20 August, 2016

FAQ - 01 - Definitions, Terminology, and History


Q. 1. “What is ‘common grace’?”

Common grace is, according to its theorists, a grace of God that is common: a grace of God for everybody, head for head, bar none, including the reprobate—those not elected nor redeemed nor effectually called in Jesus Christ. The advocates of common grace claim that God has grace, love and mercy for the reprobate, those whom God has eternally decreed not to save but to punish in the way of their sins.

There are many different doctrines of common grace, but all forms of common grace hold to two basic points.

1. First, God has a favourable attitude towards the reprobate wicked, viewing them with grace and pity as objects of His lovingkindness and mercy.

2. Second, all the good things which the reprobate wicked receive from God in this life come to them out of a love of God for them, as proofs of His grace and favour for them and instances of His blessing upon them.

3. Other advocates of common grace would go further, stating, third, that God inwardly and graciously restrains sin in the reprobate (contrary to the Bible’s teaching on total depravity).

4. Fourth, God inwardly and graciously enables them to do works which are partly good in His eyes (contra Gen. 6:5; Rom. 3:12).

5. Yet others would take common grace further, claiming, fifth, that believers are to be friends with unbelievers (contrary to the truth of the antithesisGen. 3:15; II Cor. 6:14-18).

6. Sixth, Christians should cooperate with non-Christians in building the kingdom of God on earth (contra II Chron. 19:2; John 3:3).

7. Others add, seventh, that God empathises with the ungodly, entering into (so as to share) their feelings (contra Josh. 11:20; Lam. 2:2).

8. Eighth, most advocates of common grace link it with the free offer: a purported earnest and passionate, yet always resisted, desire of God to save the reprobate (contra Matt. 11:25-27; Rom. 9:17-18, 21-23). (Rev. Angus Stewart, Covenant Reformed News, vol. 12, no. 21.)

Most of the proponents of common grace agree that it includes the following elements: the natural blessings which come to all such as rain and sunshine; the maintenance of order in society in general; the postponement of judgment on the wicked; the preservation of truth, morality, and religion among men; the enrichment and development of natural life; the experience of the power and glory of the gospel to those who come under the preaching of the gospel but are not saved; and the restraint of sin in the lives of men, with the result that the unregenerate are capable of doing good in an outward or relative sense of the word. (Source: Prof. Herman C. Hanko, Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 26, no. 1, [Nov. 1992] p. 60.)

The theory of “common grace” posits an attitude of favour and blessing on the part of God toward all men in the things of this present timefor example, in rain and sunshine, health and happiness, etc. “Common grace” allegedly has nothing to do with eternity. According to it, a man may very well be the recipient of temporal favours of God all his lifetime, but be damned in hell forever. In fact, it is exactly characteristic of the theory of “common grace” that it separates between time and eternity. (Source: Prof. Homer C. Hoeksema, The Standard Bearer, vol. 50, issue 7, [Jan. 1974].)

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Q. 2. “What is meant by the two words common and grace in ‘common grace’?”

[According to common grace adherents,] by “common” is meant “universal.” That is, grace which is common is grace which is shown universally; not only to all humans, but also to all God’s creation, to what the first point of 1924 called “God’s creatures in general.” Some even speak of a common grace within the covenant which is shared by the elect and non-elect who are born within the sphere of the covenant.
And, secondly, “grace” is indeed defined as grace in the full sense of that word—even if common grace is carefully distinguished from saving grace. Common grace is a grace which is a revelation of God’s own attribute of grace. It is a grace that is unmerited favour. It is a grace that is synonymous with, or includes in it, love, favour, kindness, mercy, longsuffering, forbearance, and benevolence. In fact, common grace is also said by some to be rooted in the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Some emphasize in this connection that this common favour of God can indeed be called “grace” because it is unmerited; and that which is unmerited is always grace (Source: Prof. Herman C. Hanko, Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 26, no. 1, [Nov. 1992] p. 60.)

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Q. 3. “What is the history of common grace? And how did the phrase common grace become incorporated into the evangelical vocabulary?”

Originally a series of blog articles, the following pdf-booklet serves as a fine introduction into the history of common grace and how the teaching along with its terminology came about: Considering Common Grace, by Prof. Herman Hanko. [CLICK HERE: http://www.cprf.co.uk/articles/commongraceconsidered.pdf]

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Q. 4. “What is the ‘well-meant offer’ or the ‘free offer’?”

