28 March, 2016

The Biblical Offer of the Gospel:
Analysis and answer to Rev. K. W. Stebbins' book “Christ Freely Offered” in Light of Scripture and the Confessions.

Rev. Christopher J. Connors

Chapter Four – Does God Love All Men?

There can be no question that God loves and is gracious to the elect in Christ. The question is this: Does God love the non-elect?

Rev. Stebbins, as we saw, answers this question in the affirmative. Yes, he says, God loves all, and God is gracious to all men including the reprobate. He teaches that God's love and grace for the reprobate, however, is of a NON-saving variety that lasts only until they are damned eternally for their sins.

Rev. Stebbins then shows how God graciously pursues the well-being and salvation of all by means "intrinsically useful."98 By intrinsically useful, he means that the good things God bestows as grace upon the reprobate are in themselves designed both to preserve life and ultimately to lead sinners to salvation in Christ. Rev. Stebbins calls the offer of the gospel "common grace" because it, like the rain and sunshine comes to all men without distinction. "Common grace" is in all God's good gifts to men but comes to its highest expression in the preaching of the gospel whereby he pursues the reprobate's ultimate spiritual blessedness in Christ.

It must be clearly noted that Rev. Stebbins' "common grace" has God aiming at the salvation in Christ of the reprobate. Rev. Stebbins' "Common grace" is not concerned only with temporal gifts, as it would be if it were a species of non-saving grace distinct from saving grace. The great Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper championed a view of what he called, common, non-saving grace; but he so vigorously repudiated any idea that this species of grace was concerned with man's salvation that he gave it a completely different name. He called it "gemeene gratie", and saving grace he called "genade."99 His reason for making such a clear distinction was that he insisted the two must never be confused. Rev. Stebbins on the other hand, willingly, even willfully confuses the two in order to produce a basis for his well-meant offer.

Rev. Stebbins' "common" grace sets God actively pursuing the reprobate with salvation through the gospel. In reality, Rev. Stebbins' "common" grace is SAVING GRACE with its power and purpose removed so as to be resistible and non-efficacious. Rev. Stebbins, quite distinct from Kuyper and many of the better Puritans, is not maintaining a "common" grace100 of God as Creator in His providence over all His creatures; rather he has embraced and teaches the "general grace" of the Arminians. Admittedly, he has put general grace through what could be called a "Calvinizing" process. The problem is, however, that even though the corrupt metal now has the appearance of the genuine article; when you scratch the surface, you find that its nature remains unchanged.

Grace: Un-common:

Rev. Stebbins defines grace in this way: "Grace is a principle of God's attribute of goodness whereby He delights to deal with man with a favour he does not deserve."101 Further, grace is "the undeserved favour of God ... referring to God's nature and the gift that proceeds from that nature." "The nature of the act is to be reckoned from the attitude of the doer."102 This means, for Rev. Stebbins, that because God has a "necessarily" gracious attitude toward all men, everything God does, gives or brings to men is grace. Therefore, grace is necessarily common to the reprobate and the elect alike.

There are serious problems with Rev. Stebbins' definition of grace.

Firstly, Rev. Stebbins has written a book with the stated purpose of proving that Christ is (in our words) "well-meaningly" offered to all men by God and is defining God's grace in the context of the preaching of the gospel and salvation, yet he does so apart from any mention of either the fountain of grace in God's eternal decree of election, or the saving purpose of God in Christ. He again works out of his erroneous "necessary principle of God's nature." Rev. Stebbins has dual wills of God in operation in regard to grace.

Secondly, though it is true that, as Rev. Stebbins says, God's grace is "undeserved favour" it does not follow that because God makes His grace known to sinners through the preaching of the gospel, God is gracious, or has a gracious purpose in that preaching to the reprobate.

Rev. Stebbins stops far short of a biblical definition of grace. We believe that grace is the favour of God - through the mediation of Christ to elect sinners - contrary to all deserving - as that irresistible power through which God realizes His purpose to glorify His name in the full and free salvation of the whole body of the elect in Christ.

A biblical conception of grace MUST reckon with sin, the curse, and God's saving purpose toward the ELECT in Christ. Biblical grace comes from God the Father, through Christ, by the Holy Spirit as that irresistible power of God unto the SALVATION of totally depraved, undeserving sinners. Nothing less than God's irresistible SAVING grace is revealed by, and proclaimed in, the preaching of the gospel.

Thirdly, any biblical definition of grace must be grounded in Jesus Christ Himself as the beginning and end of God's grace. This is the reason our Larger Catechism is careful not to say, as Rev. Stebbins does, that the covenant was made with the elect, but rather: "The covenant of grace was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in Him with all the elect as His seed."103 Christ was from all eternity God's gift of grace for the elect.104 There is no grace for sinners outside of Christ; nor does God show favour to guilty sinners except it be through the person and work of Christ the Mediator of the Covenant of Grace. This point, in our judgment, is crucial. Christ's love, life, obedience, prayers, shed blood, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, glorification, mediatorial rule, continual intercession, sending the Spirit, effectual calling, and all the benefits of the Covenant of Grace are the gift of grace to those that the Father has given to Christ before the foundation of the world. God's grace is for none but the elect body of Christ.

