Dominion and Common Grace
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The Favor of God
 • Chapter 1
 • Ethical Separation, Common Gifts
 • Coals of Fire
 • Equal Ultimacy, Unequal Effects
 • Favor to Satan?
 • Conclusion


Chapter 1

Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? And am I not grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with a perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies (Ps. 139:21-22).
For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth (Rom. 9:17-18).

"Perfect love casteth out fear" (I John 4:18). If David's encounter with Goliath is evidence, so does perfect hatred against God's enemies. David was the greatest warrior in Israel's history; I would argue that this was to a large degree because he hated God's enemies with a perfect hatred. The perfect love of God necessarily involves the perfect hatred of God's enemies.

Van Til has argued that men are to think God's thoughts after Him. Men think analogically and re-creatively. We think as creatures, not creators. David the psalmist thought analogically to God. He hated God's enemies with a perfect hatred. His perfect hatred of God's enemies as a sinful and limited man points to God's perfect hatred as a perfect and omnipotent God. God's perfect hatred makes Him a warrior, too. What is an enemy army in the face of a such a warrior? This should remind us, "What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Rom. 8:31). God, the perfect hater, will break all His opposition. His church will march in victory behind this perfect warrior. God hates His enemies without compromise or shadow of turning. As history progresses, God's holy hatred will become increasingly operational and increasingly visible, until that final day when His perfect hatred will become institutionalized in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14). History should be understood as the working out of God's implacable hatred of His enemies, human and demonic, alongside of his irresistible grace and mercy to God's people. The hatred of God and the love of God are equally ultimate in principle, and this equal ultimacy will become visible as history progresses.

This leads us to what unfortunately became the key question in the twentieth-century debate over common grace: "Does God in any way favor the covenant-breaker?" This has been the focus of the argument in the last 60 years between those who affirm and those who deny the existence of common grace.  This was the debate that split the Christian Reformed Church in 1924, and an endless recounting of that debate by the splinter church, the Protestant Reformed Church, keeps that church's distinctives alive. (The Christian Reformed Church is now debating the ordination of women elders, so the theological and epistemological subtleties of the debate over common grace have long since eluded them.)

I argue in this book that the narrow focus of this debate muddied the waters. The key issues of the common grace debate are eschatological and covenantal, not meteorological (see the next subsection: Matt. 5:44-45). Nevertheless, I wish to save time, though not trouble, so let me say from the outset that the Christian Reformed Church's 1924 formulation of the first point is defective.  The Bible does not indicate that God in any way favors the unregenerate.  It says the opposite. "He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" (John 3:36). The wrath of God abides on the unbeliever in the present. But as we shall see, this wrath takes the form of favors (not favor) shown to the unbeliever in history.


Ethical Separation, Common Gifts

There is a fundamental ethical separation between the saved and the lost.  God hated Esau and loved Jacob, before either was born (Rom. 9:10­13). The ninth chapter of Romans and these verses in particular may bother some people, but they shouldn't. The startling fact described here is not that God hated Esau before he was born, for Esau, like all men, was a son of Adam. The sons of Adam automatically come under the covenantal curse of God against Adam. Sin, after all, is original sin. The startling fact is that God loved Jacob before he was born. Sin-influenced men, unfortunately, tend to be startled by the fact that God hated "innocent" unborn Esau, as if men were in any sense innocent before God in their fallen condition at any point in their lives. People are legally innocent at birth before the courts of men, which is why abortion is murder, but they are never innocent in the perfect court of God. They do not need to reach a supposed "age of discretion" in order to be condemned by God. Esau didn't need to be born to come under God's wrath, nor did Jacob need to be born to come under God's favor. Adam's sin doomed Esau, while Christ's atoning work saved Jacob. God imputed Adam's sin to Esau, and Christ's atonement to Jacob, according to the perfect counsel of His sovereign will. As Paul wrote concerning the mercy of God, "Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth" (Rom. 9:18).

If this bothers you in any way, let me issue a warning: you are thinking humanistically.

