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In the previous article we gave Scriptural proofs against the three points of common grace and explained the differences between providence and grace. Not included in the three points of common grace are two points which Richard Mouw brings up in his book, He Shines in All That’s Fair, that need to be considered with Scripture and the Reformed faith in mind. The first is the idea of God’s empathy to unbelievers. He says that God must feel a sense of pity for a Muslim woman who is raped and her child killed in front of her. God must also have empathy for a unbelieving couple who have problems, and He rejoices when they reconcile (Mouw 40-42). These arguments deal with assumptions from our feelings and emotions. Though we are to feel this empathy, we cannot just assume that God feels it too. Just like he punished the Assyrians cruelly because of their unbelief in Him, He can punish a Muslim woman who rejects Him. Just because we are pleased with an unregenerate couple’s reconciliation, does not mean God is pleased with the work of the wicked. This may seem to be a harsh view, but emotional feelings should not decide for us what is not revealed in Scripture.

Another interesting point that Mouw brings up in trying to prove common grace is the point that there is more than one purpose of God for this world. Not only is God’s purpose for the redemption of the church, he says, but also for the culture of the world to develop into a good culture. (Engelsma 78-79). However, Reformed Christians everywhere have always believed that the one purpose of God for this world is to redeem His church from sin and damnation and thereby to glorify Himself (Engelsma 88). This is His eternal purpose. Jesus was the accomplisher of this purpose. In Colossians 1:13-20, Paul speaks of Christ’s purpose through creation, through His church, and through His death, “That in all things, he might have the preeminence” (verse 18). Jesus from the beginning of eternity had a purpose, and that was to die and save His elect. Developing the culture of this world has nothing to do with God’s redemptive work except that living in it leads up to that final day of glorification. Christ did not die for the reprobate in this corrupt culture, but only for His elect whom He has chosen. The second purpose of God is not biblical and does not make sense in relation to Christ’s saving work on the cross that was His purpose from eternity.

With Scriptural proofs laid out, the differences between providence and grace explained, and a couple other ideas refuted, the dangers of common grace to the reformed faith can now be shown. The first danger is common grace’s denial of total depravity. The Reformed faith stands on the truth that all natural men, not saved by Christ’s blood are dead is sin (Gritters 12). He can do no good. Many times, the defenders of common grace refer to the Canons of Dordt III-IV, 4, which say, “There remain, however, in man since the fall, the glimmerings of natural light….” However, they fail to go on reading “But so far is this light of nature from being sufficient to bring him to a saving knowledge of God, and to true conversion, that he is incapable of using it aright even in things natural and civil.” The unbeliever, since he remains a man, still has good gifts of God which are “glimmerings of natural light,” but only the elect who is saved by the knowledge of God can do good works with those gifts because man is dead without this salvation. He can do no civil or natural good without the saving knowledge of God. Common grace says that he can. The idea of common grace brings with it a denial of this depravity which is a fundamental doctrine of the reformed faith and Scripture.

Another danger that common grace leads to is the denial of predestination. The Reformed faith stands on a truth that God has chosen His elect not because of anything they did, but according to His gracious will. The theory of common grace, especially in its first point, tells us that there is a free offer of the gospel as grace to the unbeliever. It teaches that God actually loves all those who are under the preaching of the Word (Gritters 16-17). Now, if God has predestined those whom He would save, how does He offer the gospel to those He has not elected? He does not show love and grace to those that He has not chosen. If He wants to show love to them, He would surely and effectively have saved them. This is the truth of irresistible grace. By accepting common grace, the reformed church will surely be denying essential points of Calvinism and predestination taught in the Bible.

Finally, one grave danger that a Christian can fall into with this theory, is the ignoring of the antithesis. Though we are called to live in the world, we are not called to live of the world. Just like the Israelites were commanded not to intermingle with unbelievers and idolaters, and just as Paul tells the Corinthians not to be “unequally yoked”, we are called to refrain from participating in the corruptness of this world as lights (Gritters 21). By accepting common grace, the line that the Christian must draw between that which is of the world and that which is not, is erased. Since unbelievers can somehow do good things, Christians can do more than associate with them. Soon, there will be a friendship with them, and then a following of their ways that, as shown above, are not glorifying to God (Engelsma 70). Professor H. C. Hoeksema writes that common grace and the antithesis is contradictory (29). Without the antithesis, Christians will begin to do, like many already do, anything the world does and slowly begin to lose their knowledge of what is really and truly glorifying to God. A Reformed Christian cannot lose this truth of the antithesis and thus cannot accept the idea of common grace because it threatens this truth.

