07 March, 2016

Luke 6:35—A Prominent Text in the Common Grace Controversy (Various Sources)

"But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil (Luke 6:35 KJV).


Prof. David J. Engelsma

(Source: Common Grace Revisited [Grandville, MI: RFPA, 2003], pp. 18–24)
This is a text that has played a prominent role in the controversy over common grace in Reformed circles. Defenders of common grace have always appealed to it as one of the clearest, most powerful proofs of a favor of God to the reprobate wicked. . . . [Defenders of common grace are] certainly right when [they insist] that the text requires believers to love their unbelieving enemies. For all we know, they may be reprobates. They hate us, curse us, and persecute us. They are our enemies on account of our confession of Christ. They need our prayers, that they be converted and saved. . . . That we must love our neighbor, whether Christian or non-Christian, is not the issue. The question is: Does God love His reprobate enemies? Specifically, the question is: Are the unthankful and evil who are the objects of God's kindness in Luke 6:35 reprobate persons?

Defenders of common grace assume that the unthankful and evil who are the objects of God's kindness in Luke 6:35 are all men without exception, thus including those whom He reprobated. Assuming this, they do not bother carefully to explain the last part of Luke 6:35 in the light of its context. It is enough that they cite it. But this begs the question. All agree that God is kind to unthankful and evil people. What needs to be proved is that God is kind to all humans who are unthankful and evil. More specifically, what needs to be proved is that God is kind to unthankful and evil reprobates.

What Manner of Kindness?

Plainly, Luke 6:35 cannot bear the interpretation given it by the defenders of common grace. This interpretation is that God is kind to reprobate unthankful and evil men with a non-saving, common grace kindness. […] God's kindness in Luke 6:35 is [said to be] a "positive, albeit non-salvific, regard for those who are not elect." But the text teaches the saving grace, or kindness, of God toward unthankful and evil people. The word that is translated "kind" is the Greek word chreestos (χρηστός)This word is used of God elsewhere in the New Testament in I Peter 2:3 and in Romans 2:4. In I Peter 2:3, where the King James Version translates the word as "gracious," the word refers to God's kindness in saving His elect. "As newborn babes," regenerated believers are to desire the sincere milk of the Word, "if so be ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious (Greek: chreestos)." In Romans 2:4, the King James Version translates chreestos as "goodness": "Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?" Inasmuch as this goodness, or kindness, of God leads one to repentance, it is a saving kindness, not a common grace kindness.

The one use of the word to describe the attitude of the saints likewise shows kindness to be a saving perfection. Ephesians 4:32 exhorts church members to be "kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you." The expression of kindness is forgiveness of sins.

If the unthankful and evil in Luke 6:35 are reprobate men and women, the text teaches that God is kind to them with a saving kindness, or grace. He saves these unthankful and evil people, leading them to repentance and forgiving their sins.

That the kindness of verse 35 is saving grace, not a common grace kindness, is established by verse 36: "Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful." In the love and kindness that we must show to our enemies, we are to be merciful. Our mercy reflects the mercy of our Father. Although the objects of our Father's mercy are not explicitly stated in verse 36, there can be no doubt that they are the same unthankful and evil persons who are mentioned in verse 35. God is merciful to the same persons to whom He is kind, and His mercy is the supreme manifestation of His kindness. But the divine mercy is such a pity of God toward sinners as yearns to deliver them from their sins and from the misery of their sins. Mercy is not a mere desire to give a wretched sinner some rain on his corn field, or a pork chop on his plate, or even a happy marriage.

If the unthankful and evil of Luke 6:35 are all humans without exception, including especially the reprobate, the text teaches far too much for the defenders of common grace. It does not teach a meager "positive, albeit non-salvific, regard for those who are not elect." It teaches a robust kindness that wills to save them. It teaches a pity toward them that yearns to redeem them.

This understanding of the kindness of God in Luke 6:35 is demanded by the preceding context, verses 27ff. There is a relation between our love for our neighbors and God's love for the unthankful and evil. Our love reflects His love: "Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful" (v. 36). Like Father, like children: "But love ye your enemies … and ye shall be the children of the Highest" (v. 35). In our love for our enemies, we are to pray for them, that is, pray for their salvation: "Pray for them which despitefully use you" (v. 28). This implies a sincere desire on our part for their repentance and salvation. If now the kindness of God that we reflect is a kindness toward all without exception, including reprobate men and women, God too must sincerely desire the repentance and salvation of all without exception. But such a kindness, or grace, is not common grace, "a non-salvific regard for those who are not elect." It is saving grace.

Who Are the Unthankful and Evil?

Scripture denies that God is kind and merciful to unthankful and evil reprobates, having compassion on them in their misery, willing their salvation, leading them to repentance, and forgiving their sins: "For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion…. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth" (Rom. 9:15, 18). Scripture teaches that the Christ of God, carrying out the will of God who sent Him, refused to pray for all men without exception. Thus, He showed that He did not sincerely desire the salvation of all without exception. He prayed only for those whom the Father had given Him out of the world. "I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine" (John 17:9).