God's Gifts to the Unregenerate

What are we to make of the Bible's passages that have been used to support the idea of limited favor toward creatures (including demons) in general?  Without exception, they refer to gifts of God to the unregenerate.  They do not imply God's favor. 

The 1924 Synod stated categorically and without qualification, "Concerning the favorable attitude of God toward mankind in general and not only toward the elect, the Synod declares that according to Scripture and the Confession it is certain that, besides the saving grace of God bestowed only upon those chosen to eternal life, there is also a certain favor or grace of God manifested to His creatures in general. . . ." I assume that creatures in general means, basically, creatures in general. If the Synod had wanted to exclude Satan and his demonic host, it had that opportunity in 1924, when its actions led to the splitting of the church and the exodus of a large portion of its more theologically conservative members. The fact that it refused to exclude Satan has created some real problems for Van Til, and it has placed in the hands of the Protestant Reformed Church a large-caliber theological gun.

I argue throughout this book that there can be no favor shown to "creatures in general," since "creatures in general" includes Satan. The historical and eternal problem facing Satan is that his status as an angel no longer protects him from God's wrath and perfect hatred; he is in sin, which makes him a fallen angel. Similarly, the historical and eternal problem facing ethical rebels is that their status as men made in God's image no longer protects them from God's wrath and perfect hatred; they are in sin, which makes them reprobates. God therefore shows no favor to them, any more than he shows favor to Satan. But He does shower them with non-favorable favors, just as he showers Satan with them.

What are some biblical examples of these non-favorable favors? There is this affirmation: "The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works" (Ps. 145:9).  The verse preceding this one tells us that God is compassionate, slow to anger, gracious.  Romans 2:4 tells us He is longsuffering.  Luke 6:35­36 says:

But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.  Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.

First Timothy 4:10, cited in the introduction, uses explicit language: "For therefore we both labour and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe."  The Greek word here translated as "Saviour" is transliterated soter: one who saves, heals, protects, or makes whole.  God saves (heals) everyone, especially those who believe. Unquestionably, the salvation spoken of is universal -- not in the sense of special grace, so therefore in the sense of common grace. This is probably the most difficult verse in the Bible for those who deny universal salvation from hell, yet who also deny the existence of common grace.

The most frequently cited passage used by those who defend the idea of God's favor to the unregenerate is Matthew 5:44­45:

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which 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, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

Van Til writes concerning these verses: "Therefore God's good gifts to men, rain and sunshine in season, are genuinely expressive of God's favor unto them." This is the attitude of most of the Dutch Calvinist writers on the subject, with the exception of the Protestant Reformed Church. It is against this viewpoint that I am arguing.

In a sense, however, Van Til and I are trying to get to the same conclusion: a biblical explanation for God's eternal judgment against specific unregenerate men. We are both trying to deal with history and its eternal consequences for individuals. To put it another way, we are trying to explain the process of historical differentiation and its eternal consequences. This is not some abstract theological question. Some people go to heaven; some people go to hell. The question then must be raised: "After death, does God give specific rewards (in heaven) and specific punishments (in hell) to particular people?" If not, why not? If so, then why? A better understanding of the debate over common grace helps us to find correct answers to this down-to-earth (or down even farther) question.

Van Til uses the idea of the common favor of God as the historical background of the specific rebellious lives of individuals. Speaking of Adam, Van Til writes that "man is always reacting ethically to this revelation of God. He first lives under the general favor of God and reacts favorably. Then he reacts unfavorably and comes under the curse of God. So far as his ethical attitude is concerned this is in principle entirely hostile to God. Then grace comes on the scene, both saving and non-saving grace." Again, "In particular, man could not be totally depraved if he were not totally enveloped by the revelation of God. . . [A]postasy does not take place in a vacuum." In short, Van Til asks, if the sinner does not have God's favor to react against throughout his life, how can he fully develop his own particular historical destiny, and thereby work out his own damnation with or without fear and trembling? This is the question I also ask, but I answer it without making use of the idea of the supposed general favor of God.