Questions then arise from the previous point and the refutation of common grace. How are we then supposed to live in the world today? Are we supposed to be against everything it produces and are we to flee from all unbelievers? These questions can be answered by again realizing the difference between providence and grace. God, in His providence, has created man with gifts and talents. God does allow unbelieving man to make useful and “good” things according to our earthly standard (Engelsma 62). Provided through providence, the products by unbelievers, like a good book or a watch, are not evil in and of themselves. Though the unbeliever is not doing true good when he refuses to glorify God in His work, God’s work of providence is useful and a blessing to believers.

Many professing believers, however, with their freedom to use what God has provided, take advantage of such liberty and go overboard. They forget the important point that good is only done if an action glorifies God. It is hard for example, to watch a film filled with worldly lusts and glorify God. A Christian is called to use blessings provided by God, but if God in His providence allows an unbeliever to produce something that is sinful to use, there should be no participation in that sin. Providence again, is not grace. Engelsma says that providence serves grace, but is not grace (59).” Through His providence, He shows grace to believers through some products of the unbeliever, but His providence is not grace. That movie allowed to be created is not a grace to a Christian. One has to be careful that he does not take the truth of the Reformed teaching of God’s providence and sovereignty and pervert it either.

Since Christians may use what God has provided, does one have the right to befriend non-Christians? Again, in God’s providence, we are set in this world among unbelievers. The believer is called to live in the world. However, the association with the world in work and cooperation, is not friendship (Engelsma 70). They associate because it is necessary and commanded in the Bible. Friendship, however, is impossible because God’s grace is not to the unbeliever. There is no proof of grace to be seen in the intentions of the unbeliever. Grace can be seen in the intentions of the believer who desires to glorify God. Since friends share purposes and intentions in life, a non-Christian and a Christian cannot and do not share the purpose of glorifying God. Although Christians are called by Scripture to live in the world, they are not to befriend all in the world that God does not show His grace to.

It is truly hard and close to impossible for a reformed Christian to accept the theory of common grace which seems to confuse the terms of grace and providence and contradict Scripture. The dangers that such an idea brings up can be quite detrimental to the reformed church in the world today. Even accepting just a few ideas of common grace, which the reader may still be inclined to, can be harmful. The Christian is called to search the Scriptures. This is what one must do to accept common grace or reject it as a great fallacy.

Works Cited

Engelsma, David J. Common Grace Revisited. Grandville: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2003.

Gritters, Barry. Grace Uncommon. Byron Center, Michigan: Byron Center Protestant Reformed Church, 1994.

Hoeksema, H. C. “‘Common Grace’ Sickness.” Standard Bearer 41 (1964): 28-31.

_____ . “Editor’s Notes: The EPC and Common Grace.” Standard Bearer 51 (1974): 125-127.

_____ . “Question Box: About Common Grace and the Restraint of Sin.” Standard Bearer 51 (1975): 464-466.

Houck, Steven. Reformed Doctrine: Man. Lansing, IL: Peace Protestant Reformed Church, 1998.

Mouw, Richard J. He Shines in All That’s Fair. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001.

Is God good to those who reject Him? Is His mercy extended to all? Does God work in the unbeliever so that he does that which is right? These are only a few questions that may seem to apply to topics of discussion between Arminian and Reformed scholars. However, such questions have arisen within the circles of Reformed Christians. They rise over the doctrine of a common grace. This theory of common grace is used, without much thought, as an answer to such questions as those listed above. Should such a view of God’s grace be accepted in the so-called Reformed church? The intention of this paper is to expose common grace, with its three points and other ideas already accepted in many churches today, as a theory that confuses the terms of grace and providence and that also contradicts the Reformed faith, which is grounded in Scripture.

The first point of common grace to consider is if the natural gifts of rain, sunshine, and other gifts and talents of man are a grace of God in His favor to all humans (Gritters 28). This point appears to directly contradict biblical passages when it emphasizes favor to all humans. Numerous passages, like Proverbs 3:33 explain, “The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just.” Scripture explains that God hates the wicked and does not show any favor to them. He, in fact, curses those who are not His elect. Such is the Reformed doctrine of predestination and reprobation revealed in Scripture. The first point of common grace in its claim of God’s favor to the wicked appears to deny this.

