The following is an exposition of Herman Hanko's "Another Look At Common Grace", from the Protestant Reformed Theological Journal.
The Protestant Reformed Church arose out of disagreement with the Christian Reformed Church over the issue of common grace. At the time the Christian Reformed Church forbade those who rejected the teaching that God gives grace to even the reprobate, those who dissented, left the denomination to form the Protestant Reformed Church. This controversy came to a head in 1924 when the Christian Reformed Church articulated in a synod what are now known infamously as the "Three Points" of common grace. These three points were as follows:
1) God shows a kind of 'favor' towards the non-elect.
2) As an instance of this common grace, God restrains the wickedness of the reprobate in order for society to be possible.
3) Humans are able to do civic (though not spiritual) good.
Hanko notes that many use "common grace" in utterly different senses. Rather than speaking of a good intention of God towards the reprobate, some simply use it to refer to God's providential blessings over all of mankind. In this sense, the concept is unproblematic and universally held. Of course God provides providential gifts to the reprobate. What is at dispute has more to do with His intention in doing so.
Hanko notes that common grace is spoken of by various Reformed theologians in various ways. Berkhof, in his systematic theology, for example, speaks of three forms of common grace:
1) Universal common grace - Given to all creatures.
2) General common grace - Given to all humans.
3) Covenant common grace - Given only to humans who are in the sphere of the covenant.
For Berkhohf, one of the key functions of God's common grace is the restraint of negative influences upon humanity as a whole, such as in providentially restraining the elements from producing uncontrollable natural disasters, restraining the natural corruption of sin, and so on. It likewise involves the provision of nutrition and civil righteousness, such as when non-Christians build orphanages and hospitals for children and other admirable activities.
For Bavinck, on the other hand, general revelation is associated with common grace just as special revelation is associated with God's particular, electing grace. It is important to note, however, as Hanko does, that the Greek word translated "revelation", when grace is in mind, is always used specifically of God's people, particularly with reference to God's salvific revelation to His saints through regeneration, according to revelation (Matt. 11:25-27, Lk. 10:21-22, 1 Cor. 1:7, 14:6, 26, 2 Cor. 12:1, 7, Eph. 1:17, 3:3, Rom. 16:25). Indeed, where the word is used with reference to the reprobate, not only is the language of grace nowhere in the picture, but wrath and judgment are described as being the reuslt of this revelation to the reprobate (2 Thess. 1:7, Rom. 1:18, 2:5).
1 Corinthians 1:7; 1 Corinthians 14:6; 1 Corinthians 14:26
Hanko notes that some in the Reformed community argued that common grace provided space for a kind of neutral ground upon which Calvinists should cooperate with unbelievers in the civic and social sphere for civic and social good. He acknowledges that Dutch Calvinism has made an important distinction between absolute and total depravity, particularly in the writing of James Daane, though he likewise notes that Daane does not quite elaborate on or articulate this distinction. However he understands this distinction, Daane makes it clear that his motivation for it is to defend the 1924 decision of the Christian Reformed Church for articulating common grace as an operation of the Holy Spirit by associating it with historic Reformed orthodoxy.
In an important sermon delivered within the Christian Reformed Church itself, Hanko notes that Kuyper articulates some of the most important doctrinal distinctives of common grace. For Kuyper, common grace involves the postponement of the jugment of the reprobate, the restraint of the sin of the reprobate, the bestowal of temporal blessings, with particular reference to the offer of the Gospel, and the enjoyment of social and civic righteousness, with particular reference to enjoyment of the inward blessings of the Gospel. For Kuyper, this common grace is an instance of God sincerly attempting to cause the reprobate to turn from their sin, as well as a sincere expression of God's desire for their salvation. Indeed, Hanko even criticizes Augustine's belief that the virtues of the reprobate are mere glittering vices.
Some Dutch theologians, though they accept common grace, deny that it is the effect of Christ's death on the cross or the direct operation of the Holy Spirit. Instead, they argue that man retained his rationality in the Fall, and that man does not depend upon God's grace for the preservation of this rationality. For some of these theologians, Hanko notes, the ability to perform civic virtue is "grace" insofar as it is God's unmerited gift to that person.
Hanko cites the nephew of Cornelius Van Til, who furnishes us with an important qualification concerning the adjective 'common' in the concept of 'common grace.' On the one hand, it is true that God is "kind" to the reprobate without actually entering into fellowship with them. Most interesting, as Hanko notes, Van Til rejects the equation of God's common grace with love. In this respect, he rejects the understanding of what common grace means that became common to the Christian Reformed Church in the 1960s.