Time should be taken carefully to read the first two chapters of Ephesians. In these chapters the nature of biblical grace is described. The apostle Paul, magnifying the glory of God's grace in Christ, says: we are "chosen IN HIM," (1: 4). We are predestinated to the adoption of children “by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will" (v. 5). Here is the fountain of grace revealed. Why does God do this? It is "to the praise of the glory of His GRACE," (v. 6). Grace "MAKES us accepted in the beloved," (v. 6). It is "according to the riches of grace" that sinners have "redemption through Christ's blood and forgiveness of sins," (v. 7). God by revealing the mystery of His will in Christ causes the riches of His grace to abound toward the elect, (v. 8). Grace brings God's love and mercy in Christ to quicken dead sinners, (2:5). Grace SAVES! (2:5). Grace is pure undeserved favour: "For by grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, (2:8). Grace raises the elect up, through faith, and makes them to sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (2:6). THIS, and nothing less according to the apostle Paul, is grace. Evidently, grace, as far as the Holy Scripture is concerned, originates in the eternal predestination to the adoption of children in Christ. Grace QUICKENS dead sinners. Grace unites the elect to Christ in the mystical union of faith. Grace applies redemption and bestows forgiveness. Grace raises the elect to heavenly glory as the adopted sons and daughters of God. Grace SAVES TO THE UTTERMOST. Why? "That in ages to come he might show forth the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us THROUGH CHRIST JESUS," (2:7). This - and nothing less - is a biblical conception of God's grace.

Two Further Issues Concerning Grace:

Rev. Stebbins’ argument requires that we consider two further questions regarding grace. First, does God have a non-saving attitude of favour (common grace) toward the reprobate as Rev. Stebbins defines it? Second, is there "grace" in things? That is, are things - as things - grace? We have before concluded that in the context of the gospel of salvation God's grace is in Christ and is SAVING grace. Nevertheless, these two questions must be considered in more detail.

God's Attitude Toward The Non-elect:

Is God favorably disposed (gracious) to all men in the preaching of the gospel?

Oh yes! says Rev. Stebbins otherwise God couldn't be sincere in offering Christ and salvation in Him to all men!

No, we reply, such a conclusion does not follow at all. There can be no doubt that God is gracious toward His elect in the offer of the gospel. The question, however, for this discussion is: What is God's attitude toward the reprobate in the preaching of the gospel? Is His attitude one of love and favour, or is it one of disfavour?

The Reformed believer does well to remember that God's decree has something to do with God's attitude toward the one who hears the preaching of the gospel. Indeed, God's eternal decree of double-predestination is absolutely determinative as to whether God is pleased to bestow or withhold His grace from any particular sinner.

The Westminster Confession has something to say on this vital point:

“Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to His eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of His will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of mere grace and love . . . and all to the praise of His glorious grace." (W.C.F. IIl, 5.)

In predestinating the elect unto life God made the elect the particular objects of His love and grace. Through and in the elect, God's grace will be glorified.

Where does the offer of the gospel fit into the Confessional conception of grace?

“As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath He, by the eternal and most free purpose of His will, foreordained all the means thereunto” (W.C.F. III, 6).

The elect, according to the Confession, are predestined unto life, but this life is to become theirs through the means God has foreordained. As far as life and salvation are concerned, ALL the means of grace, especially the preaching of the gospel as the chief means, are for the sake of the elect in Christ. To the elect these means ARE God's grace and mercy, in and through Christ, for their salvation. God desires their salvation. God pursues their salvation through the means of grace. God ACHIEVES this salvation, without fail, through the means He provides as these are effectually applied by the Spirit.

What then of God's attitude toward the reprobate? The Westminster Confession in the same chapter declares:

“The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of His own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of His glorious justice," (W.C.F. III, 7).

From the non-elect, or reprobate (all who are not chosen to life in Christ) God, our Confession teaches, "WITHHELD MERCY" and "PASSED BY" with His mercy and grace in Christ. The righteous and sovereign God withheld mercy, grace and love in Christ from "the rest." He has passed many by with the benefits of the Covenant of Grace which are found only in Christ.

Rev. Stebbins, however, twists and, in principle, denies the truth of Scripture declared in the W.C.F., when he says: "This preterition (reprobation) says nothing about God's attitude towards those passed over, (except that they are not going to be loved with God's electing love), nor about their destiny."105 This statement shows that Rev. Stebbins has diluted the Reformed teaching concerning reprobation until it has become nothing more than God's reaction to man's sin. Almighty God, however, is not a reacting God; God ACTS. Rev. Stebbins seems to have lost sight of the fact that God is God!

Resistance to the mighty truth of God's absolute sovereignty over the destiny of men is not new. The apostle Paul anticipated this very objection; and his response must be heeded:

“Nay, but O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?”106

Rev. Stebbins argues this way because he must first deny the decisive nature of reprobation before he can teach a well-meant offer of God to the reprobate. Nevertheless, God, says the Confession, "withholdeth mercy." The proof text for this Confessional statement is Romans 9:18, "Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth." Reprobation is active, "whom He will He hardeneth." Furthermore, the Confession declares that God hardens the reprobate by "WITHHOLDING GRACE" from them, (W.C.F. V:6). Reprobation means also, that God hardens the non-elect even through the good things showered upon them so liberally in this life, and through the hearing of the gospel. This too is an important confessional truth overlooked by Rev. Stebbins.

