January 28, 2016

Cornelius Van Til (1895–1987) on Common Grace from His Introduction to Systematic Theology

Common Grace

It is only if we think concretely of God that we can also think concretely of the things of the created world. And therefore we can think scripturally about the much-disputed doctrine of “common grace.” If we think concretely of the question, we see at once that the term “common” is really applicable only in a very loose sense to the idea of grace. God’s attitude toward the saved and the unsaved can at no point be strictly common. It is well that we begin at this point. God always regards the reprobate as reprobate. When, therefore, he gives to the reprobate certain gifts in this life, of which they are undeserving, and these same gifts (as, for instance, rain and sunshine) also come to the saved, we cannot conclude that, with respect to rain and sunshine, God has the same attitude toward the believer and the unbeliever. When we speak of the attitude of God toward unbelievers we must take into consideration the total picture of the unbeliever’s relationship to God. Thus the gifts of rain and sunshine to the believer are the gifts of a covenant God who has forgiven the sins of his people, and who knows that his people need these gifts. In a similar way, the gifts of rain and sunshine to unbelievers are gifts to those whom God hates, and are given because they too have need of those things to fulfill the purpose that God has with them. God gave Pharaoh life and ability to rule, that he might be able to do that for which God raised him up.

Both the wheat and the tares receive rain and sunshine so that both may reach the day of judgment for the revelation of the glory of God. In all this, God gave a witness to his presence (Acts 14:16). Men are through this witness without excuse. Thus God gave men and nations everywhere what they needed for a natural life and civilization, that they might accomplish the purposes of God. He restrained them in their natural tendency to do only evil continually, so that they, in spite of their own inherent evil nature, do that which externally resembles the requirements of the law of God (Rom. 2:14, 15). It was thus by the gifts of God to sinners that the full demoniacal character of sin appeared and shall appear. When the world by its wisdom shows itself to be ignorant of God, God by his grace saves sinners unto himself. When the righteousness of men is shown to be but as filthy rags, God reveals his righteousness from heaven among men.

We conclude then, that “common grace” is not strictly common. The “common” grace that comes to believers comes in conjunction with their forgiven status before God; the “common” grace that comes to unbelievers comes in conjunction with their unforgiven status. Externally considered, the facts may be the same, but the framework in the two cases is radically different.

When, therefore, we are exhorted to follow God’s example in doing good to our enemies, that is, in giving gifts to them and helping them (Luke 6:35), we are asked to have the same attitude toward them that God has toward them. We are not to forget that they are haters of God. We are to do good to them in spite of this fact. We are to do good to them, in part at least, for the purpose of enabling them to accomplish the purpose that God has with them. To be sure, we are not to judge absolutely. Absolute judgment God reserves for himself. Yet, by the appearance of the wicked deeds of men, we cannot but think of them as enemies of God.

We say that this is one factor of the whole situation. We do not say that it is the only factor. God loves the works of his hands, and the progress that they make to their final fulfillment. So we may and should rejoice with God in the unfolding of the history of the race, even in the unfolding of the wickedness of man in order that the righteousness of God may be most fully displayed. But if God tells us that, in spite of the wickedness of men, and in spite of the fact that they misuse his gifts for their own greater condemnation, he is longsuffering with them, we need not conclude that there is no sense in which God has a favor to the unbeliever. There is a sense in which God has a disfavor to the believer because, in spite of the new life in him, he sins in the sight of God. So God may have favor to the unbeliever because of the “relative good” that God himself gives him in spite of the principle of sin within him. If we were to think of God and of his relation to the world in a univocal or abstract fashion, we might agree with those who maintain that there is no qualitative difference between the favor of God toward the saved and toward the unsaved. Arminians and Barthians virtually do this. Or, we might agree with those who maintain that there is no sense in which God can show a favor to the reprobate. On the other hand, if we reason concretely about God and his relation to the world, we simply listen to what God has told us in his Word on the matter. It may even then be exceedingly difficult to construct a theory of “common grace” which will do justice to what Scripture says. We make Scripture the standard of our thinking, and not our thinking the standard of Scripture. All of man’s activity, whether intellectual or moral, is analogical; and for this reason it is quite possible for the unsaved sinner to do that which is “good” in a sense and for the believer to do what is “evil” in a sense.

