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I am working on an essay for the Journal of Biblical Soul Care on the matter of common grace. If anyone has a comment, I would appreciate it. [Sorry for the formatting oddities]

Schematic representation of (1) why Biblical Counseling holds that the Scripture and the Spirit are sufficient for counseling; and (2) Biblical Counseling holds that common grace is not sufficient, nor even necessary for counseling. (This is not to say that common grace observations are not useful, nor that such observations are untrue.  Yet if the Scripture is sufficient for counseling, then counseling can be conducted without reference to a common grace observation.)

 

God

Loss of the created relationship: sin

Man

Gen. 3

This loss flows downward into two separate, but related streams of injury.

 

Sin causes:

 

Subjective/Internal Injury

loss of the image in some respect. (The precise nature of the loss of image due to sin is debated. But at the very least this loss is what is renewed: Col. 3:10.) There is sin, shame and unrepentance.

 

 

The injury

1) makes the man incapable of responding to the objective injuries with joy and contentment;

2) contributes to and creates more objective/external injuries:

a) our personal sin

b) our sin against others

c) our foolishness and sin which cause human and natural injuries (such as a poorly built house which collapses).

 

 

 

Objective/External Injury

Physical Death

Pain of work

Hostile Environment

Human relationship difficulties

Hostility of spiritual beings

Eternal punishment

 

These things cause additional damage as human beings suffer from the effects of sin and decay (both personal and “natural”).

 

 

 

 

Psychological and emotional injuries fit into both categories: We begin with a damaged human being: both in mind and body. That human being suffers at the hands of others, himself and the sin of others. These injuries show up in the body and mind.

 

Grace

 

Special Grace is given for the restoration of the subjective injury: this is referred to as salvation: justification & sanctification. The renewal of the mind.

 

 

Common grace is given to ameliorate full effects of the objective injury of sin. These injuries cannot be remedied in this age, because sin necessitates death (and all the lesser included injuries).

 

Common grace gives men an understanding of some of the objective, physical effects of sin.

 

 

A note on what can be seen: When we consider the suffering which human beings experience, all human beings (by common grace) can those things which occur in the material universe; however, spiritual elements (the relationship between God and man) cannot be rightly seen or understood without God’s revelation. Human beings do intuit that such a level of explanation exists, and those the various religious and metaphysical explanations of humanity. (See, Daniel Strange, There Rock is not Our Rock).

“To my knowledge, Scripture never uses hen or charis to refer to his blessings on creation generally or on nonelect humanity. So it would perhaps be better to speak of God’s common goodness, or common love, rather than his common grace. The word grace in Scripture tends to be more narrowly focused on redemption than goodness and love, though the latter terms also have rich redemptive associations.”

Frame, John M.. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Christian Belief (p. 246). P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Restoration

 

The mind begins renewal in this age

 

 

 

The objective injuries will not be renewed until the age to come. Common grace is given so that men will not immediately be annihilated nor destroy one-another.

 

Special grace, as granted by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, is sufficient to remedy the injury to the mind, to the soul.  Special grace informs us of the true basis for the injury and so transforms the mind/heart of man that the man may be able to bear with contentment the injuries and losses which beset us in this age. As the mind is renewed, the man becomes capable of having the fruit of the Spirit and contentment irrespective of the state of one’s personal history, current condition, or physical limitations.

Any examination of the human condition aside from common grace tells us only of the objective, external injuries of sin. Common grace tells us that a man has a disease; or that a man has mistreated by another; or that a man engages in bad acts and espouses a bad motive. Common grace does not tell us why men die (beyond that told us in general revelation). Moreover, common grace cannot remedy the injury caused by sin. For example, medicine may lessen some physical ailment and even postpone death: medicine cannot overcome death absolutely. Common grace may impose limitations on the ability of men to sin against one-another it cannot remedy sin.

In short, common grace seeks to temporarily change the environment; special grace seeks to change the heart.

When this comes to psychology: common grace, at best, can inform some ways to maneuver the objective troubles; but common grace cannot teach us to be content, joyful and loving despite our objective troubles. Common grace observations (if you will) may tell us that children who grow up in abusive circumstances will exhibit more unhappiness on average than those who do not. This is true because sin injures us inside and out, and sin teaches us to sin. Common grace may even notice that sinful patterns have distinct and repetitive patterns. But common grace was never meant to renew the mind and conform us to the image of Christ.

 

Unless and until the relationship with God is restored and the inner man renew

 

No matter how good the common grace observation or strategy; common grace cannot transform the relationship between God and man, and thus cannot transform the man.

 

Addendum:

This is from an email exchange with an OT PhD:

For purposes of this paper, I need only take the existing view(s). Kuyper’s position is important because many of the integrationists quote Kuyper out of context. Kuyper made some sweeping comments about “all the creation” here and there. Since his work on Common Grace (which is massive. Only vol. 1 has been translated into English, there are three volumes; Lexham is publisher), these comments have been used to support a sweeping vision of “common” or even “creation” grace. Kuyper has a narrower definition of common grace than Calvin.

The phrase “common grace” is also problematic because the Bible never calls this “grace”. It is better to call it God’s goodness. I think Kuyper is right that God extended additional goodness in the covenant of Noah — Kuyper’s understanding makes sense of the “as in the days of Noah” language. He says that when the Son of Perdition appears God will withdraw the goodness offered at the time of Noah.

There are two basic elements which are attributed: human achievement and the restraint of sin (human achievement is present in Genesis 4; there is also some mercy shown to Cain: but Cain seems to be limited to Cain). These are emphasized by Calvin and Kuyper respectively. I have not found any analysis of the comparison and contrast between the views: which is interesting. Perhaps there is something in Dutch or German. There is a third element which is the perpetuation of the material world in a regular manner (albeit deteriorating; Rom. 8).

I think there is some work that should be done on this point. Most recent statements in systematics merely quote John Murray’s essay.

All I need to (and can) in this paper is demonstrate that under any of the existing theories of common grace/goodness do not support (1) a proper understanding of Man’s psychological injury; and (2) cannot provide a proper remedy for Man’s psychological injury. Common grace is meant only to ameliorate temporal injury to permit the continued existence of mankind for the purposes of God in creation (primarily, thought not exclusively for the preservation of mankind until the in-time salvation of the elect).