11 September, 2016

Another Look at Common Grace—Chapter Four: "Blessings for All Men?" (Continued)

Prof. Herman C. Hanko


As our readers will recall, we are discussing the idea that God, in His common grace, gives blessings to all men. We explained what was meant by this and quoted from a number of theologians who held to this position. We noticed that the main concern of those who hold to this aspect of common grace is that the good things in God’s world, which all receive, are evidences of God’s favor, love, mercy, grace, and kindness towards all men in general. These good things in God’s world are rain and sunshine, health and prosperity, life in God’s creation and the enjoyment of the treasures which God has placed in His world.

We examined a few questions which also arise in connection with this position. We talked briefly about the relation between these “blessings” and the cross of Christ, and noticed that some proponents of common grace believe these are merited through the cross which is, in some sense, an atonement for all men; while others are not prepared, in the interests of maintaining a particular atonement, to say that Christ died for all—even to earn the limited blessings of common grace. We also briefly referred to the question of how the proponents of common grace explain the many judgments which come on the creation and which affect the lives of all those who experience sickness and suffering, drought and floods, hurricanes and earthquakes. If the good things in God’s world are blessings, how can these judgments of God be interpreted in any other way than curses? And, just as it is obvious that the good things of life come to all men, so also it is obvious that God’s judgments come upon the righteous and unrighteous, the elect and reprobate. How is this to be explained?

We are convinced that Scripture gives to us the key to understand this problem. Scripture tells us why, on the one hand, God gives good gifts to all men, elect and reprobate alike; and Scripture tells us why God sends His judgments upon all men, righteous as well as wicked. And, if we only understand what Scripture says of these things, we will also see that God’s grace is always particular and for His elect alone.

Sundry Matters

Some matters of importance must first be cleared up before we enter into the heart of the issue.

Those who hold to this theory of common grace teach, first of all, that common grace means an attitude of God’s favor towards creatures in general. God is favorably inclined towards trees and flowers, alligators and kangaroos, stars and rocks. So, e.g., the first point of common grace adopted by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1924 speaks of the fact that there is “a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to His creatures in general.”

I do not have any serious objection to this idea as such. In fact, if we understand it properly, this is surely the teaching of Scripture. Psalm 145:9 reads: “The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.”

The fact is, and Scripture clearly teaches, that this creation which God formed by the Word of His power is His creation. He formed it and He upholds it by His providence. He guides it in such a way that it serves His own purpose.

It is true that man, who was created as the head of creation, fell into sin. It is also true that through his fall the curse came on all the world, a curse which will not be fully lifted until the creation is redeemed. But this tragedy of unparalleled proportions which came on the world does not imply that God abandons His world and gives it over to total destruction. His providence sustains it and gives it its continued existence.

God loves His world. He has formed it; and, although man brought the curse upon it, the world remains God’s world. He will not forsake it. This is partly the meaning of that well-known text, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

It is true that the reference in this text to “world” is primarily a reference to the world of elect men. This is evident from the fact that the last part of the verse, in defining “world,” speaks of those who believe in Christ. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the term “world” is used here because it is the organism, the kosmos, of the entire creation with the elect under Christ as the new humanity which God loves.

The Psalms repeatedly speak of the creation as praising God. Psalm 148, e.g., reads:

Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light. Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. Let them praise the name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created. He hath also stablished them for ever and ever: he hath made a decree which shall not pass. Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps: fire, and hail; snow, and vapours; stormy wind fulfilling his word: mountains, and all hills; fruitful trees, and all cedars: beasts, and all cattle; creeping things, and flying fowl ... (vv. 3-10).

Not only does God love His world, but Christ also died for it. This is the clear teaching of Colossians 1:19, 21:

For it pleased the Father that in him (Christ) should all fulness dwell; and, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.

Paul is saying here that God reconciles all things to Himself through the cross of Jesus Christ. And, lest his readers misunderstand the import of the words “all things,” Paul goes on to say that this “all things” includes all things “whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven.”

This is because Christ “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: for by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: and he is before all things, and by him all things consist” (verses 15-17).

Christ’s death indeed accomplishes universal redemption: not in the sense of an atonement for every man head for head, but in the sense of a cosmic redemption which embraces all God’s world.

Thus, also, the creation shall be redeemed. When, at the coming of Christ, this whole world is burned with fire (II Peter 3:10-12), this great burning is not the annihilation of the creation, but its destruction. It is the sin-cursed creation that is burned. But the creation itself is preserved in order to be renewed and redeemed. It is transformed into a new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness shall dwell (Rev. 21:1).

Paul speaks of this in Romans 8:19-22:

For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope, because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.

God loves His world, and He will save it.

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Another question to which we must give our attention is: Are the gifts which God gives good gifts?

In a way, this is an important question, for it is at this point that there is confusion and misunderstanding. The defenders of common grace often accuse those who deny common grace of refusing to acknowledge the good gifts of God.

Let it be clearly understood: the good gifts which God gives are indeed good. James 1:17 is decisive: “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”

It is quite obvious to anyone who thinks about it that God cannot give bad gifts. He is in Himself good. He is good in all that He does. The creation which He has made is a good creation. Even the curse which He brings upon it because of the sin of man is good. In all His works and ways our God is good, good in the absolute sense of the word.

Thus the gifts which He gives are also good gifts. They cannot be anything else. With open and lavish hand, He bestows good gifts on men. Rain and sunshine, health and well-being are good gifts. No one has, so far as I know, ever denied this.

Whether these good gifts speak of a gracious attitude of God towards all is quite another question. But the gifts are good; of that there can be no question at all. Those who refuse to believe that Scripture teaches any kind of common grace do not deny God’s good gifts. Let that be clearly understood.