With respect to the question, then as to whether Scripture actually teaches an attitude of favor, up to a point, on the part of God toward the non-believer, we can only intimate that we believe it does. Even when we take full cognizance of the fact that the unbeliever abuses every gift of God and uses it for the greater manifestation of his wickedness, there seems to be evidence in Scripture that God, for this life, has a certain attitude of favor to unbelievers. We may point to such passages as the following: In Psalm 145:9, we are told: “The Lord is good to all; and his tender mercies are over all his works.” In seeking the meaning of such a passage, we must be careful. In the first place, it is to be remembered that God is constantly setting his own people in the center of the outflow of his goodness to the children of men. So, in Exodus 34:6, 7 we read: “And the Lord God passed before him, and proclaimed, The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, long suffering and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and fourth generation.” In this passage we are, as it were, warned to think concretely on the question before us. God’s mercy and grace is primarily extended to those whose sins are forgiven. If in any sense it is given to those whose sins are not forgiven, it must always be remembered that God does not overlook iniquity. We may therefore expect that in Psalm 145 the psalmist teaches nothing that is out of accord with what has been taught in Exodus 34. Thus, the primary meaning of Psalm 145 is again that God’s great favor is toward his people. Even when God gives great gifts to non-believers, they are, in a more basic sense, gifts to believers. Gifts of God to unbelievers help to make the life of believers possible, and in measure, pleasant. But this does not detract from the fact that the unbeliever himself is, in a measure, the recipient of God’s favor. There is a certain joy in the gift of life and its natural blessings for the unbeliever. And we may well think that Psalm 145 has this in mind. Such joy as there is in the life of the unbeliever cannot be found in him after this life is over. Even in the hereafter, the lost will belong to the works of God’s hands. And God no doubt has joy that through the works of evil men and angels, he is establishing his glory. Yet that is not what the psalmist seems to mean. There seems to be certain satisfaction on the part of God even in the temporary joy of the unbeliever as a creature of himself, a joy which will in the end turn to bitterness, but which none the less, is joy while it lasts.

Another passage to which we briefly refer is Matthew 5:44, 45. “But I say unto you, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good.” In this passage, the disciples of Jesus are told to deny themselves the selfish joy of expressing enmity against those that hate them. They are not to express their attitude of hostility. But this is not all they are to do. They are to replace the attitude of hatred with an attitude of love. He does not know but that this one who now hates him may one day become a believer. This is one factor in the total situation. Yet this is not to be made the only factor. It is not even the expressed reason for his loving his enemy. The one guide for the believer’s action with respect to the enemy is God’s attitude toward that enemy. And the believer is told definitely to love his enemy in imitation of God’s attitude toward that enemy. God’s attitude toward that enemy must therefore in some sense be one of love. It is no doubt the love of an enemy, and, therefore, in God’s case, never the same sort of love as the love toward his children. And to the extent that we know men to be enemies of the Lord, we too cannot love them in the same sense in which we are told to love fellow-believers. God no doubt lets the wheat and the tares grow together till the day of judgment, but even so, though God’s ultimate purpose with unbelievers is their destruction and the promotion of his glory through their destruction, he loves them, in a sense, while they are still kept by himself, through his own free gifts, from fully expressing the wicked principle that is in them.

So also ought we to think of what is often called the universal well-meant offer of salvation. We know that there are those whom God, in his secret counsel does not intend to save. Of those round about us, we do not always know who are saved and who are not. In a sense, therefore, our ignorance accounts for the necessity of using a general formula in preaching the gospel. Yet this is not the only reason why Christ wept over Jerusalem, over Jerusalem which he knew would, for the most part, reject him. So God calls those whom he knows will harden their hearts. He labored with Pharaoh to let his people go before the final time of destruction should come. Yet he had raised up Pharaoh for that final destruction. It is the duty of men to repent, as it was originally their duty not to sin. It is always the duty of man to obey the voice of God. The call to repentance that unbelievers receive will add to their judgment because they do not heed it. But to be able to add to their judgment, it must have had a real meaning in their case. To say this is not to fall into individualistic Arminianism. Those who have not heard the call of redemption ill be judged because they are sinners in Adam and with Adam. Yet those who have heard the call and have not accepted it will receive the greater damnation. Thus, there must be a genuine meaning in the call that comes to them. It is only if we really think analogically or concretely of the attributes of God that we can thus do justice to all the aspects of Scripture truth.