I would argue even more concretely that if there were no specific gifts to specific individuals, they could not develop their own historical destinies. We must be careful in our language. We must not call these specific gifts specific or special grace, for special grace is redemptive grace, meaning eternally saving grace. This form of grace is given only to God's elect, "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4a). I argue that we must explain these specific gifts in history as manifestations of God's common grace throughout history. Common grace is therefore a form of long-term (eternal) curse to the rebellious, and a long-term (eternal) blessing to the righteous.

The sun shines and the rain falls on all men. This is a manifestation of the common grace of God. But Jesus was not simply supplying us with a common-sense theory of the weather. Meteorology was not the central focus of His concern. He was making an ethical and judicial point: "But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which 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, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:44-45).

What was His point? The common blessings of the weather point to the common law of God. God's blessings must always be seen in terms of God's general covenant with mankind, and this covenant always involves biblical law. What Jesus was saying was that His people must deal with unbelievers in term of biblical law, just as God deals with them. Love means the fulfilling of the law toward all men (Rom. 13:8).

It is understandable how such verses, in the absence of other verses that more fully explain the nature and intent of God's gifts, could lead men to equate God's favor and gifts.  Certainly it is true that God protects, heals, rewards, and cares for the unregenerate.  But none of these verses indicates an attitude of favor toward the unregenerate beneficiaries of His gifts.  The attitude of favor is simply assumed by Van Til and the Synod of 1924. Only in the use of the word "favor" in its English slang form of "do me a favor" can we argue that a gift from God is the same as His favor.  Favor, in the slang usage, simply means gift ­­ an unmerited gift from the donor.  But if favor is understood as an attitude favorable to the unregenerate, or an emotional commitment by God to the unregenerate for their sakes, then it must be said, God shows no favor to the unrighteous.


Coals of Fire

One verse in the Bible, above all others, informs us of the underlying attitude of God toward those who rebel against Him after having received His gifts.  This passage is the concomitant to the oft­quoted Luke 6:35­36 and Matthew 5:44­45.  It is Proverbs 25:21­22, which Paul cites in Romans 12:20:
If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord shall reward thee.

Why are we to be kind to our enemies?  First, because God instructs us to be kind.  He is graciously kind to them, and we are to imitate Him.  Second, by showing mercy, we thereby heap coals of fire on their rebellious heads.  From him to whom much is given, much shall be required (Luke 12:47­48).  Our enemy will receive greater punishment through all eternity because we have been merciful to him.  Third, we are promised a reward from God, which is always a solid reason for being obedient to His commands.  The language could not be any plainer.  Any discussion of common grace which omits Proverbs 25:21­22 (Romans 12:20) from consideration is a misleading and incomplete discussion of the topic. And I hasten to point out, Van Til never mentions it.

Love and Hate in Biblical Law

The Bible is very clear.  The problem with the vast majority of interpreters is that they still are influenced by the standards of self­proclaimed autonomous humanism.  Biblically, love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom. 13:8).  Love thy neighbor, we are instructed.  Treat him with respect.  Do not oppress or cheat him.  Do not covet his goods or his wife.  Do not steal from him.  In treating him lawfully, you have fulfilled the commandment to love him.  In so doing, you have rendered him without excuse on the day of judgment.  God's people are to become conduits of God's gifts to the unregenerate. We must be gracious, for God is gracious.

But never forget: we must hate God's enemies as He hates them. This hatred must always take place within the confines of biblical law. We must love, and we must hate. The two are equally ultimate.

Let me raise a key question, which the reader may already have thought of. "How can holy hate operate within the framework of biblical law, if love is the fulfilling of the law?" At this point, we come to the hidden genius of biblical law. It is an instrument of grace and also an instrument of condemnation. This is Paul's message in Romans 6-8. It kills, but it can lead to life if God regenerates the law-cursed sinner. At the cross, the law became the basis of Christ's condemnation as well as our deliverance. We are to obey biblical law, for it is simultaneously an instrument of destruction against God's enemies and an instrument of reconstruction for God's kingdom.