Having addressed some understandings of common grace in the Dutch Calvinist tradition, he next addresses the Presbyterian tradition. A.A. Hodge, for example sees common grace as the restraint of the Holy Spirit through the preached gospel and through natural reason and conscience. The reprobate remains unregenerate and spiritual unchanged, bbut is able to perform civic and social virtue through God's gifts. He cites Gen. 6:3, Acts 7:51 and Heb. 10:29 in favor of such an understanding of common grace. Hanko notes that Hodge likewise appeals to Rom. 1:25 in order to argue that the giving up of the non-elect to the nth degree of their depravity presupposes an antecedent restraint that is best understood as the restraining operation of common grace.
John Murray's writings on common grace, Hanko points out, are some of the most important in the history of the controversy. Murray's unique contribution to the articulation of the concept is the argument that common grace is purchased by the redemptive work of Christ. Murray even goes as far as to argue that Christ actually died for the non-elect in one sense; that is, in the sense that it is by Christ's death that God purchased redemptive benefits for them. Murray sees this common grace as rooted in God's love for the reprobate, and he appeals to Heb. 6:4, 5, 10:29; 2 Pet. 2:20, 21 in support of this concept. Hanko notes that Murray fortunately qualifies his understanding of the benefits enjoyed by the non-elect through Christ's death in arguing that the non-elect, though they enjoy benefits purchased by the atonement, do not participate in the atonement itself. Murray employs a previously mentioned distinction between universal common grace, which is enjoyed by all of God's creatures, and general common grace, which is enjoyed by all humans. Finally, covenant grace is exclusively enjoyed by those within the sphere of the covenant.
Murray provides us with an articulation of common grace of perhaps unprecedented sophistication:
1) Restraining common grace - this refers to God's work of preventing humans from becoming as bad as we could be.
a) Restraint upon human depravity(He cites Gen. 3:22, 23; 4:15).
b) Postponement of judgment - God's common grace as manifeseted in His forebearance of our sin and longsuffering in spite of it (he probably has in mind Rom. 2:4, 5, for example).
c) God's providential ordering of the world so that the effects of the Fall are not wrought on humankind in their fullness.
2) God's common grace in bestowing good gifts upon humankind.
a) God's bestowal of such gifts in the form of provision of food and drink.
b) A non-salvific form of divine favor. Hanko notes that Murray uses God's blessing on Potiphar as an example of this.
c) The relatively good behavior in which unregenerate humans engage.
d) Common grace communicated to unregenerate man through the preaching of the Gospel.
e) The civil government, which punishes and restrains evil and promotes civic and social virtue.
Murray also sees common grace as connected intimately with special or particular grace itself. He argues that there is a common grace communicated to the elect in their comprehension of the truth of the Gospel that is antecedent to their actual conversion. Murray has in mind here so-called preparatory graces, which enable the elect to comprehend the Gospel in a non-salvific manner prior to their conversion.
Hanko notes that John Gerstner makes an important distinction between God's love of benevolence and God's love of complacence. God's love of benevolence is the kindness He shows to the unregenerate in doing good to them. God's love of complacency is the root of God's particular or special grace upon the elect, according to which He saves them.
Donald Macleod, Hanko points out, has also provided important contributions to the articulation of a theology of common grace. He attributes to God's common grace temporal blessings, natural morality, scientific, cultural and technological achievements, and so on. More interestingly, he denies that God's attitude towards the elect is unequivocally one of love, as well as denying that God's attitude towards the reprobate is unequivocally one of hatred. Hanko notes that he grounds this theology on the previously made distinction between absolute and total depravity.
Hanko notes how striking it is that proponents of common grace never cite passages which speak explicitly of God having grace towards the elect. This should come as no surprise, since there aren't any. What such writers tend instead to do is to cite passages, for example, speaking of God's longsuffering towards sin, and equate this with a general love of God for the reprobate. At other points, Hanko notes, such writers infer a general love of God for the reprobate from God's providential gifts to them. Hanko makes the point that it is striking how often the term "grace" appears in scripture without it ever actually being predicated of the reprobate. He notes that although one may object that the term "Trinity" is never used in scripture, it is nonetheless an important and biblical doctrine, it nevertheless remains the case that the word "grace" is frequently used in scripture, but is never predicated of the reprobate. This is quite notable. He notes as well that many of those who deny the notion of a general love of God for the reprobate now commonly associated with the term "common grace" nonetheless use the term to speak of God's bestowal of providential blessings upon mankind. He disapproves of this tendency in light of how often the term is nowadays associated with the doctrine of God's general love for the reprobate.
