What does Kuyper’s Common Grace Teach?

  • Kuyper's theory of common grace is the teaching that, in addition to and alongside God's saving grace to the elect, there is a general favor or grace of God towards all humans, specifically the non-elect, or reprobate.  In this favor, God gives them many good earthly gifts and abilities.  This favor upon the ungodly restrains sin in them so that they are not totally depraved, but retain some of the original goodness with which God created Adam.  By virtue of this grace of God and with the goodness they retain, the ungodly are able to develop culture in a way that pleases God.  This development of (ungodly) culture by means of common grace is one of the two main purposes of God with history, the other being the salvation of the church.  Basic to Kuyper's theory is that this common grace, which develops culture in a way that pleases God, requires of believers that they cooperate with the ungodly in this development of culture, engaging in the fellowship with the ungodly that this cooperation requires.


Warnings regarding Kuyper’s Common Grace (from proponents of common grace and from those that oppose its teaching)

  • Kuyper warned against the danger inherent in his theory of common grace that believers misuse it “to lose themselves in that world.” (Kuyper: cf. the “Forward” in Common Grace, pg 6)
  • Christian Reformed Church “…There is a danger here which ought not be ignored. When Dr. Kuyper wrote about this in his monumental work dealing with this subject, he indicated that he was aware of this danger that some might be misled by this [subject] and thus be led astray in the world. And history has already proven that this danger is more than imaginary…. As we survey the spiritual currents of our present day, it certainly cannot be denied that the danger of becoming conformed to this present world is much greater than fleeing from the world.” (CRC Acts of Synod 1924, Article 132)
  • In 1923, addressing fellow members of the CRC Herman Hoeksema and Henry Danhoff warn that the theory of common grace and its view that it is our obligation to raise the general human world-life as high as possible “can only lead to the theory of world-conformity, which is already widely evident in our daily practice.” (Hoeksema and Danhoff, Sin & Grace, pg 69) and when one by the theory of common grace boast of the natural light of man “This leads – this must lead- to world conformity” (Hoeksema and Danhoff, Sin & Grace, pg 198)
  • The CRC synod of 1924 praised Hoeksema and Danhof’s “‘warnings against conformity to the world,’ to which the ‘misuse’ of common grace would lead” (James D. Bratt, Dutch Calvinism in Modern America, 114).
  • Richard J. Mauw: After urging Christians to seek out involvement in all the spheres of cultural interaction he continues with this warning: “And—to draw directly on an important element in common grace theology—this will mean openness to accepting truth, goodness, beauty, and justice wherever we find it. But this openness must always be accompanied by an awareness of the dreadful reality of the antithesis, the fundamental opposition between the ways of our shared rebellion and the sanctified desire to serve the Lord in all dimensions of our lives.” (Mouw’s introduction to volume 1, COMMON GRACE Noah-Adam)


What is the antithesis?

  • “The Antithesis is a spiritual separation and opposition between the holy church and the unholy world of wicked men, between the believer and the “infidel”. (Prof Engelsma, Common Grace Revisited, pg 72)
  • “One essential antithesis exists between God’s people and the people of the world in the spiritual-ethical sense of the word: the antithesis of sin and grace. That is the antithesis that scripture establishes and we must establish. The children of Adam have all things in common, except grace.” (Henry Danhof & Herman Hoeksema, Sin and Grace, pg 170.)
  • “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heal.” (Genesis 3:15)
  • “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers; for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? And what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the zunclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (II Corinthians 6:14-18)


Is the teaching that a common grace (favor) of God is on all men, in harmony with scripture and the confessions?

  • Psalm 11:5-6 “The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth. Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup.” 
  • Psalm 73; The Psalmist struggles to understand the apparent wealth and ease of the wicked in comparison with the poverty and trouble of the righteous was envious of them but after entering into the sanctuary of God he understood that the purpose of God in giving the wealth and good gifts to the wicked was to place them in slippery places and bring them to destruction. (for further explanation of this Psalm we refer you to “Prosperous Wicked and Plagued Saints” by Professor David Engelsma)
  • Proverbs 3:33 “The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just.”
  • Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
  • James 4:4 “Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.”
  • Reformed Confessions: Canons I, Article 6-8, Canons III/IV, Article 1-4


What can be observed in history regarding the theory of common grace and culture and its effect on the church?

When, in 1924, the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) adopted as official, binding church doctrine the three points of common grace, the then young Christian Reformed minister, Herman Hoeksema, warned that the result of the doctrine of common grace would be the increasing worldliness of the CRC.  Thus, the CRC would increasingly manifest itself as a false church. 


Worldliness is the opposite of holiness, and holiness is the perfection of a true church of Jesus Christ in the world (see the Belgic Confession, Art. 27). 


Holiness is separation from, and opposition to, the world of ungodly men and women (John 17:15-17). 


Worldliness would be the result of its doctrine of common grace in the CRC, warned Hoeksema, because common grace attracts the church to the world and brings the world into the church.  Common grace breaks down the “antithesis”—the spiritual separation and warfare between church and world—the enmity that God Himself established between church and world in Genesis 3:15.  This “antithesis,” it should be noted, was a truth for which Abraham Kuyper himself was known in the Netherlands in his own day. 

That Reformed churches today, in particular the CRC, ignore, weaken, and even ridicule the antithesis is radically un-Kuyperian, to say nothing of its being ungodly. 


It is also spiritually fatal to a church.  The world swallows up the church.

Increasing worldliness, and thus spiritual destruction, have been the result of their doctrine of common grace for both Kuyper’s Reformed Churches in the Netherlands (GKN) and the CRC in North America.  This is not so much a charge as it is the observance of what has taken place and is taking place.


The once glorious churches of Abraham Kuyper, delivered in 1886 from the worldly state church in the Netherlands, have now fallen away into the false church known as the Protestant Church in the Netherlands (PKN).  A leading “article of faith” of this church is the approval of homosexuality as a legitimate way of the holy, Christian life.  Ministers in this church openly profess atheism. 


Not to be overlooked is the apostasy of Kuyper’s university—the Free University of Amsterdam.  Especially on behalf of the academics and Christian influence of this university did Kuyper propose the theory of common grace.  The dreadful spiritual decline of this university is common knowledge throughout the Netherlands, and wherever Christians of Dutch descent are found elsewhere.  If anything distinctively Reformed remains in this school of higher learning, the explanation is that the proponents of common grace have overlooked it. 


As for the CRC and its leading college in North America, he who runs may read their falling away from the Reformed, holy life of confessing sound, creedal, Reformed doctrine, beginning with the truth of creation, and of conduct that clearly shows itself as light in the ethical darkness of the world of the 21st century. 


The CRC conforms to the world.  This world-conforming confession and conduct, and their impetus, if not origin, in the doctrine of common grace are demonstrated in the book by David J. Engelsma, Common Grace Revisited:  A Response to Richard J. Mouw’s He Shines in All That’s Fair (Grand Rapids:  RFPA, 2003). 


A few years ago, a sizable group broke away from the CRC to form the United Reformed Churches (URC).  The immediate occasion, if not cause, of the church split was the CRC’s thoroughly worldly decision to admit females to all the offices in the church.  The root of the worldliness, however, that is, the CRC’s doctrine of common grace, was never addressed, indeed was left intact in the URC. 


The falsity of the doctrine of common grace can be argued from Scripture and the Reformed confessions.


The falsity of the doctrine is evidenced in its effects on church, school, and personal life.  By its bitter fruits, we know the poisonous plant.

                                    - by Prof. David J. Engelsma