We act lawfully toward our enemies, always bearing in mind this two-fold aspect of law. Like the covenant, biblical law has two sides: blessing and cursing. We are not to imagine that every good gift that we give to the lost must be given in an attempt to heap coals of fire on their heads.  We do not know God's plan for the ages, except in its broad outlines.  We do not know who God intends to redeem.  So we give freely, hoping that some might be redeemed and the others damned.  We play our part in the salvation of some and the damnation of others.  For example, regenerate marriage partners are explicitly instructed to treat their unregenerate partners lawfully and faithfully.  "For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?" (I Cor. 7:16). 

God says that we must treat our friends and enemies lawfully, for they are made in the image of God.  But we are to understand that our honest treatment makes it far worse on the day of judgment for those unrepentant sinners with whom we have dealt righteously than if we had disobeyed God and been poor testimonies to them, treating them unlawfully. They have rebelled against a greater specific manifestation of God's grace to them. From him to whom more is given, more is expected. Since this extra gratefulness is not forthcoming from them, their punishment is greater, for all eternity. Some sinners will be brought to eternal salvation as a result of God's earthly grace to them by means of our gift of lawful dealing, while others will be brought to a more severe eternal condemnation as a result of God's earthly grace to them by means of our gift.

God gives ethical rebels enough rope to hang themselves for all eternity.  This is a fundamental implication of the doctrine of common grace.  The law of God condemns some men, yet it simultaneously serves as a means of repentance and salvation for others (Rom. 5:19­20).  The same law produces different results in different people.  What separates men ethically and eternally is the saving grace of God in election.  The law of God serves as a tool of final destruction against the lost, yet it also serves as a tool of active reconstruction for the Christian.  The law rips up the kingdom of Satan, just as it serves as the foundation for the kingdom of God on earth.


Equal Ultimacy, Unequal Effects

Just as the idea of eternal punishment is equally ultimate in the covenant as the idea of eternal blessing, so is the idea of temporal destruction equally ultimate with temporal reconstruction. But there is this difference: reconstruction is a positive process, and expands its influence over time. Destruction is negative. In hell, it may or may not be that men increase in their rebellion throughout eternity, learning new ways to resent God and curse him. I do not know. But in the perfect consummation of the New Heaven and New Earth after resurrection day, men will learn ever more about God and His creation, as finite creatures working to understand the infinite. Redeemed men will heap new praises to God throughout eternity as they learn more of His glory. He is infinitely good; there will always be more to praise. In short, when it comes to the glory of God, "there's plenty more where that came from."

Thus, while election and reprobation, blessing and cursing, resurrection unto eternal life and resurrection unto the second death (Rev. 20:14) are equally ultimate in principle in the covenant, they are not equally ultimate in their respective effects in eternity. The manifestation of God's glory is positive in the post-resurrection New Heavens and New Earth, and negative in the eternal lake of fire. The manifestation of God's glory is progressive (developing) in a positive feedback sense in the consummated New Heavens and New Earth. (Notice that I keep saying the consummated new Heavens and New Earth. We are now living in the pre-consummation New Heavens and New Earth: Isa. 65:17-20. This, too, is marked by positive feedback.)

The manifestation of God's eternal glory in wrathfulness may or may not develop in the lake of fire, in response to some sort of developing negative rebellion in the lake of fire; we are not told. But it is certain that the lake of fire does not drift toward "non-being." It is eternal. Its impotence perhaps will be locked in place at the day of judgment -- no "negative dominion," no post-resurrection development of skills in rebelliousness. (I rather suspect that this is the case.) But clearly, the residents of the lake of fire will go nowhere and accomplish nothing by means of power. Satan rules in hell today; he will only fry in the lake of fire. His single mark of final distinction will be the temperature at which he is fried: "first among equals." This, however, points to God's common grace to Satan throughout history. He has received great power in history; he will receive great judgment in eternity. From him to whom much has been given, much is expected. He who rebels against greater gifts from God is going to suffer greater punishment than he who has revolted against fewer gifts (Luke 12:47-48).