How does one who denies common grace deal with passages in Scripture that seem to say that God shows favor toward them? These passages must be read in the right context and studied carefully. Whenever the Bible speaks of God’s favor or grace, it speaks only of a grace to His elect. Take, for example, Luke 6:35, which may seem to be one of the strongest advocates of common grace. After Jesus teaches us to love our enemies, He gives us the reason why we are to love them: “for He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.” A careful study of this passage shows that the word “kindness” used here is the same word as “graciousness” (the Greek word chreestos) used in other passages. However, this graciousness in the Bible is always used to speak of a saving grace. Take, for example, Romans 2:4, where Paul says, “Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness (chreestos) of God leadeth thee to repentance?” The goodness that leads to repentance is seen here as a saving grace and God’s saving grace is always particular. Again, Ephesians 4:32 shows Paul telling the church to be “kind (chreestos) one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” This kindness is that kindness in which God forgives, and God only forgives those whom He has saved. Jesus, in the Luke passage, is definitely not speaking of saving the reprobate but to those whom He has elected and forgives even though they are “unthankful and evil” (Engelsma 20-22). What Christ is teaching in Luke 6:35 is that we are to love our enemies, not knowing if they are His elect or not, for He loves His elect to whom He shows grace to even when they are “unthankful and evil.” This is the Reformed teaching of a particular grace that such a passage reveals, not a grace to the reprobate.

The second point of common grace that needs to be compared with Scripture is the point that God, with His Holy Spirit, works in the hearts of the unbeliever and restrains such a one from committing as much sin as he can (Gritters 28). The Reformed faith, with its basis on Scripture, does not deny that God restrains sin. It surely does teach, however, that the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of believers only. Nowhere in the Bible does God reveal the working of the Holy Spirit in one not elected. On the contrary, it is shown that God slowly gives the unbeliever up to his own lusts and wickedness in Romans 1:24-28. What is revealed to us in His Word is not a working of grace in the hearts of unbelievers but only a working in those whom He has chosen (Gritters 7).

The third point of common grace, which is probably referred to more than the others by the Reformed Christian, is that God shows grace to all humanity so that they can do civil good and produce good things (Gritters 8). Scripture seems to say the contrary. Romans 3:9-18 teaches that none can do good. Matthew 7:17 and 18 tells us: “Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit; neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit”. Unless God is gracious to a person in choosing him and giving him faith, he cannot do good. It will be a contradiction of Scripture to say that a reprobate can do good.

Other passages may seem to say that an unbeliever is able to do good. However, going through these passages are unnecessary because the “good” that any unbeliever may seem to do is not truly good. How can such a statement that unbelievers can do no good be made? In Romans 14:23, Paul tells us that “whatsoever is not of faith, is sin.” An unbeliever does nothing good in God’s eyes because his work is not done for the glory of God. Even the works of the righteous are as “filthy rags”! (Isaiah 64:6). Only through faith, by the true grace of God, and by the cleansing of Christ’s blood can a work be truly good in God’s sight. The Westminster Confession of Faith says that because the work of the wicked is not done for the right purpose, the glory of God, it is sinful (Mouw 39). Saying that God shows such a grace to an unbeliever so that he does good is a rejection of the Reformed doctrine of total depravity which says that no man can do good unless by faith, through His particular grace (Houck 27).

With the three points of common grace seeming to deny Scripture, we can now look to the common mistake into which the defenders of this theory almost always fall. This mistake is the confusion of the terms providence and grace. Providence is “divine power that keeps all things in existence and governs them (Engelsma 58).” Grace is favor and mercy used in Scripture with a saving purpose. When the defenders of common grace argue in their first point that God shows favor to unbelievers with gifts of creation like the sun and rain, they are making a grave mistake. Things of this earth provided by His providence are not graces to them shown in favor to them. They are works of His providence and His will that can be blessings only to the elect, who use it for His glory and even a curse to the unregenerate.

One may think that such a statement of it being a curse is too harsh to our neighbors in this world. However, living in comfort without God can make an unbeliever oblivious to what he truly needs, and such comfort is truly a curse. Psalm 73:18 and 19 tell us that prosperity of the wicked are slippery places and that such places are their downfall. It is God’s good providence, and not his favor of grace, that gives an unbeliever certain gifts that are not blessings to them.

