Friday, February 17, 2012

Loraine Boettner on Common Grace

The Argument:
Earlier this week, I received an email from a person claiming that Loraine Boettner rejected common grace. He claimed that Boettner’s rejection of common grace in ‘The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination’ proves that Common Grace is not Reformed.
He clearly did not read ‘The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination’ very carefully. The exact phrase ‘common grace’ appears no less than seventeen times in Boettner’s book, and always in the affirmative. There is even a heading affirmatively titled ‘Common Grace’, under the chapter on ‘Efficacious Grace’. To demonstrate the indisputable fact that Boettner embraced common grace, I have typed a run-down of his usage of the exact phase. An extensive treatment of Boettner’s affirmation of common grace is beyond the scope of this post.
Explicit Statements in Earlier Chapters:
“The unregenerate man can, through common grace, love his family and he may be a good citizen. He may give a million dollars to build a hospital, but he cannot give even a cup of cold water to a disciple in the name of Jesus.” – Boettner (page 47)
“God's common grace would incline all men to good if not resisted.” – Boettner (page 109)
“Arminians hold that Christ died for all men alike, while Calvinists hold that in the intention and secret plan of God Christ died for the elect only, and that His death had only an incidental reference to others in so far as they are partakers of common grace. The meaning might be brought out more clearly if we used the phrase ‘Limited Redemption’ rather than ‘Limited Atonement.’ The Atonement is, of course, strictly an infinite transaction; the limitation comes in, theologically, in the application of the benefits of the atonement, that is in redemption.” – Boettner (page 110)
‘Common Grace’ – Boettner (page 124, 131)
“Apart from this special grace which issues in the salvation of its objects, there is what we may call ‘common grace,’ or general influences of the Holy Spirit which to a greater or lesser degree are shared by all men. God causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain upon the just and the unjust. He sends fruitful seasons and gives many things which make for the general happiness of mankind. Among the most common blessings which are to be traced to this source we may name health, material prosperity, general intelligence, talents for art, music, oratory, literature, architecture, commerce, inventions, etc. In many instances the non-elect receive these blessings in greater abundance than do the elect, for we often find that the sons of this world are for their own generation wiser than the sons of light. Common grace is the source of all the order, refinement, culture, common virtue, etc., which we find in the world, and through it the moral power of the truth upon the heart and conscience is increased and the evil passions of men are restrained. It does not lead to salvation, but it keeps this earth from becoming a hell. It arrests the complete effectuation of sin, just as human insight arrests the fury of wild beasts. It prevents sin from being manifested in all its hideousness, and thus hinders the bursting forth of the flames from the smoking fire. Like the pressure of the atmosphere, it is universal and powerful though unfelt.
Common grace, however, does not kill the core of sin, and therefore it is not capable of producing a genuine conversion. Through the light of nature, the workings of conscience, and especially through the external presentation of the Gospel it makes known to man what he should do, but does not give that power which man stands in need of. Furthermore, all of these common influences of the Holy Spirit are capable of being resisted. The Scriptures constantly teach that the Gospel becomes effectual only when it is attended by the special illuminating power of the Spirit, and that without this power it is to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Gentiles foolishness. Hence the unregenerate man can never know God except in an outward way; and for this reason the external righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is declared to be just no righteousness at all. Jesus said to His disciples that the world could not receive the Spirit of truth, ‘for it beholdeth Him not, neither knoweth Him;’ yet in the same breath He added, ‘Ye know Him; for He abideth with you, and shall be in you,’ John 14:17. The Arminian doctrine destroys the distinction between efficacious and common grace, or at best makes efficacious grace to be an assistance without which salvation is impossible, while the Calvinistic makes it to be an assistance by which salvation is made certain.” – Boettner (page 131-132)
“Concerning the reformations which are produced by common grace Dr. Charles Hodge says” and “The following paragraph by Dr. S. G. Craig very clearly sets forth the limitations of common grace” – Boettner (page 132)
Explicit Statements in Latter Chapters:
“There is, in fact, no single member of this fallen race who is not treated by his Maker better than he deserves. And since grace is favor shown to the undeserving, God has the sovereign right to bestow more grace upon one subject than upon another. ‘The bestowment of common grace upon the non-elect,’ says W. G. T. Shedd, ‘shows that non-election does not exclude from the kingdom of heaven by Divine efficiency, because common grace is not only an invitation to believe and repent, but an actual help toward it; and a help that is nullified solely by the resistance of the non-elect, and not by anything in the nature of common grace, or by any preventive action of God. The fault or the failure of common grace to save the sinner, is chargeable to the sinner alone; and he has no right to plead afault of his own as the reason why he is entitled to special grace’.
If it be objected that God must give every man an opportunity to be saved, we reply that the outward call does give every man who hears it an opportunity to be saved. The message is: ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’ This is an opportunity to be saved; and nothing outside the man's own nature prevents his believing. Shedd has expressed this idea very well in the following words: ‘A beggar who contemptuously rejects the five dollars offered by a benevolent man, cannot charge stinginess upon him because after this rejection of the five dollars he does not give him ten. Any sinner who complains of God's passing him by in the bestowment of regenerating grace after his abuse of common grace, virtually says to the High and Holy one who inhabits eternity, 'Thou hast tried once to convert me from sin; now try again, and try harder.'” – Boettner (page 192-193)
‘Calvinism and Education’:
In diametric opposition to the indefensible claim that Boettner rejected common grace, Boettner’s views on Christian Education are thoroughly rooted in and shaped by common grace:

“The relationship which Calvinism bears to education has been well stated in the two following paragraphs by Prof. H. H. Meeter, of Calvin College: ‘Science and art were the gifts of God's common grace, and were to be used and developed as such. Nature was looked upon as God's handiwork, the embodiment of His ideas, in its pure form the reflection of His virtues. God was the unifying thought of all science, since all was the unfolding of His plan. But along with such theoretical reasons there are very practical reasons why the Calvinist has always been intensely interested in education, and why grade schools for children as well as schools of higher learning sprang up side by side with Calvinistic churches, and why Calvinists were in so large measure the vanguard of the modern universal education movement.” – Boettner (page 281-282)
Loraine Boettner clearly affirmed common grace in ‘The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination’, which is the standard text on Calvinism. Hyper Calvinists are welcome to claim John Gill, Herman Hoeksema and John Robbins, none of whom have views that are Biblical or Reformed.
I will finish with a quote from John Calvin: “But we ought to consider, that, notwithstanding of the corruption of our nature, there is some room for divine grace, such grace as, without purifying it, may lay it under internal restraint. For, did the Lord let every mind loose to wanton in its lusts, doubtless there is not a man who would not show that his nature is capable of all the crimes with which Paul charges it.” (Institutes, Book 2, Chapter 3:3). Both Loraine Boettner and John Calvin affirmed the Reformed Doctrine of Common Grace.
©Jonathan Williams, February 2011.

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