A Theology of Grace

Early in the year 1947 the Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company sent forth a little book of some ninety-five pages, entitled simply, Common Grace. This little book was written by the Rev. Cornelius Van Til, Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary. The Christian world was not particularly aroused by its appearance. In the periodicals it was reviewed somewhat apathetically and about the most one might have said of it is that it was quite innocuous.

In recent months the situation has materially changed. Several able men of Reformed persuasion have been studying this and other writings of Prof. Van Til with a renewed interest. These men have been busily engaged in giving a critical evaluation of his position in regard to Common Grace and its relation to Christian Philosophy. Almost invariably these men have concluded as they have progressed with their study that Van Til is not the Reformed scholar that he was once credited with being but, rather, that his philosophy is quite unchristian and his theology equally unsound.

Of those who share this opinion the Rev. James Daane, pastor of the Los Angeles Christian Reformed Church, has given to us in his A Theology of Grace one of the most exhaustive and critical analyses of Van Til’s thought that has appeared in print to date. This 159 page volume is in fact a critical review of Van Til’s book Common Grace.

If it took Dr. Daane 159 pages to examine Van Til’s 95 pages. perhaps this reviewer may be pardoned for extending his remarks to more than three paragraphs; particularly in view of the abuse that has been heaped upon one writer who has tried to keep within the limits of a normal review.1

When one seeks to evaluate the vigor and intensity of the criticism that has been leveled at Dr. Van Til in recent months, one can only conclude that his critics have found weaknesses and aberrations of astounding proportions in his position. These errors simply cannot be small or insignificant. They must be errors that go to the heart of the Reformed faith, In no other way can we account for the fact that a Reformed magazine of international reputation,2 published under the masthead of the faculty of a Reformed college and seminary, should devote issue after issue to a critical presentation of Dr. Van Til’s position, In no other way can we account for the fact that now two of the abler ministers of the Christian Reformed Church are willing to take the effort to prepare sizable books which carryon the same kind of analyses and critique.3 Surely if these errors, aberrations, weaknesses call them what you will . prove to be real there can be no denying the facc that Prof. Vail Til has been very thoroughly dis, credited and must now recede into appropriate obscurity.

Hence it is with no little sense of responsibility that the reviewer undertakes to present an examination of Dr. Daane’s book. He does so with the consciousness that his meagre abilities scarcely qualify him to make judgments of such vast import to the whole church. He does so with a sincere desire to see and defend the truth.

Dr. Daane seeks to establish a two,Cold thesis expressed in his preface in this way, “One haIf of my thesis is that Van Til has not delivered common grace theology from the Hegelian rationalism underlying the theology of Hoeksema, nor from the non-Christian philosophical remnants which Van Til thinks to discover in the common-grace position of all the leading theological thinkers of the Reformed tradition. On the contrary, he has enmeshed the doctrine of common grace more deeply in speculation than it has ever been before. Instead of presenting a purged basis for a Christian philosophy of history and a purified common grace theology he has proffered a compound of Hegelian Rationalism and modern existentialism in which the rational dialecticism of Hegel is not only retained but is enlarged so as to include within itself an existential dialecticism.

“Professor Van Til’s less clearly announced secondary objective is to refine the doctrine of common grace as presented and adopted by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1924. The second half of my thesis seeks to demonstrate that this refinement is in fact a repudiation of the Three Points.”

This, then, is the question with which we are faced. Is Van Til’s doctrine of common grace the progeny of the union of Hegelian rationalism and existential dialecticism, or is there some other construction that can possibly be placed upon his words; some construction not readily understood, perhaps, but none the less true and real? That Van Til’s language is not always clear, that there is sometimes an ambiguity and lack of precision, that on occasion illustrations are used whose power to confuse seems to exceed their power to edify, are facts which this reviewer must reluctantly concede. That these rhetorical problems may and probably have led to some confused interpretations of his thinking perhaps cannot be denied. Hut that his writing is so inept that even with patient and deliberate study and a will to understand, the truth cannot be learned, we make great haste to deny. But it is under just such circumstances as these that we must take great pains to come to a full appreciation and evaluation of a man’s thought. Has Dr. Daane failed to exercise this care or are there some basic structural errors in Van Til’s thought that place him beyond the pale of Reformed thinking on the question of common grace?

By way of introduction to the establishment or his two theses 1. Van Til’s common grace philosophy is a hybrid of Hegelian Rationalism and existential dialecticism: 2. Van Til denies the Three Points4 of 1924 Dr. Daane gives a brief historical resume of the events which led up to the now famous pronouncement on common grace made by the synod of 1924. Dr. Daane finds it particularly disturbing that Van Til, after quoting the Three Points verbatim does not proceed to develop his whole book in terms of those points. Since Daane is seeking to show Van Til’s disagreement with the Three Points, one can well understand Daane’s disquietude at such misconduct. But as a matter of fact, is there not very good reason for such “misconduct”? There are many aspects to the common grace problem and, as we shall see later, common grace is but an aspect of an even larger problem. It is a problem in the realm of philosophy, of theology, of biblical exegesis. It is a problem about which most of the great Reformed thinkers have been concerned, lo, these many centuries. It is also a problem “bout which the Synod of a small denomination in the United States made a pronouncement in the year 1924. It is indeed a source of no little pride to us that the Christian Reformed Church exerts all influence on ecclesiastical thought and life far beyond what might be expected from its stature. But to insist that the pronouncement of this Synod on Common Grace is so definitive as to determine for all time the very structure and formulation of the problem is to live in a dream world that has lost all touch with reality. Daane seems to feel that nothing may now be written on the subject of common grace which is not immediately rendered suspect unless oriented to the Three Points!

