07 June, 2019

Why do ‘Good’ Things also Come Upon the Wicked as well as the Righteous if Not as Common Grace?

Prof. Herman C. Hanko

[Source: Another Look at Common Grace” (2019 edition), pp. 90-95]

[In answering this question], 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 (vv. 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. 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 (vv. 4-6).

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 (Note: see pages 80-85 of “Another Look at Common Grace” for an outline of the “organic” concept), 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 Godfor 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.

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