It is only if we keep all this in mind that we can understand something of what is meant when Paul says in Romans 2:14, 15 that the natural man does by nature the work of the law. This cannot mean that man’s sinful nature is no longer sinful. If that were the case, it would mean that he had already received the gospel. It can only mean, therefore, that, in spite of his sinful heart, he habitually does things that, externally considered, fulfill the requirements of the law. His good deeds are adventitious as far as his sinful heart is concerned, but there is in him such a thing as an old nature, which, in spite of himself, leads him to do that which is good after a fashion. It is not merely not as bad as it might be, but it is, in a sense, good. It is a gift of God to the unbeliever when in this life he leads an externally good life, even if it be not from his heart. The deeds of the unbelievers are, to be sure, splendid vices; they are that, but they are also at the same time something else. They are, in a sense, a gift of God’s favor; and they, in turn, are the object of a certain favor of God.

All in all the idea of commonness, whether applied to grace or to the gospel call should be closely connected with the idea of earlier and later. Commonness is always commonness up to a point and with a difference. But commonness is more common earlier than later. Men in general, believers and unbelievers, are regarded and treated similarly according as the process of differentiation between them has not come to development. There is a common wrath upon elect and non-elect to the extent that the difference between the elect and the non-elect has not yet come to expression. So also with common grace and the common gospel call. It is to men regarded in their more or less undifferentiated state that the term commonness is applicable. History has genuine meaning; the doctrine of election may not be interpreted so as to destroy its meaning, but rather so as to be the foundation of it.
Cornelius Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1974), 240–244. [underlining in the original]


December 13, 2015

John Hooper (c.1495–1555) on God’s Justice and Will to Save

We shall find at length God to be just in his word, and will punish with eternal fire our contumacy and inobedience [sic]; which fire shall be no less hot than his word speaketh of. So did he with Saul: persuaded the miserable wretch that God was so good, that though he offended, he would not punish him as he said, but be pleased with a fat sacrifice again. 1 Reg. xv. This doctrine is therefore necessary to be known of all men, that God is just and true, and requireth of us fear and obedience; as Saint John saith, “He that sent me is true.” David, Psalm cxlv., speaketh thus of his justice, “The Lord is just in all his ways.” And understand, that his justice extendeth to two diverse ends: the one is, that he would all men to be saved, Gen. iii. xv. xvii. Matt. xi. Isai. liii. 1 Tim. ii. Rom. xi.; the other end, to give every man according to his acts.

To obtain the first end of his justice, as many as be not utterly wicked, and may be holpen: partly with threatenings, and partly with promises he allureth, and provoketh them unto amendment of life. The other part of his justice rewardeth the obedience of the good, and punisheth the inobedience [sic] and contempt of the ill. These two justices the elders to call correctiuam, and retributiuam. Jonas the prophet speaketh of the first, chap. ii. and Christ, Matt. xxv. of the second. God would all men to be saved, and therefore provoketh, now by fair means, now by foul, that the sinner should satisfy his just and righteous pleasure. Not that the promises of God pertain unto such as will not repent, or his threatenings to him that doth repent; but those means he useth to save his poor creatures. 1 Cor. xi. This wise useth he to nurture us, until such time as his holy Spirit work such a perfection in us, that we will obey him, though there were no pain nor joy mentioned of at all.
John Hooper, “A Declaration of the X holie commandments of Almightie God,” in Early Writings of John Hooper, D. D., ed. Samuel Carr (Cambridge: University Press, 1843), 266–267. Also in John Hooper, A Declaration of the x. holie commandments of Almightie God (London: Imprinted by Robert Walde-graue, for Thomas Woodcocke, 1588?), B2r–B3v.