It is also true that from a certain point of view God’s gifts are always unmerited. Man can never merit with God, nor the creature with the Creator. Even when we have done all that is required of us, we are still unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10). If God gives good gifts to men, these are surely unmerited.

There are those who refer to this unmerited character of God’s gifts when they speak of grace. They mean nothing more than that God gives gifts to men which are totally unmerited by them. We have no objection to this idea in itself, although we noticed in an earlier article that the word “grace” in Scripture means more than the giving of an unmerited gift. It also refers back to an attitude of God. Grace is unmerited favor; and favor is an attitude. The question is: Do the good gifts God gives express His favor towards the wicked?

We ought also to ask in this connection: What is the purpose of God in giving good gifts? But we will refrain from answering this question at this point, for it will be considered at some length a bit later in the paper.

But all this does not yet explain the presence of judgments and calamities in this world. Not only does God give many good gifts, but He also sends many catastrophes of every kind. He brings abundant crops in one place, but total crop failure in another. He gives some people health, but He gives others sickness. Some people live lives that are relatively free from trouble; others know nothing but grief and travail in this world. Some are born healthy and robust; some are born crippled and mentally handicapped. It is easy to speak of God’s good gifts; it is not so easy to speak of God’s judgments, or whatever other name one wishes to give to those things which seem to us tragedies. It is perhaps rather natural to think of God’s favor when all goes well; it is quite different to think of God’s hand upon us when all things go wrong. If we are going to talk about grace, we ought not only to talk about good gifts, we ought also to talk about the evils which God sends into this sorry world. In fact, the latter far outnumber the former, and all life’s good things are overshadowed by the trials and afflictions which are our lot.

There is, it seems to me, a rather natural inclination for us to think in terms of good things as indicative of God’s favor, while we think of bad things in terms of God’s anger. Who of us has really escaped that? When all is well, we are inclined to bask in the sunshine of God’s favor upon us; when troubles and sorrows are our lot, we are inclined to think that God is angry with us and that we are receiving things at His hand which indicate His displeasure. What pastor, visiting one of his sheep in times of great distress, has not had to lead such a saint into the truths of Scripture which evaluate the sufferings of our lives in ways different from our evaluation?

But we do get things wrong. Our evaluations are not always governed by the Scriptures and our opinions concerning what befalls us in life are not always those of God's Word.

For one thing, it is important that we realize that we are poor judges of what is good and what is bad. We tend to weigh the worth of things according to our own personal likes and dislikes. It is a very personal and subjective evaluation which we make. We want our way in life. When God’s way is different from our way, we are unhappy and dissatisfied. We set up our judgments over against those of the God of heaven and earth and want only that which we happen to think we need.

If we are planning a vacation at the beach, rain is distasteful to us and interferes with our enjoyment of sun, sand, and sea. And we quickly grumble. But the very rain which spoils our vacation may be the moisture which the farmer needs for his crops. If the people who own golf courses were to decide the weather, their decisions would be quite different from the farmer who needs rain for his daily bread. We, often very selfishly, look at what happens in God’s world from the viewpoint of our own personal desires without any regard for our neighbor’s welfare, much less the great purpose and plan of God Who does that which seems good to Him.

Even more to the point, some things which are indeed good in themselves may be very bad in the hands of some people. A sharp knife is an indispensable tool in the kitchen where mother slices fruits and vegetables to feed her family. But no one thinks of giving that sharp knife to a small child. He may want it, scream for it, and create a tantrum when it is refused; but to give in to the child and hand him the knife would be reckless irresponsibility.

A child does not understand why it is necessary for him to go to the hospital and suffer the pain of surgery for a shattered bone. But it is good. The pain is good. The suffering is good. It is necessary for the welfare of the child.

A child may think ice cream is so good that all that he wants is ice cream. That it is good, no one will deny. That one eats only ice cream is bad. A child will die if all he is given is what he wants.

And, after all, we are all small children in the sight of God, children who have no idea of what is good for us and what is bad.

Surely these truths are obvious.

If a child should try to determine the love of his parents by what they give him and what they refuse him, he would be terribly wrong. If only ice cream indicates his parents' love, he can only conclude that his parents are very cruel and heartless and probably hate him. If getting what he wants is indicative of their love for him, he would conclude that their refusal to give him a butcher knife only shows that they are heartless parents, uninterested in his welfare.

We must be very careful that our evaluation of God’s attitude towards men is not perverted by our own personal opinions about things. Sometimes God’s gifts of prosperity are bad; sometimes affliction is good. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Is. 55:8, 9).

To make doctrines based on our own personal evaluation of things is dangerous business. To find grace in what is pleasing to us and judgment in what is not pleasing is to impose our superficial opinions on matters of profoundest truth.

The Perspective of God’s Purposes

If we are to understand aright the problems which arise in our mind concerning God’s good gifts to men and God’s judgments upon men, we have to look at them, as Scripture does, in the light of God’s purposes.

A Reformed man looks at all that transpires here in the world from the viewpoint of God. This is the viewpoint of Scripture, which alone can give us the proper perspective and understanding of all that takes place in the world.

God’s purpose is His everlasting and unchangeable counsel. From before the foundation of the world, God has determined all that shall take place in all history. This is the only explanation of providence. God not only created all things by the Word of His power; He continues to uphold every creature so that it receives its life and existence from its Maker.

But this very truth that God upholds every creature surely also implies that God controls and governs all things. All creatures are so in His hand that without His will they cannot so much as move (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 10). The Reformed man believes that nothing comes by chance, but all things take place by the will of God.

That purpose of God is to glorify His own great name. He is Himself the God of all glory. He is high and lifted up, far above heaven and earth. He is jealous of the honor of His own name and He does only that which will be for His own praise.

God has purposed to glorify Himself in His Son Jesus Christ.

God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb. 1:1-3).

This theme is struck again and again in Scripture. Just a few verses from Ephesians 1 will illustrate this.

