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Common Grace?

“Yes, every blessing flows from election in Christ (Ephesians 1:3-4) while good things come even to the reprobate in God’s providence, including a natural knowledge of spiritual things.

A good thing is something pleasant/helpful/enjoyable/beneficial, whereas a “blessing” from God is what comes from Him WITH HIS LOVE AND FAVOUR in Jesus Christ. Thus, e.g., Pharaoh received a lot of good things, e.g., the throne of Egypt, vast wealth and power, etc., but God raised him up in His wrath in order to destroy him and show His power over him (Ex. 9:16; Rom. 9:17).”
~Angus Stewart

Gen 17:19
19Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac.d I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. 20And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. 21But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” 22When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.

God blesses a reprobate

The Noahic covenant is a blessing to everyone.

“”It must also be borne in mind that elsewhere Hoeksema’s definition of the word ‘goodness’ is very different from the meaning commonly given to it by Reformed writers and, more particularly, its usage in the Westminster Standards. For example, in Answer 4 of the Shorter Catechism, we read, ‘God is a Spirit, infinite eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth’. The Shorter Catechism has been criticised by some at this point for not using the terms ‘grace, mercy, love’, but it must be recognised that in the minds of the Westminster Assembly the term goodness included all of these. This explains why the term ‘goodness’ is expanded in the Larger Catechism as equivalent to ‘most merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness’ (Ans. 9) and in the Westminster Confession as ‘most loving, gracious, merciful, longsuffering, abundant in goodness…forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him…’ (ch. II,i).

David Silversides writes:

“Even the worst taste of God’s mercy; such as fight against God’s mercy taste of it; the wicked have some crumbs from mercy’s table. “The Lord is good to all.” Sweet dewdrops are on the thistle as well as on the rose. The diocese where mercy visits is very large. Pharaoh’s head was crowned though his heart was hardened.”
–Thomas Watson

“After these common mercies, I say, whereof the reprobate are often partakers, he openeth the treasure of his rich mercies, which are kept in Christ Jesus for his Elect … Such as willingly delight not in blindness may clearly see that the Holy Ghost maketh a plain difference betwixt the graces and mercies which are common to all, and that sovereign mercy which is immutably reserved to the chosen children…”

The Works of John Knox, Ed David Laing, (vol. 5, Wodrow Society, Edinburgh, 1856), On Predestination, p. 87.

“There is a common and inferior sort of grace, which is made known to all the world. The whole earth is full of his goodness, but this grace that bringeth salvation, that is peculiar to the elect, to a few poor base creatures in themselves, a little handful whom God hath chosen out of the world; John 14:22, ‘How is it that thou wouldst manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?'”

Thomas Manton, SEVERAL SERMONS UPON TITUS 2: 11-14 (Works, vol. 16, Sermon 1).

“All preparations even wrought in us, by the common and general restraining grace of God, can have no effectual influence to produce our conversion.”

 

Samuel Rutherford,

“1. He loves all that he has made; so far as to give them a being, to conserve them in being so long as he pleaseth: he had a desire to have Sun, Moon, Stars, Earth, Heaven, Sea, Cloud, Air; he created them out of the womb of love, and out of goodness, and keeps them in being…”

 

Samuel Rutherford, Christ Dying and Drawing, op. cit. p. 476f. (some copies, p. 440f., due to faulty numbering)

“…of men he loves some more especially and peculiarly than others; namely, those whom he loves with an electing, calling, redeeming, justifying, glorifying love. God loves all creatures, and among them the rational, and among them the members of his Son, and much more the Son himself.”

 

William Jenkyn, An Exposition Upon the Epistle of Jude (James & Klock, 1976), p. 36.

Neh 9:17
17 They refused to obey fand were not mindful of the wonders that you performed among them, but they stiffened their neck and appointed a leader to return to their slavery in Egypt. But you are a God ready to forgive, ggracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.

Nehemiah 9:31 Nevertheless in Your great mercy You did not utterly consume them nor forsake them; For You are God, gracious and merciful.

NKJ Jeremiah 16:13 ‘Therefore I will cast you out of this land into a land that you do not know, neither you nor your fathers; and there you shall serve other gods day and night, where I will not show you favor.’

The term “favor” is the same term used in the Hebrew for God’s gracious disposition [see the New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis (Zondervan, 1997), 2:203-206.]. So, whereas the Israelites formerly had God’s “favor” in their land, they will be cast out for their disobedience and no longer be shown favor (i.e. grace).