DNB (2)

July 28, 2015

Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758) on Sinners Rejecting God’s Dying Love

Think it not strange that God should deal so severely with thee, or that the wrath which thou shalt suffer should be so great. For as great as it is, it is no greater than that love of God which thou hast despised. The love of God, and his grace, condescension, and pity to sinners in sending his Son into the world to die for them, is every whit as great and wonderful as this inexpressible wrath. This mercy hath been held forth to thee, and described in its wonderful greatness hundreds of times, and as often hath it been offered to thee; but thou wouldst not accept Christ; thou wouldst not have this great love of God; thou despisedst God’s dying love; thou trampledst the benefits of it under foot. Now why shouldst thou not have wrath as great as that love and mercy which thou despisest and rejectest? Doth it seem incredible to thee, that God should so harden his heart against a poor sinner, as so to destroy him, and to bear him down with infinite power and merciless wrath? And is this a greater thing than it is for thee to harden thy heart, as thou hast done, against infinite mercy, and against the dying love of God?
Jonathan Edwards, “The Future Punishment of the Wicked Unavoidable and Intolerable,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1992), 81–82.


July 12, 2015

Nathaniel Appleton (1693–1784) on God’s Preceptive Will and His Willingness to Save All Men

Moreover, it may be considered as the Preceptive Will of God. He wills, that is, he commands, that all Men should be saved; and this he does, as he commands, those Things universally that accompany Salvation, yea and in which Salvation does very much consist.—The Preceptive Will of God is universal; what he says to one, he says to all who come within hearing of it. And now God may be said to will the Salvation of all Men, as truly & as really as he wills they should keep his Commandments. As he wills that all Men should obey him, so he wills that they should all be saved; because there is an inseparable Connection between Obedience and Salvation, and the one implies the other. Thus we are told, Act. 17.30. That God commands all Men every where to repent. Well, just so he wills that all Men every where should be saved: For that Repentance which he wills, is unto Salvation: Nay true Repentance is Salvation; Salvation begun in the Soul: And it seems by the Apostle as if Repentance and Salvation were synonymous or convertible Terms, in the forementioned 2 Pet. 3.9. Not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to Repentance. Where perishing and Repentance are put in Opposition, plainly signifying that Repentance is the same with Salvation, which is the contrary or opposite to perishing. So again, it is the Will of God that all Men should honour the Son even as they honour the Father, Joh. 5.23. Well, this is as much as to will the Salvation of all Men: For this is Life eternal, to know and honour the true God and Jesus Christ whom he sent, Joh. 17.3. Again, who is there but what will acknowledge that God wills Men to forsake their Sins, turn to him, and lead holy Lives? For this is the Will of God, even your Sanctification. And if he wills that all Men should flee from Sin and follow Holiness, he wills that all Men should be saved, for Holiness and Freedom from Sin, is that in which a great Part of our Happiness consists. Finally here, since the Grace of God which has appeared unto all Men, bringing Salvation, teaches us to deny all Ungodliness, and worldly Lusts, and to live soberly, and righteously, and godly in this present World, (Tit. 2.11, 12.) it must be allowed to be the Will of God that we should all thus live; and this is to will the Salvation of all: For it is in this Way that the Grace of God brings Salvation unto us.

Now therefore, if there be any Persons who doubt whether God is really willing that all Men should be saved, let them consider whether God be really willing that all should repent, that all should believe, that all should forsake their Sins, and obey the Gospel; and consider whether all such do not contradict and oppose the Will of God, who do not repent of their Sins, and live as the Gospel teaches them.

And now, would it not be very shocking to you, for any to say, that God was not willing that all Men should repent, that he was not willing they should all turn from their Sins, and was not willing they should all obey his Commands? Why, it is really as shocking for any to say, that God is not willing that all should be saved: Because Repentance, and Faith, and Obedience, and Salvation, are so interwoven together, that the one necessarily implies the other.

Similarly, John Frame said:
If God desires people to repent of sin, then certainly he desires them to be saved, for salvation is the fruit of such repentance.