According as he hath chosen us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace.... Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth ... that we should be to the praise of his glory ... (vv. 4-6, 9, 10. See also vv. 11, 12).

This purpose of God to glorify Himself through Jesus Christ is realized in the salvation which God provides through the atonement of Christ on the cross. It is a salvation which embraces the whole cosmos—as we noticed above; but it is a salvation of all the elect in Jesus Christ who form the organism of the human race in God’s eternal purpose.

That salvation is fully realized when this present sin-cursed creation is transformed into the glory of the new heavens and the new earth. That creation the elect shall inherit when they are brought, through the blood of Christ, into the perfection of the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven. Then the wicked shall forever be cast into everlasting darkness as the manifestation of God’s perfect justice, and then shall the righteous be delivered from sin and death to enjoy fellowship with God forever.

All things which take place in this world are to be explained and interpreted in that light of God’s eternal purpose.

God’s Elect Organism

It is at this point that we must introduce the idea of the “organism” of the human race.

It has struck me over the years that this concept is one rarely understood in today’s church world. I am not sure what the reason for this lack of understanding is. Sometimes I think that the problem is that Arminianism has had more influence in the church than we really realize. Arminianism is always individualistic. Scripture is not. It is true that God deals with men individually; but it is also true that God deals with men organically. It is the latter which is so often not recognized.

The human race is an organism. This is true because God created the whole human race in Adam. He is the organic head of the human race, the father of all mankind, the one from whom the whole human race comes forth.

We can perhaps understand this somewhat better if we recognize that the human race is like a mighty oak tree. Just as the whole oak tree which becomes a mighty tree over the course of many years comes forth from a lowly acorn, so also does the whole human race come from our first parents, Adam and Eve. All the human natures of all men were created in Adam by God just as the whole oak tree was created by God in the acorn.

Within the oak tree, there are smaller organisms as well. The leaf is an organism in its own right; so is the branch, the trunk, and an individual root. So, within the organism of the human race are lesser organisms: the race, the nation, the family. Each in its own right is an organism with which God deals; but each is an organism within the larger organism of the human race.

This organic unity of the human race implies also the federal unity of all mankind. Adam was not only the organic head of all men; he was also the federal head.

While we cannot go into detail on the question of the federal unity of the human race, it is important, at least, to understand it. That Adam was the federal head of all mankind is the same as saying that he was the legal head, or the judicial head.

This fact is important, for it is because of Adam’s sin of disobedience in the garden that the guilt of Adam’s sin became the guilt of all mankind. Adam’s punishment for his sin was death: “The day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.” This death was not only physical death, but it was also spiritual death. Adam was, at the moment of the fall, made totally depraved. The death of total depravity is a penal concept. It is a punishment for sin. It is the judgment of God upon man for his sin. This total depravity of man’s nature was passed on to all his descendants. And, although this total depravity was passed onto all men through the organic headship of Adam, i.e., because Adam was the organic head of the human race, the total depravity which comes on all men is God’s judgment upon all men for their sin in Adam. Because all men are guilty for Adam’s sin, all men are also born spiritually dead.

This is the clear teaching of Romans 5:12-14:

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (for until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him that was to come.

Death passed upon all men because all have sinned. But this death for sin came upon all men because by one man (Adam) sin entered into the world.

Thus, in connection with the sin of Adam and the punishment for sin, God did not deal with Adam as an individual only, but dealt with the whole human race.

Following this same pattern, God teaches us that He deals in a similar way with the smaller organisms within the one organism of the human race. So He dealt with Shem, Ham, and Japheth from whom the races of the earth descended (Gen. 9:25-27). So God repeatedly dealt with the nation of Israel. Guilt for sin in Israel was corporate guilt. First of all it was true that the sins of the leaders in Israel brought trouble upon the nation as a whole including wicked and righteous. A wicked king brought grief to the whole nation, and the effects of the wrath of God against a wicked king were felt by the whole nation. David’s sin of numbering the people brought the angel of death in fury against Israel and brought death to 70,000 men (II Sam. 24). But even individual sins of members of the nation brought with it a corporate guilt. This is clear from many passages in Scripture. Briefly we can refer the reader to Joshua 7, in which chapter we are told that the entire nation suffered defeat at Ai because of Achan’s sin. The text tells us in so many words: “Israel hath sinned, and they have also transgressed my covenant which I commanded them: for they have even taken of the accursed thing, and have also stolen, and dissembled also” (v. 11). Far and away the majority of the people did not even know what Achan had done; yet “Israel hath sinned,” and “they have taken of the accursed thing....”

In like manner, although this was the pattern through Israel’s entire history, Ezra confesses as his own, in a poignant manner, the sin of the nation which brought the nation into captivity and again threatened her existence:

And at the evening sacrifice I arose up from my heaviness; and having rent my garment and my mantle, I fell upon my knees, and spread out my hands unto the Lord my God, and said, O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift up my face to thee, my God: for our iniquities are increased over our head, and our trespass is grown up unto the heavens. Since the days of our fathers have we been in a great trespass unto this day... (Ezra 9:5ff.).

So also Daniel prayed when he was in captivity. He prayed and made confession:

O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments; we have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments: neither have we hearkened unto thy servants the prophets, which spake in thy name to our kings... (Dan. 9:4ff.).

Daniel confessed the sins of the nation which brought them into captivity, but did so in the first person, thereby confessing that all these sins of his fathers, even before he was born, were his own.

The same federal unity is found in the family, for God “visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate him” (Ex. 20:5).

Life is filled with this. The leaders of a nation may declare war. The citizens may not be entirely in agreement with their rulers. But all the sons go to war; the homes of all are destroyed; all suffer the consequences of war.