The Synod of 1924, with all due respect to its efforts, its labors, and its personnel, simply did not do more than scratch the surface of the problem and raise a few pertinent questions. Had the church continued to have study committees work at the problem for another decade or’ two, one might be more ready to grant the definitive character of its conclusions. These conclusions would then become a real reference point for all future thinking upon common grace, in much the same way that the conclusions of Nicea and Chalcedon are the reference point for the systematic discussion of the Person of Christ. As it is we can be ever so much in agreement with the Three Points of 1924 without in any way being under obligation to do all our thinking and writing in terms of that pronouncement. Thus very early in the book there seems to be a clutching at straws, almost as though a case must be made against Van Til at all costs.

In Chapter 2, Daane proceeds to an analysis of Vall Til’s foundation or the problem. This formulation is of great concern to Dr. Daane because, “His solution of the problem will correspond with the formulation of the problem.” p. 20, T.G.5 Van Til, it appears, is guilty of formula ting the problem somewhat differently from the way it has been traditionally formulated. Since the answer must correspond to the formulation, and the formulation is not traditional, therefore the answer must be wrong. One can but wonder how far the Reformation would have gone if Calvin and Luther had made use of that kind of logic. Aside from the fact that it is a complete non sequitur (an inference that does not follow from the premises) it takes no cognizance or the possibility that the traditional formulation might be the most felicitous conceivable.

But perhaps it would be interesting to have a look at Van Til’s formulation of the problem, Daane rinds this subversive formulation on page 68 C.C. where Van Til writes as follows, “The common grace problem deals with this question: What do entities which will one day be wholly different from one another have in common before that final stage of separation is reached.”

Dr. Daane proceeds to make a number of observations on this formulation. He takes note that the word “grace” is omitted and that the whole emphasis seems to be placed on commonality, so that now commonality rather than common grace is made the problem. At first blush this might seem unjustified. And if it were strictly true it might well be unjustified, But it ought to be noted that what Van Til is doing is this: he is making the common grace problem a facet of a much more comprehensive problem, namely. the problem of commonality in things that are ultimately to be different. This ought to be recognized as a basic philosophical problem. Admittedly Van Til is interested in the philosophical aspects of common grace—not only in those aspects, to be sure, but interested in them none the less. All of which could be sympathetically regarded as somewhat less than heretical. Hence, Van Til goes on to urge that common grace is also a problem in the Christian philosophy of history and he proceeds to deal with it as such. He also argues that common grace deals with the question of the point of contact between the messengers of the Gospel and the individuals to whom their message is brought. So that what Van Til is really trying to show is that the common grace problem has relationships with certain other problems a fact not always recognized in traditional formulations. Van Til is hoping that some of these wider horizons may place the problem in a better perspective. Hence he is not guilty of removing the “grace” from common grace but simply of trying to understand that grace in the broader context of all commonality.

In pursuance of this observation Daane in a footnote on page 21 T.C. says, “Van Til makes the double assertion: 1. The elect and reprobate have everything in common with a difference. 2. That they have nothing in common. He supports the thesis of the possibility of having things in common with a difference by an appeal to the reality of universality (commonality) and particularity (difference) in the ontological trinity. The pattern of the ontological trinity cannot possibly be the pattern of the ethically diverse ways in which the godly elect and ungodly reprobate are related to and respond to the common metaphysical situation. Consequently Van Til’s whole system vacillates dialectically between the affirmation that the elect and reprobate have everything in common and the opposite affirmation that they have nothing in common.”

This is the beginning of Daane’s case for dialecticism in Van Til’s thought. It is, however, an unfortunate beginning because of Daane fails to note that Van Til does not say that every last differentiation in the created order is the reflection of a similar corresponding differentiation in the creator (ontological trinity). All that Van Til is saying is that the unity and diversity to be observed in creation is the result of the unity and diversity ill the ontological trinity. Therefore, Van Til is not forced into a vacillating dialecticism at all. Continues Dr. Daane, “Van Til never succeeds in gelling commonality and difference together, as is apparent from the fact that he allows common grace to extend only to pure commonality and denies that it extends to difference, i.e. to men as differentiated.” p. 21, T.G. This is not the case. What Van Til is saying is that the individual reprobate, that is, the man who is according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God destined to spend eternity in isolation from God, does in the course of his life come ever closer to his destined end that the intensity of grace is to some extent dependent upon the proximity to which this man approaches his predestined goal so that with the reprobate there is a progressive diminishing of grace and increase of wrath until at last in hell there is all wrath and no grace. At this point the reviewer cannot prove, but he seriously doubts, that Van Til would insist that this decrease is anything like constant nor that it could not even have certain sinusoidal variations. He would undoubtedly insist that it was a general trend, however, and “that the last state of that man was worse than the first.”

In connection with this same problem—commonality with a difference—Daane says in a footnote on page 29, TC, “The untenable and abstract character of Van Til’s formulation or the common grace problem is apparent from still another point or view. He asserts that elect and reprobate have all things, the whole metaphysical situation, in common. Since redemptive grace falls within the total metaphysical situation, one wonders whether Van Til really subscribes to his own position. If in fact Van Til does subscribe to his position that elect and reprobate have redemptive grace in common with a difference, it would be interesting to know how he defines this commonality-with-a-difference possession of redemptive grace.”

