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Charles Hodge on Common Grace

February 4, 2009

C. Hodge:

1) Finally, Mysticism differs from the doctrine of common graces as held by all Augustinians, and that of sufficient grace as held by Arminians. All Christians believe that as God is everywhere present in the material world, guiding the operation of second causes so that they secure the results which He designs; so his Spirit is everywhere present with the minds of men, exciting to good and restraining from evil, effectually controlling human character and conduct, consistently with the laws of rational beings. According to the Arminian theory this “common grace” is sufficient, if properly cultured and obeyed, to lead men to salvation, whether Pagans, Mohammedans, or Christians. There is little analogy, however, between this doctrine of common, or sufficient grace, and Mysticism as it has revealed itself in the history of the Church. The one assumes an influence of the Spirit on all men analogous to the providential efficiency of God in nature, the other an influence analogous to that granted to prophets and apostles, involving both revelation and inspiration.  Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1:69.

2) There is a sense in which, as all evangelical Christians believe, the Spirit is given to every man. He is present with every human mind exciting to good and restraining from evil. To this the order, and what there is of morality in the world, are due. Without this “common grace,” or general influence of the Spirit, there would be no difference between our world and hell; for hell is a place or state in which men are finally given up of God. In like manner, there is a general providential efficiency of God by which He cooperates with second causes, in the productions of the wonderful phenomena of the external world. Without that cooperation—the continued guidance of mind—the cosmos would become chaos. But the fact that this providential efficiency of God is universal, is no proof that He everywhere works miracles, that He constantly operates without the intervention of second causes. So, also, the fact that the Spirit is present with every human mind, and constantly enforces the truth present to that mind, is no proof that He makes immediate, supernatural revelations to every human being. The fact is, we cannot see without light. We have the sun to give us light. It is vain to say that every man has an inward light sufficient to guide him without the sun. Facts are against the theory. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1:101.

3) The Spirit not only thus reveals divine truth, having guided infallibly holy men of old in recording it, but He everywhere attends it by his power. All truth is enforced on the heart and conscience with more or less power by the Holy Spirit, wherever that truth is known. To this all-pervading influence we are indebted for all there is of morality and order in the world. But besides this general influence, which is usually called common grace, the Spirit specially illuminates the minds of the children of God, that they may knew the things freely given (or revealed to them) by God. The natural man does not receive them, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. All believers are therefore called (pneumatikoi) spiritual, because thus enlightened and guided by the Spirit. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 1:532.

4) The word charis, hsd, means a favourable disposition, or kind feeling; and especially love as exercised towards the inferior, dependent, or unworthy. This is represented as the crowning attribute of the divine nature. Its manifestation is declared to be the grand end of the whole scheme of redemption. The Apostle teaches that predestination, election, and salvation are all intended for the praise of the glory of the grace of God which He exercises towards us in Christ Jesus. (Eph. i. 3-6.) He raises men from spiritual death, “and makes them sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace.” (Eph. ii. 6, 7.) Therefore it is often asserted that salvation is of grace. The gospel is a system of grace. All its blessings are gratuitously bestowed; all is so ordered that in every step of the progress of redemption and in its consummation, the grace, or undeserved love of God, is conspicuously displayed. Nothing is given or promised on the ground of merit. Everything is an undeserved favour. That salvation was provided at all, is a matter of grace and not of debt. That one man is saved, and another not, is to the subject of salvation, a matter of grace. All his Christian virtues, are graces, i.e., gifts. Hence it is that the greatest of all gifts secured by the work of Christ, that without which salvation had been impossible, the Holy Ghost, in the influence which He exerts on the minds of men, has in all ages and in all parts of the Church been designated as divine grace. A work of grace is the work of the Holy Spirit; the means of grace, are the means by which, or in connection with which, the influence of the Spirit is conveyed or exercised. By common grace, therefore, is meant that influence of the Spirit, which
in a greater or less measure, is granted to all who hear the truth
. By sufficient grace is meant such kind and degree of the Spirit’s influence, as is sufficient to lead men to repentance, faith, and a holy life. By efficacious grace is meant such an influence of the Spirit as is certainly effectual in producing regeneration and conversion. By preventing grace is intended that operation of the Spirit on the mind which precedes and excites its efforts to return to God. By the gratia gratum faciens is meant the influence of the Spirit which renews or renders gracious. Cooperating grace is that influence of the Spirit which aids the people of God in all the exercises of the divine life. By habitual grace is meant the Holy Spirit as dwelling in believers; or, that permanent, immanent state of mind due to his abiding presence and power. Such is the established theological and Christian usage of this word. By grace, therefore, in this connection is meant the influence of the Spirit of God on the minds of men. 2:654-655

4) The Bible therefore teaches that the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth, of holiness, and of life in all its forms, is present with every human mind, enforcing truth, restraining from evil, exciting to good, and imparting wisdom or strength, when, where, and in what measure seemeth to Him good. In this sphere also He divides “to every man severally as He will.” (1 Cor. xii. 11.) This is what in theology is called common grace. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:667.