It is with good reason that the Heidelberg Catechism tells us that when we confess that we believe in the forgiveness of sins, we confess also that we believe that God forgives our corrupt nature against which we have to struggle all our life long (Q&A 56), for we are shaped in iniquity and conceived in sin (Ps. 51:5). We are responsible before God for our corrupt natures with which we are born.

If we understand our federal and organic unity in Adam properly, we can also understand that it is God’s purpose to create a new federal and organic union in Christ. This also is the clear teaching of all Scripture. Romans 5:14 says that Adam, as the federal head of the whole human race, was “a figure of him who was to come.” Paul, in speaking of the resurrection of the body, says: “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (I Cor. 15:22).

We must now expand the figure somewhat.

If we look at the matter from the viewpoint of God’s purpose, then we are able to understand that the whole human race is indeed an organism, but it is an organism from the viewpoint of Christ and His elect people, which serves a specific purpose which God has in mind in His eternal counsel: the salvation of the elect in Christ. It is out of the human race that Christ comes according to His human nature; it is out of the human race that the elect are saved in Christ.

It is perhaps better in this connection to use the figure which Jesus uses in John 15:1-8. Although the figure probably refers, in the first place, to the nation of Israel, it can be applied equally to the whole human race. God is the Husbandman of this vine, Jesus is Himself the vine. There are many branches in the vine, some of which do not bear fruit and some of which do. Whether the branches bear fruit or not depends upon whether they are in Christ or not in Christ: “He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing” (v. 5). The branches that do not bear fruit, though actually in the vine (i.e., in the human race) must be taken away, cast forth, and burned in the fire (v. 6).

This is the distinction between election and reprobation in the human race. The elect are in Christ and are saved; the reprobate are not in Christ and are cut off the vine and burned. But the vine is one organism.

This figure is apparent in all creation. The man who owns a vineyard must, for the sake of the branches that bear fruit, constantly prune the vine and cut away branches that are finally burned.

Scripture uses other figures as well.

A figure repeatedly used in Scripture is the figure of wheat. The whole plant grows together, but the wheat is finally gathered into the granary while the chaff is destroyed. The organism is one and grows as one, just as the human race is one and grows as one. But the whole organism grows for the purpose of the few kernels of wheat which are finally saved, while the greater part of the plant is burned when the wheat is ripe. The ungodly are like the “chaff which the wind driveth away” (Ps. 1:4). Christ is the One “whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Matt. 3:12).

The human race, looking at it organically, is thus the wheat plant which grows throughout history. Christ comes for the harvest (Rev. 14:14-20) and gathers His harvest to bring the elect into His everlasting kingdom, but to destroy forever the wicked.

The human race is an organism, and the elect in Christ are the fruit gathered into eternal blessedness.

Zion Delivered Through Judgment

The Scriptures, in connection with what we have said, lay down a fundamental principle which governs God’s dealings with men. That principle is explicitly stated in Isaiah 1:27: “Zion shall be redeemed with judgment, and her converts with righteousness.” Parenthetically, we should notice that the text is intended to be an explanation to the people of God in Judah why captivity was to come, and why this terrible captivity was to take away the whole nation, including the people of God. This is evident from what is probably a more accurate translation of the last clause: “And her returning ones with righteousness.” The Hebrew parallelism here makes the text mean, therefore, “Zion’s returning converts are redeemed through righteous judgment.”

The key word here is “judgment.” This word, both in the Old and New Testaments, in its noun, verb, and adjective cognates, has different meanings. If we limit ourselves to the New Testament (although the same is true of the Old), we discover that the word has primarily the meaning of “rendering judgment.” That is, the word means that act of a judge by which he passes a verdict on a matter or on a person expressing whether that matter or that person is right or wrong. It is the act of judgment itself, the weighing of the evidence, and the thoughtful consideration of the entire matter, the determination based on a standard of right and wrong. Such is the meaning, e.g., in John 8:15, 16: “Ye judge after the flesh; I judge no man. And yet if I judge, my judgment is true: for I am not alone, but I and the Father that sent me.”

The same word can also refer to the verdict itself, the content of the verdict, that which a judge expresses, the statement of the determination to which a judge has come. As such, the word can have two different meanings. The word can refer to either an unfavorable verdict or a favorable verdict. It can be one of guilt and punishment, or innocence and blessing or favor. And, in this same connection, the words can refer to the actual execution of the sentence, i.e., the judgment of punishment and the judgment of favor. As an example of the former, Matthew 23:33 is pertinent: “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation (‘judgment’ in the Greek, HH) of hell?” And as an example of the latter, we find Lydia, a convert of Paul in Philippi, saying: “If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there” (Acts 16:15). And this favorable idea of judgment is perhaps expressed in I Corinthians 6:3: “Know ye not that we shall judge angels?”

In Isaiah 1:27 the meaning of the word judgment is, clearly, the execution of the sentence of God upon wicked Judah for the sins of which the nation is guilty, sins which are eloquently described in the entire chapter. God has found Judah guilty, and now the judgment of the captivity must come upon the nation.

But it must be remembered that the great truth of the text is that Zion shall be redeemed through this judgment.

The reference here to “Zion” is to the true children of God within the organism of the nation. Zion was a mountain on which Jerusalem was built. It was the stronghold of the city. As long as Zion was not conquered, the city remained standing. (See Psalm 48, especially vv. 2, 12, 13.) It is typical of the church of all ages from the viewpoint of her impregnable position in the world. (See Psalm 87:5, Heb. 12:22, 23.)

As long as Zion continued standing, the city of Jerusalem was unconquered; and as long as Jerusalem could not be conquered, Judah remained as the people of God. But now Isaiah prophesied that Zion would be laid desolate, a catastrophe which seemed to indicate that Judah would no longer be the people of God.

This word of the prophet is God’s explanation of this catastrophe, about to befall the nation; and it is intended to be a word of comfort to God’s people when disaster strikes: Zion shall be redeemed with judgment. The judgment of the captivity, into which the whole nation had to go, would be the redemption of the true people of God.