When the theory of common grace says that there is a common grace to all, they confuse providence and grace in another way. They become baffled when they see believers facing trials and problems that do not seem to be blessings. How does a defender of common grace explain the trials faced by a person like Job? Is there a “common curse” to all as well? “His supposed common grace proves to be as particular as His (real) saving grace” (Engelsma 24). If trials are seen as the providence of God, however, such problems may then be seen as not His curse but His will for the good of His people. Not all have fruitful seasons of sunshine and rain that help them. Only when what seems to be gifts to the unbeliever and what seems to be curses to the believer are seen as providence of God working for the favor only of His people and the damnation of the wicked, can we understand God’s only grace, which is particular to His people.

Explaining the difference between grace and providence in the context of the second point is also necessary. The restraint of sin by God, is not a grace to them. As mentioned above, the Holy Spirit does not work in an unbeliever but only in the believer. However, there are outward restraints of sin which God uses to stop an unbeliever from doing every evil he is capable of. This is not grace to the unbeliever. It is God’s providence in setting the government and law in this world to prevent chaos (Gritters 6). It is God’s providence and His will that does not allow for some sins to take place. In addition to law, government, a person’s motives, feelings of shame, and just a person’s character are used by God in His providence, not grace, so that sin is not at its worse (Hoeksema 126). Only when God allows sin and evil to take place over these and other factors, can a person commit that sin and evil. Even though it is a sinner’s responsibility, only God’s providence allows for them to do anything. When Richard J. Mouw says that grace is everywhere to restrain sin, he should instead say that God’s providence is seen everywhere because He is sovereign over all things even over the heart of the king (Mouw 47; Proverbs 8:15).

Another way to look at the providence of God instead of His grace in light of the second point is by understanding how man was created and how he fell. He was simply made a man, and when he fell, he still remained a man. Hoeksema urges his readers that “man remained man” and “devils remained devils” (466). Man, in God’s providence remains a man, and even though God slowly gives them over to their sin (Romans 1:26), they do not commit every possible sin and cannot sin unless it is the will of God according to His providence. The fundamental reformed truth of the sovereignty of God should not be confused with grace.

The third point of common grace which tells us that civil righteousness, talents, and products are good blessing from God to unbelievers, can also be denied when providence and grace are compared. Mouw says that since God is delighted with what He has created, He must also be delighted in man’s abilities and “morals” since they are good (35-37). The denial is not that He has created good things in a sense that He is pleased with His work. However, it is denied here that the talents and good gifts used by unbelievers please God. In His providence, He has created man with gifts in craftsmanship, in athletics, in academics, and many other areas of life, but “he takes no pleasure in the legs of man” (Psalm 147:10). He does not enjoy the way that unbelievers use those gifts. His providence in giving such good gifts are not to show grace to them, but can even be seen as a curse to them since they don’t use them for His glory.

The third point, and also the first and second points, can be seen from the view that such gifts of God in His providence, if not used for the glory of God, is evil in His sight. If one realizes this very important issue, then he will be able to see that an unbeliever who does not know God will always be doing wrong. If his purpose in using a gift is not for the glory of his Creator, it is wrong. “For God to appraise a work as good that is not directed to God and His glory would be for God to deny Himself” (Engelsma 37). Can it be right to assume that God is pleased with an earthly work of an unbeliever, but not pleased with the unbeliever who actually hates Him? C. S. Lewis realizes this concept in his book, Mere Christianity. Just because he seems good when he follows that law, a man is still not truly doing good if his intention is wrong (73). Christians must strive to do what God wants us to do, and anything not done for the only good purpose, which is to glorify Him, is sin. It is essential to recognize that common grace is not in accordance with Scripture when it makes the providence of God seem to be a grace that helps an unbeliever do good.

In the next article, the Lord willing, we will consider two additional ideas related to the issue of common grace: the idea that God has empathy for unbelievers and has more than one plan for the world. We will then point out the dangers of common grace to the Reformed faith.

Works Cited

Engelsma, David J. Common Grace Revisited. Grandville: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 2003.

Gritters, Barry. Grace Uncommon. Byron Center, Michigan: Byron Center Protestant Reformed Church, 1994.

Hoeksema, H. C. “‘Common Grace’ Sickness.” Standard Bearer 41 (1964): 28-31.

_____. “Editor’s Notes: The EPC and Common Grace.” Standard Bearer 51 (1974): 125-127.

_____. “Question Box: About Common Grace and the Restraint of Sin.” Standard Bearer 51 (1975): 464-466.

Houck, Steven. Reformed Doctrine: Man. Lansing, IL: Peace Protestant Reformed Church, 1998.

Mouw, Richard J. He Shines in All That’s Fair. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001.

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