The meaning of Luke 6:35 is that we Christians are to love our neighbors, including our enemies. These enemies are unbelievers, non-Christians, who are hostile toward us because of our confession and discipleship of Christ. They may well be reprobate enemies, although we hope that our prayers and kind behavior may be useful to win them to Christ.

In loving our enemies, we reflect the character of our Father. Like Father, like children. For God is kind to unthankful and evil people. He is not kind to all unthankful and evil people. Nor does Luke 6:35 say this. But He is kind to people who are unthankful and evil. These are the elect in Christ, "the children of the Highest," who now are called and privileged to show the marvelous goodness of their heavenly Father in their own attitude and behavior toward their enemies.

We were the unthankful and evil when in kindness He set His love upon us in the eternal decree of election.

We were the unthankful and evil when in kindness He gave up His own Son for us in the redeeming death of the cross.

We were the unthankful and evil when in kindness He translated us by the regenerating Spirit into the kingdom of His dear Son.

And still we are the unthankful and evil when daily, in kindness, He brings us to repentance, forgives our sins, preserves us in the faith, and shows us a fatherly face in Jesus Christ. For, although by His grace we are also thankful and holy, we have only a very small beginning of this thankfulness and holiness. How unthankful we are for the love of God to us in Jesus Christ! And this is evil! This is a great evil!

[Luke 6:35] does not teach a common grace of God. It teaches a saving kindness of God. If the unthankful and evil in the text are all humans without exception, the text teaches that the saving grace of God is universal, a doctrine that the rest of Scripture denies, a doctrine that the Reformed confessions condemn, and a doctrine that [all Calvinists] repudiate.

Since this is a text that all defenders of common grace thoughtlessly appeal to, others as well, it may be hoped, will now reconsider their use of it in defense of common grace and, perhaps, their defense of common grace itself.

A Particular "Common Grace"

I idly wonder whether the defenders of common grace ever recognize that their interpretation of Luke 6:35 fails even on the assumptions of the theory of common grace. Suppose that the kindness of the text is a common grace kindness of God. In this imaginary case, God's kindness is His loving desire to give everybody a comfortable physical life, nice material things, and earthly happiness, as well as His actual bestowal of all this upon everybody.

God is not kind in this way to all unthankful and evil people. What about the millions of children born into poverty, famine, sickness, and abuse? What about the hundreds of thousands born with dreadful handicaps of body and mind? What about the millions wracked with pain, crushed with burdens, broken with disappointments, desolate with despair, terrified by fears, destroyed by war?

Is God kind with a common grace kindness to all unthankful and evil people? Is He thus kind even to most unthankful and evil people?

I do not see it.



Rev. Martyn McGeown

[Source: British Reformed Journal, Issue No. 63, Autumn/Winter 2016]

The kindness in Luke 6:35 is, and can only be, a saving kindness. There is no other kindness in God. God’s kindness is infinitely more than God being “nice” to people. Kindness is God’s gentleness, His careful handling of His delicate precious people. God is not kind to the reprobate. He breaks them with a rod of iron and He dashes them in pieces as a potter’s vessel (Ps. 2:9). God’s kindness is called goodness or graciousness in other passages and is only ever directed toward the elect (Rom. 11:22; I Pet. 2:3). This kindness is shown to the unthankful and to the evil, to us; we who believe in Jesus Christ are the unthankful and the evil.



Prof. Herman Hanko

[Source: Common Grace Considered, pp. 87–88—available to read online]

[The] reference to the unthankful and evil is. . . . a reference to the unthankful and evil elect. Election is not based on works, but on the free and sovereign choice of God. Those who are eternally chosen are not chosen because of any good they did, nor because something was found in them that made them suitable to be counted among the elect. They were as evil as any in the world. They were as ungrateful for God’s good gifts as anyone elsewhere. They were as deserving of everlasting condemnation as those who were not chosen. But they are in any case, citizens of the kingdom of heaven, and Jesus is giving them the principles by which the citizens of the kingdom live here in the world.

The elect who are the objects of God’s mercy know with total certainty that they were not chosen because they were in any way better than those not chosen. The awesome character of election and its sovereign work of God is the reason for the humility of God’s people. How can it be any different? It is not at all strange, therefore, that these people are admonished to be merciful to others. They are eager to love their enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again. They cannot help but be themselves kind unto the unthankful and evil, for this is the way God dealt with them.

There is no reason at all in the text to argue, as those who teach common grace argue, that God is merciful to all men. After all, Jesus is speaking here to His own disciples (verse 20) and is describing the characteristics and calling of those who belong to the kingdom of heaven. Citizens of the kingdom of heaven are saved by grace; they are now to be gracious to those with whom they come into contact. In this way they manifest to others the grace God has shown to them. What could be more obvious?

To argue that because within the sphere of the kingdom of heaven, God is kind to unthankful and evil people can never be reason why we conclude that God is gracious to all men. One ought to re-read Psalm 73 and Proverbs 3:33 if he has any problem with this explanation.



