October 2010 • Volume XIII, Issue 6
Psalm 8 on Uncommon Grace
The starting point for David’s devotions in Psalm 8
is the sky, the sky at night (whereas Psalm 19:1-6 treats the sky by
day), for it is only when the sun is down that we can see "the moon
and the stars" (8:3). The almighty wisdom manifest in "the work of
[God’s] fingers" in outer space (3) leads the psalmist to marvel at
God’s careful attention to puny man (4) whom He crowns with glory (5),
giving him dominion (6) over the living creatures of the land, air and
sea (7-8). "O Lord our Lord," holy David exclaims, "how excellent is
thy name in all the earth!" (1, 9). Jehovah’s "glory [is] above the
heavens" (1), far higher and greater than even the marvellous and
enormous expanse of the second heaven, outer space.
But what has all this to do with the false theory
of common grace? Not much; rather, not much directly. But in
raising the issue of the right interpretation and understanding of the
moon and the stars (3), the doctrine of man (4-5) and his lordship
over the earth (6-8), and hence the glory of God’s great name (1, 9),
as well as in characterizing those who grasp this truth (2), the issue
of common grace comes up. For common grace is a prominent factor in
the unbelieving reinterpretation of the creation.
Let me explain. Over the last two centuries, the
Bible’s teaching of a young earth and the creation of man on the sixth
day as head, under God, of the planet has been attacked and undermined
through unbelieving science: uniformitarian geology, evolutionism and
the big bang. As these views infiltrate seminaries, pulpits and pews
in apostate and apostatising churches, the question inevitably arises,
How can we reconcile our evolutionary beliefs with the Bible
(especially Genesis 1-3)?
The false philosophy of common grace has boldly
ridden to the rescue (cf., e.g., the report of the Committee on
Creation and Science accepted at the Christian Reformed Church of N.
America Synod of 1991)! The (flawed) reasoning is easy to grasp. Since
God loves everybody and since this is God’s love and,
therefore, powerful and transformative, God’s love must result in
changing everyone somewhat for the better and so making them something
less than—and maybe a lot less than!—totally depraved. All scientists
are, therefore, (at least partially) good and so they are really
seeking after the truth, the truth about origins too: the origins of
man, life, the earth and the universe.
These scientists (at least, most of them) tell us
that man evolved from the primeval slime pond and our planet, solar
system and universe are the result of an explosion many billions of
years ago. Common grace "baptizes" this folly into (various forms of)
theistic evolutionism, the notion of a "god of the gaps" who used
evolution to make man and the world. Genesis 1-3 and the succeeding
chapters, as well as many other parts of the Bible, such as the fourth
commandment (Ex. 20:8-11), Christ’s teaching on marriage and divorce
(Matt. 19:4-6), the prohibition of women in church office (I Tim.
2:11-15), etc., must be "reinterpreted" as myths or mere morality
stories. The biblical and Reformed doctrine of the inspiration,
authority, inerrancy, perspicuity and sufficiency of Scripture is
denied (II Tim. 3:16-17; Belgic Confession 2-7; Westminster
1) and further departures are inevitable.
Ah, the marvel of common grace! It not only removes
the offence of the gospel (the absolute sovereignty of God) and
facilitates false ecumenism with Arminians (by teaching that God loves
everybody and wants to save everybody); it also can be used to justify
Unlike liberal theologians with the glaucoma of
common grace and the warped spectacles of evolutionism, David has
20/20 vision through spiritual, believing eyes and the glasses of
Scripture. He knew that the holy God of justice does not love the
ungodly reprobate: "thou hatest all workers of iniquity" (Ps. 5:5);
"the wicked ... his soul hateth" (11:5). The psalmist meditated upon
and cleaved to Scripture and not the vain counsels of the ungodly
(1:1-2; 2:1-3), for God’s "word is true from the beginning" (119:160).
In this light (including Genesis 1), David surveyed
the glorious night sky with its heavenly bodies (Ps. 8:3). The immense
expanse of God’s work on the fourth day (Gen. 1:14-19) dwarfed tiny
man made on the sixth day (26-31), compelling David to exclaim, "What
is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou
visitest him?" (Ps. 8:4). Next he, believing the truth of the first
chapter of the Bible (Gen. 1:26-31), recalled God’s good gift to man,
his vicegerent, of dominion over the earth (Ps. 8:5-8). Thus we
understand and appreciate David’s entirely appropriate response in the
opening and concluding lines of Psalm 8: "O Lord our Lord, how
excellent is thy name in all the earth!" (1, 9).
But who makes this glorious confession? Not many of
the high and mighty of this world (I Cor. 1:26). Jehovah has "ordained
strength" or "perfected praise" "out of the mouth of babes and
sucklings" (Ps. 8:2; Matt. 21:16)! Covenant children—not unbelieving
astronomers or theologians—and humble adults with a child-like faith
understand the heavens in the light of the Word and worship their
Creator by sovereign, uncommon grace alone! This is God’s means to
"still [or silence] the enemy and the avenger" (Ps. 8:2) who pervert
and deny the truth of Jehovah’s creation, especially here of the
fourth (3), fifth (8) and sixth (4-7) days (Gen. 1:14-31)!
This truth of creation is inseparably joined to the
truth of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, for He is the ideal man and the
second Adam who is the head of the creation, as Hebrews 2:6-10, citing
Psalm 8:4-6, teaches. And the "babes and sucklings" who glorify their
Creator (2) also worship Christ in His temple (Matt. 21:15-16)!