“As for the wicked and ungodly men whom God as a righteous judge, for former sins, (that is, the reprobate viewed from the moral ethical view point, CJC) doth blind and harden, from them He not only with-holdeth His grace, whereby they might have been enlightened .... whereby it comes to pass that they harden themselves, even under those means which God useth for the softening of others.” (W.C.F. V:6).

If we ask: Why? God replies: "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated."107 Whatever else the proponents of the well-meant offer might say of this verse it certainly is not teaching that God is graciously disposed toward the reprobate. It certainly is not teaching that God "loves some less." Rev. Stebbins, however, argues that God's goodness manifest toward the reprobate is a form of love, grace and mercy.108 With John Knox we can but say: "You make the love of God common to all men, and that we constantly do deny."109

Is Rev. Stebbins' "common" grace Biblical? If it is indeed the case that there is a "common grace" that pursues all men's salvation, as he so insists, where, we ask, is the proof from Holy Scripture?

The "proof" texts Rev. Stebbins presents for "common grace" which is grace in the giver and in the gift110 militate against his own position and support our contention that God's grace is always particular in Christ to the elect. He cites Galatians 1:15: "But when it pleased God and separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace." Ephesians 2:8, "For by grace are ye saved." Titus 3:4, "But after the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared." All these texts manifestly refer to God's sovereign, particular love and saving grace to His elect. This grace SAVES! Full and free salvation is the certain result of God "pursuing" the sinner with this grace. These passages say nothing of a love of God toward the reprobate. Rev. Stebbins is required by these texts to say, either, that in "common grace" God has elected all conditionally and given Christ as Saviour for all,111 or he must acknowledge that he has given absolutely no Biblical support for his definition of grace.

Is there another lesser species of non-saving grace and mercy apart from that which God decreed to bestow and withhold according to His sovereign good pleasure in Christ? To this question we must now turn.

God's Goodness and Grace:

The several passages Rev. Stebbins points to in support of a "common non-saving" grace refer specifically to God's goodness, *not* to God's grace.112 Rev. Stebbins makes a fundamental mistake when he confuses good "things" with grace. He fails to distinguish between God's general goodness in all His works of providence as Creator and Sustainer (from which nothing can be determined as to the attitude or purpose of the giver, other than that God is good), and God's grace to the elect as Saviour (which has to do with the favourable attitude of God in giving those good things and His purpose to bless His elect in Christ through them).


We understand God's goodness in Scripture to denote the infinite perfection of the being and attributes of God. God is essential goodness in Himself, and in every attribute of His nature He is pure goodness in the fullest sense of the term. God is the only Good, (Mark 10:18). As pure goodness God DOES only good: "Thou art good, and doest good," (Psalm 119:68). The nature of God, then, is THE fountain head of pure goodness from whom flow streams of most pure goodness. God is essential goodness in all His holy will that proceeds from His nature, and all the actions which proceed from that holy will toward the creature.

Holy Scripture clearly teaches us that God's decree of double-predestination is also pure goodness. Jehovah declares: "I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee, and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy," (Exodus 33:19). This passage demonstrates that the revelation of those particular perfections of God's goodness called grace and mercy are inextricably united to predestination. The revelation of God's goodness as “grace and mercy” is not, as Rev. Stebbins teaches, a necessary act of God's nature toward all men. It is according to God's sovereign will. The pure goodness of God revealed as grace and mercy is PARTICULAR, for those whom "I will." This truth is taken up and further explained and applied in Romans 9:18-24.

Rev. Stebbins, however, is content to define goodness as that "attribute of God by which He delights to deal bountifully and kindly with all His creatures."113 Rev. Stebbins again draws his whole argument (that God doing good to men means He is gracious) out of his faulty premise of the "necessary principle of God's nature" showing favour and mercy apart from His will.

Rev. Stebbins' mistaken view, as we have already seen, cannot stand before the truth that all God's works ad extra (outside the being of God toward the creature) are free acts of God's will. No revelation of God's goodness to the creature is a necessary act. Rev. Stebbins has his answer ready: "God is free," he declares, "to manifest His goodness however and whenever He will."114 But what nonsense is this? Of course God is free. God is God! But, we must ask, in what does God's freedom consist? His freedom consists in His perfect freedom and ability to do all His holy will. Rev. Stebbins' "principle of active delight", however, denies that God is free to bestow, or withhold grace and mercy as He pleases.

There are several considerations that when taken together show Rev. Stebbins' teaching regarding God's goodness (common grace and mercy) to be erroneous.

In the first place, God is free only to act in the expression of His goodness according to His good pleasure - His decree, never in flat contradiction to it. Rev. Stebbins, however, has God's nature actively being gracious and merciful apart from, and in flat contradiction to, His own will of good pleasure established in the decree. Action apart from will is not freedom; it is chaos.

