Common Grace.

This really is a series of notes and qutoes. Let’s start with with Phil Johnson.

The distinction between common grace and special grace closely parallels the distinction between the general call and the effectual call. Common grace is extended to everyone. It is God’s goodness to humanity in general whereby God graciously restrains the full expression of sin and mitigates sin’s destructive effects in human society. Common grace imposes moral constraints on people’s behavior, maintains a semblance of order in human affairs, enforces a sense of right and wrong through conscience and civil government, enables men and women to appreciate beauty and goodness, and imparts blessings of all kinds to elect and non-elect alike. God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). That is common grace.

Phil, like me, is Calvinist. The general call is the gospel… which should be preached to all. There is a need for the missionary endeavour — so all may hear. But not all hear. Not all are able to hear. The Calvinist theologians talk about how the Spirit allows the gospel to be heard… the effectual call.

In the same manner, all people live in a lawful world. This is part of Jewish and Christian theology, but as Spengler notes, this is not the case in Islam: for in Islam there is no doctrine of the love of God, nor of common grace.

A God of love is also a God of laws. For man to survive and prosper in the natural world, he must be able to understand enough of the laws of nature to plant crops and smelt iron and split atoms. This is not only a statement about nature but about the rightly constituted state. The biblical God places limits on his own powers by granting to man what the politicians later called inalienable rights. No one in a position of power, from kings and presidents down to the cop on the beat, may act arbitrarily, for the Covenant establishes a bond between God and every individual, whose rights are protected by laws that no earthly authority can disregard.

Allah is not a God of laws because he is not a God of love. It is possible for Muslims to love Allah, but nonsensical to imagine that God loves Muslims, declared Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111), still the dominant authority in normative Islam. A leading Western historian of Islam calls him the most influential figure in Islam since the Prophet Mohammed, and such putative updaters of Islam as Tariq Ramadan still base their theology on al-Ghazali. “When there is love, there must be in the lover a sense of incompleteness; a recognition that the beloved is needed for complete realization of the self,” al-Ghazali wrote. But since Allah is perfect and complete, this notion of love is nonsensical. “There is no reaching out on the part of God… there can be no change in him; no development in him; no supplying of a lack in Himself.

Allah is beyond love and has therefore has no need to favor humankind with laws of nature. As al-Ghazali argues, The connection between what is habitually believe to be a cause and what is habitually believe to be an effect is not necessary, according to us. For example, there is no causal connection between the quenching of thirst and drinking, satiety and eating, burning and contact with fire. Light and the appearance of the sun, death and decapitation, healing and the drinking of medicine…and so on to include all that is observable in connected things in medicine, astronomy, arts and crafts. Their connection is due to the prior decree of God, who creates them side by side, not to it being necessary in itself, incapable of separation… the philosophers offer no other proof than the observation of the occurrence of the burning, when there is contact with fire, but observation proves only simultaneity, not causation, and, in reality, there is no other cause but God.

In this mainstream Muslim view of things, Allah personally and immediately controls the motion of every molecule by his ineffable and incomprehensible will, directly and without the mediation of any laws of nature. This philosophy is called occasionalism — all things happen merely because Allah decides that they should happen on each separate occasion. Unlike the biblical God of covenants, who is bound forever to his pledge to humankind, Allah may do whatever he pleases. As Pope Benedict XVI observed in his September 2006 address at Regensburg University, the eleventh-century Muslim theologian Ahmad Ibn Said Ibn Hazm taught that Allah was not bound even by his own word, and should Allah desire it, we must become idolaters.

The Judeo-Christian notion of divine love is what makes possible the rational ordering of human existence: as an act of love towards humankind, God made nature sufficiently intelligible for us to cope with it. For Jews and Christians, the rationality of everyday life proceeds from the biblical concept of covenant. Islam eschews reason. Muslim life is arbitrary because it rejects the concept of divine love as expressed in the covenant between God and man.

The doctrine of Common Grace allows us to use deduction, observation, experiment and induction to understand the laws of the universe, to work with techniology, to develop, to learn. We lose this sense at our peril: we move to a position worse than the Muslim. For the Muslim rightly fears Allah and acknowledges him. The post modern instead worships himself. And we are not worthy objects of worship. Now, among the Christians, the byper-calvinists also share the Islamic error: they over emphasize the sovereignty of God, not allowing for a place in the cosmos for humanity.

But the credal position is not so. From the Catholic catechism

The natural law, present in the heart of each man and established by reason, is universal in its precepts and its authority extends to all men. It expresses the dignity of the person and determines the basis for his fundamental rights and duties:
For there is a true law: right reason. It is in conformity with nature, is diffused among all men, and is immutable and eternal; its orders summon to duty; its prohibitions turn away from offense …. To replace it with a contrary law is a sacrilege; failure to apply even one of its provisions is forbidden; no one can abrogate it entirely.