Rev. Herman Hoeksema

The questions arise at once: Who are these enemies to whom God is merciful and kind? What is meant by the kindness of God? To these questions [the defender of common grace] immediately replies, “All unthankful and evil are mentioned in one breath in the text. The text does not distinguish between elect and reprobate. God’s kindness is nonsaving grace and therefore refers to God’s common grace. He is kind to all the unthankful and evil.” […] The text does not speak of all the unthankful and evil. Nor must we be too hasty to argue that it speaks of unthankful and evil without further limitation and that, therefore, all the unthankful and evil are meant.  [To use this method of reasoning] is a very dangerous method. Apart from the fact that such an interpretation does not consider at all the current teaching of scripture concerning God’s attitude toward the reprobate ungodly, it is quite improper to read Luke 6:35 as if it referred to all the ungodly, merely on the basis that they are not further defined. If this method of interpretation were sound in this instance, it certainly must be applied in all other cases. That is, wherever the Bible speaks of the ungodly without any limitation, we must insert the word all. If we would apply this method to similar passages of the word of God, we would conclude that the Arminian doctrine that Christ died for all men is correct.

[The defender of common grace often argues against our exegesis thus:]

“It must be clear to anyone who is not controlled by prejudice that we have to do here with the worst example of perverting scripture. This is no explanation of the words of Jesus, but an induction of one’s notions into the text. Arbitrarily something that is not contained in the text is inserted. For the text does not say that God shows kindness to those who formerly were unthankful and evil, but are now converted from their unthankfulness and wickedness. Nor do we read here that God is kind to those who still are unthankful and evil, but will be converted from their unthankfulness and wickedness in the future. This is made of the text, but it does not say this. This arbitrary, high-handed exegesis is the result of dogmatic prejudice.”

[…] The error and danger of this exegetical method, which refuses to interpret scripture in its own light and is satisfied with explaining each individual text by itself, become apparent when we apply it to other parts of Holy Writ. Just apply it to Romans 5:6: “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.” The result is that you will reason as follows: The text says that Christ died for the ungodly. It does not say that Christ died for those who formerly were ungodly, but now are no longer ungodly. Neither does the text teach that Christ died for those who at that time were still ungodly, but would be converted from their ungodliness. The text speaks wholly in general of “the ungodly.” Therefore, one has no right to insert the world elect into the text. One who limits the text to the elect ungodly is guilty of perverting the word of God, for the passage teaches clearly that Christ died for all the ungodly.

We know very well that in this case [our Reformed brethren] would not reason thus. [They] would not apply the same method to interpret Romans 5:6 that [they follow] in [their] explanation of Luke 6:35. [They] would object that the word of God elsewhere teaches plainly that Christ did not die for all men but only for the elect; that we must remember this in the interpretation of Romans 5:6; and that the true interpretation of the Romans passage cannot be that Christ died for all men.

But this is arbitrary. You cannot apply two completely different methods of interpretation to scripture. Yet this is precisely what [the defender of common grace] does. If we would follow the same method to interpret Luke 6:35 that [they] admit is the correct method with application to Romans 5:6, [they] would suddenly about-face and brand that method as a perversion of scripture and the result of dogmatic prejudice. Then [they] would deny us the right to limit the unthankful and evil to the elect only, although there is nothing in the text or context that forbids such an interpretation, and it harmonizes with the correct teaching of the word of God throughout. Then [our brethren] would not hesitate to insert the word all into the text.



Rev. George Martin Ophoff

“What is there that tells the expositor how a term or the terms of any one text should be construed? And the answer: the surroundings of a text. Now, when the Reformed exegete speaks of the surroundings of any one text he has in mind not only the near but the far surroundings as well. To the Reformed exegete the entire Scripture must be regarded as the surroundings of any one text in virtue of the fact that the word of God in its entirety is one organical whole. The expositor must regard his text as an integral part, not only of the chapter from which it is taken; not only of the book or epistle in which it appears, but of the sixty-six books comprising the Bible. The renderings of him whose method is not as that described above, are absolutely worthless” (The Standard Bearer, 15 May, 1926, vol. 2).

“Let us apply this rule [that we must explain each individual text only by itself] to such passages as Rom. 4:5; I Cor. 15:22; II Cor. 5:15; I Tim. 2:6, and notice the results. Rom. 4:5 contains this clause: “But believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly.” The clause does not state that the elect ungodly are meant, hence, these words of the apostle must be made to apply to the reprobate ungodly as well. Conclusion: God justifies the reprobate ungodly. I Cor. 15:22 reads: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” The text as such does not state that the group denoted by the term all include only the elect. Hence, the group includes the reprobate also. Conclusion: the reprobate shall live in Christ. II Cor. 1.5 contains this clause: “And that He died for all.” Applying [this method of interpreting Scripture texts] we must conclude that Christ died for the reprobate. I Tim. 2:6 reads: “Who gave Himself a ransom for all to be testified in due time.” Apply [this] method of exegeting a text and you shall have to conclude that according to the Apostle Paul, Christ gave Himself a ransom for the reprobate. . . . It is fact, however, that the surroundings of these several Scriptures plainly teach that God justifies the elect ungodly only, that only the elect shall live in Christ, that Christ gave Himself a ransom for the elect only(The Standard Bearer, 1 July, 1926, vol. 2).



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