This is a reference to a paragraph found on page 5, CG wherein Van Til says, “We conclude then that when both parties, the believer and the nonbeliever, are epistemologically self-conscious and as such engaged in the interpretive enterprise, they call not be said to have any fact in common. On the other hand, it must be asserted that they have every fact in common. Both deal with the same Cod and with the same universe created by God. Both are made in the image of God. In short, they have the metaphysical situation in common. Metaphysically, both parties have all things in common, while epistemologically they have nothing in common.”

Now Dr. Daane claims and rightly so, that redemptive grace is a part of the metaphysical situation, and because it is, therefore Van Til’s position is untenable. Why it is untenable js only to be discovered as an implication from Daane’s statement…that he seems to imply is that redemptive grace, metaphysically considered, is either non-existent as far as the reprobate are concerned, or at best metaphysically different with respect to elect and reprobate. It is possible that Dr. Daane is putting a certain connotation on the word “possess.” If he means the possession of that grace as it is enjoyed by those who are in union with Christ, then of course elect and reprobate, or more accurately, believer and unbeliever, do not have it in common. But then Dr. Daane stressing the possession has already added a subjective factor to the objective, metaphysical situation and has thus gone far beyond what Van Til is contending for. When Van Til speaks of a common metaphysical situation, he simply means that the objective facts as presented to knowing minds are for all minds, whether elect or reprobate, believing or non-believing, regenerate or unregenerate, identical. There is not one Mount Rainier viewed by the believer and some other Mount Rainier viewed by the unbeliever; there is not one Christ on the cross offered to the elect and some other Christ on some other cross offered to the reprobate. There is not one redemptive grace presented as an object of knowledge to the believing mind and some other redemptive grace presented as an object of knowledge to the unbelieving mind. But with respect to the ethical and epistemological response that these two types of minds make not only to the mountain, to the Christ and to redemptive grace, but to every fact presented to them, they are always and everywhere different. Hence with respect to this ethical and epistemological response there is no commonality.

One other observation which Dr. Daane makes with respect to Van Til’s formulation of the common grace problem and on which we would like to comment briefly is this: “Finally it must be observed that Van Til’s formulation of the problem takes its point of departure in election and reprobation.” Page 24, TG. “It must further be observed that Van Til’s point of departure fallaciously assumes the equal ultimacy of election and reprobation.” Page 25, TG.

It is evident from this, that Dr. Daane insists it is wrong to start the discussion of common grace by laking the divine decree as a point of departure. It is wrong because common grace must be understood in reference “to the moving stream of time,” and since God’s decree is timeless the whole discussion must remain in the timeless. But it is necessary to point out the all too obvious fact that common grace would provide no problem if it were not for the timeless decree. It is simply and solely because of the timeless decree that common grace is a problem. Are we not faced with this same situation when we consider special grace? Do we not use God’s eternal decree and covenant as points of departure for a discussion of this grace? And when we use that point of departure :Ire we forced to maintain the discussion in the realm of the timeless? Of course not.

But it is at this point of the eternal decree that we must seek to discover, if we can, Daane’s basic meaning because it appears to the reviewer that Danne is quite out of accord with the generally accepted Reformed position with respect to the divine decree. In the first place in footnote 17, page 68, TG., Daane says in part, “Van Til has defined possibility as that which is coextensive with the counsel of God. Thus in this conception there are no real possibilities except those which already are or shall be actualized. Van Til regards it as inconceivable that the counsel of God should include genuine possibilities that do not become actualities in history. Such a conception of possibility is sheer determinism and cannot be reconciled with the traditionally held position that Adam was created with the freedom not to sin. Nor does the Bible speak as though all unactualized possibilities are unreal and non-existent possibilities.” In regard to this point it is Dr. Daane who removes himself completely out of the camp of Reformed and biblical theology. In substantiation of this claim we would like to quote a number of Reformed theologians at this point. Says the great Reformed divine of Scotland, Dr. John Dick in his Lectures on Theology, page 184, “In short the decrees of God are as comprehensive as his government which extends to all creatures and all events.” Note that the comprehensiveness of the decree does not include possibilities which are not actualized. “Again we may learn what is the extent of the divine decrees from the dispensations of Providence in which they are executed” (p. 184). Dr. L. Berkhof in Volume 1 of Reformed Dogmatics, page 84, quotes with evident approval the definition of the divine decree given in the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “The decrees of God are his eternal purpose according to the counsel of his will, whereby for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” The decree of God has respect to that which comes to pass, and there isn’t the vaguest hint that there are possibilities decreed which do not come to pass. But to quote directly from Serkhof: “There is in God as we have seen a necessary knowledge or knowledge of simple intelligence, a knowledge including all possible causes and results. This knowledge furnishes the material for the decree; it is the perfect fountain out of which God drew the thoughts which he desired to objectify. Out of this knowledge of all things possible he chose by an act of his perfect will, led by wise considerations. what he wanted to bring to realization and thus formed his eternal purpose” (page 84). Here Berkhof rightly makes the distinction which Daane apparently fails to make: the distinction between God’s infinite knowledge, and his eternal counsel. The possibility of which Daane speaks lies entirely in that “segment” of God’s knowledge which does not come to immediate expression in God’s counsel. There is no real possibility of that taking place which has not been decreed by God. In like manner William Cunningham in the second volume of his Historical Theology” page 442 says, “God’s foreknowledge of all events implies that they are fixed and certain; that from some cause or other it has already become a certain thing,—a thing determined and unalterable that they shall take place—a proposition asserting that they shall come to pass being already even from eternity a true proposition. And it is to no purpose to allege as they (Arminians) commonly do, that certainty is not a quality of the events themselves, but only of the mind contemplating them; for, even though this were conceded as a mere question of definition, or of exactness in the use of language, it would still hold true, that the certainty with which the divine mind contemplates them as future, affords good ground for the inference that they are not contingent or undetermined, so that it is just as possible that they may not take place as that they may; but that their future occurrence is already—that is, from eternity—a fixed and settled thing; and if so nothing can have fixed or settled this, except the good pleasure of God—the great First Cause, —freely and unchangeably foreordaining whatsoever comes to pass.” Again concerning things possible, Dr. Herman Bavinck in the first volume of his Dogmatiek (Hendriksen’s translation), pages 338–339, says in speaking of the decrees, “As such they bear three characteristics: In the first place all the ideas contained in the divine decrees and thereby designed for realization outside of the divine essence are derived from the fullness of knowledge eternally immanent in God. The possible and the actual do not coincide: creation does not exhaust God’s wisdom and knowledge.” (Reviewer’s italics). Here again we see that the possible is fully measured only by God’s infinite knowledge and not by his counsel. Again Dr. Bavinck affirms on page 369, “Scripture everywhere affirms that whatsoever is and comes to pass is the realization of God’s thought and will and has its origin and idea in God’s counselor decree.” Nothing can be considered as more central to the Reformed faith than the fact that God’s sovereign counsel and the whole of creation and history are mutually exhaustive. And thus unactualized possibilities. While they admittedly have a place in the Divine knowledge, have no place in the Divine counsel. This has been the Reformed position. It is not Van Til who is out of line, but rather Daane. It is the latter’s position that needs cIarification. It is the reviewer’s sincere hope that he has completely misunderstood the thrust of Daane’s argumentation at this point, but he is at a real loss how else he may interpret Daane’s statement: “Van Til has defined possibility as that which is coextensive with God’s counsel. Thus in this conception there arc no real possibilities except those which already are or shall be actualized. Van Til regards it as inconceivable that the counsel of God should include genuine possibilities that do not become actualities in history. Such a conception of possibility is sheer determinism and cannot be reconciled with the traditionally held position that Adam was created with the freedom not to sin” (page 68, TG.).