June 25, 2015

John Foxe (1517–1587) on God’s Common and Special Love

“The second article: ‘Christ doth more love a predestinate man being sinful, than any reprobate in what grace possible soever he be.’ Answer: My words are in the fourth chapter of my book entitled, ‘Of the Church:’ ‘And it is evident that God doth more love any predestinate being sinful, than any reprobate in what grace soever he be for the time; forasmuch as he willeth that the predestinate shall have perpetual blessedness, and the reprobate shall have eternal fire.’ Wherefore God partly infinitely loving them both as his creatures, yet he doth more love the predestinate, because he giveth them greater grace, or a greater gift, that is to say, life everlasting, which is greater and more excellent than grace only, according to present justice. And the third article of those articles before, soundeth very near unto this: that the predestinate cannot fall from grace. For they have a certain radical grace rooted in them, although they be deprived of the abundant grace for a time. These things are true in the compound sense.”


June 18, 2015

Isaac Watts’ (1674–1748) Dualistic View of the Atonement

Yet further, one Christian may delight more to fix his Eye and Hope on Christ, as a Surety or Representative of his Elect, or of those whom he certainly and finally saves, and on that account he suffered Death particularly in their room and stead, and secured to them certain Deliverance and Salvation; yet he cannot therefore affirm, that Christ did not, in any Sense, die for all Men, as a general Friend of Man, or suffer Death for their Good; nor can he say, that the Benefits of his Death do not any way reach to all Mankind. Another perhaps will say, since all are dead, he died for all as a common Mediator betwixt God and Man, or as a general Benefactor to procure conditional Salvation for all Men, and offer it to them if they are willing to come to him and receive it; but he cannot say, that he was not a proper Surety, or Representative of his Elect, whereby he has secured certain Salvation to them only: For as I have shown in former Papers, that he by his Righteousness and Death has directly and absolutely procured this Salvation for his Elect, as their Head and Representative, but yet he has also procured Salvation, with all the Glories of it, conditionally, for the rest of Mankind, upon which Foundation these Blessings are offer’d to all Men in the Gospel.
Isaac Watts, Orthodoxy and Charity United (Boston, N.E.: Reprinted and sold by Rogers and Fowle in Queen-Street., 1749), 184–185. Also in “Orthodoxy and Charity United,” in The Works of the Rev. Isaac Watts, D.D., 9 vols. (Leeds: Printed by Edward Baines, 1813), 180.


June 12, 2015

Benjamin Wadsworth (1670–1737) on God’s Mercy, Patience, and Final Judgment

In the day of God’s Patience there’s ground to Pray with hope of success (God regards the Prayer of the destitute, and will not despise their Prayer) but when God’s abused Patience is ended, all the Prayers of Sinners will be disregarded. The wicked rich Man in Hell, tormented in those scorching Flames, begg’d for as much Water to cool his Tongue, as could hang on the tip of a Mans Finger; what a small pittance was this? He did not ask to be taken out of Hell, not ask to have those Flames quenched; not ask to have a running River, a living Fountain always by him to cool and refresh him; no, he ask’d but a small matter, a drop of Water, and that when he was in utmost necessity too, and yet ‘twas deny’d him, Luk. 16 Chap. Oh believe it, God has not one drop of Mercy for the finally obstinate and rebellious Sinner. In this World, God’s Mercy (as it were) goes a begging to them, ‘tis brought to their very Doors and offer’d to them; Christ stands at the Door and knocks for entrance. They actually enjoy many outward Mercies, and Spiritual Eternal Mercies are offered to them and urged on them; but when God’s Patience is ended, let them Cry and Pray as long as they will, not the least drop of Mercy shall be obtained for them. And as they shall not have the least drop of Mercy, so they shall have Wrath and Misery without mixture; Pain without mitigation or intermission. They shall be cast into outer darkness, where there’s weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth: they shall be cut asunder; shall be plagu’d with the Worm that never dies, the Fire that never can be quenched, and that among Damned Devils forever. Truly, no Tongue can declare, no Heart conceive the greatness of this Misery. Oh, it’s a fearful thing to fall into the Hands of the living God, Heb. 10.31. Who knoweth the Power of his Anger! None can deliver out of his Hands; he’ll punish his obstinate Enemies with Everlasting Destruction.
Benjamin Wadsworth, “Sermon IX: GOD’S BOW Bent, and SWORD Drawn against the Wicked,” in Twelve Single Sermons on Various Subjects (Boston: Printed by B. Green, for N. Buttolph, B. Eliot, S. Gerrish, and D. Henchman, sold at their shops, 1717), 183–185.


