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Hermann Venema on Common and Special Grace

October 7, 2008

While discoursing on Predestination, Hermann Venema notes:

Common grace, of which those who shall perish partake, consists in the offer of Christ made in the Gospel, an offer which is intended by God to be made to all, and in which no one at least is excluded. In addition to this offer there is communicated a certain moral inward grace to which we shall advert more particularly when we come to treat of effectual calling.

But besides this common grace there is particular and efficacious grace which is bestowed only on some, and which is so intimately connected with salvation, that it begets faith in those to whom it is given, i.e., in the elect. This grace, as we shall afterwards show, is irresistible.

But it is asked whether this be consistent with the perfections of God–with his justice, goodness, and wisdom. There is reason especially to doubt that he deals unequally with men, all of whom are in precisely the same situation of unworthiness, wretchedness, and guilt, when he confers on some of them only common grace, while he bestows particular and efficacious grace on others. Such procedure savors of partiality and injustice.

we say that this unequal distribution of grace is in no way inconsistent with the justice of God and does not imply that he has a respect to men’s persons.

All men are equally undeserving of the grace of God, and therefore he cannot be charged with injustice in withholding from some that to which none have a right.

In conferring grace he may act according to his own pleasure, for none can lay claim to what he bestows. In this matter he acts as supreme Lord, who may do what he will with his own, and not as a Judge who has a regard to the merit or demerit of those with whom he has to do. In the latter case there would be some ground for the charge of partiality and injustice; but in the former there is none.

That there can be no possible color for such a charge is proved by the fact that men abuse the common grace bestowed upon them. If they made a right improvement of that, they might entertain the hope of receiving special grace. But they render themselves unworthy of a greater favor by their improvement of the less, and therefore no injustice is done when God withholds it from them.

Besides he cannot be said to be unjust because he renders to every one according to his works, and because, as Scripture says, to whom much is given, from them also much shall be required. We cannot now enter on an explanation of this. But we know generally that God will in his dealings strictly adhere to this rule.

Neither is this unequal distribution of grace inconsistent with his goodness.

This divine perfection is not absolute and without bounds, but is exercised in wisdom and in harmony with his other attributes. What the limits of that perfection are we know not, and therefore we cannot determine whether it require that all in this matter be treated alike and be made partakers of the same grace. But as it is exercised in a manner agreeable to his other perfections, the unequal distribution of special grace cannot be regarded as contrary to his goodness. And the less so on this ground, that he will sometime or other and in many ways manifest and vindicate his goodness. Of the time and way in which he will do this we are ignorant. But we know generally that he is good, and that when he thinks best he will furnish an illustration of this perfection which will carry conviction to every mind.

But this unequal communication of grace in harmony with the wisdom of God, which requires that he have certain reasons why he purposes so to act?

He has his reasons though they are unknown to us. In this matter certainly he does not act arbitrarily, but on good grounds confers special grace on some and denies it to others. Hermann Venema, Institutes of Theology, trans., by Alex W. Brown, (Andover: W.F. Draper Brothers, 1853), 298-300.

Richard Muller:

Hermann Venema (1697-1787); studied at Groningen (1711-1714) and Franecker (1714-1718). In 1723 he succeeded the younger Vitringa as professor of theology at Franecker, a post he held until his retirement in 1774. His dogmatic work was published posthumously in English translation: Institutes of Theology (1850). Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 1:51 (first edition).

[Note: On the point that common grace bestows inward moral virtues, c.f., Turretin, Institutes, 2:588; and Calvin’s Doctrine of the Grace of God.]

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