We see in Satan and his followers the working out of the dual principle: equal ultimacy (total depravity of all rebels), but with unequal effects (appropriate judgment in terms of the individual's works in relation to the grace that God has shown to him in history). We also see in Christ and his followers the working out of this same dual principle: equal ultimacy (the perfect humanity of Christ imputed to all redeemed men), but with unequal effects (appropriate judgment in terms of the individual's works in relation to the grace that God has shown to him in history).

What I am arguing in this book is that the two aspects of the covenant -- blessing and cursing -- are not equally ultimate in their respective effects in history, just as they are not equal in their eternal effects. Different individuals experience different histories, depending on the extent to which they affirm or deny the covenant by their actions. Similarly, different societies experience different histories, depending on the extent to which they affirm or deny the covenant by their actions.

The working out of the principle of covenantal blessing can lead to the positive feedback operation: historical blessing to covenantal reaffirmation to greater historical blessing . . . (Deut. 8:18). (A theonomic postmillennialist should argue that it does eventually operate in history in this fashion, leading to millennial blessings.) The working out of covenantal cursing leads to temporal scattering and destruction (Deut. 8:19-20). Every Christian theologian admits that the working out of covenantal cursing in history eventually leads to final destruction for God's enemies. Theologians debate only about the historical path of this development to final judgment: premillennial, amillennial, or postmillennial.

Consistent Living

As I argue throughout this book, it is only because ethical rebels are not fully self-consistent historically in their ethical rebellion that they can maintain power (an external gift from God). If they were fully self-consistent, they would without exception all commit suicide, for all those who hate God love death (Prov. 8:36b). A fully self-consistent ethical rebel is no threat to God or God's people if they were also fully self-consistent, as we will see throughout eternity.

Christians are supposed to be come more consistent with the religion they profess. They are to imitate the perfect humanity (but not the divinity) of Jesus Christ. It is only because God's people are not yet fully self-consistent ethically that they need the services of sinners (the division of labor) in history -- sinners who are themselves not fully self-consistent ethically. After the resurrection, both groups are allowed by God to become fully consistent ethically, and therefore they must be separated from each other eternally. God wins, Satan loses. We win, they lose. End of argument. End of ethical inconsistency.

When God at last is ready to judge mankind, and make ethically perfect all His saints, then He permanently separates the saved from the lost. Perfect saints will no longer need to rely on the productivity of the rebels. The ethical rebels will no longer need to be restrained by God in the working out of their anti-God presuppositions. God's restraint and His gifts to the rebels then cease. He sends fire upon them (Rev. 20:9). History will end because the Christians will have come so close to self-consistent living that rebels cannot stand to live close to them. So God will at last separate the wheat from the tares. This the central theme of this book.


Favor to Satan?

The idea that God shows favor to ethical rebels eventually comes into conflict with the idea of God's gifts to Satan, which are said by the defenders of the 1924 Synod not to involve God's favor. They have to admit that God gives Satan gifts. There is no question that the grace of God in extending temporal life to mankind after the rebellion of Adam also involved extending time to Satan and his angels. There is no question that the grace of God in extending all other temporal blessings to mankind after the rebellion of Adam -- knowledge, law, power, peace, etc. -- also involved extending these same blessings to Satan and his angels. If nothing else, Satan is empowered by God to establish satanic covenants with his followers, covenants that bear four of the five marks of God's covenant.

All of life is covenantal. The battles of life are therefore covenantal. Anything that happens to those who are under God's covenant affects the working out in history of God's covenantal church. Anything that happens to those who are under Satan's covenant also affects the working out of Satan's covenantal anti-church. When God extends gifts to all men, he thereby extends gifts to Satan's covenantal anti-church. If Satan's earthly troops fare well, then to that extent, Satan also fares well -- of course, leading always to Satan's eternal farewell.

There can be no discussion of God's gifts to men in general without a discussion of God's grace to Satan. To the extent that human language can express reality, the same kinds of gifts that God extends to mankind in general are also extended to Satan and his demonic host: time, law, power, knowledge, etc.

This raises a very real problem for Van Til. How can his assertion that God's common grace demonstrates God's favor to all men in some sense, without leading him to the obvious conclusion, namely, that God's common grace also demonstrates God's favor in some sense to Satan?