NKJ Isaiah 26:10 Let grace be shown to the wicked, Yet he will not learn righteousness; In the land of uprightness he will deal unjustly, And will not behold the majesty of the LORD.

God showed favor/lovingkindness/mercy and love to all of Israel, not just to the elect within Israel.

NKJ Psalm 85:1 To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of the sons of Korah. Lord, You have been favorable to Your land; You have brought back the captivity of Jacob.

NKJ Isaiah 60:10 ” The sons of foreigners shall build up your walls, And their kings shall minister to you; For in My wrath I struck you, But in My favor I have had mercy on you.

NKJ Jeremiah 16:5 For thus says the LORD: “Do not enter the house of mourning, nor go to lament or bemoan them; for I have taken away My peace from this people,” says the LORD, “lovingkindness and mercies.

The theological term “common grace” is biblcally warranted (just as the term “Trinity,” “Millennium,” “aseity,” “hypostatic union” or “perichoresis” is), given the biblical data. Usually when people have a problem with the terminology, it’s really the case that they have a problem with the CONCEPT or IDEA behind it, i.e. they don’t think that God actually loves the non-elect, or shows them any benevolent favor such that he seeks their well-being. God does do those things according to scripture.

“the Reprobate in the Visible Church, be so under the Covenant of Grace” & “It is a state of common grace to be within the visible church” – Rutherford

 

Bavinck said “Our children do not enter the covenant, because we dedicate them to the Lord. Much less, because by any virtue or merit they made themselves worthy. They are in the covenant by virtue of God’s promise. They are in the covenant from the time of their birth, not by nature, but by grace, while God has committed Himself to be the God of believers and their seed. The same law that rules in the spiritual realm, rules in the natural realm. All of us received a natural life that through our parents we received from God, the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth. It is not by our merits that we possess life. We did not give it to ourselves, did not merit it, we even forfeited it by our guilt. It is God’s gift in a complete sense, not of His particular grace, but of His common grace.”

 

Rutherford said “It is a state of common grace to be within the visible church” – and our children are in the visible church.

” The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. ” 2 Peter 3:9

 

“But the Lord is not slack, or, delays not. He checks extreme and unreasonable haste by another reason, that is, that the Lord defers his coming that he might invite all mankind to repentance. For our minds are always prurient, and a doubt often creeps in, why he does not come sooner. But when we hear that the Lord, in delaying, shews a concern for our salvation, and that he defers the time because he has a care for us, there is no reason why we should any longer complain of tardiness. He is tardy who allows an occasion to pass by through slothfulness: there is nothing like this in God, who in the best manner regulates time to promote our salvation. And as to the duration of the whole world, we must think exactly the same as of the life of every individual; for God by prolonging time to each, sustains him that he may repent. In the like manner he does not hasten the end of the world, in order to give to all time to repent.

 

This is a very necessary admonition, so that we may learn to employ timea right, as we shall otherwise suffer a just punishment for our idleness. “Not willing that any should perish”. So wonderful is his love towards mankind, that he would have them all to be saved, and is of his own self prepared to bestow salvation on the lost. But the order is to be noticed, that God is ready to receive all to repentance, so that none may perish; for in these words the way and manner of obtaining salvation is pointed out. Every one of us, therefore, who is desirous of salvation, must learn to enter in by this way.

 

But it may be asked, If God wishes none to perish, why is it that so many do perish? To this my answer is, that no mention is here made of the hidden purpose of God, according to which the reprobate are doomed to their own ruin, but only of his will as made known to us in the gospel. For God there stretches forth his hand without a difference to all, but lays hold only of those, to lead them to himself, whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world. But as the verb chōreō is often taken passively by the Greeks, no less suitable to this passage is the verb which I have put in the margin, that God would have all, who had been before wandering and scattered, to be gathered or come together to repentance.”

~John Calvin on the free offer
“We both know that grace is particular, and that saving grace is not common. We also agree that none but those who were predestinated in eternity passed will be saved. The Lord will lose none of His elect, and only the elect will come to saving faith by the effectual work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration, faith and repentance. No believer in the Free Offer (FO), and Common Grace (CG) from the Confessional/Puritan line would deny this incontrovertible fact.

