With the destruction of this present form of the world, will the fruit of common grace be destroyed forever, or will that rich and multiform development for which common grace has equipped and will yet equip our human race also bear fruit for the kingdom of glory as that will one day exist as the new earth, under the new heaven, overflowing with righteousness?
As everyone immediately realizes, this question is not without importance. If nothing of all that developed in this temporal life passes over into eternity, then this temporal existence leaves us cold and indifferent. Everyone without an appetite for eternal life will then advance in terms of that existence, but everyone seeking a better fatherland will be unable to feel any affinity for it. After all, one day everything will be gone, unlike the caterpillar that is wrapped like a chrysalis in order later to appear in more exquisite form as a butterfly, but instead like a stage on which a series of performances were exhibited but after which nothing remains but an empty floor and unsightly walls.
By contrast, if that rich and variegated development of our human life contains something that passes over into eternity, then the temporal obtains abiding significance, and everyone seeking a better fatherland will feel entitled and compelled to set a portion of his heart upon it.
All These Things Will Perish
In this connection immediately we place in the foreground our denial, in the nature of the case, of any gradual process whereby what came into our possession by science, technology, inventions, and so on, would transfer automatically and in their current form into the kingdom of glory. Holy Scripture firmly teaches us that the present form of this earth will perish, that the elements will be found to have burned, and that the existing arrangement of the cosmos will be broken “with a great roar” [see 2 Pet 3:10]. “The form of this world passes away along with its desires” [see 1 John 2:17].
So we readily admit that a gradual transition, a genuine development, whereby the new order of things would emerge out of what exists now, is unthinkable. One day there will be an unspeakable catastrophe that will consume the entire cosmos, and along with it there will be an immense change in the arrangement of sun, moon, and stars. Not a single human writing, not a single human work of art, will transfer from the existing situation into the new one.
First everything that exists will perish, and only then the new order will emerge out of that apparent chaos. There can be no difference of opinion about this among those who bow before the authority of Holy Scripture. “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” [2 Pet 3:10]. All these things will perish.
A Higher Order, A Richer Glory
No, if anything transfers from the one to the other situation, this can be nothing else than the hidden life germ, the foundational significance of things; and on the new earth something akin will need to emerge from that germ, but something of a higher order and with richer glory.
We know what happens with dahlias, tulips, fern bulbs, and the like. First they had spread out, sprouted stems, and produced blossoms; but then came the cold of winter, and the farmer cut them off one by one at the root, removed the bulbs from the ground, and stored them. Once the longer days of springtime arrived, the same farmer brings those bulbs out again and entrusts them once more to the ground, bulb after bulb, and soon a plant appears that was even more beautiful than the one last year. Here, then, we see the return of the same life, a richer life than the previous one; for as the fruit of earlier life, the fern plant grows up more powerful and thick. We see the same thing with young fruit trees. Every winter the tree is stripped of its leaves and flowers, so that nothing but bare wood remains; but every spring the wood grows luxuriantly once again, and the onset of its fruit is more plentiful than last year.
In this way it is very conceivable that with the perishing of this world, the entire foliage of common grace, if we may put it this way, will be stripped and removed, and nevertheless with the flourishing again of the new earth, the germ of this common grace will bud luxuriantly, the better to flourish precisely as the fruit of earlier development.
Or if you would like another metaphor, recall your childhood games and their relationship to your life as an adult. Of course those games were play, and nothing more. At one point all that playful living goes away and all the toys are put in the corner, until no eye sees them anymore. But still anyone familiar with this realizes that one’s character comes out in that playing, and how that childhood playing helps shape and nurture us, so that later when the adult man or adult woman labor in their larger life calling, the fruit of their childhood games, if these were guided properly, also comes to expression.
So too, one could say that here on earth we did little else than play, but nevertheless, when our toys are one day destroyed, the fruit of this playing whereby we developed will be seen in eternity.
This commentary is adapted from a chapter in Abraham Kuyper, Common Grace: God’s Gifts for a Fallen World, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2016), part of the twelve volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series sponsored by the Acton Institute.