Covenant Lines Among the Wicked
Kings of Judah
After referring to four notoriously wicked kings in
the line of David, a reader asks,
they were all regenerated, how can such a powerful seed (as that of
regeneration) lie dormant and not bear fruit in a given generation?
2) By what
curious and mysterious method does the covenant transmit from
generation to generation? I’m sure it is not helpful to think
horticulturally, biologically or by genetics. Is there some useful way
of thinking or understanding this transmission?
3) Does the
covenant transcend sinful procreation (Gen. 38; Matt. 1:3)?
4) Can the
covenant promises run out a generation or more in NT families?
These are interesting and thoughtful questions of
no little importance.
You will understand that the underlying assumption
of all the questions is the truth that God establishes His covenant
with His elect people in the line of generations (Gen. 17:7; Acts
2:39). This is true not only in the old dispensation, but also in the
new. Baptists typically deny this truth. Baptists generally disagree
that God establishes His covenant with His elect people in both old
and new dispensations. In the old dispensation, God did not establish
His covenant with His elect people but with the entire nation of
Israel, that is, with every one that was a Jew, and the covenant was
national and pertained to earthly promises; in the new dispensation,
so Baptists continue, God makes His covenant only with believers.
Hence, while in the old dispensation circumcision was a sign of the
covenant and had to be performed upon every Jewish male, in the new
dispensation baptism did not take the place of circumcision, but is a
new sign for a new covenant established only with believers; hence
Baptists hold to believers’ only baptism.
It is clear that this view is basically
dispensationalism and an impossible division between the church of the
old dispensation and the church of the new dispensation—whether
Baptists agree or not. I have developed this argument more extensively
in my book, We and Our
Children: The Reformed Doctrine of Infant Baptism, available
from the CPRC Bookstore for £9.90 (inc. P&P within the UK) and from
the Reformed Free Publishing Association
for those in N. America.
First, the questioner is certainly correct that the
seed of regeneration does not and cannot lie dormant in the hearts of
those regenerated. The seed of regeneration is indeed too powerful to
lie dormant. It is the implanting of the life of Christ. Hence, we
must conclude that those wicked kings of Judah were not regenerated at
Dr. Abraham Kuyper taught the false view that
baptism is to be administered on the grounds of presupposed
regeneration, arguing that it was possible that the seed of
regeneration lay dormant for a long time. He used the figure of very
old grain seeds, found in the pyramids of Egypt, which sprouted when
they were planted and watered.
Second, the questioner is also correct that God’s
saving His people in the line of generations cannot be understood in
terms of natural causes, whether horticultural, biological or genetic.
The fulfilment of the covenant promise in the line of generations is a
wonder performed by sovereign grace according to God’s unconditional
Third, it seems true indeed that generations were
skipped in the OT, as is especially evident in the line of the kings
who ruled in Judah. They were all of the seed of David; they all stood
in the line of Christ; yet some were undoubtedly reprobate.
This brings us to the heart of the question. Were
generations skipped in the fulfilment of the promises of God’s
covenant established in the line of generations? And if so, as seems
apparent, does this happen in the new dispensation as well?
A couple of things have to be remembered. For one
thing, sometimes, though rarely, a brother of the old king (not his
son) succeeded him on the throne. I do not know whether it ever took
place that a regenerated brother took the place of an unregenerated
brother. There does not seem to be any instance of this but it is a
It is possible also that while a good king such as
Hezekiah followed a monster of wickedness, Ahaz, God used the piety of
a mother to preserve the line of the covenant. In other words, the
covenant was continued from one generation to the next through a godly
mother. (I Corinthians 7:14 proves that this happens in the new
dispensation. History also tells us of instances of this, as in the
case of Augustine, born of a wicked father and a godly mother.) In
such instances, salvation did not skip a generation.
Nevertheless, there is something else about this
question which must be said in this connection: the line of Judah’s
kings was the line of Christ! That line had to be preserved, for
through it God had promised to send the Messiah. It may very well be,
therefore, that, in spite of wicked men in David’s line, God did skip
generations to preserve the line of Christ. That does not seem to me
to be impossible.
Also it seems to be true from the viewpoint that
Israel as a whole was the people of God and the elect were always
found in the nation. It may be that in the church of the old
dispensation it was possible for generations to be skipped in the
establishment of His covenant because the general principle was
maintained that God saves in the line of generations, especially when
salvation is limited to one nation.
The same may happen in the new dispensation as
well. I have been surprised in my own work to see that God still
brings out of the apostate and false Roman Catholic Church some elect
people. To say that these elect people came from covenant lines, that
is, from lines in which always one or the other parent was a genuine
believer, is simply not true. These people, rescued from idolatrous
Romanism, may be like brands plucked out of the burning but we all
know it does happen.
If God is pleased in His infinite mercy to save a
few here or there born in lines where the covenant has long
disappeared, the general rule remains that, in the church of Christ
and the historical line of the covenant, He saves believers and their
seed. And, according to the purpose of God, lines that are cut off
from the covenant because of unbelief are not restored again to that
covenant. Not only is election in the line of generations but
reprobation also is in the line of generations (Ex. 20:5). Branches
cut off from the olive tree are not re-ingrafted, although here and
there a twig might be saved from the pile that is to be burned.
When God works in these unusual ways, it is to show
us that all who are saved, in the lines of generations or outside
these lines, are saved by sovereign grace according to God’s eternal
decision. He alone is sovereign and must be praised! Prof. Hanko
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