But this is not the only place where Daane’s view of the divine decree leaves something to be desired. We may concern ourselves with certain Statements made in reference to the doctrine of reprobation, ” It must further be observed that Van Til’s point of departure fallaciously assumes the equal ultimacy of election and reprobation. As will become evident later in my discussion his common grace theology is dominated throughout by the principle that God is as much interested in the damnation of the reprobate as in the salvation of the elect” (page 25, TG). To which is appended this footnote: “Reformed theologians, including Hoeksema, reject the equal ultimacy of election and reprobation, i.e., the principle that both are equally definitive of the sovereign purposes of God. Even the most ardent supralapsarians dare not exclude the fact of man’s sin from the fact of reprobation and thereby retain the idea that even the reprobate’s sin is in a real sense contrary to what God wills. For this reason alone it is illegitimate to define the common grace problem as real apart from sin, merely by reference to election and reprobation” (page 25, TC).

Beginning with Daane’s definition of “equal ultimacy” as “the principle that both election and reprobation are equally definitive of the Sovereign purposes of God,” let us go on to see what Reformed theology has had to say on this point. We may begin again with the venerable Dr. John Dick of Glasgow, “According to this system (Supralapsarian), as the name of those by whom it is adopted imports, the divine decrees had no respect to the fall of man except as it was the means of executing them. Men were elected or rejected without any consideration or the fall and were viewed by God not as sinners but simply as creatures. God thought only of his own glory and all the events which take place in time, the creation of man, his apostacy and his recovery are so many steps in the process” (page 187). Dr. Bavinck in his Dogmatiek (Hendriksen’s translation), page 386, says: “Faith and good works to be sure are not the cause of election but neither is sin the cause of reprobation; God’s sovereign good pleasure is the cause of both; hence in a certain sense the decree of reprobation always precedes the decree to permit sin.” (Reviewer’s italics). Again Bavinck in criticizing the supralapsarian scheme says this, “Finally there is this difficulty with supra, viz., that it makes the eternal punishment of the reprobates an object of the divine will in the same manner and in the same sense as the redemption in Christ is a means unto eternal salvation” (page 388, Bavinck’s italics). It would seem that according to Bavinck equal ultimacy is of the essence of the supralapsarian scheme. That supralapsarians have maintained this with varying degrees or consistency is scarcely to be denied, and just how far Van Til wishes to carry this equal ultimacy is something which to this reviewer is unknown and is something on which it is to be hoped that Dr. Van Til will in the future elaborate.