Other men within the Augustinian tradition who use the metaphor of God begging are the following:

Augustine (Early Church Father), Hugh Latimer (Early English Reformer), Isaac Ambrose (Puritan), Daniel Burgess (Puritan), Jeremiah Burroughs (Westminster divine), Richard Baxter (Puritan), Joseph Caryl (Westminster divine), Thomas Case (Puritan), Stephen Charnock (Puritan), John Collinges (Puritan), John Flavel (Puritan), Theophilus Gale (Puritan), William Gearing (Puritan), Andrew Gray (Puritan), William Gurnall (Puritan), Robert Harris (Westminster divine), Thomas Larkham (Puritan), Thomas Manton (Puritan), John Murcot (Puritan), George Newton (Puritan), Anthony Palmer (Puritan), Edward Reynolds (Westminster divine), John Richardson (Puritan), Samuel Rutherford (Westminster divine), John Shower (Puritan), Richard Sibbes (Puritan), Sydrach Simpson (Westminster divine), William Strong (Westminster divine), George Swinnock (Puritan), John Trapp (Puritan), Ralph Venning (Puritan), Nathaniel Vincent (Puritan), Thomas Watson (Puritan), Samuel Willard, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Solomon Stoddard, Samuel Davies, Ralph Erskine, Charles Spurgeon, Thomas Chalmers, Walter Chantry, Erroll Hulse, John MacArthur and Fred Zaspel.

Samuel Willard (1640–1707) on God’s Common and Special Love

When the Scripture attributes love to God, it points to his good will in purposing good to be bestowed on them, and making them that are appointed thereto to partake therein: and this love is looked upon to be greater or less, according to the things that are willed in it, and the benefit received by them: and on this account, God is said to love some of his Creatures more than others, in that he hath done more for them, and prepared greater blessings to bestow on them. There is a common love of God, in which the whole Creation is a sharer, appearing in his benignity in bestowing on them these favours by which they are preserved, supplied, and comforted; to this is to be referred that, Acts 14 17 He did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness; and Chap 17 25 He giveth to all life, and breath, and all things. But then there is a special love which God hath for some of his Creatures, and that was in appointing, providing, and opening this fountain for them, from which they may derive everlasting life. This therefore is mentioned in the Gospel with an Emphasis, as if it were the only love, 1 Joh. 4 9.
“...when God manifesteth his benignity to the Creature, we conceive him, in his so doing, to act as a cause by Counsel, and so ascribe it to his Benevolence, and call it his love. And from this consideration, there is a divers love that is assigned to him, according to the different effects of his good will, discerned in the fruits of his Beneficence to the Subject of it. There is a common love attributed to him, wherein the good and the bad do promiscuously partake; and it appears in that Goodness of his which he confers upon them, wherein he gives them large tastes of his bounty; and to this love we are pointed in, Psal. 145.9. The Lord is good to all and his tender mercies are over all his works. And Acts 14.17. 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. And there is an Especial love of his that we are told of, which he bears only to some, and in comparison with which others are said to be hated, according to Rom. 9.13 Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated; and it appears in those peculiar favours which he hath laid in for, and bestows upon them; of which we have such observations, Joh. 3.16. God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, &c. 1 Joh. 4 9. In this was the love of God manifested towards us, because God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him...”
Samuel Willard, Love’s Pedigree. Or A Discourse Shewing the Grace of Love in a Believer to be of A Divine Original (Boston, in N.E.: Printed by B. Green, and J. Allen. Sold by Benjamin Eliot, at his shop under the west end of the town house, 1700), 7–8.