In the second place Rev. Stebbins' teaching actually refuses to allow God to act freely. He insists that God acts from a "necessary principle" of His nature. This is to say, that God when He reveals His goodness MUST be gracious to sinners. This we deny. John Owen, arguing against the Arminians,115 demolished Rev. Stebbins' argument, when he declared:

“That God hath any natural or necessary inclination, by His goodness, or any other property, to do good to us, or any of His creatures, we do deny. Everything that concerns us is an act of His free will and good pleasure, and not a natural, necessary act of His Deity.”116

Owen has drawn the lines here according to biblical truth and Reformed orthodoxy. Nothing that God does outside of His own being and essence is "necessary" to Him, not even love and grace. Grace and mercy are the active expressions of God's essential goodness outside Himself, not necessarily or universally, but freely as willed to be made known through Jesus Christ to the miserable creature fallen in sin. Grace and mercy as free acts of God ad-extra proceed from His will as established immutably in the decree.117 God's immutable will of decree is to bestow grace and mercy on the elect alone, and by withholding grace and mercy to pass by the rest of mankind. This is the only will of God that Scripture knows. Therefore, there is no attitude or active outgoing of grace and mercy from God's essential goodness toward the reprobate.118

In the third place, God's essential goodness determines that all He wills to do outside Himself is necessarily good. However, whilst grace and mercy are themselves the free manifestations of goodness toward the elect, it does not follow that God's goodness is also grace and mercy to the reprobate. Grace and mercy have to do with the attitude and purpose of God, neither of which are favourable to the reprobate. God's essential goodness is also manifest in holiness, righteousness, justice, judgment and damnation. These manifestations of goodness over against sinners from whom God freely chooses to withhold mercy belong to the reprobate and reveal God's attitude.

In the fourth place, we ask, does not Rev. Stebbins teach that God MUST (according to this "necessary principle" of nature) love and favour the reprobate for a time and then CHANGE to hating him eternally? He answers, it is not inconsistent for God to love the reprobate and hate the elect.119 In other words God loves and hates all men at one time or other, indeed God hates and loves every sinner at some time or other! The "well meant offer" necessitates this confusion and changeability. God must love and desire to save the reprobate or the well-meant offer has no basis. But, we ask, are not love and hate opposite, mutually exclusive motions of the affections of the will of the one immutable God? Equally startling, is the assertion that God "hates" one whom He loved with an eternal love in Christ. Unbelievably, God, for a time prior to conversion, hates the one whom He SO loved from all eternity that He sent His only begotten Son to die on the cross and shed His precious blood for his sins! What could be more contrary to the Scripture? God has "loved with an everlasting love" so wondrous that even "while we were yet in our sins, Christ died for us."120 Away with such confusion.

The error of Rev. Stebbins' teaching that God loves and hates the same man, at the same time, for a time is, firstly, that he confuses "judicial wrath" with "sovereign hatred."121 Because Rev. Stebbins refuses to acknowledge that a REAL difference exists between God's attitude toward the elect and the reprobate from all eternity and not only AFTER conversion, he confuses liability to condemnation with condemnation itself. He fails to distinguish between what the elect sinner is and deserves in Himself and God's attitude toward that sinner as elect in Christ. Secondly, God NEVER "hates" the elect and God NEVER "loves" the reprobate. Romans 9:13 is decisive: "As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated," and this while "being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth," (Romans 9:11). This passage speaks of the sovereign, eternal and unchanging attitude of God toward the elect and the reprobate.122 As Francis Turretin rightly says:

“Love necessarily includes the purpose of having mercy upon and saving Jacob; the hatred denies it and marks the purpose of reprobation by which he was freely passed over and excluded from salvation."123

God's eternal love for the elect in Christ is revealed in that:

“God did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect; and Christ did, in the fullness of time, die for their sins, and rise again for their justification: nevertheless they are not justified, until the Holy Spirit doth in due time actually apply Christ unto them.”124

The application of Christ unto the elect sinner in time is itself the manifestation of God's eternal love. Justifying faith is not a condition which man must first fulfill before God can love, but a gift of God's love in Christ to guilty, damn-worthy sinners. "We love Him because He first loved us," (I John 4:19). According to Rev. Stebbins, the elect sinner is the object of “hatred” prior to conversion. This is impossible, for then none would ever be converted.

It is in this light that God's forbearance and longsuffering are to be considered. Both are aspects of God's perfection of patience. God's attribute of patience is, as it were, the life of providence whereby God stretches out time and unfolds His will in as the history of creation. But God's goodness as manifest in patience and unfolded in providence is directed toward the realizing of two great ends, according to decree of eternal predestination. Longsuffering is the positive aspect of God's providence. It is His power to hold back the immediate and ultimate blessing of His elect in Christ. Forbearance on the other hand is God's perfection of patience whereby He holds back or forebears immediately to punish the ungodly reprobate for their sins.

God is longsuffering toward His elect because he earnestly desires their repentance and salvation, "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance."125 He therefore leads them by His Word outwardly and by His Spirit inwardly and irresistibly to repentance.126 When God forebears to punish the reprobate wicked He delays their final judgment and certain destruction, for the sake of His elect. In this stretching out of providence, as God sees fit, many are confronted by Christ and salvation through the gospel and called to faith and repentance. But this confrontation with the truth, except God's saving grace intervene, is itself the cause of further rebellion and hatred of the God who exposes their sin.127 This is God's will and serves His purpose to the praise of His glorious justice. Though the reprobate lives in the sphere of God's goodness, and may have an outward acquaintance with God's grace, this cannot be construed to mean that God has an attitude of favour toward them.

