Common Grace: Reformed Doctrine or Fallacy (2)

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.