It is evident, then, that the word “redemption” in Isaiah 1:27 refers to the restoration of the nation at the end of the captivity when the faithful in the nation would, through God’s preserving care, be brought back and kept as the people of God till Christ should come. But it is typical also of how God deals always with His church in the midst of the world. A principle is laid down which covers all history.

Thus, the word “redemption” has a broader significance. Objectively, it refers to the work which Christ performed on the cross, and, indeed, in Scripture the word is often used to describe Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Its basic meaning refers to the payment of a price to secure another’s freedom. It was used, e.g., in the purchase of slaves. A man might pay a fixed price to purchase a slave so that that slave could become his possession. But especially when a man purchased a slave in order to free the slave is the word “redemption” apt.

We are the slaves of sin. Christ pays the price of His own precious blood (I Peter 1:18-20) to secure our freedom. But, by means of the freedom purchased for us through that great price of Christ’s blood, we are not only delivered from the bondage of the slavery of sin; we are also made Christ’s possession. Both ideas are merged into one. For true freedom is to be a slave of Jesus Christ. Redemption, then, means that Christ purchases us so that we may be His own.

That price of Christ’s blood is the objective accomplishment of redemption. But such redemption is actually and subjectively accomplished in that work of Christ whereby His sacrificial merit is given to us and we are actually delivered from our bondage, become His possession, and enjoy that perfect freedom of belonging to Christ.

Redemption, therefore, comes objectively through the judgment of God for our sins upon Jesus Christ. The whole world is under the just wrath of God for sin. That wrath of God is terrible, for it drives the sinner into untold grief and trouble, and finally, brings him to death, the grave, and hell. But God has chosen His elect people in Christ. The judgment of God against sin, rightfully due these elect as well as the wicked, is assumed by Jesus Christ, Who suffered the death of the cross to take it away.

It is in this light that we must understand Isaiah 1:27. The passage lays down a principle which really is an explanation of the application to all history of what happened at Calvary. And understanding this, we will have help to understand the strange mixture of good gifts of God and His judgments (in the sense of the expressions of God’s wrath as He punishes the world for their sins), which are the experience and lot of all men here below.

Not only does God give many good gifts to man; God also visits the world with many judgments. Good gifts and judgments are the pattern and norm for life here below. Never must good gifts be considered alone without taking into account the fact and reality of judgments.

This pattern of His works is true of the history of the human race, for throughout the world the good gifts of God come along with judgments. Not only does all the world receive rain and sunshine; it also receives drought and floods. The rain and sunshine are indeed the good gifts of God; the drought and floods are His judgment. And all, without exception, receive both. The reprobate receive rain and sunshine, but so do the elect. The reprobate receive the judgments of God, but so do the elect. Floods and tornados do not spare the righteous.

Why is this?

The answer is that Zion shall be redeemed through judgment.

That is, the organism of the elect in Christ is redeemed through the way of judgments which come upon the earth.

This truth can be applied on different levels.

It has application in the first place to the individual child of God. God causes His people to endure much affliction in this world, afflictions which, as far as their objective character is concerned, are no different from those judgments which come upon men for sin. God’s people get cancer as well as do the unbelieving. Disease and trouble, sorrow and pain, come to the righteous as well as to the wicked. But these evils which are judgments upon wicked men for sin, are blessings for God’s people, though in themselves judgments, for Christ bore God’s judgment which was rightly theirs. Hence, for the righteous, all these things are chastisements from the hand of the Lord (Heb. 12:5-13); the Lord loveth every son whom he chastens. They are fiery trials which burn away the dross of sin in order that faith may be purified (I Pet. 1:7). They are the way in which the child of God is made ready for heaven. Each child of God is redeemed through judgment.

The same is true of the church. The church of Christ, in the course of the years, becomes gradually weaker, more worldly, more carnal, less faithful to the truth. The only way in which God can save His faithful people is through judgment. Sometimes this judgment takes the form of persecution; sometimes it takes the form of church reformation, for, indeed, church reformation, with its suffering and pain, its distress and personal agony, is judgment. But it is a judgment of God upon a faithless institute which brings reformation. But, again, Zion is redeemed through judgment, for the church is purified through the dark way of church reformation.

But more broadly this is true of the whole church of Christ in the world. And this is of immediate concern to us.

Why is Zion redeemed only through judgment? The answer is, very clearly, that the whole human race has sinned, and sin can be destroyed only through judgment. The elect, a part of that human race, can only be saved out of it through the way of judgment upon all men. The nations have sinned, and the elect can be saved out of the nations only through judgment upon the nations.

There is no other way. Zion can be redeemed only through judgment. But it is precisely this judgment which both destroys and saves.

It is with good reason that the Holy Spirit is compared to a fire and His work to that which burns (Acts 2:3). Judgment begins at the house of God:

For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? (I Peter 4:17, 18).

The nation of Israel suffered these dreadful judgments of God, for repeatedly the nation forsook God and turned to idols. Nor were the elect immune from these sins, for they joined with them, or, at best, did nothing to prevent them. The elect are not saved because they are better than others. And so, throughout her history, famines stalked the land, foreign invaders laid the nation waste, pestilences of every kind destroyed the crops and herds, and finally the nation went into captivity. The purpose was that Zion might be redeemed through judgment, for Zion are God’ s true elect in the organism of the entire nation. And the elect were purged, chastised, delivered, and saved through all these terrible judgments. They were a part of the nation. The sin of the nation was also their sin. Only in the way of judgment could Zion be redeemed.

And so it is throughout history. Judgments come upon the earth. They come because of sin. Within that sinful mass are the elect, sinners as all the rest. But Christ bore their judgment. So when judgment comes upon the world, it is the destruction of the wicked, but it is also the means of separating the elect from the wicked in organic connection with which they are born.