Van Til never deals with this problem in a straightforward manner. This is understandable, since his Christian Reformed interpretation of common grace is threatened by this fundamental question. He does assert that Satan is not an object of God's favor. He says this in relation to his rejection of Dutch theologian Klaas Schilder's view of common grace.

Van Til vs. Schilder

Schilder, a brilliant Dutch theologian, was asked by a Christian Reformed writer in 1939, fifteen years after the 1924 Synod, to offer his opinions concerning the 1924 formulation of common grace. Schilder rejected point one, as I do, and as the Protestant Reformed Church did and still does. Schilder recognized that if God's common grace is defined as God's favor to unregenerate men, then there is no way to distinguish God's favor to mankind from favor to the creation in general. He therefore rejected the wording of the Synod's first point. He rejected the notion that God shows favor to "creatures in general," including the non-elect. "Creatures in general," Schilder said, includes fallen angels. Van Til summarizes: "And God certainly is not favorable to devils." This is the crux of the matter.

But Van Til, not wanting to break with the 1924 Synod, avoids the crux. Instead, he launches into one of his rambling philosophical digressions for several pages on why we must reinterpret what Schilder is saying, why we must reject what Schilder is saying, and what the Synod "meant to say." It includes the familiar references to Plato, Arminianism, the "full-bucket difficulty," brute facts, rationalism vs. irrationalism, analogical reasoning, neutrality, and so forth. The following sample is representative:

For better or worse [mostly for worse -- G.N.] Synod meant to teach that God has a certain attitude of favor to all men as men. The use of the broad popular phrase "creatures in general" gives no justification for drawing such consequences as Schilder has drawn. Besides, the broad phrase itself expresses the fact that God loves all His creatures. And as for the idea that God loves all creatureliness as such, including the creatureliness of the devil, this is, we believe, intelligible only if we use it as a limiting concept.

A limiting concept? Shades of Immanuel Kant. If this is what the Synod "meant to teach," then it should have waited to say what it meant in clear language that normal God-fearing people can understand, rather than rushing a poorly worded statement through the bureaucracy, and driving out a man of the stature of Herman Hoeksema and thousands of his followers.

When you face both Herman Hoeksema and Klaas Schilder in theological debate, you had better have your arguments ready. In this instance, Van Til didn't have them ready. Van Til is quibbling -- quibbling desperately. The fact is, the Synod was wrong, and all the "limiting concepts" in the world will not make what it said correct. God gives gifts to Satan. God shows no favor to Satan. It does not take a Ph.D in philosophy or a Th.D in theology to make the obvious conclusion. God also gives gifts to the non-elect, covenanted disciples of Satan. God also shows no favor to the non-elect, covenanted followers of Satan.

I do not want to bury myself or the reader in the subtleties and qualifications of Schilder's argument, as summarized by Van Til. Perhaps Schilder made some technical philosophical errors. He is dead, and the 1924 Synod is not much healthier. So let us deal with Van Til, whose arguments are still alive.

He has two ways to escape this conclusion that the 1924 Synod's statement leads to the conclusion that God shows favor to Satan. First, he could abandon the Christian Reformed Church's first point, and stop speaking of the common grace of God as God's favor. This he refuses to do. Second, he could assert that there is a fundamental difference between God's common grace to mankind in general, and His extension of time, knowledge, law, power, etc. to Satan. In principle, he takes this second approach, but never clearly and never with a detailed explanation, for the exegetical and logical means of making this distinction between gifts to mankind and the same gifts to Satan do not exist.

Making Indistinct Distinctions

Van Til cannot make the distinction by an appeal to the image of God in man, which Satan does not possess. Van Til quite correctly argues that the image of God in man is essential to the very being of man, and it never departs, even in eternity: ". . . as a creature made in God's image, man's constitution as a rational and moral being has not been destroyed. The separation from God on the part of the sinner is ethical. . . . Even the lost in the hereafter have not lost the power of rational and moral determination. They must have this image in order to be aware of their lost condition." Men are men eternally.