With regard to this precise point, we ought to point out that again Daane is not quite fair to Van Til. He accuses Van Til of saying that “…the sovereign God has an equal interest in damning the reprobate and blessing the elect” (page 26, TC, reviewer’s italics). This charge is substantiated by the following footnote, “In the Reformed Review, June 1952, Van Til described the purpose of Christ thus, ‘He came into the world that they that should believe in him should be saved, and that they who should not believe in him should be damned’ and presented this as expressive of Paul’s missionary theology” (page 26, TG). This reviewer  must confess that he has not examined this article by Van Til and he would have to have access to it before making any too positive assertions with regard to it. But if this is the most offensive sentence in it, he fails LO see what there is that a Reformed theologian can take exception to. Certainly the coming of Christ was effectual in bringing those who would not believe into a State of damnation. Moreover, Paul himself calls the Gospel a “savor of life unto life and a savor of death unto death” (II Cor. 2:16). Hodge in his commentary in loco says, “As Christ is to some a tried cornerstone, elect and precious, the rock of their salvation, to others he is a stone of offense. So the gospel and its ministers are the cause of life to some and of death to others and to all they are either the one to the other. If man rejects the gospel it had been far better for him never to have heard it.” Just how this is to be reconciled with John’s statement that “God sent not the Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world should be saved through him,” John 3:17, is undoubtedly a problem, a problem which the finite, sin-darkened minds of mortals may never solve. But of this much we may be certain: if God in his providence has brought it to pass that the Gospel and its Christ have become a savor of death unto death, then we may be equally sure that this has come to pass according to a divine, eternal, and unchangeable decree. Conversely, if such a result is the eternal purpose of God we may be certain that it will indubitably come to pass in time. And how shall we evade the fact that what God has predetermined in eternity and brought to pass in lime is certainly the object of his “interest”? Just how we are to measure the relative degree of God’s interest in any two segments of his decree is difficult to say. All I would point out is that Van Til does not maintain that they are precisely equal. He certainly isn’t maintaining that in the brief quotation with which we are furnished, All that Van Til there points out is that there is a dual purpose in Christ’s coming. And who can deny that if Christ’s coming accomplishes two results, even two such antithetic results, then also there was a dual purpose involved in his coming.

The reviewer must say, however, that Daane is right in calling attention to the fact that there is a kind of unequal ultimacy or election and reprobation. We must acknowledge that sin being present in that timeless decree must stand as a contradiction of all the divine perfections even though its total conquest by the omnipotence of God causes it to redown to his glory. And yet having said this, we dare not lose sight or the words of our Lord recorded in Matthew 11:25, 26, “I thank thee, a Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding and didst reveal them unto babes, yea Father, for so it was well pleasing in thy sight.” If there is sin and reprobation present in the divine decree and brought to fruition in creation and history always we must remember that it is so “for so it was well pleasing in his sight.” It is precisely the lack of this emphasis in all of Daane’s discussion on reprobation, its equal ultimacy with election. etc., that causes us concern. This concern is redoubled when we read as we do in a footnote on page 26, TG: “He (Hoeksema) has too often been criticized for being too consistently supra-lapsarian, too logical, too rational. Hoeksema rightly perceives that one call no more be too consistent, too logical, et cetera, than one can be too good—unless consistency logical thinking, et cetera are theological sins. Similarly the proponents of common grace and the antithesis must learn that it is no mark or theological maturity to assert that we must believe in both but emphasize neither the one nor the other ‘too little’ or ‘too much.’ The principle of ‘balance’—so often applied to Calvinism—the principle of not ‘too much and not too little’ is not a theological (nor a biblical) principle. To so regard it is theologically suicidal. A theology that lives by the principle of the distribution of emphasis has not long to live. Truth is objective and is not created by man’s proper distribution of accent.”

One finds it difficult to interpret these words in any other light than that Daane will be satisfied with nothing less than complete rationalization of the whole of theology, the complete reconciliation of each and every doctrine, the solution of every theological dilemma. It evidences a complete unwillingness to hold to any two theological concepts which to our minds may appear even mutually exclusive. One cannot in the name of consistency demand that we solve a theological dilemma by the simple expedient of cutting off one of the horns. This we fear may be Daane’s procedure when dealing with the doctrine of the divine decree in general and the doctrine of reprobation in particular. It is hoped that Dr. Daane in future will consider writing a rather detailed discussion of his views on the whole matter of the divine decree that any misunderstanding may be done away with. It is sincerely hoped that the reviewer’s efforts have not contributed to any misunderstanding or Dr. Daane’s position in this matter. When one is stumbling about the Himalayan heights or theology as, we have just been doing words may be all too easily twisted out of their desired meaning. They may be colored by prejudice and thus caused to paint a picture which their author never intended. The reviewer has not been willfully guilty of this: he hopes he has not been inadvertently guilty either.

We ought now to proceed to the evidence which Dr. Daane presents to substantiate his allegation that existential dialecticism forms a structural pan of Van Til’s doctrine of common grace. The following quotations will help us to understand the situation. “Van Til defines mankind as a generality in terms of 1. existence, and 2. non-existence. Within this basic definition he operates with the ideas of self-conscious and not yet self-conscious existence, Since the definition in terms of existence and non-existence is basic, we shall deal with it first.

Concerning mankind as generality, Van Til writes, ‘If we make the earlier our point of departure for the later we begin with something that believers and unbelievers have in common. That is to say, they have something in common because they do not yet exist. Yet they do exist. They exist in Adam as their covenant representative.’ Page 72. (CG). Thus Van Til defines mankind as a generality both in terms of existence and non-existence” (page 36, TG, Daane’s italic,,).

“This then is the meaning that mankind as a generality turns out to have when it is defined by Van Til in reference to existence and non-existence. And it is this meaning of the concept that determines the structural elements of Van Til’s common grace thought” (page 38, TG, Daane’s italics).

