At the last annual meeting of the British Reformed Fellowship in July, 2008 it was decided to continue the forum that Prof. Engelsma had led on the subject of justification by faith alone. Because Prof. Engelsma had nearly finished the material he wanted to include in his articles, it was decided to introduce a new subject: “Common Or Particular Grace.” And it was decided to ask me to write for the forum on this subject. I accepted this appointment with some reluctance, for my work in Seminary was not in the field of theology. But the importance of the subject compelled me to accept.
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I am hoping that the discussion of common grace versus particular grace will generate questions and/or comments. Such questions or comments will make the forum more lively and give me an opportunity to learn what problems others have with the subject. I think, however, that the best way to conduct a discussion on these questions or remarks is through me. If we open the forum to a general discussion, we run the risk of reducing the forum to a debating society, and subsequent progress would be slow at best. If questions or comments are sent to me, I will answer them in my own writings in the forum so that all can profit by them. So, please write.
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As most of you know, I am a member of the Protestant Reformed Churches. That means that the controversy concerning common grace versus particular grace is at the starting point of our history as a denomination and was the immediate occasion for the coming into existence of the churches of which I am a member. My own personal life is closely bound up in the controversy, for my father was a member of Rev. Herman Hoeksema’s church (Eastern Ave. Christian Reformed Church) at the time of Rev. Hoeksema’s deposition from the ministry by the Christian Reformed Church. He was in the first graduating class from the Protestant Reformed Seminary and was a minister of the gospel in that denomination all his adult life. The events that led up to the formation of our churches and the doctrinal issues involved were a frequent subject of conversation in our home, and the milk of the truth of sovereign and particular grace was a significant part of the food on which we were nourished from childhood on. I myself studied in the Seminary under Rev. Hoeksema and his colleague, Rev. George Ophoff, also deposed by the Christian Reformed Church, during the three years of Seminary training – although the work of both of them was nearing its end.
No Protestant Reformed Christian schools existed during the years of my schooling, and I attended “Christian Reformed” schools for approximately twenty-four years: grade schools, high schools, college and study for a master’s degree. During all those years I was given a steady diet of common grace and teaching in other subjects from the perspective of common grace. I had opportunity to learn, first hand, how common grace had wormed its way into every branch of knowledge, and what affect it had on every subject we were required to master. It was an eye-opening experience.
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If I may cite but one example: Already in the sixth grade, in the years 1945 – 1946, I was taught the principles of evolutionism. Then already the grounds given for evolutionism as an explanation of the origin of the universe, was that scientists, because they were the recipients of common grace, could not be wrong in their scientific endeavors.
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Common grace has, over the years and in different countries and churches, been defined in different ways. I myself have met and discussed the question with men who have meant nothing more by common grace than God’s providential control of His creation. Whether or not such providential control should be called “grace” is another question, but these men did not mean by the term what it so often means in the minds of people: a universal attitude of God’s favor and love upon all men without distinction.
But we will wait with a brief discussion of terms till our next letter. Following a definition of terms, I hope to give a brief history of common grace as it has appeared in the church. My plan is to write every two weeks or so, but I intend to keep each individual entry short.
Farewell and may God’s blessing rest on you.
Prof Herman Hanko