Venema :

1) 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.

2) Special Predestination, or the special part of the decree of predestination, to which we shall now direct our attention, we regard as inseparably connected with the general decree. By this Special decree we understand the free, immutable, and eternal determination of the will of God to give to some of those to whom the offer of mercy was to be made that peculiar and efficacious grace which is connected with faith and salvation, and in the exercise of justice to withhold it from others on account of their abuse of his common grace, and because of this abuse, to doom them as unbelievers to destruction. Herman Venema, Institutes of Theology, trans., by Alex W. Brown, (Andover: W.F. Draper Brothers, 1853), 314.

3) If it be asked why God ordained them to destruction as reprobation i i usually understood, we answer because he foresaw that they would not believe. If it be asked on what foundation this foreknowledge rests, we say on God’s denying them particular grace. If moreover it be asked why he denied them this grace, we reply because it was his good pleasure so to do. If finally the question be put whether his pleasure was arbitrary, we say that was not but that he acted agreeably to his wisdom and justice, that he had reasons of his own although they be unknown by us for withholding from them his efficacious grace. He never acts without the wisest reasons; for his wisdom is infinite, and as to the justice of his good pleasure we may say that it consisted i n his denying special grace to those who abused his common grace and i n his condemning them for that abuse. Herman Venema, Institutes of Theology, trans., by Alex W. Brown, (Andover: W.F. Draper Brothers, 1853), 319.

4) As may be seen from what we have already said, the reason which we assign is widely different from that now mentioned. We hold that in addition to common there is also particular and efficacious grace, and we say that God chose Some men to eternal life, not because they would believe by the grace given to them in common with others, but because in the exercise of his good pleasure he would impart to them special grace,–that he ordained the rest to destruction, because, that grace being denied them, they would not believe but that this denial originated in his own wise and righteous pleasure, and because those who abused the common grace which they enjoyed rendered themselves unworthy of receiving special grace. The reason of the special decree is thus in our view to be sought in the good pleasure of God, without any reference to the character of the individuals. Not, however, as i f he acted arbitrarily in the matter, for he never does so in any case. He was guided in his determination by a regard to his wisdom and justice.

Our arguments in favour of this view of the subject are drawn partly from the propositions we have already laid down, and partly from Scripture.

The first proposition relates to the foreknowledge of God, which presupposes the future existence of all those things which it comprehends. If an event be uncertain, so also must the foreknowledge of that event. If the right or wrong use of common grace be dependent solely upon man’s will, it cannot be certainly foreknown by God.

The second proposition refers to particular and irresistible grace, which we hold is given, to all who believe, as we shall afterwards show. If this be admitted the opinion of the Remonstrants evidently must fall to the ground. For i f God has decreed grace of this kind, and if faith depends upon this grace, then unquestionably election cannot be said to rest upon God’s foresight of faith and upon man’s free-will, but upon the proper improvement of common grace.

Our third proposition is that faith is the immediate end of election. If so it cannot be the foundation on which election rests, as the Remonstrants maintain. So far was God from choosing man on account of foreseen faith, as one who would believe in the exercise of his own free will, and by the common grace bestowed upon him, that he rather appointed him in election particular grace having faith as its immediate end. There is thus obviously a wide difference between our opinion and that of the Remonstrants, because we affirm that faith is the immediate and direct end of election, which faith according to them is the foundation and moving cause of election. We conclude, therefore, that the reason which led God to choose some and to reject others was not the faith of the former and unbelief of the latter foreseen by him, but his own good pleasure in the exercise of which he purposed to dispense unequally his efficacious grace, by giving it to some and denying it to others, yet with a due regard to the dictates of his justice and infinite wisdom.  Herman Venema, Institutes of Theology, trans., by Alex W. Brown, (Andover: W.F. Draper Brothers, 1853), 321.

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.]

This entry was posted on Tuesday, October 7th, 2008 at 7:29 am and is filed under God is Gracious: Common and Special Grace. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.

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Ive updated Venema on Common Grace, entries 2-4.

November 12th, 2010 at 1:23 pm