These quotations are the foundation upon which Dr. Daane formulates his charge of existential dialecticism. We would do well to investigate this ground rather carefully. The most offensive sentence in this regard is the one in which Van Til says, “That is to say they have something in common because they do not yet exist.” Accordingly, Dr. Daane interprets this to mean that what they have in common is non-existence, It is interesting that Van Til nowhere states that what they have in common is non-existence. As a matter of fact he immediately proceeds to describe the kind of existence which they do have in common; they have a common federal existence in Adam. “They exist in Adam as their common representative. They have seen the testimony of God in common. They have given a common good ethical reaction to this testimony, the common mandate of God. They are all mandate-bearers; and covenant keepers. God’s attitude to all is the same. God has a favorable attitude to all” (page 72, CG). Nowhere does Van Til set up a dialectic between existence and non-existence. He docs regard mankind’s covenantal existence in Adam prior to the Fall as a significant aspect of the common grace problem, but this would provide little ground for the charge of existentialism. Let us continue, “To the degree that men are differentiated as either elect or reprobate they are, accord ing to Van Til to that same degree no longer mankind as a generality, but are to that degree self-conscious elect or reprobate realities. This means simply that the degree of religious self-consciousness is not merely correlative in but identical with, the degree of the existence and reality of the elect find reprobate. To the degree that men are self-conscious religiously, to that degree they exist and to that degree they are real. To the degree that they are not yet religiously self·conscious to that degree they are not differentiated, are still mankind as a generality do not yet exist and are not yet real” (page 13. TG, reviewer’s italics). In connection with this paragraph there is the following footnote, “Because man is a covenental being and all his acts covenantal acts, self-consciousness for Van Til is always a religious self-consciousness. VanTil emphasizes that in God being and self-consciousness of men (or self-knowledge) are conterminous. This thought is transferred to his conception of consciousness, or existence and religious self-consciousness are identical.  For a man to exist is to be self-conscious and for a man to he self-conscious is to be aware of God. Since the latter is a growing phenomenon, a matter of more or less, and therefore a matter of earlier and later, existence is also for Van Til a growing phenomenon, a matter of more or less, a matter of earlier or later. For Van Til existence is not a matter of ‘to be or not to be’; it is rather a matter of more or less of being earlier or later in the existential process of coming to be” (page 13, TG).

The statements in italics are sheer gratuitous and unwarranted assumptions. This is to attribute to Van Til what Van Til has never maintained as far as this reviewer is acquainted with his thought. Van Til does indeed emphasize that, in God, being and self knowledge are coterminous. But the reviewer has spent countless hours listening to Van Til lecture on the point that in man being and knowledge are never coterminous, not even the being of self and self knowledge. Van Til has leveled this charge against every non-Christian philosopher from Thales to Russel; namely that they have sought to make being and knowledge mutually exhaustive. This is a most unfortunate misunderstanding and consequent misrepresentation of Van Til’s thought!

Since, according to Daane, this is the point at which “an element of Hegelian rationalism appears as a structural aspect of Van Til’s thought,” it is well that we discover whether this is precisely what Van Til means. Does he claim that some individuals exist more than other individuals? Daane lists four brier passages from Van Til’s common grace which he thinks supports such a claim. “As a generality man is not yet fully himself” (page 86, CG). “Each man is on the move. To use a phrase of Barth with a Reformed meaning man is an Entscheidungswesen” (page 92, CG). “The purpose of history is to effect the complete individuation of mankind as a generality” (page 32, CG). “And when the elect are fully self·conscious history comes to an end” (page 85, CG).

Let us begin with man, an individual man first as he is only in the mind of God in eternity; let God begin the process of creation and make man in his own image, let the individual originally in the mind of God now become federally identified in Adam and in the fulness of time allow him to be born, mature, and die only to go to the find place of rest, his predestined goal where he shall be received either into the arms of his father, the devil, or into the arms of his ever-loving Saviour, Jesus Christ. Is there not in all this progressive realization of God’s counsel? As this man is viewed merely in the mind of God or in Adam he has not vet been truly objectified; God has not yet brought him into objective existence and, of course, he cannot be possessed of any self-consciousness. But as this “idea in the mind of God” is objectified on the stage of history he is brought into existence. When precisely docs that existence begin? It is this reviewer’s belief that true existence as man beg-ins whenever the soul is united with the body, and he has no idea whatsoever of entering into the discussion as to where in the life history of the embryo that takes place.

The precise point at which this occurs and the precise point at which self-consciousness begins may both remain as unsolved problems when the last trumpet shall be sounded. But the point is that once the individual exists he does not become more existent as time goes on. He may become more self-conscious as time goes on but he does not become more existent as time goes on. But let the last fleeting breath be drawn, then there is an immediate realization of whose side he is on. And at last the Day of Judgment will be the doorway into the last attainable limits of self-consciousness (not existence). His individuation, his identification (not his existence) has reached its ultimate limit. Not in all eternity will he become more obviously elect or reprobate, will he become more certain as to which he is, will he become any more or any less the object of grace or the object of wrath. The status quo is unchanging.

But this is not to say nor does Van Til either affirm or imply that all this involves a changing existential condition. The individual man is no more existent on the Day of Judgment than he was at the first moment of his coming into being. He is closer, in fact, has arrived at his predestined goal, but he does not have more being. The seedling apple tree in its first summer’s verdure is no less existent today than it will be five years hence when its branches are loaded with fruit. But it will have come much closer to its predestined goal and it has become more obvious that it is an apple tree. The whole thing must be regarded as an organic unity which does not become more existent but simply more identifiable. As a result Van Til holds that common grace is a function of time. Just what equation one might set up to describe this relation is difficult, perhaps impossible, to say. But even Daane admits that it is not constant. “Just as time is a moving, changing stream commonality is a moving, changing situation. By this insistence Van Til has rendered service. Common grace is not a static reality always and everywhere the same” (p. 23, TG).