Hanko cites Kittel to point out that the Greek word for "grace" is commonly used in the Greek of that period to speak of an object which pleases or delights, a state of being pleased, or something which produces pleasure. In other words, Hanko notes, it refers to pleasure, goodwill, favor, and other related concepts. Hanko notes Kittel's point as well that word in particularly refers to a king's gracious disposition or sovereign favor towards those below him, and asserts that such a connotation is present in the New Testament. He notes as well that Hebrew words translated "charis" in Greek refer to favor or charm(Exod. 11:3, 12:36, Ps. 84:11). Sometimes, Hanko notes, citing Kittel, it refers simply to an attitude.
The relational element is quite important in the context, since it oftentimes refers to one's attitude towards another human, such as when Gen. 6:8 affirms that Noah found grace in the eyes of God. Kittel, Hanko notes, argues that the term in the New Testament emphasizes the freeness of the gift given by the gracious person, and that, far from being an impersonal transfer of some benefit, implies a heart-felt and genuinely loving bestowal of benefit on another. Kittel, Hanko argues, defines grace as necessarily encompassing salvation by definition, citing 2 Cor. 6:1 and 1 Cor. 1:4 as examples of this. As encompassing all of salvation, the use of the word in Rom. 5:20, for example, is seen as an example of "grace" necessarily, effectually and actually delivering its recipients from the effects of sin. Grace is therefore particular, actual and effectual in its deliverance of its recipients from the effects of condemnation from sin. It is never something sub- or non-salvific. Col. 3:13 is likewise cited as an example of the word "grace" used as referring to "pardon." Summarizes these points with the following: "If it is argued that these Scripture passages all speak of saving grace in distinction from common grace, the obvious answer is: Saving grace is the only use of the term in God's Word."
In addition to Kittel, Hanko cites Hermann Cremer, used analysis of the use of the word in the New Testament is very similar to that of Kittel's. "Grace" is understood in this context as a benevolent disposition towards an object or person. "Grace" is likewise understood as God's disposition whereby he forgives sin (he cites Rom. 5:15, Gal. 2:21, Eph. 3:2). Hanko likewise cites Hoeksema, who, in the latter's "Reformed Dogmatics", identifies "grace" as an attribute of God's character itself (citing Exod. 34:6, 1 Pet. 5:10). God's forgiveness of the elect, therefore, is a revelation of His character; indeed, it is one which Hoeksema argues is rooted in God's ethical goodness, citing Prov. 22:11, Ps. 45:2, Eph. 4:29, Col. 4:6). Cited examples of objects who are explicitly described as recipients of God's salvific grace are David in Acts 7:46 and Lk. 1:30. Hanko notes that David and Mary in the aforementioned examples are objects of God's delight. This does not mean that they were good in and of themselves. They clearly were not. Rather, the idea operative is that they were regarded with favor by God. Hanko notes that the only way or respect in which they can be regarded with such salvific favor is by virtue of their union with Christ.
What is particular notable about the word's usage in the New Testament, Hanko notes, is the fact that it is not merely favor, but unmerited favor. Rom. 11:6 is cited as an example of this which has particular reference to God's grace as exhibited in unconditional election. Eph. 2:8, 9, like the previous example, contrasts reception of grace with reception of favor by means of merit. This grace, which as we have seen is essentially salvific in the New Testament, is not only solely due to God's favor, but is due solely to God's unmerited favor. Hanko presses the important point that "grace" as with it the idea of ethical perfection. This obviously excludes the unregenerate from being recipients of God's grace, since apart from Christ's imputed righteousness, they cannot be counted as perfect.
One of the strategies which advocates of common grace use is to note, even as Kittel himself does, that attributes of God like love, longsuffering, goodness and mercy can never be treated in isolation from God's grace. Hanko notes that advocates of common grace take advantage of this impossibility of considering each attribute of God in isolation by arguing that even the unregenerate must be recipients not only of God's attributes which are associated with purely non-salvific goodness, but also to some degree with grace. H.J. Kuiper, Hanko notes, for example, argues that God is capable of both loving and hating the same person, in that he hates them as wicked people but loves them as creatures. Summarizing the line of thought typical of those who affirm common grace, Hanko notes that they typically argue that since all of these attributes of God are inseparable from one another, if only the elect are recipients of God's grace, then it follows that only the elect are recipients of God's other benefits as well. But this is demonstrably unscriptural. Therefore, it follows that the reprobate must be recipients of God's grace. They therefore use a reductio ad absurdum argument to argue their point.