However, most deniers of the Free Offer & Common Grace argue backward from the resultant consequence instead of the ontological progression of the scriptures. This is where Supralapsarianism becomes dangerous. (*Note: All hypers are supra’s, but not all supra’s are hypers). The terms we are fighting over were not created by Kuyper or his neo-calvinistic innovations. It is myopic to view the phraseology of the Reformed faith through the sieve of 1924. This is not fair nor scholarly. You would be interested to know that many who believe in the Free Offer, and Common Grace, are not Kuyper fans at all (I being one of them). He is a neo-calvinist, and his divergence from the historic understanding of salvation has been unfortunate indeed (especially in the CRC where the fruit has been born to its fullest extent).

I have in my library hundreds of Puritan works ranging from Perkins to Owen which speak of the Free Offer, and Common Grace in the very same way Calvin does. When I speak of the Free Offer & Common Grace, I’m not thinking of Kuyper at all, I’m thinking of the Confessions and the Puritans! But many deniers of the FO offer and CG have little use for the language of the Puritans because of their organic development of a text. So let’s use the words of Calvin shall we? We both claim to be Calvinists, so we should be able to agree upon his development.

Hoeksema and his followers are very adept at pointing out where Calvin is a strong predestinarian. Fine, good, and amen. They are however not consistent in developing all of Calvin’s thoughts as they relate to the manner in which God deals with fallen man anthropomorphically. This is where the innovations of Hoeksema in the USA remains an anomaly (incidentally there is not Dutch counterpart to the Protestant Reformed dogma in Holland as a federation, nor has there ever been). When Hoeksemaites come across Calvin sounding the gospel by the way of a free offer, they quickly conclude that he used “unfortunate language”, but never deal with the substance of his thought (dare to dream he was as consistent on the FO as he was on predestination!). This is why they never deal with the portions Calvin that I have posted. Perhaps you can prove otherwise. I’d be open to that. My research however has produced an erie silence on the part of Hoeksemites in this regard.”

Pastor Jerrold Lewis
Pompton Plains NJ, Free Reformed Church

“Jehovah is good to all, etc. The truth here stated is of wider application than the former, for the declaration of David is to the effect, that not only does God, with fatherly indulgence and clemency, forgive sin, but is good to all without discrimination, as he makes his sun to rise upon the good and upon the wicked. Forgiveness of sin is a treasure from which the wicked are excluded, but their sin and depravity does not prevent God from showering down his goodness upon them, which they appropriate without being at all sensible of it. Meanwhile believers, and they only, know what it is to enjoy a reconciled God, as elsewhere it is said — “Come ye to him, and be ye enlightened, and your faces shall not be ashamed; taste and see that the Lord is good.”(Psalm 34:5, 8.) When it is added that the mercy of God extends to all his works, this ought not to be considered as contrary to reason, or obscure. Our sins having involved the whole world in the curse of God, there is everywhere an opportunity for the exercise of God’s mercy, even in helping the brute creation (Calvin’s Commentary on the Book of Psalms, p. 810).”

~John Calvin

Hebrews 11:20 By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.

In regards to Murray on the Free Offer of the Gospel:
“The introduction of the report seeks to outline what is essentially being contended for in the statement that God desires the salvation of all men. The word, desire, we are informed, does not have reference to the decretive will of God, but to the revealed will of God in “the free offer of the gospel to all without distinction.”5

This distinction between a decretive and a revealed (or preceptive) will of God is both sound and necessary, and one to which all orthodox Calvinistic divines have had recourse. To quote Francis Turretin: “The first and principal distinction is that of the decretive and preceptive will of God… The former relates to the futurition and the event of things and is the rule of God’s external acts; the latter is concerned with precepts and promises and is the rule of our action.”6

Such a distinction must never be understood as implying that God has two wills. For it is clear from the above definition that the word will is being used in two different senses, i.e., equivocally, having two distinct points of reference. It is only the will of decree which is the will of God in the proper sense of the term, as an act of volition, for therein God has decreed what shall be done. Samuel Rutherford expresses this well in his own inimitable manner: “that voluntas signi, in which God reveals what is our duty, and what we ought to do, not what is his decree, or what he either will, or ought to do, is not God’s will properly, but by a figure only; for commands, and promises, and threatenings revealed argue not the will and purpose, decree or intention of God, which are properly his will.  The will of precept has no volitional content, for it simply states what God has commanded ought to be done by man. Whether man wills to do it is absolutely dependent upon whether God has decreed that he shall do it. So it is quite inappropriate to say that God wills something to be with reference to His will of command, for the preceptive will never pertains to the futurition of actions, only to the obligation of them.”