Here, too, figures from God’s creation will help us. The figure is especially clear in the threshing processes of Bible times. When the wheat was to be separated from the chaff, the farmer threw the bundles on the threshing floor, which was a smooth piece of ground where ordinarily winds would blow. He turned his oxen loose in the wheat so that it could be trampled by the oxen. The purpose was to separate the kernels of wheat from the chaff.

When, finally, all was reduced nearly to powder and the kernels freed from the straw, the farmer would, when a strong wind was blowing, throw all in the air with a winnowing fork. The lighter chaff would be blown away while the heavier wheat would fall to the threshing floor.

It was all laborious work, and the wheat had to undergo brutal punishment under the hooves of the oxen to be separated from the chaff.

It is an interesting figure. During the time the wheat plant is growing, the chaff is absolutely necessary: the wheat cannot grow without the chaff. The kernels of wheat are even a very small part of the entire plant. Yet the entire plant is grown for the purpose of the kernels. And when the wheat kernels are ripe, not only are they separated from the chaff, but the chaff, having served its purpose, is now useless and is blown away by the wind.

So in the organism of the human race. Within that organism is God’s elect, the wheat that needs harvesting. As long as the world exists, the wicked serve the righteous and both must be together (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43). But when the wheat of the elect are ready, the final judgment comes. Separation takes place and the wicked are burned forever, while the righteous are saved. But because the elect are being constantly saved from this world and brought into heaven, so judgments come all the time to separate the elect from the reprobate. But these judgments which separate are also the means of purifying and cleansing the elect who are wicked in themselves. Their separation is precisely their salvation, as sin is destroyed in them and they are made holy.

Zion is always redeemed through judgment.

Blessing and Cursing

It is in the light of all that we have said that we must consider the problem of common grace. We have asked and answered the question: Why do judgments come upon wicked and righteous? But we have not yet asked and answered the question: Why do good things also come upon the wicked as well as the righteous?

It surely is true that God gives many good gifts to men; not only to the elect, but to all men. It is also true that in this life these good gifts are strangely mixed with all kinds of judgments. But judgments are curses to the wicked, for they are God’s means of destroying the wicked. And judgments are blessings for the elect, because they are the means of Zion’s redemption.

Now the question is: Are the good gifts God’s grace to all men?

Once again we must remember that the human race must be considered as an organism. We may use here the example of a vineyard with many grapevines in it. God works with the human race in the same way a husbandman works with his vines. He gives his vines fertilizer and irrigation water, and upon these vines the sun shines and the rain falls. All that the vine receives is good for the vine.

But at the same time the vinekeeper prunes away from the vine branches that do not bear fruit. This is important, for only when the vine is properly pruned will the good branches bring forth their fruit. Good things must be given to the vine.

Let us look at this vine from the viewpoint of the vine itself. The rain and sunshine, the fertilizer and irrigation, all have the effect of making all the branches grow. But, through the growth of the branches, it soon becomes apparent that some branches do not bear fruit and others do. The fruitless branches are cut away so that the fruitful branches may bear “more fruit” (John 15:2).

But we must also look at the vine from the viewpoint of the owner of the vineyard. He knows with certainty that all the care which he bestows upon the vine will result in the growth of the fruitless branches as well as the fruitful branches. Does he perhaps say to himself: “I will withhold from the vine fertilizer and water because the fertilizer and water make the fruitless branches grow?” He would be foolish if he did, for his vines would, through neglect and lack of food and moisture, die. Does he, perhaps, give this care to the vine in spite of the fact that the fruitless branches grow too, thinking to himself: “I cannot do anything about it; I might as well face the fact that the fruitless branches will also grow?”

No, the vineyard keeper has a purpose in it all. His purpose is finally that the vine may bring forth abundant and delicious fruit. But his purpose is also that, through the growth of the fruitless branches, he may know what branches have to be pruned. It is only in pruning the useless branches that the fruitful branches bring forth “more fruit.”

This is the way God deals with the human race. He gives an abundance of good gifts so that the whole human race may grow. But the whole human race must grow and develop because God’s purpose is realized in this way. God’s purpose is that the wicked may reveal themselves as wicked when they spurn God’s good gifts. In that way they become fit to be pruned away. They are burned. But God’s ultimate purpose is that the elect people of God may bring forth more fruit and manifest themselves as those who belong to Christ.

This figure is not a figure of my invention; it belongs to Scripture.

Psalm 80 compares Israel with a vine, taken out of Egypt and planted in Canaan. God prepared room before it, and caused it to take deep root so that it filled the land. But God also broke it down through the boar out of the wood which wasted it and the wild beast of the field which devoured it. It is burned with fire. Then comes the plaintive cry:

Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand, upon the son of man whom thou madest strong for thyself. So will not we go back from thee: quicken us, and we will call upon thy name. Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts, cause thy face to shine; and we shall be saved (verses 17-19).

The figure is explicit in Isaiah 55:

For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it (vv. 10, 11).

Still more clearly is this figure used in Hebrews 6:4-8. It is strange, to say the least, that this text should be used in support of common grace. Let us listen to it.

For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

Then the figure which explains it all:

For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet for them by whom it is dressed, receiveth blessing from God: but that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.

All receive the rain. That rain brings forth herbs which are blessed by God. But that blessing is for the herbs. The same rain causes the land to bring forth briers and thistles. They are rejected and cursed and their end is to be burned.

God’s Blessings for All?

If we take this organic viewpoint, we will properly understand God’s good gifts, but also His judgments. And so we will be able to understand not only rain and sunshine upon the ungodly, but also droughts and famines upon the people of God—for all that happens in the creation happens to all alike. Let us begin with the figures we have used.