While advocates of common grace argue that God's "longsuffering" is predicated of His disposition towards the reprobate, Hanko argues that it is only described as being an attribute of the elect(Jas. 5:7, 1 Cor. 13:4, 1 Thess. 5:14, Col. 1:11, 2 Tim. 3:10). Indeed, Hanko notes, the elect are called to reflect the communicable attributes of God Himself. Hanko notes that God's purpose in exhibiting His attribute of longsuffering is in order to give the elect time to escape. The language of longsuffering is explicitly used, he notes, in 1 Pet. 3:20, in which we're told that God's longsuffering delayed His judgment in order to give Noah and his family enough time to construct the ark by which they would be delivered from God's wrath, at which point His longsuffering would end. A similar principle is operative in 2 Pet. 3:9. Hanko notes that Christians were puzzled by the apparent delay of Christ's Second Coming. The apparent delay is not really a delay at all, but a manifestation of God's longsuffering while He awaits the ultimate conversion of all the elect, not wanting any of us to perish, but for all of the elect to experience repentance unto salvation.
But what about Rom. 9:22? This passage is commonly understood as referring to God's longsuffering towards the reprobate. But Hanko denies that God is ever longsuffering towards the reprobate, according to scripture. For Hanko, 2 Pet. 3:9 teaches us that longsuffering is inherently longsuffering. It is therefore a component of grace. Since grace is never non-salvific, longsuffering cannot ever be towards the reprobate either. Hanko draws our attention to v. 23, in which the vessels of wrath are sharply distinguished from the vessels of mercy. He argues that, taking vv. 22 and 23 together, the text is better translated "What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured in abundant longsuffering...the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction." He argues that such a translation does better justice to the text and does not necessitate that the object of His longsuffering are the reprobate themselves. That is, He endured the non-elect while being abundant in longsuffering (towards the reprobate). Hanko argues that we do better to understand the text as referring to God's suffering towards the elect during His endurance of the vessels of wrath. Indeed, he argues that the Greek word translated "endurance" is better understood as referring to God's attitude towards the reprobate precisely as a contrast to His longsuffering towards the elect. He exhibits "endurance" towards the reprobate and "longsuffering" towards the reprobate. This endurance, as well as the longsuffering, of course, is for the sake of His ultimate salvation of the elect.
Finally, Hanko deals with Rom. 2:4, which Arminians argue is predicated of God's attitude towards the reprobate. Hanko denies that the despising of God's forebearance entails that those who despise God's forebearance are necessarily the objects of it. Instead, the text, he argues, is better understood as referring to their despising of an attribute of which they themselves are not its object. Indeed, the text explicitly says that God's longsuffering leads to repentance. It is therefore an inherently gracious attribute of God of which the elect can only be a recipient, and of which the reprobate cannot. He also makes the point that God's longsuffering is understood here as teaching that God's longsuffering leads to repentance. It does not merely make repentance possible, as Arminians attempt to argue. This text, interpreted from an Arminian framework, would therefore lead to universalism if taken to its logical conclusion. The principle here is similar to that of 2 Pet. 3:9, that we are to count the longsuffering God as actual salvation, not potential for salvation.
Hanko next turns his attention to those who infer the existence of common grace from God's provision of temporal gifts to the reprobate. Indeed, the "Three Points of Common Grace" spoken of in the famous 1924 synod of the Christian Reformed Church cites Ps. 145:9; Matt. 5:44, 45; Lk. 6:35; Acts 14:16, 17 in favor of this position. Bavinck, Hanko notes, argues that common grace was essential in the preservation of the nations during the Old Covenant era as preparatory for the salvation of all the nations in the New Testament era. Everyone agrees, of course, that God does give good gifts to the reprobate. The question has to do with God's reason for doing so.
Advocates of common grace see in this activity of God's a general love for all humanity. As mentioned before, John Murray sees the benefits of common grace as having been purchased for humanity through Christ's death on the cross. Since Christ purchased His dominion over Earth through His meritorious obedience, Murray argues, it follows that the reprobate who enjoy the gifts of God within this dominion are recipients of it through Christ's death on the cross. It is therefore argued that there is a degree to which the reprobate benefit from the blessings purchased by Christ on the cross. As mentioned before, Murray justifies this position with reference to Heb. 6:4, 5, 10:26, 27, and 2 Pet. 2:20-22, and he qualifies his affirmation that the reprobate participate in the benefits of the atonement by arguing that they nonetheless do not partake of the atonement itself. It is by means of this qualification that he avoids compromising the doctrine of limited atonement.