~Matthew Winzer

Matt 6:26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

The rationale that God cares for the birds of the air more than He cares for the reprobate is ridiculous.  He feeds the birds and all beasts; yet, in some estimations, He does not care in the least for the reprobate-He offers no good things in the line of graces.

Ch 10 of the WCF states:
“IV. Others, not elected, although they may be called by the ministry of the Word, and may have some common operations of the Spirit, yet they never truly come to Christ, and therefore can not be saved: much less can men, not professing the Christian religion, be saved in any other way whatsoever, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, and the law of that religion they do profess; and to assert and maintain that they may is without warrant of the Word of God.”

Robert Shaw writes on ch 10 of the WCF:

“The doctrines stated in this section are the following:—
1. That though those who are not elected have the external call of the gospel
addressed to them, in common with those who are elected, yet “they never
truly come to Christ, and therefore cannot be saved.”
2. That there are “common operations of the Spirit,” which produce
convictions of sin, by means of the law in the conscience; and joyous
emotions, by means of the gospel, in the affections of men in their natural state; which do not issue in conversion.”

The Divines didn’t use the term ‘Common Grace’ in the above text and imo, rightly so. It is a term with all sorts of baggage. However, none the less, there are those out there who believe that God does not impart any goodness to the reprobate. I would agree that it is not intentional as it is for the elect; but it is a level of grace and goodness in that He doesn’t strike the reprobate dead immediately. He allows them add’l days, good health, families, food and of course, the church.

Matt McMahon says in his book, “The Two Wills of God”, “I do believe that God grants good gifts to the wicked. I do believe that the wicked do possess all that they do, including the air they breathe, as something which comes from the hand of God’s indiscriminate providence.
But I do not believe that it is an intentionally gracious act of God towards those people, not even in the divided sense. I believe God certainly is commonly bountiful with all men, giving them good gifts.”

In Genesis ch 1 God blesses the animals He created. Surely, this goodness shown to a beast says much in respect to God’s heart towards men who are created in His image, no? Even the dogs are allowed the crumbs from the masters table.

*I want to qualify my position on Common grace. It is not the CG that is espoused by the majority today-most of that is aberrant. It is the biblical Common Grace that is held by the majority of the reformers and spoken about in the Westminster Confession. I will as well say, grace is never ‘common’ and that it is generally spoken of in scripture pertaining to the relationship the elect have in Christ. I say generally because the same Hebrew word used to describe Noah’s blessing is the same word used to describe the blessing God extends to the animals in Genesis ch 1; to Noah, that would be in the compound sense; to the animals, in the divided. In the divided sense it can be a general benevolence that is over all creation.

Common grace does not mean that God loves the reprobate; think Noah’s flood. Did God love those who perished in the flood? How about the enemies of Israel that God commanded be killed in the early battles?

The distinction between benevolence and particular love needs to be established. Yes, the Lord lets the rain and beams of sunshine to fall and warm the just and unjust; but this is a by-product of God’s decree. It is not an intent to grace the reprobate. When we think of grace, it is always in relation to justification; the elect are the only recipients of grace and eventual justification. Never for the reprobate.

You might say, “Scott, but doesn’t the scriptures tell us that , ‘God so loved the world?’ Yes, the scriptures say that; however, when it makes mention of the world, it is referring to the elect only. It is referring to the elect who make up the world as a whole-they will come out of the world from every tongue, tribe and nation.

When Jesus prayed, what did He say? “I pray not for the world, but those, Father, that you have given me out of the world”.

How does one reconcile this fact with the doctrine of common grace? As noted above. How does one reconcile this with the idea that Jesus commands believers to love their enemies?

The Psalmist writes:
“Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.” (Psalm 139,21-22)

Ps.51:13 Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.

Ps.86:9,14,17 All nations whom thou hast made shall come and worship before thee, O Lord; and shall glorify thy name….O God, the proud are risen against me, and the assemblies of violent men have sought after my soul; and have not set thee before them….Shew me a token for good; that they which hate me may see it, and be ashamed: because thou, LORD, hast holpen me, and comforted me.