Good Things: Not Necessarily Grace:

Two misunderstandings must be cleared out of the way before we proceed. Firstly, the fact that God's love, grace and mercy are for the elect alone is in perfect harmony with the truth that God's goodness is over all His works and creatures. God's overflowing goodness in all His works receives great emphasis in Holy Scripture right along with sovereign particular grace. Both must, therefore, receive proper emphasis in the proclamation of the truth by the church.128 Second, an emphatic denial of "common" grace is in no wise a minimizing of the infinite goodness of Jehovah God. Rather, it is the error of "common" grace that degrades the glory of Divine goodness by presenting God's amazing grace as "common" and so making it something less than what it is—sovereign irresistible grace in Jesus Christ.

There is no disagreement that God's good gifts are given to the elect as blessings and grace. The question that must be addressed is this: Are God's good gifts grace to the reprobate? Rev. Stebbins affirms this. We deny it.

We point out in the first place, that by making God's grace common, Rev. Stebbins has confused God's goodness with God's grace. As was pointed out previously, God's grace as an attribute, or infinite perfection of God's nature flows from His goodness, but it does not follow that God must, therefore, be gracious to all to whom His goodness is shown. God's goodness is also holiness, righteousness, wrath, hatred and just judgment upon sin. God is good and does good even while He inflicts the most grievous torments upon the sinner in the fires of hell. Obviously, therefore, God can be perfectly good without maintaining any attitude of favour to the creature to whom He is good.

In the second place, Rev. Stebbins is guilty of confusing God's good providence toward the non-elect with participation in the BLESSINGS of the Covenant of Grace.

“All that is contained in the administration and dispensation of the Covenant of Grace is a purchase of the death of Christ, and God's providence within that Covenant is both temporal, concerning all men, and spiritual in respect to the separation of the elect from the reprobate. We acknowledge that God in His providence, in which He governs all His creatures and all their actions, bestows temporal blessings (good gifts C.J.C) on all men, restrains evil in the world and promotes good.”129

This statement highlights the important Biblical distinction between God's rule of providence and power as Creator on the one hand, and God's rule of grace as Saviour on the other.130 This distinction gives the framework within which we must sharply distinguish universal goodness from particular grace. The rule of God as Creator, on the one hand, reveals His goodness in all things temporal; the rule of God as Saviour, on the other hand, reveals His love and grace toward the elect by ordering and disposing all things to their ultimate and eternal blessedness. As sovereign Creator, God's rule of power knows no limits and embraces all created reality, good and evil,131 as one organic whole from the lowest form of life, to the highest, men,132 and angels.133 As Saviour, on the other hand, God's rule of grace encompasses all that, and only that, which is redeemed in the blood of Christ.134 These two may be distinguished but not separated, for both are the act of God and are governed by God's one decree and purpose in Christ. Thus, "God hath put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all."135 The Westminster Confession makes this distinction, when it says: "As the providence of God doth, in general, reach to all creatures; so after a most special manner, it taketh care of His own church, and disposeth all things to the good thereof."136 God takes the "all things" in which the reprobate share and disposes them to the good of His elect - the church. Goodness is shown to all, but grace through that goodness belongs to the elect alone.

God's grace must be viewed covenantally. God's providence as Creator and judge is administered according to the covenant of works. Under this first covenant there is and can be no grace for the sinful creature, only the curse of the law: "There is none righteous, no not one" ... "The wages of sin is death," (Romans 3:10, 6:23a). God's reign of grace as Saviour however, is administered under the terms of the Covenant of Grace. This covenant, made with Christ and His elect in Him, declares: "...but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord," (Romans 6:23b). Under the terms of this covenant there is nothing but free, sovereign and saving grace for the elect in the blood of Christ. Christ, you see, has fulfilled all righteousness under the law of God (the covenant of Works) that His people might not perish but have everlasting life.

This means that the non-elect can and do know of the rule of God as Saviour in His grace, as God sends the gospel throughout this world in His providence, but they never know it in its transforming power. They know of it outwardly as they see around them all God's goodness, come into outward contact with the means of grace, and see God's grace at work through His Word and Spirit in effectually calling and transforming the elect into the image of Christ. However, they never know that rule of grace inwardly and savingly in the heart.137

This fact in no way minimizes the reality of God's goodness to all creatures. God as CREATOR, in His rule of providence, loves and is good to His own creation as the good work of His own hands. Adam's sin and the subsequent curse did not alter God's one purpose with His own creation.138 Rather, sin serves God's purpose, for it is through the way of sin and redemption that God wills to raise His earthy creation to heavenly splendour.139 The creation, be it ever so marred by sin, is to be renewed and ushered in as the new heavens and the new earth.140 It is this creation upon which God showers His goodness. It is with this creation that all men, elect and reprobate are federally and organically connected.141 As Creator, God deals in pure goodness with each creature according to its form, action, and quality. God's goodness is, therefore, revealed variously toward men as rational, moral creatures, the animal world and the inanimate creation. In every case God works in the way best suited to display His goodness and glorify His great name142 by bestowing those gifts that, as coming from God the fountain of all good, and being good in themselves give existence,143 and preserve life.144 God's goodness over-arches and warms His creation as the sun at noon day.145

