07 August, 2016

Acts 14:16-17—“He did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness”

Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways.  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 (Acts 14:16-17).

This passage is often appealed to in support of a “general attitude of favour and love that God has toward all men.” The idea of this passage is taken to mean that God’s “doing good” (in the giving of rain and fruitful seasons, food and gladness, etc.) is His manifestation of a general gracious disposition. Others say that the heathen “had no right to” God’s “doing good” to them, and therefore, in this, it is “grace” (the presupposition being that “grace” means “getting what you don’t deserve”—an idea which, in fact, militates against passages like Luke 2:40, which speaks of Christ receiving “grace” from His Father in heaven—was He “undeserving”?!).


Prof. Herman C. Hanko


[Source: Another Look at Common Grace (2019 edition), pp. 98-99]

The text clearly refers to the fact that God, even in the old dispensation, did not leave Himself without witness. This witness was through rain from heaven and fruitful seasons which filled men’s hearts with joy and gladness. It was part of the witness in the creation of which Paul speaks in Romans 1:18ff. It was to make known to all men that God is a good God who gives good gifts and who must, because of His goodness, be served and worshiped as God alone. But God’s purpose was that men might be without excuse when they are punished for their evil.
That these wicked continued in their own evil ways is evident from the text itself: all nations walked in their own ways.
If we only will understand that the gifts of rain and sunshine are good gifts of God, then we will have no problem understanding either that these good gifts are not, in themselves, “testimonies of God’s favor and love towards the wicked.” They are the rain and sunshine which cause the fruitless branches of the vine of the human race to reveal themselves as wicked.


[Source: Common Grace Considered (2019 edition), pp. 158-159]

This is an interesting text that requires considerable explanation, though not because it is difficult to refute those who want to thrust “common grace” on the text. Whatever the text may mean, it certainly does not say anything about a “general attitude of favor and grace that God has towards all men.” That seems to be clear on the very surface.
The context is clear enough. In his first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas came to Lystra. During the course of Paul’s preaching in this city of Asia Minor, Paul healed a lame man. This startled the citizens of this city and they immediately considered Paul and Barnabas to be two of the gods that they worshipped and served. Under this erroneous conclusion, they prepared to make sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. Paul was determined to prevent them from committing such a terrible sin. The passage is part of Paul’s efforts to stop them from their horrible idolatry.
Even considering the text in this context and attempting to find “common grace” in this text, one would, it seems to me, immediately wonder why in the world Paul used the doctrine of “common grace” to prevent the heathen idolaters from worshipping him. But, apart from that, the text says nothing at all about an “attitude of God’s favor and grace towards all men,” but merely speaks, as I have emphasized more than once, that God gives good gifts to men. His gifts are always good and never evil. He is Himself a good God, infinitely good in His eternal perfections. He cannot give anything but good gifts.
You say, “Yes, but God also sends floods, tornados, famine and earthquakes. Is He good when He sends these disasters?” Yes, indeed, He is good also when He sends catastrophes, for in His infinite holiness and perfect hatred of sin, He sends judgments on the wicked in order that His goodness may be vindicated and His hatred of sin revealed. And surely part of the sin that He hates is the dreadful sin that man commits of despising God’s good gifts and using them to oppose God.
And, we may mention in passing that when God sends catastrophes upon His people, that also is good, for God uses all the sufferings of this present time to sanctify His people and prepare them for glory.
But the text in Acts 14 goes further. It gives a reason why God gives good gifts to men. That reason is not that God “loves them and is kindly disposed towards them.” The reason is that God does not leave Himself without witness. In the good gifts that He gives, God testifies of Himself. He even, Paul says, did this in the old dispensation when Christ had not yet come and when the gospel was not sent into the nations. Even in those days when the gospel was proclaimed only in Israel, the heathen, who never knew or heard the gospel, nevertheless, were given a strong and irrefutable witness of God. The Jebusites, Moabites, Philistines, Ammonites and all the other heathen nations of the earth received that witness from God through the good gifts that God gave to them.
Paul explains this further in Romans 1:18ff, and this point is sufficiently important to devote some time to it. But let it be established now that when God gave good gifts to men, He gave them to show all men that He alone is God, that He alone is good, and that He alone must be served and worshipped.
Paul appeals to that truth in Lystra, because he underscores the fact that the wicked, from the beginning of time and including the idolaters in Lystra, knew and know that God alone must be worshipped and served. The people in Lystra, therefore, must not offer sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas, but to God alone.



Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965) and Henry Danhof (1879-1952)

[Source: Sin and Grace (Grand Rapids, MI: RFPA, 2003), pp. 248-250]

First of all, we wish to remark that we fully understand the reasoning of some in regard to this text. They say that God did good. In doing good in the Old Testament, He gave rain and fruitful times, food and gladness also to the heathen. Now the heathen had no right to that. Therefore, because they receive something which they did not deserve, God gave the heathen grace—common grace.

Naturally, we agree wholeheartedly that God gives the gifts of this natural life to all. All men have in common the whole of natural life as it develops out of creation. We do not deny that these gifts of natural life are good. Who would deny that God does good? Who would deny that God always does what is good? Therefore, everything that comes from God is also good. The heathen receive from God good rain and good fruitful times, good food and good gladness. There is no difference whatever in that regard.