Ps.59:10-13 My God in his steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on my enemies. Kill them not, lest my people forget; make them totter by your power and bring them down, O Lord, our shield! For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips, let them be trapped in their pride. For the cursing and lies that they utter, consume them in wrath; consume them till they are no more, that they may know that God rules over Jacob to the ends of the earth. Selah

We hate the things God hates and we love them that are perishing, praying that they come to the knowledge of the Son. In the compound, we hate them, in the divided sense, we love them. As well, one must consider the image all men are made in; in that, it is that which we are to love.

James M. Boyce writes:

“I want you to awaken to God’s goodness. I want you to see that all you are and all you have are a result of God’s common grace to you.

Let me explain it from God’s perspective. God does not owe you anything. He does not even owe you a chance at salvation. When Adam and Eve first sinned against him in Eden, God could have judged them harshly and have sent them to hell at once; and if he had done that, He would have been absolutely just in his actions. Adam and Eve would have received nothing more than their proper desserts. If, acting in a different fashion, God had instead allowed them to live and produce offspring until there were literally millions of their descendants spread out over the entire earth to occupy it and pollute it by their abundant acts of idolatry, theft, fornication, hatred, greed, and other forms of sin, and then had brushed them all into eternal torment, God would nevertheless still have been just. No one could fault him. The righteous angels in heaven would still be able to cry out, as they do even today, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3).

God owes us nothing. Yet, as we well know, God did not immediately banish Adam and Eve to hell, nor did he later suddenly consign the masses of mankind to torment. On the contrary, though there is a judgment to come, God has continually poured out his blessings on men and women.

You have received such blessings. Donald Grey Barnhouse writes correctly, “You are not a believer in Christ and yet you are still out of hell. That is the grace of God. You are not in hell, but you are on earth in good health and prosperity. That is the common grace of God. The vast majority of those who read these words are living in comfortable homes or apartments. That is common grace. You are not fleeing as refugees along the highways of a country desolated by war. That is common grace. You come home from your job and your child runs to meet you in good health and spirits. That is common grace. You are able to put your hand in your pocket and give the child a quarter or a half dollar for an allowance. It is common grace that you have such abundance. You go into your house and sit down to a good meal. That is common grace. On the day that you read these words there are more than a billion and a half members of the human race who will go to sleep without enough to satisfy their hunger, The fact that you have enough is common grace. You do not deserve it. And if you think that you do deserve anything at all from God beyond the wrath which you have so richly earned, you merely show your ignorance of spiritual principles.”

Romans 2:4 puts the matter of God’s common grace to you and others as a question: “Do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience?” The answer is, of course, you do–unless you have repented of your sin and turned back toward God through faith in Jesus Christ. By nature human beings are ungrateful. By nature you show “contempt” for God’s kindness. Yet it is precisely this kindness that God is using to bring you to repentance.

I quote Barnhouse again: “To despise the riches of God’s grace is the blackest of all sins. It far outweighs the sins that are a violation of righteousness. Fallen man has a fallen nature. That is why the Lord seemed to overlook the outbreaks of the flesh, knowing man’s frame and remembering that he is but dust (Psalm 103:14). You who boast, perhaps, that you are not guilty of the great fleshly sins should realize that the despising of God’s goodness is a sin that far transcends an act that might be called a crime under human law.

“Why is God so good toward the lost? He declares that the purpose of the riches of his goodness, forbearance and longsuffering is to lead man to repentance; and he further declares that man does not know the object of God’s goodness. Is this not a further picture of the state of man by nature? Can it not be seen that the dark ignorance of unbelief has brought a further fruit of ignorance of the grace of God? You are in good health? Why does God permit it? The answer is that he wants you to turn to him and acknowledge his goodness and accept the riches that he has for you. You have other blessings that come from the common grace of God. The purpose of such riches is to cause you to turn about-face and come to Him for further blessing.” (Donald Grey Barnhouse, “God’s Wrath,” The Book of the Revelation, vol. 2 Eerdmans, Grand Rapids 1953)

God’s Love Commended

I have spoken of “common grace” in the sense that God’s genuine affection has been poured out upon all persons regardless of who they are or what wrongs they may have done. As Jesus said, God “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). Common grace? Yes! But in another sense, it is not at all common. It is most uncommon. It is extraordinary, and it leads us to the most uncommon or extraordinary love of all. We find it in Romans 5:6-8: “At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Scott Bushey

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