Common grace, and therefore God's supposed common favor toward mankind in general, is exclusively an aspect of history. "When history is finished God no longer has any kind of favor toward the reprobate. They still exist and God has pleasure in their existence, but not in the fact of their bare existence. God has pleasure in their historically defeated existence."

So it cannot be that Satan is not made in God's image that disqualifies him from the favor of God. Reprobate men in eternity are disqualified, too. The issue is historical, not the image of God in man. So, what is it in Satan that disqualifies him from God's supposed favor in general? Why is the creation in general, including Satan, not the recipient of God's favor?

Van Til must distinguish favor to mankind in general in history from favor to creatures in general in history, if he is to preserve his distinction between favor to mankind and no favor to Satan. Could it be that Satan is totally evil now, and that his evil does not develop in history? Is his evil in principle identical to his evil at every point in time? Is he in this sense non-historical, and therefore not the object of God's favor?

Satan and History

Van Til writes little about Satan, but in the few pages of his Introduction to Systematic Theology in which he discusses Satan, he closes this possible escape hatch. Satan is a historical creature, he says. "It is true, of course, that when Cain left the face of the Lord, he in a sense knew God just as well as he knew him just before. It is true also that there is a sense in which Satan knows God now as well as he knew God before the fall. In a sense, Satan knows God better now than before. Did not God prove the truth of his statements to Satan thousands of times? But herein exactly lies the contradiction of Satan's personality that though he knows God yet he does not really know God. His very intellect is constantly devising schemes by which he thinks he may overthrow God, while he knows all too well that God cannot be overthrown. What else can this be but a manifestation of the wrath of God? Yes, it was the natural consequence of sin, but this is itself the wrath of God, that sin should be allowed to run its course. In like manner, too, man's thought since the entrance of sin has been characterized by self-frustration."

Satan rebels again and again in history. He is a creature of history just as surely as his covenanted human followers are creatures of history. Cain, like Satan, learned more about God in his escalating rebellion. Yet Cain was the beneficiary of God's favor, Van Til must argue, during the time he operated in history. Satan is still operating in history, too. So why deny God's common favor to Satan?

Does Satan learn from history? Yes, he learns that opposition to God is fruitless. Van Til insists that Satan learns more about God in history: ". . . Satan himself must have become increasingly convinced that God is God in the sense that he is absolute. . . ." Rebellious man's knowledge of God is not different in principle from Satan's: "In spite of all this, man has not accepted for himself what he himself must admit to be the true interpretation of the origin of the world. In this respect man's knowledge is characterized by the same folly that marks Satan's knowledge of God."

Satan's Knowledge of God

Van Til has closed off most of his available loopholes. He relies on one final possibility. Satan's knowledge of God, he writes, is less clouded than man's. This passage in Introduction to Systematic Theology he also cites in A Letter on Common Grace, so he must regard it as the key. (It appears on page 94 of the Introduction, not on page 98, as he mistakenly says.)

Here we should again bring in the fact of the non-saving grace of God. In the case of Satan, the folly of his interpretation [of God and history -- G.N.] appears very clear. In the case of the sinner, however, we have a mixed situation. Through God's non-saving grace, the wrath of God on the sinner has been mitigated in this life. . . . He is not a finished product."

Here is Van Til's distinction between Satan and man. Satan has a clear revelation of the folly of his interpretation; man does not. Man is not a finished product, Van Til writes; the obvious (but unstated) conclusion must be that Satan is a finished product. The reader is led to ask: "In what way is Satan a finished product and man isn't?" Here is where Van Til needs to clarify what he means. He never does.

Satan grows in the knowledge of God. So does man. Satan rebels against ever-greater quantities of revelation as history progresses. So does man. Satan is judged at the final judgment. So is man. Satan has been given time, knowledge, power, and all the other gifts given to man. So wherein lies the fundamental difference? Why are unmerited gifts from God to Satan no proof of God's favor to Satan, yet God's unmerited gifts to unregenerate men proof of His common favor?