The question is whether God also gave grace to the heathen. That is exactly what we deny and Scripture never teaches. If at the moment when the murderer lifts his arm to strike the victim, God did not give him good strength, that cruel arm would at that very moment drop lamely. God therefore also does good in that instance, for He gives good strength. But who will still say that God gives him grace? When God gives to the Greek artistic skills, and He gives him the good marble, and the Greek then makes an idol, who would dare to assert that God gave grace along with the skill and the marble? When God gives to the Roman the sword and natural jurisprudence, and that Roman stands before Jesus and says, “You are innocent, but I crucify you,” who calls that grace? And when God gives to the world a glad heart to wild pleasure and revelries, who will say that grace is hidden in that gladness of the world? Therefore, let it be said again: grace is not in things, but in the good favor of God, who works blessing in and through the means. The things are always common in this world, but grace is never common.

Besides that, we must not forget that this idea does not even touch the actual point of common grace. That actual point, according to the doctrine of common grace, is always that sin is restrained and that the natural man is thereby qualified to live a somewhat good life in creation before the face of God. What does Acts 14 tell us? We have seen that common grace is denied in the prologue of the gospel of John. The light did shine, but the darkness was not improved by it and did not grasp the light [John 1:5]. It was no different in Romans 1. Far from teaching that a certain operation of God’s common grace can be detected in the history of the heathen world whereby sin is restrained in its course, Paul rather teaches us that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven [Rom. 1:18], whereby the heathen world became foolish and debauched [Rom. 1:18-32]. That is the very opposite.

Is it different in Acts 14:16-17? Absolutely not. Just listen: “Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways.” Is that not surely the very opposite of “restraining” the wicked in their way? The ways of the heathen are sinful ways, and God allowed them to walk in these ways. He did not restrain them, did not hold them back in their walk, but allowed them to continue. And this was true even though they were not without a witness of God. For God did not leave Himself without witness in that heathen world. No, He revealed Himself in rain and fruitful times, in food and gladness, as a God who did good. But that brought no change whatever in the ways of the heathen. If a change should be brought about, God would have to give them grace. But that is exactly what He did not do (v. 16).

Scripture does not teach a restraint of sin by grace but an organic development of sin. The whole of natural life is a place to serve that purpose. Spiritual death works from within, so that the total depravity of the natural man continues to develop in all wickedness. The whole of natural life stands at his disposal, and he subjects it to the service of sin. And from heaven the wrath of God is revealed against the sin and godlessness of mankind, and directs and punishes it in such a manner that man becomes ever more foolish and more debauched, unless divine grace intervenes. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him [John 3:36].”



Herman Hoeksema (1886-1965)

[Source: The Protestant Reformed Churches in America (1947), p. 328]

23.  Does not the text from Acts 14:16, 17 teach that God is gracious to the reprobate ungodly?
Evidently not; for:
a.  It merely teaches that God did not leave Himself without a witness to the heathen world, even in the old dispensation. He revealed Himself as the One that must be thanked and served—for He “did good” from heaven, giving rain and fruitful seasons, filling them with food and gladness. And, naturally, by means of these testimonies, the heathen knew that God is to be thanked and served.
b.  However, the text states plainly, that God let them walk in their own sinful ways—the ways of iniquity and destruction. Though they knew God and received His witness, they received no grace and, with their rain, fruitful seasons and food and gladness, they served sin and were objects of His wrath and damnation. Fruitful seasons, food and gladness with material things, are not grace, neither are they a manifestation of grace.



Gerrit Vos (1894-1968)

[With regard to] the good things which God gives to mankind … [There is no] question about it: God did and does good from heaven incessantly.

I would only warn you and say that this goodness of God with respect to the natural things is no common grace!

When God gives fruitful seasons and much wheat and corn to a reprobate farmer, then He indeed proves that He is a good God, but He does not give grace in those things to the reprobate. Things, no matter how sweet to the taste of man, are not grace. One may be loaded down with the good things of creation on Thanksgiving Day … and be hated of God from eternity to eternity.

If a man is of a reprobate mind and receives his riches of the earth, God is proving in all these things that this man is bad. The more God gives him, the more he breaks out in evil. On the other hand, God may deprive you of many good things in this life, so that you shiver from the cold, and are black from hunger, and yet He may love you very much. Witness the lesson of Psalm 73. Asaph in want is gloriously glad, while the wicked in abundance are sliding down the slippery places to hell.



Rev. Martyn McGeown

[Source: British Reformed Journal, Issue 63 (Autumn/Winter 2016)]

When God “did good” in Acts 14:17, it was as a “witness”—a witness to Himself as the good God. But the ungodly heathen must never imagine, when God “gave them rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness,” that this was a demonstration that the Creator “loved” them, “favoured” them or “sought to bless” them. Indeed, Paul writes elsewhere that the “wrath” of God—and not His love or favour—is revealed from heaven through the creation that God has made (Rom. 1:18-20).

God reveals His love, grace, mercy and favour in Jesus Christ! *Only* in Jesus Christ!



More to come! (DV)

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