Below are various definitions of the phrase itself … 

“The well-meant offer teaches that God goes out in the preaching to many sinners in love and grace, desiring to save them and trying to save them, but failing to save them.” (Prof. David J. Engelsma, “Hyper-Calvinism and the Call of the Gospel,” p. 34.)

“[The well-meant offer teaches that] when the external call of the gospel comes to elect and reprobate promiscuously, it is a sign of God’s grace to them all.” (Rev. Herman Hoeksema, “Calvin, Berkhof, and H. J. Kuiper”)

“[The well-meant offer states that] in the external preaching of the gospel we see a sign of God’s earnest desire to save all that hear.” (Rev. Herman Hoeksema, “Calvin, Berkhof, and H. J. Kuiper”)

“[… that] there is a certain general grace of God in the general preaching of the Gospel.” (Rev. Herman Hoeksema, “Calvin, Berkhof, and H. J. Kuiper”)

“God is, in the preaching of the gospel, gracious to all that hear. Or, more briefly, the preaching of the gospel is common grace.” (Rev. Herman Hoeksema, “A Triple Breach”)

“The well-meant offer teaches that God desires to save every one who hears the gospel. This is an intolerable contradiction. On the one hand, God determines to save only some, namely, those who are elect; and on the other hand, God desires to save every one who hears the gospel. So, with respect to given individuals, God both wants to save them and does not want to save them.” (Prof. Herman Hanko, “For Thy Truth’s Sake,” p. 201, emphasis added.)

“By the term ‘well-meant offer’ I mean that view which teaches that in the preaching of the gospel God offers salvation to all who hear. God’s offer to all expresses His desire to save all.” (Prof. Herman Hanko, “For Thy Truth’s Sake,” p. 8, n. 7, emphasis added.)

“[The] well-meant offer of the gospel … teaches that the gospel is offered to all who hear it as an expression of God’s intention or desire to save all.” (Prof. Herman Hanko, “For Thy Truth’s Sake,” pp. 13-14.)

“… an attempt of the Saviour and an attempt of God to draw men to Himself, an attempt which fails because men are unwilling! God must give up over against the wicked will of man” (Rev. Herman Hoeksema, “A Power of God Unto Salvation,” p. 16.)

“… that it is God’s purpose that all who hear shall indeed hear, believe, and be saved (Rev. Herman Hoeksema, “A Power of God Unto Salvation,” p. 35, emphasis added.)

“… that the gospel according to God’s intent is an offer of salvation … [that] God presents this offer well-meant to all men; or, if you will, to all who hear without distinction” (Rev. Herman Hoeksema, “A Power of God Unto Salvation,” p. 37.)

“[… the teaching that] the Lord [declares] to all that He desires their salvation (Rev. Herman Hoeksema, “A Power of God Unto Salvation,” p. 47, emphasis added.)

“… that the preacher must proclaim that God causes the gospel to be preached well-meaningly, that is, with a passion for sinners, with the purpose to save them, not only the elect, but all who hear the Word.” (Rev. Herman Hoeksema, “A Power of God Unto Salvation,” p. 57.)

“The ‘free offer of the gospel’ is the teaching that God offers salvation to all men when the gospel is preached promiscuously to all. The free offer teaches that God graciously and sincerely offers salvation to all who hear the preaching, and honestly and sincerely desires to save all of them. The adoption of the first point of common grace in 1924 was an official adoption (albeit in a backhanded way) of the teaching of the ‘free offer of the gospel.’” (Prof. Barry Gritters, “Grace Uncommon: A Protestant Reformed Look at Common Grace,” emphasis added.)

“Very simply, the well-meant offer teaches that in the preaching of the gospel God expresses His earnest and sincere desire to save all who hear. Those to whom the gospel comes are all sinners. We can­not know whether they are elect or reprobate. But to all, both elect and reprobate, the offer comes. In the gospel God invites all men to repent and believe on Jesus Christ and to come to Him for salvation. Behind this invitation or offer is an earnest desire of God that the invitation be accepted by all who hear. God desires that all who hear be saved. In this offer God expresses His love for all who come under the preaching. Although many eventually reject this offer, this does not change the attitude of the loving God who sends it.” (Joshua Engelsma, Protestant Reformed Theological Journal, vol. 45, no. 2 [Apr. 2012], emphasis added.)