When a vinekeeper applies fertilizer to his vines, he knows that the result will be that the fruitless branches will grow. The question is: Is he favorably inclined towards these fruitless branches? Are the good gifts which he bestows on the plant evidences of his favor towards the fruitless branches?

To ask the question is to answer it. No, the presence of fruitless branches is a nuisance to him and only means more work as they are carefully pruned away.

Is the growth of the fruitless branches only a necessary evil which he must tolerate? In a way it is, but he wants them to grow too so that he can identify them. Only after they grow can they be identified as fruitless branches.

But in the fruitful branches he finds delight. All the work is finally for their purpose. He rejoices in the fruit and in the wine which makes his heart glad. All his labor is forgotten in the joy of the abundant harvest. He has favor and love towards the good branches.

So it is with the works of God. He gives good gifts to men. He does so because in this way the world develops and grows. These good gifts are themselves the means to reveal the wicked as wicked, for they despise God’s good gifts, use them to sin against Him, and reveal themselves as reprobate. They are not blessings for them. God is not favorable to them. He has no love for them. He does not send His good gifts to them so that perhaps they may, by these good gifts, be changed to elect. He knows His own. He knows also who are not His own. “The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked” (Prov. 3:33).

Asaph finally understood these things when he went into the house of God. The prosperity of the wicked was God’s way of setting them in slippery places and casting them down into destruction (Ps. 73:17-19). And when, in God’s sanctuary, he understood these things, then he could say: “So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee” (v. 22).

But these same good gifts which God gives are always blessings to God’s people. They are indications of God’s favor and love, for by them God’s people know that their Father in heaven takes care of them. Even as the curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked, so “He blesseth the habitation of the just” (Prov. 3:33). And Asaph could say, even when he suffered: “Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (Ps. 73:23, 24).

But all these things put also judgments into their proper perspective.

The judgments which come upon the world and upon our nation are God’s pruning so that the elect may bring forth more fruit. Not only do they see that God is judging the world now, but they see these judgments as the rumblings of the thunder of the great judgments of God which shall come on the world when Christ comes back again.

When these judgments come upon them personally or when they suffer because of the judgments upon the world, they know that these are necessary for their salvation. They are chastisement to correct and save (Heb. 12:5-11). They know that all things work together for their good, for they are called according to the purpose of God (Rom. 8:28). They know that all things are theirs, for they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (I Cor. 3:21-23). They can be patient in adversity and thankful in prosperity, for they know that nothing can separate them from God’s love (Heidelberg Catechism, Q&A 28).

God’s favor and love rest upon them, while the wicked are consumed.

Although it is not our intention at this point to go into this matter in detail, let it be clearly understood that all that we have said centers in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

On the cross Christ bore the judgment of God against the sin of all His people. The judgment of God’s wrath can no more come upon them. It is gone through Christ’s perfect sacrifice for sin. The cross is the center of the truth that Zion is redeemed through judgment. But Christ bore the judgments of God which are deservedly the portion of the elect. He died for them and endured their judgment that they might never have to be punished for their sins. And so, when the judgments of this present world come upon men, the people of God hide themselves beneath the shadow of the cross where all the judgments that come upon the world are turned into blessings for them.

But, at the same time, the cross is the judgment of the world, as Christ Himself makes clear: “Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:31).

If only we are willing to take the perspective of Scripture and let the light of God’s Word fall upon these perplexing problems of life, if only we do not try to interpret what goes on in this world by our own ideas and notions, then it will be clear to us that God, the sovereign One, works His great and glorious purpose in all things, that His own people may be brought out of this sinful world into glory with Christ.

Proof Texts

We have not yet had an opportunity to look at the texts which are quoted to support common grace.

There are not so many texts which are quoted, but we ought to look at those which the supporters of common grace appeal to in defense of their position.

John Murray appeals first of all to Hebrews 10:26, 27:

For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.1

Murray himself does not explain why he chooses this text in support of his defense of common grace, but one may deduce from his writings that his reference to this text is based upon the fact that the text speaks of those who perish as those who receive the knowledge of the truth. The argument then is: That the reprobate receive the knowledge of the truth is indicative of God’s favor upon them.

It ought to be quite obvious that such a line of argumentation is invalid.

In the first place, no one denies that all men receive a certain knowledge of the truth, whether that be the heathen who never hear the gospel and who receive this knowledge through creation, or whether that be those who are born and raised within the church and who know the truth through the preaching of the gospel.

It is important to God that all men receive such knowledge of the truth. God Himself sees to it. But the good gift of the knowledge of the truth is not indicative of God’s favor. It is not God’s purpose to show them His love and grace. Paul tells us exactly what that purpose is: It is the revelation of the wrath of God from heaven and it is given “so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:18, 20). It is important that the wicked reveal themselves as wicked so that when God punishes them in hell, their punishment is the just and perfect manifestation of God’s wrath against all that sinned. They will never be able to say that they did not serve God because they did not know Him. God shows Himself to them. They are without excuse.

It is more puzzling that Murray should refer to Hebrews 6:4, 5 in support of his views on common grace. He apparently means, by appealing to this text, that the enlightenment of the wicked, the heavenly gift given to them especially in the Holy Spirit, and the powers of the world to come which they taste, are all blessings.

But this will never do.

In the first place, the apostle is speaking here of people who are born and raised in the church, for their sin is crucifying the Son of God afresh and putting Him to open shame (v. 6). The good gifts which they receive are, therefore, the outward good things of the preaching of the gospel. These wicked even have a certain understanding of the blessedness of the preaching and can appreciate the blessings of the world to come. Nevertheless, they never receive these gifts in their hearts.

That this is the meaning is evident from the fact that these gifts are compared to the rain which falls upon the earth (v. 7). But that rain brings forth thorns and briers.

