Drinking Deeply

Friday, November 23, 2007 at 10:43 PM

Common grace

I'm as a whole not a big fan of calling something "common grace." This is not to say that God is not kind to unbelievers. He sends the sun and the rain upon the righteous and unrighteous alike. Yet I don't like the term "common grace" because it sounds like there are things that happen that God blesses the unrighteous for no reason whatsoever, that's the whole "How can God be just and not crush us?" thing with propitiation.

Instead, my answer to the "why is god kind to the reprobate" has been two-fold, "because his mercy will lead to greater condemnation for the reprobate." Piper gave a great prooftext for this at a conference -

Romans 2
4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.
My second answer was that God preserves and is kind to the reprobate as an act of kindness to His people. This probably could be called "common grace" because it's a grace to His people that has an effect common to all. Today I noticed a text that seems to support that idea -

Exodus 23
29 I will not drive them out from before you in one year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts multiply against you. 30 Little by little I will drive them out from before you, until you have increased and possess the land.
God is speaking to the Israelites and telling them to drive out the ungodly of Canaan. He says that he will go before them and fight for them. Yet, even though His anger burns against the Canaanites, He does not crush them immediately but allows them to live so that the wild beasts would not multiply against Israel, thereby protecting Israel from another danger. This act of grace to Israel turns out to also be a kindness to the Canaanites.

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Anonymous theocentric522 said...

I agree with your basic answer...but what would you say to someone who charges that if the telos of God's kindness is more wrath, how is that "kindness" at all? It seems Rom. 2:4-5 is saying God kindness is suppose to lead to repentance (which is good), but it is because of men's hardness that they are storing more wrath.

I would also add that God withholds sinners from more sin. Not that He does this in the same degree...yet I do think this is kindness not only to His people (e.g. we live in a Nation where we can freely worship), but also kindness to the reprobates as well. In this sense, "common grace" is not always "more" wrath, but less in degree.

Tell me what you think. =)  

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Blogger mxu said...

With regards to your first question I think I would say that it's how the Bible defines kindness, so I'll use "kindness" there. I agree that it is also hardness of heart that stores wrath, thus humans are responsible, but all of that is under God's complete sovereignty.

As to the second paragraph, it seems difficult to agree to that concept (that God simply withholds greater sin in the reprobate for the sake of the reprobate), because of what I've said before, "why does God wait?" I see the answer over and over as "for the sake of the vessels of mercy, do not worry, for they will receive just punishment for spurning this kindness so all will be evened out in the end."

But I am amendable to changing my mind, provided that I am convinced by Scripture. Is there a passage in particular that I have missed? (which is entirely possible)  

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Anonymous theocentric522 said...

First, I agree that spurning God's kindness leads to more wrath. Indeed, that's what Romans 2:4-5 says. And since God works out everything according to His will, this would also be part of His design. Yet my devil's advocate question was simply to say Rom. 2:4-5 doesn't, by itself, teach that the telos of God's kindness is to add more wrath. Rather, the purpose of God kindness, here, is so that men would repent. In particular, Rom. 2's "You" is specifically referring to unbelieving Jews to whom God showed patience and kindness (i.e. was entrusted the oracles of God and everything else in Rom. 9:4-5). Principle can be drawn, but I believe "kindness" is also particular here.

We can even add that our kindness towards unbelievers (which is also representative God's kindness) adds more wrath (e.g. Rom. 12:19-20)...so I have no problems with this view of "common grace."

But is this kindness for the reprobate for the sake of the reprobate only? NO. Romans 8:28: God causes ALL things (even this "limited" kindness towards the reprobates) to work together for good to those who love God and called according to His purpose.

As I said before, God withholding sinners is kindness towards the elect as well. But this example (counter-example?) shows that kindness towards believers don't ALWAYS lead to more wrath for unbelievers. That's all I was saying. =)

But agreed...this kindness is merely an overflow or consequence of the kindness shown to His people.

Finally, if you pushed me for some proof-texts...I might mention God's kindness towards Cain, His kindness towards Ishmael and Hagar in Genesis 21:17-19, and other similar cases. And also I think I could argue something similar from Mars Hill sermon in Acts 17. It's not always clear why God waits. Yes, Yes, He is being kind to the elect, but exactly how this is so...I must confess...I don't always see all the connections in the text. It just might be that God is being kind and merciful even to reprobates (again, in a limited non-salvific sense) because they too are created in His image, and He is glorified in showing to us that He a kind of God who is merciful to sinners--like you and I--in general. I don't have difficulties calling this generality "common" nor His kindness here "grace."

Thanks Mickey for listening. =)  

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Blogger mxu said...

I don't think we disagree, at least, not in a distinguishable manner that I want to fight over=p. Thanks for your comments =)  

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