On Grace and Nature…
Darryl Hart writes:
“If you really think that grace perfects nature, then we may have finally arrived at the chief difference (at least for me). I don’t think Calvinism is compatible with that construction of grace and nature (H. Richard Niebuhr didn’t think so), nor am I sure about Augustinianism.”
I know that the grace perfects nature idea is not popular in our circles. Still it certainly has a prominent place within the Reformed tradition. Long before I had read anything from Aquinas, I read Samuel Rutherford say:
“neither civility nor grace destroyeth but perfecteth nature…” (Lex Rex, pg 68,)
Coffey notes,”Although written by a Calvinist, it [Lex, Rex] was in some ways a deeply Thomistic book… In several places he appealed to Aquinas’s classic maxim, ‘grace does not destroy nature but perfects it.’ This maxim is perhaps the key to Lex, Rex, because Rutherford insisted on the compatibility of natural reasons conclusions and God’s revelation in Scripture.”
Politics, Religion, and the British Revolutions, John Coffey, pg. 152-153
Richard Muller writes, “Given, moreover, that “nature and grace are not opposed,” there can be a Christian natural theology, one which, in Alsted’s view, is grounded in ‘reason, universal experience, and Holy Scripture.”
Post-Reformation Dogmatics,Vol. 1, pg. 280
Herman Bavinck suggests the problems with the radical division between nature and grace found in Roman Catholic theology and notes,
“And that, too, was what the Reformation wanted: Christianity that was hostile, not to nature but only to sin. Such a Christianity was not externally imposed in the name of an infallible church but was inwardly assumed in one’s conscience by a free personality. Thus, through this personality, it had a reforming and sanctifying effect upon natural life as a whole. We are far from having reached the ideal and will presumably never reach it in this dispensation. Still, it is full of fascination and beauty and worthy of being pursued with all our strength. Coming again into its own in the Reformation was the old adage: nature commends grace; grace emends nature.” Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, pg. 362.
Bavinck’s English editor John Bolt writes, “Put more simply, the fundamental theme that shapes Bavinck’s entire theology is the trinitarian idea that grace restores nature.” pg. 18.
A. Hoekema, in his standard work The Bible and the Future, puts the matter in perspective:
“It is commonly thought by many Christians that the relationship between the present world and the new earth which is to come is one of absolute discontinuity. The new earth, so many think, will fall like a bomb into our midst. There will be no continuity whatever between this world and the next; all will be totally different.
This understanding, however, does not do justice to the teaching of Scripture. There is continuity as well as discontinuity between this world and the next. The principles involved is well expressed in words which were often used by the medieval theologians, “grace does not destroy but restores nature.” In His redemptive activity God does not destroy the works of His hands, but cleanses them from sin and perfects them, so they may finally reach the goal for which He created them. (pg. 73).