The Effects of common Grace.

The effects produced by common grace, or this influence of the Spirit common to all men, are most important to the individual and to the world. What the external world would be if left to the blind operation of physical causes, without the restraining and guiding influence of God’s providential efficiency, that would the world of mind be, in all its moral and religious manifestations, without the restraints and guidance of the Holy Spirit. There are two ways in which we may learn what the effect would be of the withholding the Spirit from the minds of men. The first is, the consideration of the effects of reprobation, as taught in Scripture and by experience, in the case of individual men. Such men have a seared conscience. They are reckless and indifferent, and entirely under the control of the evil passions of their nature. This state is consistent with external decorum and polish. Men may be as whitened sepulchers. But this is a restraint which the wise regard to their greatest selfish gratification places on the evil principles which control them. The effects of reprobation are depicted in a fearful manner by the Apostle in the first chapter of his Epistle to the Romans. Not only individuals, but peoples and churches may be thus abandoned by the Spirit of God, and then unbroken spiritual death is the inevitable consequence. But, in the second place, the Scriptures reveal the effect of the entire withdrawal of the Holy Spirit from the control of rational creatures, in the account which they give of the state of the lost, both men and angels. Heaven is a place and state in which the Spirit reigns with absolute control. Hell is a place and state in which the Spirit no longer restrains and controls. The presence or absence of the Spirit makes all the difference between heaven and hell. To the general influence of the Spirit (or to common grace), we owe,—

1. All the decorum, order, refinement, and virtue existing among men. Mere fear of future punishment, the natural sense of right, and the restraints of human laws, would prove feeble barriers to evil, were it not for the repressing power of the Spirit, which, like the pressure of the atmosphere, is universal and powerful, although unfelt.

2. To the same divine agent is due specially that general fear of God, and that religious feeling which prevail among men, and which secure for the rites and services of religion in all its forms, the decorous or more serious attention which they receive.

3. The Scriptures refer to this general influence of the Spirit those religious experiences, varied in character and degree, which so often occur where genuine conversion, or regeneration does not attend or follow. To this reference has already been made in a general way as a proof of the doctrine of common grace. The great diversity of these religious experiences is due no doubt partly to the different degrees of religious knowledge which men possess; partly to their diversity of culture and character; and partly to the measure of divine influence of which they are the subjects. In all cases, however, there is in the first place a conviction of the truth. All the great doctrines of religion have a self-evidencing light; an evidence of their truth to which nothing but the blindness and hardness of heart produced by sin, can render the mind insensible. Men may argue themselves into a theoretical disbelief of the being of God, of the obligation of the moral law, and of a future state of retribution. But as these truths address themselves to our moral constitution, which we cannot change, no amount of sophistry can obscure their convincing light, if our amoral nature be aroused. The same is true also of the Bible. It is the Word of God. It contains internal evidence of being his Word. All that is necessary to produce an irresistible conviction of its truth is that the veil which sin and the God of this world have spread over the mind, should be removed. This is done, at least sufficiently to admit light enough to produce conviction, whenever the moral elements of our nature assume their legitimate power. Hence it is a matter of common observation that a man passes suddenly from a state of scepticism to one of firm belief, without any arguments being addressed to his understanding, but simply by a change in his inward moral state. When, as the Bible expresses it, “the eyes of the heart” are thus opened, he can no more doubt the truths perceived, than he can doubt the evidence of his senses. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:670-672.

6) No strictness of inward scrutiny, no microscopic examination or delicacy of analysis, can enable an observer, and rarely the man himself, to distinguish these religious exercises from those of the truly regenerated. The words by which they are described both in the Scriptures and in ordinary Christian discourse, are the same. Unrenewed men in the Bible are said to repent, to believe, to be partakers of the Holy Ghost, and to taste the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come. Human language is not adequate to express all the soul’s experiences. The same word must always represent in one case, or in one man’s experience, what it does not in the experience of another. That there is a specific difference between the exercises due to common grace, and those experienced by the true children of God, is certain. But that difference does not reveal itself to the consciousness, or at least, certainly not to the eye of an observer. “By their fruits ye shall know them.” This is the test given by our Lord. It is only when these experiences issue in a holy life, that their distinctive character is known.