Van Til never says. I think it is because he cannot say, and still maintain the Christian Reformed Church's equating of common grace and common favor.

Pounding the Podium

There is an old debater's trick that says: "When your argument is weak, pound the podium and shout."

Van Til never ceases asserting (without exegetical evidence) that the common favor of God is the biblical position.

How can God have an attitude of favor unto those who are according to His own ultimate will to be separated from him forever? The first and basic answer is that Scripture teaches it.

There are those who have denied common grace. They have argued that God cannot have any attitude of favor at any stage in history to such as are the "vessels of wrath." But to reason this way is to make logic rule over Scripture.

Scholasticism appears when, on the ground of the idea of election, we deduce that God cannot in any sense whatever have any favor to mankind as a group.

These are assertions, not arguments. Van Til never offers systematically exegetical arguments defending common grace as common favor. He simply repeats over and over that the Christian Reformed Church's view is the biblical view.

Common Grace Without Favor

The proper view is something very different. God's common grace implies no favor to the lost in history. Therefore, God's common grace can be said to extend to Satan. Satan's forces, both demonic and human, receive unmerited gifts from God. Christ died for the whole created world (John 3:16), including Satan. He did not die in order that the offer of salvation be made to Satan. No such offer is ever made. This, and only this, distinguishes Satan from man.

It is possible to argue that in this sense, the death of Christ for Satan differs from the death of Christ for unregenerate people. But however the theologians want to debate this difference, it clearly has to do with some aspect of special (soul-saving) grace, not common grace. The distinction applies to the free offer of the gospel to men and not to Satan; it does not apply to the common gifts of life, knowledge, law, power, etc.

The unmerited gifts from God serve to condemn both the unregenerate and Satan and his angels. These gifts do not imply favor. They simply are means of heaping coals of fire on rebellious heads, human and demonic.



Christ is indeed the savior of all people prior to the day of judgment (I Tim. 4:10).  Christ sustains the whole universe (Col. 1:17).  Without Him, no living thing could survive.  He grants to His creatures such gifts as time, law, order, power, and knowledge.  He grants all of these gifts to Satan and his rebellious host.  The answer to the question, "Does God show His grace and mercy to all creation, including Satan?" is emphatically yes.  Satan is given time and power to do his evil work. To the next question, "Does this mean that God in some way demonstrates an attitude of favor toward Satan?" the answer is emphatically no.  God is no more favorable toward Satan and his demons than he is to Satan's human followers.  But this does not mean that He does not bestow gifts upon them ­­ gifts that they in no way deserve.

Thus, the doctrine of common grace must apply not only to men but also to Satan and the fallen angels. This is what Van Til denies, because he defines common grace as favor in general rather than gifts in general. The second concept does not imply the first.

God does not favor "mankind" as such. He showers favors on all men, but this does not mean that he favors men in general. Men in general rebelled against Him in the garden. Adam and Eve, mankind's representatives, brought the entire human race under God's wrath. God in His grace gave them time and covenant promises, for He looked forward to the death of His Son on the cross. On this basis, and only on this basis, men have been given life in history. Some have been given life in order to extend God's kingdom, while others have been given life (like Pharaoh) to demonstrate God's power, and to heap coals of fire eternally on their heads.

In summary:

1. God hated Esau before He was born: no favor.

2. God gives gifts to the unregenerate.

3. God heals them as a savior (I Tim. 4:10).

4. We are required to love our enemies.

5. This means we must deal with them lawfully.

6. God tells us to deal lawfully with evil men in order to heap coals of fire on their heads.

7. Lawful dealing by us will lead some men to Christ.

8. God gives evil people enough rope to hang themselves eternally.

9. Biblical law is a tool: of destruction against Satan's kingdom and reconstruction by Christians.

10. God is not favorable to Satan and demons.

11. God nevertheless gives them time and power.

12. He does the same with Satan's earthly followers.

13. Blessing and cursing are equally ultimate in the covenant.

14. The manifestations of blessing and cursing are not equally ultimate in impact.

Copyright 1998 Institute for Chrisitan Economics