November 20, 2014

Richard Muller on the Grace and Patience of God in Reformed Orthodoxy

There is also good ground for concluding that the modern conception of "common grace" finds its root more in the period of Reformed orthodoxy that [sic] in the era of Calvin and his contemporaries, given that many of the orthodox theologians were willing to define the gratia Dei as a bounty or graciousness extending to all creation.526 While God is gracious to all, his grace is particularly bestowed upon those who are his in Christ: "God's free favor is the cause of our salvation, and of all the means tending thereunto, Rom. 3:24 & 5:15, 16; Eph. 1:5, 6, & 24; Rom. 9:16; Titus 3:15, Heb. 4:16; Rom. 6:23; 1 Cor. 12:4, 9. The gospel sets forth the freeness, fulness, and the powerfulness of God's grace to his Church, therefore it is called the Gospel of the grace of God, Acts. 20:24." This grace is such that it is given freely without desert and it is "firm and unchangeable, so that those which are once beloved, can never be rejected, or utterly cast off, Psalm 77:10."527
526. Cf. Maresius, Collegium theol.,; Wendelin, Christianae theologiae libri duo, I.i.22; Leigh, Treatise, II.xi (pp. 83-84); but note Heidanus, Corpus theol., II (p. 162), who reserves gratia for the elect and refers benignitas to all creation. For the modern debate, see Abraham Kuyper, De gemeene gratie, 3 vols. (Leiden: Donnet, 1902); Herman Kuiper, Calvin on Common Grace (Goes: Oosterbaan & Le Cointre, 1928); William Masselink, General Revelation and Common Grace: A Defense of the Historic Reformed Faith (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953); Richard Arden Couch, "An Evaluation and Reformulation of the Doctrine of Common Grace in the Reformed Tradition" (Th. D. diss., Princeton University, 1959).
527. Leigh, Treatise, II,xi (p. 84).
Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy, ca. 1520 to ca. 1725 (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 3:572.
Related to God's grace are a series of other affections that appear variously in the Reformed orthodox theology--patience, long-suffering, compassion, condescension. Patience and longsuffering are the willingness of God to moderate "his anger toward creatures, and either defers punishment or for a moment withholds his wrath."532
God is Patient, Psalm 103.8; Job 21:7. God's patience is that whereby he bears the reproach of sinners and defers their punishments; or it is the most bountiful will of God, whereby he doth long bear with sin which he hateth, sparing sinners, not minding their destruction, but that he might bring them to repentance. See Acts 13:18.533
Even so God both endures "with much longsuffering" the sins of the reprobate and, at the same time, is patient with the elect prior to their conversion, willing their repentance rather than their immediate destruction because of sin.534 It is, thus, "the most bountiful will of God not suffering his displeasure suddenly to rise against his creatures offending, to be avenged of them, but he doth warn them beforehand, lightly correct and seek to turn them unto him."535 The divine compassion, similarly, is the disposition of God to deliver creatures from their misery. It is manifest when "the object of the divine goodness of love [is] involved in misery, such as man who is a sinner and subject to death."536
532. Wendelin, Christianae theologiae libri duo, I.i.25; Brakel, Redelijke Godsdienst, I.iii.36.
533. Leigh, Body of Divinity, II. xiii (p.299), citing marginally Nahum 1:3 and Isa. 30:18; cf. Cocceius, Summa theol., III.x.67.
534. Brakel, Redelijke Godsdienst, I.iii.36.
535. Leigh, Treatise, II.xiii (p. 100).
536. Venema, Inst. theol., VIII (p. 185).
Muller, PRRD, 3:573–574.

Note: See also J. Mark Beach, "The Idea of a 'General Grace of God' in Some Sixteenth-Century Reformed Theologians Other Than Calvin," in Church and School in Early Modern Protestantism: Studies in Honor of Richard A. Muller on the Maturation of a Theological Tradition, edited by Jordan J. Ballor, David Sytsma and Jason Zuidema (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2013), 97–109; and J. Mark Beach, "Calvin's Treatment of the Offer of the Gospel and Divine Grace," MAJT 22 (2011), 55–76. The first work by Beach covers the views of Bullinger, Musculus, and Vermigli (men "in the era of Calvin") on general grace. Beach says:
...the idea of a general grace of God was a theological concept shared by mid-sixteenth-century Reformed theologians. It is clear that Bullinger, Musculus, and Vermigli (each contemporaries of Calvin), accept to varying degrees some notion of a non-saving divine favor or goodness directed toward the non-elect and unbelievers.
Beach, "The Idea of a 'General Grace of God'...," 108.

There is significant continuity between what Edward Leigh and others say (as quoted by Muller) in the seventeenth-century, and what these earlier Reformed theologians said in the sixteenth-century. The difference is mainly in the extent to which the topic of grace is covered and their willingness to use the terminology, not in their the view of the generalis gratia Dei as such. As Beach says:
The concern of these theologians is to distinguish grace, rightly understood, from synergistic misconceptions and outright Pelagian abuses. Since at that time the locution "general grace" had, for some, a specifically Pelagian aroma, Reformed theologians were guarded in how they used those words. Some, like Vermigli, were hesitant to use the term, whereas others, like Bullinger and Musculus, were careful to define it. Thus we see Bullinger and Vermigli explicitly attacking a notion of "general grace" that identifies grace with nature along Pelagian lines.

Beach continued:
...the idea of a general grace of God is not altogether uncommon in Reformed theology in the middle of the sixteenth century. The gifts that come to fallen humans, the blessings that bedeck their lives, and the benefits that allow the human project--even in its rebellion against God--to move forward are divine gifts, divine blessings, and divine benefits.

Last, the several portraits of grace and common grace as formulated by some of Calvin's contemporaries prove to be, not surprisingly, distinct but also not incongruous with one another. Bullinger, Musculus, and Vermigli hold in common the idea that God acts upon unregenerate persons in a manner that is gracious, being undeserved and kindly, but also non-salvific [not resulting in eternal salvation] in character. This general sort of divine grace, however, remains distinct from grace in its saving operations. All of the above shows that, among the mid-sixteenth-century Reformed theologians, Calvin was not a solitary voice sounding the idea of a general grace of God.
Ibid., 109.

Here's J. Mark Beach's profile at Mid-America Reformed Seminary (click). His doctoral dissertation was on Christ and the Covenant: Francis Turretin's Federal Theology as a Defense of the Doctrine of Grace (Ph.D. diss., Calvin Theological Seminary, 2005).

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