Saturday, April 23, 2022

Common Grace - Excerpt by Gary North

Excerpted from: The Days of Vengeance: An Exposition of the Book of Revelation


David H. Chilton


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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 someday 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 god5 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.

Differentiation and Progress

The process of differentiation is not constant over time. It ebbs and flows. Its general direction is toward epistemological self-consciousness. But Christians are not always faithful, any more than the Hebrews were in the days of the judges. The early church defeated Rome, and then the secular remnants of Rome compromised the church. The Reformation launched a new era of cultural growth, the Counter-Reformation struck back, and the secularism of the Renaissance swallowed up both - for a time. This is not cyclical history, for history is linear. There was a creation, a fall, a people called out of bondage, an incarnation, a resurrection, Pentecost. There will be a day of epistemological self-consciousness, as promised in Isaiah 32. There will be a final rebellion and judgment. There has been a Christian nation called the United States. There has been a secular nation called the United States. (The dividing line was the Civil War, or War of Southern Secession, or War between the States, or War of Northern Aggression take your pick.) Back and forth, ebb and flow, but with a long-range goal.

There has been progress. Look at the Apostles' Creed. Then look at the Westminster Confession of Faith. Only a fool could deny progress. There has been a growth in wealth, in knowledge, and culture. What are we to say, that technology as such is the devil's, that since common grace has been steadily withdrawn, the modern world's development is the creative work of Satan (since God's common grace cannot account for this progress)? Is Satan creative-autonomously creative? If not, from whence comes our wealth, our knowledge, and our power? Is it not from God? Is not Satan the great imitator? But whose progress has he imitated? Whose cultural development has he attempted to borrow, twist, and destroy? There has been progress since the days of Noah-not straight-line progress, not pure compound growth, but progress nonetheless. Christianity produced it, secularism borrowed it, and today we seem to be at another crossroad: Can the Christians sustain what they began, given their compromises with secularism? And can the secularists sustain what they and the Christians have constructed, now that their spiritual capital is running low, and the Christians' cultural bank account is close to empty?

Christians and secularists today are, in the field of education and other "secular" realms, like a pair of drunks who lean on each other in order not to fall down. We seem to be in the "blessings unto temptation" stage, with "rebellion unto destruction" looming ahead. It has happened before. It can happen again. In this sense, it is the lack of epistemological self-consciousness that seems to be responsible for the reduction of common grace. Yet it is Van Til's view that the increase of epistemological self-consciousness is responsible for, or at least parallels, the reduction of common grace. Amillennialism has crippled his analysis of common grace. So has his equation of God's gifts and God's supposed favor to mankind in general.

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.