Application of the natural law varies greatly; it can demand reflection that takes account of various conditions of life according to places, times, and circumstances. Nevertheless, in the diversity of cultures, the natural law remains as a rule that binds men among themselves and imposes on them, beyond the inevitable differences, common principles.

The natural law is immutable and permanent throughout the variations of history; it subsists under the flux of ideas and customs and supports their progress. The rules that express it remain substantially valid. Even when it is rejected in its very principles, it cannot be destroyed or removed from the heart of man. It always rises again in the life of individuals and societies:
Theft is surely punished by your law, O Lord, and by the law that is written in the human heart, the law that iniquity itself does not efface.

The natural law, the Creator’s very good work, provides the solid foundation on which man can build the structure of moral rules to guide his choices. It also provides the indispensable moral foundation for building the human community. Finally, it provides the necessary basis for the civil law with which it is connected, whether by a reflection that draws conclusions from its principles, or by additions of a positive and juridical nature.

Now, the old divines did not exactly use more recent formulations, but the Westminster and Baptist confessions, both 17th Century, argued in a similar manner to the Catholics, as Barcellos notes

There are three key texts in both confessions which speak to the relationship between the Natural Law and the Ten Commandments: 4:2; 19:2; and 19:5. It must be granted that neither confession uses the phrase Natural Law, however, this does not mean that the phrase as understood in this essay does not adequately apply to the theology of these confessions. Both confessions do you the phrase “law of nature” (WCF 21:7 and BCF 22:7). The phrase Moral Law in the confession and the phrase Natural Law as understood in this essay are functionally synonymous. We will look at the three key texts in order.

In chapter 4, Of Creation, both confessions teach that Adam and Eve had “the law of God written in their hearts.” The full text of The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 4:2 reads:

After God had made all other creatures, he created man, male and female, with reasonable and immortal souls, rendering them fit unto that life to God for which they were created; being made after the image of God, in knowledge, righteousness, and true holiness; having the law of God written in their hearts, and power to fulfil it, and yet under a possibility of transgressing, being justify to the liberty of their own will, which was subject to change.

The Westminster Confession is slightly different in its wording, though not in doctrine. Both confessions reference Romans 2:14 and 15 for biblical support. Neither of them defines what is meant by the law of God written on the heart in this chapter. However, we do get help elsewhere in both confessions.

In chapter 19, Of the Law of God, both confessions define what they mean by “the law of God written in their hearts.” The Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689 in 19:2 says,

The same law that was first written in the heart of man continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness after the fall, and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables, the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six, our duty to man.

Romans 2:14 and 15 is referenced for biblical support. Commenting on this statement, Samuel E. Waldron says, “The major assertion of paragraphs 1 and 2 is that the same law written in the heart of Adam was reiterated in the Ten Commandments.” (Samuel E. Waldron, A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, [Darlington, England, Evangelical Press, 1995 edition], 235.) In the very next section of both confessions, the Ten Commandments are identified as Moral Law. It is important to remember that neither confession teaches that the Decalogue exhausts Moral Law. Instead, they teach that the Decalogue summarily contains Moral Law. This indicates that both confessions teach that the Ten Commandments are Moral Law based on creation. This puts them squarely in the tradition of Calvin on this issue.

The final text in the confessions is found in chapter 19:5. The texts are identical and read as follows:

The moral law [Decalogue in context] doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it; neither doth Christ in the Gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.

It is very clear that both confessions teach that all men are obliged to obey the Ten Commandments. “The moral law doth for ever bind all …” The obligation to keep the Ten Commandments for man in general is based on the nature or content of the commandments and God’s authority as Creator. The obligation for Christians to keep the Ten Commandments is based on their nature or content, God’s authority as Creator, and the gospel or redemption.

We now are left with a deep irony. On the side of natural law and common grace (which presumes natural law) are the creeds, the confessing and orthodox churches, and most Calvinists. Against this are the post-moderns (for queer studies argues explicitly that things against nature are legitimate), the Islamics, and the hyper-Calvinists. And, as a consequence, the serious Protestants and Serious Catholics find themselves allied. As a fellow Prot said to a Catholic sister but yesterday

No, not at all. I was simply trying to get you to understand the Evangelical perspective. I do appreciate the fact that sacraments are an important aspect of the Catholic connection to God, indeed Protestants do baptisms and a symbolic communion. If anything sacramentalism is one of the arguments FOR Catholicism that occasionally raises itself in my head.

I was only trying to get you to understand why the Bible is so important to Evangelicals. Because that, for us, is our primary mode of connection, as sacraments are for you. For example: you’re reading your Bible, and something LEAPS OFF THE PAGE at you, and a few hours later you find yourself in a situation where you really need to apply that truth IRL. That sort of thing. God really does speak through the Scripture. Indeed, it was the Bible that lead me to faith.

Common Grace, and the natural law, thus matter.