Furthermore, a common accusation brought against the PRCA is that they deny that God restrains sin. This is an inaccurate accusation. What the PRCA denies is that God's restraint of sin is itself an act of grace. Indeed, what they deny is that God's restraint of sin has to do with some special operation of the Holy Spirit. If the Holy Spirit is involved in restraining sin, it is argued, some sort of grace is involved in this restraint. The PRCA denies that it is necessary to postulate that the Holy Spirit is involved in the restraint of sin, and also that the restraint of sin is the effect of grace. Those who believe that God's restraint of sin is an instance of common grace argue that such restraining grace is necessary, and that without it, the world would immediately descend into a hell that would destroy the Church very quickly.
Murray likewise cites Matt. 5:44, Lk. 6:27, 35 in support of his position that the reprobate enjoy some sort of general love from God, and employs the distinction between God's love of benevolence, which is a general good will or kind intention towards even the reprobate, vs. his love of complacency, which is the love which is shown to the elect alone, and which constitutes the ground of God's salvation of us. Murray likewise employs the aforementioned threefold distinction between universal common grace, general common grace, and covenant common grace.
However one articulates their theology of common grace, the question of why God would provide the reprobate with good gifts is quite easy to answer: to aggravate the severity of their condemnation on Judgment Day. He appeals primarily to Psalm 73, in which its author, Asaph, discourages his readers from becoming envious of the temporal prosperity of the wicked, on the grounds that God is only bestowing His good gifts on the wicked in order that they would abuse them and thus incur greater judgment. Even advocates of common grace acknowledge that the abuse of God's providential blessings aggravates their condemnation.
Nevertheless, if advocates of common grace are to argue that God's motivation in bestowing His gifts on them is authentic love, Hanko points out, this means that God's love is changeable, which obviously contradicts numerous passages especially treasured by those who believe in the doctrine of unconditional election, be they advocates of common grace or not(see especially, Mal. 3:6, which Hanko cites). As unchangeable as His love for the elect, Hanko argues, is God's hatred for the reprobate(Ps. 5:5). In neither case does God's will towards them ever change from one to the other. On the contrary, the purpose of God giving gifts to the reprobate is in order that they would abuse these gifts and aggravate the severity of their judgment. To give a gift is not proof of love even in the ordinary scheme of things. Suppose a child only wants to eat candy. The parent who only gives this child candy cannot be seen as loving the child, in giving the child what it demands solely because he asks for it. On the contrary, such a parent exhibits their obvious hatred of the child. So Psalm 73:
Surely God is good to Israel,
To those who are pure in heart!
2 But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling,
My steps [a]had almost slipped.
3 For I was envious of the [b]arrogant
As I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 For there are no pains in their death,
And their [c]body is fat.
5 They are not [d]in trouble as other [e]men,
Nor are they plagued [f]like mankind.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
The garment of violence covers them.
7 Their eye [g]bulges from fatness;
The imaginations of their heart [h]run riot.
8 They mock and [i]wickedly speak of oppression;
They speak from on high.
9 They have set their mouth [j]against the heavens,
And their tongue [k]parades through the earth.
10 Therefore [l]his people return to this place,
And waters of abundance are [m]drunk by them.
11 They say, “How does God know?
And is there knowledge [n]with the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked;
And always at ease, they have increased in wealth.
13 Surely in vain I have [o]kept my heart pure
And washed my hands in innocence;
14 For I have been stricken all day long
And [p]chastened every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
Behold, I would have betrayed the generation of Your children.
16 When I pondered to understand this,
It was [q]troublesome in my sight
17 Until I came into the [r]sanctuary of God;
Then I perceived their end.
18 Surely You set them in slippery places;
You cast them down to [s]destruction.
19 How they are [t]destroyed in a moment!
They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
O Lord, when aroused, You will despise their [u]form.
21 When my heart was embittered
And I was pierced [v]within,
22 Then I was senseless and ignorant;
I was like [w]a beast [x]before You.
23 Nevertheless I am continually with You;
You have taken hold of my right hand.
24 With Your counsel You will guide me,
And afterward receive me [y]to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but You?
And [z]besides You, I desire nothing on earth.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the [aa]strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 For, behold, those who are far from You will perish;
You have [ab]destroyed all those who [ac]are unfaithful to You.