If an inward gift of these blessings were referred to in the text, then one can only conclude that the text speaks of a falling away of saints. After all, if these people who commit the unpardonable sin actually receive these blessings inwardly, then they are actually saved. But we know that Scripture teaches exactly the opposite: the preservation of the saints. (See John 10:26-30.)

More to the point are the texts which were quoted by the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church in 1924 in support of a general attitude of God’s favor upon all men, texts to which John Murray also refers.

The first is the passage in Psalm 145:9: "The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works."

As is so often the case in the Psalms, this verse makes use of the rhetorical and poetical device known as Hebrew parallelism. That is, the two parts of the verse are so related that they explain each other. God’s goodness is explained in terms of His tender mercies, and the “all” of the text is explained by “all his works.”

The text, therefore, teaches that God is good to His entire creation, which includes all His works. We have noted earlier that this goodness of God towards all His works is evident in the fact that also the creation is saved in Christ. He loves His creation and shows His favor and goodness towards it.

But even if this Hebrew parallelism is ignored and the word “all” is interpreted to mean “all men,” then still the meaning of the text is not that God is favorably inclined towards the reprobate. How can this be, when “the curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked”? But the gifts which God gives to men are always good gifts. He cannot give bad gifts, for He is good in Himself and in all that He does.

Perhaps no single text has been quoted as often in support of common grace as the passage in Matthew 5:44, 45:

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

Similar passages, also often quoted, are to be found in Luke 6:27, 35 and Acts 14:16, 17. Luke 6:27, 35 reads:

But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you.... 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 evil.

And Acts 14:16, 17 reads:

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.

Let us begin with the passage in Acts 14, which is not difficult to explain.

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.

Matthew 5:44, 45 is an important passage. The supporters of common grace apparently argue in this fashion in their interpretation. We must love our enemies and in this way love all men. When we love all men we are children of our Father in heaven. Our Father in heaven also loves all men and reveals His love for all by giving them rain and sunshine, for He sends rain on the just and on the unjust. Thus God loves all men and shows grace to all men, for all men receive rain and sunshine.

We need not repeat here what we have already said about the fact that all God’s gifts are good and that He gives these good gifts to all men. Nor need we repeat what we have said about the purpose of God in giving good gifts to men. But let it be clearly understood that this text too must be explained in the context of all the other passages of Scripture to which we have referred.

Let it also be understood that it would be a serious problem for the people of God if they had to contemplate the fact that God loves all men, and not only loves them. It would be a terrible thing if God loved those who walk in every sin; and it would be a terrible thing if God loved those who kill the people of God, persecute them, destroy them from the earth, and do so blaspheming God’s name while never repenting of their sin.

This would be a terrible thing because it would be (and I speak as a man) a kind of adultery on God’s part. His church is His bride, His beloved, to whom He is married in an everlasting bond of marriage. The world is not so. The world is the enemy of God. James is right when he severely castigates the church for loving God’s enemies and calls them adulterers and adulteresses: "Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is an enemy of God” (James 4:4). Yet so, common grace defenders say God loves those with whom we must not be friends.

If God loves anyone but His bride, it is tantamount to my loving a woman other than my wife. Nor would she be placated by my statement: “Yes, wife, but my love for this other woman is a love of complacency, not a love of benevolence.” She would tell me in no uncertain terms that I ought to be loving her alone. And she would be right.

What does Matthew 5 teach?

The love of which Christ speaks when He enjoins us to love our enemies is a genuine love. By that I mean that it is a love which is not sloppily sentimental, not simply the giving of material help; it is a love which is like the love of God. God’s love seeks (and accomplishes) the salvation of sinners. So also our love must seek the salvation of sinners, although we cannot accomplish that salvation; it is God's work. But we must, even when we do good to those who hate us, seek their salvation. We must call them to forsake their evil way, repent of their sins, and believe in Christ.

In this connection, it must be immediately understood that God knows those who are His own. We do not know them. God pours out His love upon His people, and by the power of His love He saves them. We have no such power in our love. We can only reveal to others God’s love for us. But because we seek their salvation, we reflect God’s love for us.

If that expression of love is shown to an elect, it will be the means God uses to bring that sinner to Christ. If the one to whom we show love is a reprobate, it will be the means to harden that sinner in his sin so that he will no longer want even the good that we show to him.

And so we reflect God’s love for us and show that we are the children of our Father in heaven. God also loves us when we are unthankful and evil. He does not give love to those who deserve it; He gives His love to undeserving sinners such as we are. It is this very consciousness of God’s unmerited love that moves us to show our love to those who hate us, persecute us, and curse us. Undeserving sinners who are the objects of God's love show love to other undeserving sinners.

We show this love by doing good to sinners. God also does good to sinners, not only to the elect, but also to the reprobate. In this way too, we reflect the love of God. God’s good gifts to reprobate sinners harden them in their sins so that they are without excuse; God’s good gifts to elect sinners bring them to repentance and faith through the work of the Spirit in their hearts. Our love, which we show to our enemies, does the same.

The only difference is that God knows His own; we do not know those who belong to Him. He accomplishes His sovereign purpose; we are instruments in His hand to accomplish that purpose.

But of God’s love or favor to reprobate sinners the text says not a word.

The passage in Luke 6 teaches the same thing. How churlish and ungrateful we would be if we, the objects of God’s unmerited love, would show love only to those who are deserving of our love. Even the publicans do that. But we are children of our Father in heaven. We must be different.

Thus, we come to the end of our discussion of this part of the doctrine of common grace. If we look at things from the viewpoint of God, and learn to think theologically instead of thinking in a man-centered way, we will have no problems.

All we can do, finally, is adore the riches of God's sovereign and particular grace as we humbly confess that, though we are wholly unworthy of any of God’s blessings, we are given, through Christ, the riches of everlasting salvation.


1. See our last article in the November, 1993 issue of the Journal in which we quoted at length from Murray.

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