God's grace as Saviour in and through these good things is another matter. It is when the good things God bestows in His providence as Creator and Sustainer are taken up and applied by Him as Saviour that they become grace, and bear the favour of God in their wings. The good thing was not in itself grace, nor was it a spiritual blessing. That blessing has to do with God's purpose as Saviour with that thing. As Saviour, God's goodness goes forth powerfully and efficaciously in love, grace and mercy to His elect who are scattered throughout the earth and organically connected to creation and mankind. The same things (that are good in themselves yet stumble the reprobate) are sent as true blessings upon the elect. The rain and the sunshine, the seed time and harvest, civil government, and all creation support their physical existence, so that God's saving purpose might be realised. In short, the providential dealings of God in His power so govern all things that His church is born, sustained in life and brought to glory.

This distinction between goodness and grace stands back of such passages as Matthew 5:44-48 and Luke 6:35-36. In these passages God's redeemed and regenerated elect are commanded to "do good" and show mercy and kindness to all men in order that we may be perfect as is God our Father. The verses direct attention to God's ultimate perfection, His overflowing goodness. The point is, that God according to His perfection of goodness always does good, never evil; so must we! The striking nature of God's goodness is that God is good to all without exception and regardless of their nature or attitude toward Himself. This is the pattern for our love. This universal goodness of God showered upon all men is the pattern for our conduct toward our fellow man. We must love our enemies, bless them that curse us, do good to them that hate us etc., (Matthew 5:44). Only in this way do we, as children, reflect the image of our Father in heaven. God loved us as His elect even while we hated Him. How could we then do any less toward our fellow man, any one of whom could be God's elect? Thus, the command is, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."146

We may not assume, however, that the rule for God's goodness and the rule for man's love are identical. God as the sovereign Lord of all, necessarily does good to all, but always in harmony with His own perfection, and freely according to His own good pleasure. We however, as creatures redeemed into the service of Christ, are given God's law (the preceptive will) as the rule for our perfection. This law requires that we love our fellow man. God's revealed will must govern all our actions toward our fellow man. Obedience to the second table of the law, as summarized in loving our neighbor as ourselves, is the God-ordained way believers must fulfill their calling as children of God. This calling is universal, is to be shown in a disinterested love in fulfillment of God's law and has God's universal goodness as its pattern.

We remind ourselves, however, that the fact that God commands US to love all men, does NOT mean, nor may we legitimately conclude from it, that GOD must love all men. As we have seen, we may not argue back from man's duty revealed in the precept to God's purpose and attitude of grace. What we can conclude from these verses, however, is that God's perfection of goodness according to which He does nothing but good, even to the unthankful sinner, must be the pattern for all our dealings with our neighbour, if we are to reflect the perfection of our heavenly Father.

The Testimony of History:

The particularity of God's goodness as manifest in grace and mercy is the teaching of historic Presbyterianism.

John Owen writes:

“Now, this kindness and mercy of God is generally and loosely called mercy; but, in fact, quite wrongly so when it is coupled with an assumed intention behind the act which is good in itself. Goodness is a quality of God, but to be "merciful" indicates a specific purpose of mercy in a specific situation. It is therefore, incorrect to translate, as in Psalm 145:9, 15-16, that God is "merciful" not only to men but to His whole creation; yea, to sheep and oxen and beasts of the field. These all feel the benefits of God's general goodness in His providential upholding of His creation, but it is quite incorrect to argue from the fact of God's kindness, manifesting and displaying itself in a vast number of earthly and temporal blessings, that the recipients of these benefits might improve them to arrive as a real and true, and saving repentance. . . . Considering that true mercy - published and revealed from the bosom of the Father by Christ - is the fount of all saving faith and repentance, we can distinguish this from all loose and mistaken concepts of "mercy" displayed by the general work of God in providence; and, having done so, we gladly let the point drop, since we here have nothing to prove but the one great truth of mercy only in and through Christ.”147

William Symington, explaining how Christ rules universally in power but is in no way gracious to all, rightly says:

“It is not irrelevant to advert to the distinction betwixt things viewed simply in themselves, and viewed as blessed by God. The things themselves may be enjoyed when the blessing of heaven is withheld.”

Symington applying the distinction between God's goodness in the rule of power and His blessing known only in His rule of grace has a Reformed eye on the one purpose of God in Christ. He goes on to explain:

“The things viewed in themselves, flow, we admit, from the natural goodness of God, and so may be participated in by more than the saints; yet, viewed as blessed by God, that is, as real blessings, they are to be regarded as flowing from the blood of Christ, by which they are secured, redeemed, and sanctified for the use of His own people.”148

Symington makes no uncertain sound here. There is no blurring of the lines between providence and grace. David Dixon agrees with Symington and says:

“God giveth the wicked and violent persecutor to have seeming prosperity, while the godly are in trouble, yet that is no act of love to them: for the wicked and him that loveth violence, His soul hateth. All the seeming advantages which the wicked have in their own prosperity, are but means of hardening them in their ill course, and holding them fast in the bonds of their own iniquities, till God execute judgment on them.”149

Dixon is not confusing the "wicked" and the reprobate here. He is simply stating the clear teaching of Scripture. He sees clearly that not all the wicked are reprobate but all reprobate are wicked, therefore, he describes them according to their character. He is dealing with God's attitude and purpose in the giving of "good" gifts. God has no gracious purpose in good gifts to the wicked reprobate. Again he says:

“Whence learn, to the wicked - God for His own holy ends useth to give health of body, long life, little sickness, and a quiet death . . . yet God doth not love them, nor approve any whit more of them for this.”150

These statements echo the clear and unequivocal teaching of Scripture. God's love and gracious attitude are not manifest toward the reprobate in the giving of good things.