28 But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;
I have made the Lord [ad]God my refuge,
That I may tell of all Your works.
But what about Matt. 5:43-48? Hanko points out that just as God's love is a love which intends our salvation, so also, our parallel love to other humans ought to have as its goal their salvation. The symmetry is not perfect, of course. God knows who is elect, and His love for them is effectual. We do not know who the elect are, and our love for them is not effectual. Nonetheless, God uses our love for the elect to effectual carry out the salvation of His people in accordance with His election. God loved us when we were unthankful and ungrateful towards Him, and we are to love the unregenerate just as God loved us. The operative parallel is this: We are to love the unregenerate, who may or may not be elect, the same way God loved us in our unregenerate state despite our initial enmity towards him (Rom. 5:10). The parallel is not: We are to love all of our enemies because God loves all His enemies, even the reprobate ones. To argue this is to stretch the text beyond its intended meaning.
Hanko turns his attention to those who argue that Christ's death purchased gifts for the reprobate. Hanko points out that those who take Murray's position and argue that Christ purchased gifts for them must totally alter the otherwise simple, biblical meaning of the atonement in order fit accommodate their common grace theology. Indeed, the only purpose of the atonement was to satisfy the legal displeasure of God by having Christ pay the penalty for our sin on the cross.
As mentioned before, many proponents of common grace see an essential element of common grace as God's restraint of sin by means of the operation of His Holy Spirit. Hanko turns his attention primarily to that aspect of common grace which sees God's restraint of sin as stemming from the benevolence of God, by which the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of the reprobate in such a way as to prevent them from becoming as bad as they can be. Apart from the immediate use of the Holy Spirit on the hearts of the reprobate, this element of common grace is also seen as mediated through institutions like the civil government, whose purpose is to restrain sin. Hanko notes that God does, of course, restrain sin in the hearts of both believers and unbelievers, both the elect and the reprobate. He simply denies that this work is an operation or exression of grace that takes place by the immediate operation of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the reprobate. The distinction is ultimately between that of a purely outward restraint of sin vs. an inward restraint of sin. Nonetheless, advocates of common grace affirm the importance of noting that such inward, spiritual restraint stops short of conversion.
Crucial to Hanko's refutation of this notion is the increasingly popular distinction between "absolute depravity" and "total depravity." Total depravity, though accepted by contemporary Reformed theologians who believe in common grace, is nonetheless seen as compatible with the idea that the inward work of the Holy Spirit restrains man from being as bad as he could be. The position of "absolute depravity", however, rejects this. Hanko refutes those who claim to believe in total depravity yet argue that it is because of the inward work of the Holy Spirit that man is not as bad as he could be, argues, rather, that man is as bad as he could be. Though such do indeed affirm total depravity, they argue that it simply refers to the fact that every part of man's being is affected by the Fall. The degree of the expression of his depravity, however, is inhibited by the internal work of the Holy Spirit.
We certainly agree with Hanko's rejection of the notion that there is such a thing as a general love of God, and furthermore, we agree with his rejection of the notion, oftentimes advocated by those who believe in common grace, that it is by an inward work of the Holy Spirit that mankind is restrained in his or her depravity. However, the modal language of "can" or "could", in the notion that man is as bad as he "could" or "can" be, is misleading. It is misleading because it seems to imply the existence of modal possibility; a concept that is totally incompatible with the notion of the necessity of the outcome of all events because of the God's sovereign decree of absolute predestination.
We believe it may be simpler to just say that whatever the reprobate man does is sin (Rom. 14:23) and leave it at that. In addition to this, there is no internal restraint of His sin by the Holy Spirit. Every one of his acts simply occurs by the bare decree of God, and every one of these acts are sinful. He "could" not have done either better or worse. Indeed, since God decrees all of our thoughts and actions, none of us genuinely could have done other than we have done.
Hanko notes that the ways in which we will sin are restricted simply by God's providential decrees of our temporal circumstances. Those in Africa who lack an internet connection cannot look at pornography, for example. One can think of many other circumstantial examples. When it comes to God's restraint of evil through the temporal means of the civil government, Hanko argument that its purpose is for the preservation of the Church so that it will not be completely destroyed. It is not, therefore, strictly speaking, an act of grace for the non-elect, since it is not even for them at all. One could also suggest that it is part of the outworking of the moral conscience of mankind (Rom. 2:12-16). Even here, though, this is simply a consequence of being made in God's image and has nothing to do with "grace" shown to the reprobate at all.
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