As to the nature of the Spirit’s work, which He exercises, in a greater or less degree, on the minds of all men, the words of our Lord admonish us to speak with caution. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.” (John iii. 8.) This teaches that the mode of the Spirit’s operation whether in regeneration or in conviction, is inscrutable. If we cannot understand how our souls act on our bodies, or how evil spirits act on our minds, the one being a familiar fact of consciousness, and the other a clear fact of revelation, it cannot be considered strange that we should not understand how the Holy Spirit acts on the minds of men. There are certain statements of the Bible, however, which throw some light on this subject. In the first place, the Scriptures speak of God’s reasoning with men; of his teaching them and that inwardly by his Spirit; of his guiding or leading them; and of his convincing, reproving, and persuading them. These modes of representation would seem to indicate “a moral suasion;” an operation in accordance with the ordinary laws of mind, consisting in the presentation of truth and urging of motives. In the second place, so far as appears, this common influence of the Spirit is never exercised except through the truth. In the third place, the moral and religious effects ascribed to it never rise above, so to speak, the natural operations of the mind. The knowledge, the faith, the conviction, the remorse, the sorrow, and the joy, which the Spirit is said to produce by these common operations, are all natural affections or exercises; such as one man may measurably awaken in the minds of other men. In the fourth place, these common influences of the Spirit are all capable of being effectually resisted. In all these respects this common grace is distinguished from the efficacious operation of the Spirit to which the Scriptures ascribe the regeneration of the soul. The great truth, however, that concerns us is that the Spirit of God is present with every human mind, restraining from evil and exciting to good; and that to his presence and influence we are indebted for all the order, decorum, and virtue, as well as the regard for religion and its ordinances, which exist in the world. And consequently that the greatest calamity that can befall an individual, a church, or a people, is that God should take his Holy Spirit from them. And as this is a judgment which, according to the Scriptures, does often come upon individuals, churches, and people, we should above all things dread lest we should grieve the Spirit or quench his influences. This is done by resistance, by indulgence in sin, and especially, by denying his agency and speaking evil of his work. “Whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of Man it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come.” (Matt. xii. 32.). Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:673.

7) Augustinians of course admit that common grace is in one sense sufficient. It is sufficient to render men inexcusable for their impenitence and unbelief. This Paul says even of the light of nature. The heathen are without excuse for their idolatry, because the eternal power and Godhead of the divine Being are revealed to them in his works. Knowing God, they glorified Him not as God. (Rom. i. 20, 21.) So common grace is sufficient to convince men, (1.) Of sin and of their need of redemption. (2.) Of the truth of the gospel. (3.) Of their duty to accept its offers and to live in obedience to its commands; and (4.) That their impenitence and unbelief are due to themselves, to their own evil hearts; that they voluntarily prefer the world to the service of Christ. These effects the grace common to all who hear the gospel tends to produce. These effects it does in fact produce in a multitude of cases, and would produce in all were it not resisted and quenched. But it is not sufficient to raise the spiritually dead; to change the heart, and to produce regeneration; and it is not made to produce these effects by the cooperation of the human will. This is a point which need not be discussed separately. The Remonstrant and Romish doctrine is true, if the other parts of their doctrinal system are true; and it is false if that system be erroneous. If the Augustinian doctrine concerning the natural state of man since the fall, and the sovereignty of God in election, be Scriptural, then it is certain that sufficient grace does not become efficacious from the cooperation of the human will. Those who hold the last mentioned doctrine reject both the others; and those who hold the two former of necessity reject the last. It is not, however, only in virtue of its logical relation to other established doctrines that the doctrine of sufficient grace is rejected. It may be proved to be contrary to what the Scriptures teach on regeneration and the mode in which it is effected. These arguments, however, may be more properly presented when we come to the answer
to the question, Why the grace of God is efficacious in the work of conversion? Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:676-677.

8) It will of course be admitted that, if efficacious grace is the exercise of almighty power it is irresistible. That common grace, or that influence of the Spirit which is granted more or less to all men is often effectually resisted, is of course admitted. That the true believer often grieves and quenches the Holy Spirit, is also no doubt true. And in short that all those influences which are in their nature moral, exerted through the truth, are capable of being opposed, is also beyond dispute. But if the special work of regeneration, in the narrow sense of that word, be the effect of almighty power, then it cannot be resisted, any more than the act of creation. The effect follows immediately on the will of God, as when He said let there be light, and light was. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 2:287-288.

9) Temporary Faith. Again, nothing is more common than for the Gospel to produce a temporary impression, more or less deep and lasting. Those thus impressed believe. But, having no root in themselves, sooner or later they fall away. It is also a common experience that men utterly indifferent or even skeptical, in times of danger, or on the near approach of death, are deeply convinced of the certainty of those religious truths previously known, but hitherto disregarded or rejected. This temporary faith is due to common grace; that is, to those influences of the Spirit common in a measure greater or less to all men, which operate on the soul without renewing it, and which reveal the truth to the conscience and cause it to produce conviction. Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 3:68.

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