“[The teaching] that through the preaching God expresses His desire, willingness and intention to save all that hear the gospel because it is His revealed will to save all—a will that is rooted in some sense in an atonement which is for all.” (Prof. Herman C. Hanko, “The History of the Free Offer,” Chp. 4, emphasis added.)

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Q. 5. “What is the history of the well-meant/free offer?”

The following book serves as a fine introduction into the history of the well-meant or free offer of the gospel, and how the teaching along with its terminology came about: Corrupting the Word of God: The History of the Well-Meant Offer, by Prof. Herman C. Hanko.

[For more on this, CLICK HERE: 

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Q. 6. “When I speak of ‘common grace’ I am not referring to any so-called general attitude of favour, kindness, or love of God for the reprobate wicked, but rather to His general upholding, sustaining and maintenance of His creation via sunshine and rainfall, and also His general promoting of law and order in civil society. My version of a ‘common grace’ is totally separate from that which you speak of.”
                                                                    
[Since some mean] by common grace merely the good gifts that God bestows upon the reprobate wicked and a work of the law written in the hearts of the ungodly that causes them outwardly to conform to the law for selfish reasons, [they] should give up the terminology, “common grace.” [Their] usage is not the common usage.
The Bible does not use the term. Nor do the Reformed creeds (the only time that the Three Forms of Unity speak of “common grace” they attribute the belief to the Arminians in the Canons of Dordt, III/IV, Rejection of Errors 5). [The insistence of some] on employing the term to refer to the gifts that God gives the wicked, while rejecting any attitude of favour on God’s part toward the wicked, results in paradoxical, confusing statements … Instead of speaking of “common grace,” [we] should speak of the bounties, or gifts, of God’s providence. (Prof. David J. Engelsma, “Common Bounty or Common Grace?” – A review of Gary North’s “Dominion and Common Grace.”)

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Q. 8. “But do we not find many Reformed preachers intending by ‘common grace’ merely the general providence that God has over all His creatures, by which He gives them good things they do not deserve. And by the phrase “free-offer,” they mean simply that the gospel should be preached to all sinners promiscuously alike and that all should be called to repent and believe with the promise that there is salvation for those who do?”

Yes. However, those who defend these two theories in lectures and in books tend to mean far more by them than this. And it is in this extended and sophisticated sense that they are rejected by us and others. (British Reformed Journal, Issue 9 [Jan – Mar 1995], pp. 21-22.)

[Some take] the term free offer, of course, [to mean] that the Gospel should be preached indiscriminately to all men … Now if this were the meaning of the term, we would have no quarrel with it. In fact, there would be no controversy about the whole matter. Nor would the term be necessary. As we have said again and again throughout our history, and as our Reformed confessions plainly teach, the gospel must indeed be preached promiscuously and to all those to whom God in His good pleasure sends it. This is, however, by no means the doctrine of the free offer in the history of dogma; nor is this by any means the same as saying that God wills the salvation of all to whom the gospel is preached or that God is gracious to all in the preaching. (Prof. Homer C. Hoeksema, The Standard Bearer, vol. 50, issue 9, [Feb. 1974].)

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Q. 9. “You state that the controversy over the Free/Well-Meant Offer is not about the indiscriminate preaching of the gospel, but rather over the question of whether or not God has a real and earnest ‘desire’ for all men to be saved. Can you prove that?”

For proof of this, consider the following quotes from John Murray, “The Free Offer of the Gospel,” in Collected Writings of John Murray, vol. 4 (Great Britain: Banner, 1982):

the real point in dispute in connection with the free offer of the gospel is whether it can properly be said that God *desires* the salvation of all men. (p. 113, emphasis added).


the expression ‘God desires,’ in the formula that crystallizes the crux of the question, is intended to notify not at all the ‘seeming’ attitude of God but a real attitude, a real disposition … (p. 114, emphasis added).


If it is proper to say that God desires the salvation of the reprobate, then he desires such by their repentance. And so it a mounts to the same thing to say ‘God desires their salvation’ as to say ‘He desires their repentance.’ This is the same as saying that he desires them to comply with the indispensable conditions of salvation. It would be impossible to say the one without implying the other (p. 114, emphasis added).


… God himself expresses an ardent desire for the fulfilment of certain things which he has not decreed in his inscrutable counsel to come to pass. This means that there is a will to the realization of what he has not decretively willed, a pleasure towards that which he has not been pleased to decree. This is indeed mysterious … (p. 131, emphasis added).





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