James Durham, Dixon's co-author of “The Sum of Saving Knowledge”, was in full agreement and excluded the idea that "common grace" was purchased by Christ by arguing that "it cannot be said that Christ intended any of the things purchased by His death as advantageous to the reprobate."151

Samuel Rutherford, the great Scottish divine and commissioner to the Westminster Assembly, also denied an attitude of grace and love of God toward the reprobate. He was not ashamed to speak of "God's hatred of the reprobate and love and peace on the elect," and referred to God's love as "simple not contradictory."152 God, in Rutherford's opinion cannot love and hate the one person and does not have an attitude of love and grace toward the reprobate. These men represent Presbyterian and Calvinistic truth prior to compromising principles.

With the judgment of these eminent divines we are in full agreement.153 There is no grace in things apart from the blessing of God in Christ. And the reprobate are strangers to that blessing. Things, be they ever so good and "intrinsically useful" as indeed they must be as flowing from the God of all goodness, are not indicative of any favourable attitude or grace of God.

This leads to the next step in Rev. Stebbins' argument. Namely, that God is actively pursuing the salvation of the reprobate through the means of common grace and the well meant offer of the gospel.



98. Stebbins, Op. cit., p.67. Intrinsically is understood to mean "inherent in the very nature of the thing."

99. For a treatment of this Kuyperian "common" grace, see Rev. David Engelsma's Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel, (Grand Rapids: R.F.P.A., 1994, pp. 173.)

100. We do not believe the term common grace used in this way is a wise use of the term grace. Grace is in Christ and is never common. However, the term was used by many sound divines to indicate God's bountiful care, preservation, and nurturing of His creation and indeed of sinful man together with that creation. But this general providential dispensation of God is distinct from grace.

101. Stebbins. p. 56.

102. Ibid. p. 55.

103. Larger Cat. 31.

104. See Ephesians 1-2.

105. Stebbins, Op. cit., p. 60.

106. Romans 9:20-21

107. Romans 9: 13 .

108. Stebbins, Op. cit., p. 56,57.

109. Knox, Op. cit. p. 51.

110. Stebbins, Op. cit., p. 55.

111. John Murray goes so far as to say that the benefits of Christ's atonement accrue to the reprobate as well as the elect in common grace. In so doing he confuses things with grace.

112. Stebbins points to Acts 14:16-17, 17:25-27, Matthew 5: 43-48, and Luke 6:35 as proof that God is graciously disposed to all in His goodness.

113. Stebbins, Op. cit. p. 56.

114. Ibid. p. 56. Here, we must understand that this "free expression" is free in the sense that it is not controlled by God's eternal decree of predestination.

115. There is a striking similarity between the arguments of the Arminians and Stebbins on this point. They argue, says Owen, that: "God considering all mankind as fallen from that grace and favour in Adam wherein they were created . . . yet God by His infinite goodness was inclined to desire the happiness of them, all and every one, that they might be delivered from misery, and be brought unto himself, which inclination of His they call His universal love and antecedent will, whereby He would desirously have them all to be saved," (Op. cit., p. 227). Could it be that the Arminians are consistent to follow their reasoning through to a conditional will in God, while Stebbins, (desiring to maintain the Reformed truth of predestination) halts half way by not attributing to God a conditional will?

116. John Owen, Op. cit., vol.10, p. 227. If this high view of the majesty and independence of God governed the Reformed church world today as it governed Owen's soul our present debate would not be necessary. God is God. Let the earth be silent.

117. God ad-infra stands in need of no such necessary expression of grace and mercy to the creature, for He knows within Himself perfect blessedness and rectitude regardless of the creature. That He is gracious and merciful ad-extra (outside Himself to the creature) is not a necessary act of will but a free act of His will. That free act of will becomes "necessary" only in His decree, because then it partakes of God's immutability and simplicity. See W.C.F. II, ii. This is what Luther when arguing against Erasmus called the "necessity of immutability." Erasmus also refused to accept the determinative nature of God's will.

118. We understand the confession to teach as follows:

                            > Grace and Mercy in Christ.
God's Goodness > Decree of election ->        (Providence over all)
                            > Good to all as Creator.

Stebbins' position on the other hand is this:
                                         > Grace and mercy to all direct from God's nature.
God's essential goodness
                                         > Grace and mercy to elect according to election.

It can be seen from this illustration of the positions that Stebbins posits two active and contradictory wills within the one being of God, one governed by God's eternal decree, the other free-wheeling toward all men without and apart from the decree.

