptions, our sensations, our thinking our imagining our willing, our acting, our speaking. It must not stand as a foreign factor in our life, but it must be the passion that breathes through our whole existence.
Kuyper’s contributions to Society, Academia, and Christianity are legion. It is shameful that so much of his work in the Netherlands has been overturned and dominated by secular modernist and post-modernist thought. However, Kuyper’s legacy lives on in the hearts and minds of innumerable saints who have sought to embrace the Reformed tradition as a way of life, Coram Deo. Telling of Kuyper’s radical dependence upon God, when asked on his deathbed if God had been his Refuge and Strength to the end, Kuyper replied distinctly, “Yes, altogether.” On November 8, 1920, Kuyper fell asleep in Jesus.