But we ought to examine more of this grist which Daane finds for his existential mill. On page 42, TG we read the following: “It has already been shown that Van Til makes God’s eternal decree of election and reprobation his point of departure. This contention finds support in Van Til’s notion of the earlier. Van Til states, ‘We think that the notion of the earlier must be stressed more than has been done heretofore.’ And he adds that we should ‘make the earlier our point of departure for the later.’ Page 72, (C.C.). This earlier coincides with the point of departure in the divine eternal decree; it is earlier than creation.”

H. Van Til wanted to put the emphasis on earlier and by earlier meant before creation, there could possibly be some ground for Daane’s allegation. But is this what Van Til means by earlier? Does he regard it as the time of non-existence? He does so only in this limited sense that all real men have not yet come in to being. But let us examine exactly what Van Til means by earlier. What is the context in which the word is first used by Van Til in the technical sense he has in mind?

On page 70, CG, Van Til begins a criticism of Schilder’s comments on the well-known story of the sons of Eli. It was Schilder’s contention that the attitude of God toward any man can be known only in so far as we know the will of God’s eternal counsel with respect to that man. He points out that while Eli told his sons to be converted because God did not desire their death, yet the story shows that as a matter of fact Jehovah did desire their death and in the fruition of this desire in the securing of their death is revealed God’s attitude; an attitude not of favor but displeasure. The gist of this matter is that God’s attitude is made known only in the later revelation of his ultimate purpose. Van Til then asks with respect to Adam in Paradise, “Would it be possible to maintain that only by the later revelation of God’s final purpose could anything be known or his attitude toward man? Then Adam would at the beginning-have known nothing of God’s attitude toward him. No revelation of God’s final purpose had yet been made” (page 71, CC ). Van Til then goes on to speak of Adam’s continuing good ethical reaction to whatever revelation God had made. This good ethical reaction Van Til says is earlier. And correlative to this good ethical reaction is God’s attitude of favor, an attitude of favor revealed as being unto alI men by God’s offering to make Adam the representative of all his posterity in order that in one probation he and all his descendants might be assured of an indefectable state of goodness and the everlasting favor of God.

Earlier, then, is the lime during and prior to the probation, is the time in which God expresses a common favor to all men, to men generally; a favor that is unalloyed with wrath. Later is the time when God still displays favor to all men, although alloyed now with a common wrath because of Adam’s unsuccessful trial and the resultant plunge of the whole of mankind into the guilt and corruption of sin. It is simply an expression of the temporal and logical priority of grace to wrath in history and not a veiled existential dialectic that Van Til is seeking to set forth. No, we must say that Daane’s first thesis is completely unsubstantiated. Daane has neither understood nor apprehended Van Til’s position and, consequently, the representation which he has given of it can be regarded as nothing less than a caricature wherein any resemblance to the original is purely coincidental.

Does Van Til Deny 1924?

And what of the second part of Daane’s thesis, namely that Van Til repudiates the Three Points or 1924? Daane fares no better with respect to this part of his thesis, for it is on the basis of the assumption that the first part of his thesis is true that he establishes the second. It is only on the assumption that Van Til is an existential dialectician and an Hegelian rationalist that it is possible to say that he repudiates the Three Points of 1924. Daane having completely failed to establish this assumption fails equally in his attempts to make Van Til a “repudiationist.”

What, then, is Van Til trying to set forth? Is it not that Van Til is trying to see the complete history of the whole human race from its eternal existence in the mind and counsel of God through all time into the final glorification of the elect and damnation of the reprobate? During time men are being born and dying. During each man’s life every step he takes, every word he speaks, every thought he thinks, every breath he breathes brings him closer to his final goal. But more than this Van Til tries to keep in mind the core of the Federal theology. He tries to see this whole mass of humanity in Adam. He sees that whole race first of ail as the objects of God’s free unmerited favor as he comes to Adam with the divine probation. God’s gracious offer is simply this, that on the condition of obedience to the divine command to refrain from eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he will raise man from his position of Posse non peccare et posse peccare to a position of non posse peccare; from a position of contingent unconfirmed, and defectable goodness to one of certain, confirmed and indefectable goodness, from a state of mere legal reciprocity to one of glorious sonship. To say that there was no grace before the Fall as Dr. Daane repeatedly observes in his book (see all of chapter 3) is to deal in a rather cavalier fashion with this offer or grace. To say that grace must be correlative to sin, that grace cannot exist apart from sin is to say that the existence of one of God’s glorious attributes depends on the entrance of sin. For Van Til, at least as this reviewer sees it, this attitude of God which is one of unmerited favor to all men in Adam is the historical source of common grace. At this point of history God comes to Adam with an offer to make him and all his descendents indefectably good even though in the mind of God it was known, and in the counsel of God it had been eternally established that some of these men would be ultimately lost, objects of God’s everlasting displeasure and forsakenness. Common grace is by definition “an altitude of favor toward all men as men.” It is this attitude of favor which God expresses to Adam for all men, all his descendants which Van Til says is an expression of common grace. Dr. Daane says this is a mere abstraction. But is this more of an abstraction than to say on the day after the Fall that the whole race is guilty in Adam, a race which, except for its parents, had not yet come into existence; any more of an abstraction than to say now with respect to the possibly millions of as yet unborn men that they are guilty in Adam?

Now then, Van Til says that when Adam disobeyed, the whole race became also involved in God’s common wrath. Because Adam acted not merely as an individual but as the Federal representative of all mankind, not only Adam but all men in Adam became objects of God’s wrath and displeasure even though in the mind of God it was known and in the counsel of God it had been, eternally established that some of these men would be ultimately elect, objects of God’s everlasting love and covenant mercy in Christ, the beneficiaries of an unending felicity in the presence of God. This, too, it is presumed, is abstraction; but is it any more abstract than God’s promise to Abraham that in him all the nations of the earth should be blessed?