119. God loves the reprobate out of His "necessary principle of nature" and hates the elect judicially for their sins prior to conversion, again out of a "necessary principle of His nature." This confusion, which requires a change of the unchangeable God's attitude toward the creature, is possible only if the motions of God's will toward the creature are considered apart from the determinative nature of the decree. God then becomes a "re-acting" God not the sovereign acting God. What is more, both the decree of election and the atonement of Christ must be removed before God can hate the elect, and both the decree of reprobation and righteous judgment must be removed from God if He is to love the reprobate. Stebbins proceeds on the basis of "common love and grace" which has no basis except in a dual contradictory will within the being of God.

120. Jeremiah 31:3, Romans 5:8, I John 4:10 .

121. The reader ought to turn to Calvin Institutes, II, 17, 2-3, for a clear explanation of this point.

122. Reprobation always is to sin, not on account of sin. The latter makes God's decree of election conditional upon the will and works of man and is to be rejected by Reformed believers. It is also true that God's hatred of the reprobate is a judicial hatred arising from offended righteousness, but this makes not a whit of difference to God's sovereignty in reprobation. The reprobate is sovereignly left in sin and given over to sin from eternity. Not so the elect. Let any who would set an infralapsarian view point over against the truth of sovereign reprobation read the strong infralapsarian Francis Turretin on election and reprobation, (Op. cit. vol. 1, pp. 329 395).

123. Turretin, Op. cit., p. 400. Turretin allows for a "general love and common providence by which He is borne to all his creatures" in varying degrees. But he denies that there are degrees effectively in God's special and saving love. This "general love", if it may be so called, must be viewed as that of God as creator in His good providence manifest toward the whole creation as we shall see.

124. W.C.F. XI, iv. John Owen's reply to Richard Baxter (who made faith a gospel condition required of man) is pertinent: "Whether absolution from the guilt of sin and obligation unto death, though not as terminated in the conscience for complete justification, do not proceed our actual believing; for what is that love of God which through Christ is effectual to bestow faith upon the unbelieving? And how can so great love . . . producing the most distinguished mercies, consist with any such act of God's will as at the same instant should bind that person under the guilt of sin?" This does not imply an "eternal justification" for it does not confuse the decree with the means. Nor does it make justification an eternal act wholly immanent within the eternal mind of God, but recognises that it is an act that terminates upon the elect in time. Scriptures and the Westminster Confession teach that sovereign eternal love in Christ stands behind the wonder of justification. Absolution in heaven and justification differ as part and whole."

125. 2 Peter 3:9 .

126. I Timothy 1: 16 .

127. This is the teaching of Calvin in the first five chapters of his Institutes, especially 5: 6-7.

128. Psalm 119: 68, 145:9 .

129. E.P.C. Op. cit. p. 12.

130. The Biblical basis for this distinction is implicit throughout Scripture but is found in: Psalms 2 & 73, Romans 8:19-21, 9:17, Ephesians 1:18-23 - especially v.22, 1 Cor. 15:22 28, Heb. 2:8-11, Rev. 6:9-11, Col. 1:14-21 etc.. For a further discussion of this distinction see William Symington, Messiah The Prince, (Edmonton, Canada: Still Water Revival Books), p. 71-108: Turretin, Op. cit., p. 250ff.

131. Romans 8:38,39 .

132. Genesis 1:27,28, Psalm 8 .

133. Phil.2:10 .

134. To confuse these two is to fall into some form of universalism, as does John Murray when he says: "All the good showered on this world, dispensed by Christ in the exercise of His exalted lordship, is related to the death of Christ and accrues to man in one way or another from the death of Christ." In other words "Christ for all men" in some sense! Scripture and the Confessions however repudiate the notion that Christ's blood was shed in any way for all. This universalizing of Christ's benefits is a logical consequence of the "well-meant" offer and of common grace. Mistaken as this notion is, at least Professor Murray was consistent to trace "grace" for the reprobate back to the only source of grace to sinners - Christ's death.

135. Ephesians 1: 22, 23 .

136. W.C.F., V, vii.

137. 1 Cor. 2: 14 .

138. Genesis 3: 15, 17 .

139. Compare Colossians 1: 20, I Corinthians. 15:49, Romans 8:21 .

140. II Peter 3:12-13 .

141. Genesis 2:7, 3:17-20, Romans 5 .

142. Acts 14:17 "Nevertheless he left not Himself without witness, in that he did good and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness."

143. Acts 17:25 . "... seeing He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things." This natural life is principally different from the spiritual life given in grace by Christ through His world and Spirit, (II Cor. 3:6 ).

144. Psalm 104: 27-30 .

145. However, this does not imply an attitude of grace in God to all, but as Francis Turretin rightly says: "The same sun that melts the wax also hardens the clay." The elect are softened; the reprobate are hardened.

146. Matthew: 5: 48 .

147. John Owen, Biblical Theology, (Pittsburgh: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1994), p. 74.

148. Symington, Op. cit. p. 105.

149. David Dixon, Commentary of the Psalms, (Banner of Truth Trust), p. 51. (On Psalm 11:5).

150. Ibid., p. 446 on Psalm 73: 4-10.

151. James Durham, Commentary on Revelation, (Amsterdam: 1660), P. 310.

152. Rutherford, Trial and Triumph of Faith, (Edinburgh: 1845), p. 348-350.

153. Some may also have spoken of a "common grace" but when they did, the context shows that they were referring to God's goodness in all the works of His providence as set out above.

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