It is at this point that the process of differentiation begins. History now makes possible the ultimate separation of all who up until the time of their birth had existed only in the mind of God and federally in their covenant head. Now each son of Adam in turn is given the opportunity to exercise his rational, moral nature and free agency and thus by his own determination arrives at his predestined goal. To the elect, God freely grants regenerating grace whereby man’s free agency is enabled to choose and invariably does choose to serve God in Christ and thus proceeds to abide more and more in the favor of God and less and less under the displeasure of God until the day of the great denouement. To the reprobate God does not grant regeneration so that his free agency continues to act according to its sinful nature in unvarying opposition to God.

But now also in the course of history there comes to expression that favor of God expressed first covenantally to Adam and then also that wrath which was expressed first in the curse. Still, to those who will one day be lost God exhibits an attitude of favor and to those who will one day be glorified he exhibits an attitude of displeasure. One day, too, the reprobate will be the objects only of wrath and the elect, objects only of favor.

There is much that needs yet to be said, but the reviewer would conclude his remarks with the following rather extensive quotation from Van Til’s A Letter on Common Grace, pages 27–29 which is a quotation taken from his syllabus, Introduction to Systematic Theology, a quotation which Daane confesses to have read and in view of which he has none the less allowed his book to be published. Let the reader read and then judge for himself whether or not Van Til is an existentialist, has repudiated the Synod of 1924 and has radically departed from the Reformed tradition.

“With respect to the question, then, as to whether Scripture actually teaches an attitude of favor, up to a point, on the part of God toward the non·believer, we can only intimate that we believe it does. Even when we make full cognizance of the fact that the unbeliever abuses every gift of God and uses it for the greater manifestation of his wickedness, there seems to be evidence in Scripture that God, for this life, has a certain attitude of favor to unbelievers. We may point to such passages as the following: In Psalm 145:9, we are told, ‘The Lord is good to all; and his lender mercies are over all his works.’ In seeking the meaning of such a passage, we must be careful. In the first place, it is to be remembered that God is constantly setting his own people in the center of the outflow of his goodness to the children of men. So, in Exodus 31:6, 7 we read: ‘And the Lord God passed before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and fourth generation.’ In this passage we are, as it were, warned to think completely on the question before us. God’s mercy and grace is primarily extended to those whose sins are forgiven. In in any sense it is given to those whose sins are not forgiven, it must always be remembered that God does not overlook iniquity. We may therefore expect that in Psalm 145 the Psalmist teaches nothing that is out of accord with what has been taught in Exodus 34. Thus, the primary meaning of Psalm 145 is again that God’s great favor is toward his people. Even when God gives great gifts to non-believers, they are, in a more basic sense, gifts to believers. Gifts of God to unbelievers help to make the life of believers possible, and in a measure, pleasant. But this does not detract from the fact that the unbeliever himself is in a measure, the recipient of God’s favor. There is a certain joy in the gift of life and its natural blessings for the unbeliever. And we may well think that Psalm 145 has this in mind. Such joy as there is in the life of the unbeliever cannot be found ill him after this life is over. Even in the hereafter, the lost will belong to the works of God’s hands. And God no doubt has joy that through the works of evil men and angels, he is establishing his glory. Yet that is not what the Psalmist seems to mean. There seems to be certain satisfaction on the part of God even in the temporary joy of the unbeliever as a creature of himself, a joy which will in the end turn to bitterness, but which, nonetheless, is joy while it lasts.

“Another passage to which we briefly refer is Matthew 5:44,45. ‘But I say unto you, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good.’ In this passage, the disciples of Jesus are told to deny themselves the selfish joy of expressing enmity against those that hate them. They are not to express their attitude of hostility. But this is not all they are to do. They are to replace the attitude of hatred with an attitude of love. He does not know but that this one who now hates him may one day become a believer. This is one factor in the total situation. Yet this is not to be made the only factor. It is not even the expressed reason for his loving his enemy. The one guide for the believer’s action with respect to the enemy is God’s attitude towards that enemy. And the believer is told definitely to love his enemy in imitation of God’s attitude toward that enemy. God’s attitude toward that enemy must therefore in some sense be one of love. It is no doubt the love of an enemy, and, therefore, in God’s case, never the same son of love as the love toward his children. And to the extent that we know men to be enemies of the Lord, we too cannot love them in the some sense in which we are told to love fellow-believers. God no doubt lets the wheat and the tares grow together till the day of judgment, but even so, their destruction and the promotion of his glory through their destruction, he loves them, in a sense, while they are still kept by himself, through his own free gifts, from fully expressing the wicked principle that is in them” (Introduction to Systematic Theology, p. 246–248).

1. “Banner,” Nov. 19, 1954, p. 1436 2. “Calvin Forum,” Aug-Sept 1953, Nov. 1953, Dec. 1953, April 1954, May 1954. 3. W. Masselink, General Revelation and Common Grace; J. Daane, A Theology of Grace. 4. Adopted by the 1924 Synod, broadest assembly of the Christian Reformed denomination in connection with views developed and defended by H. Hoeksema and H. Danhof. 5. In order to avoid confusion quotations from A Theology of Grace will be referred to by page number and the letters “T.G.” Quotations from the book Common Grace will be referred to by page number and the letters “C.G.”