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Tuesday
Jan312012

Theological Term of the Week

common grace
“The grace of God by which he gives people innumerable blessings that are not part of salvation”;1 “those general operations of the Holy Spirit whereby He, without renewing the heart, exercises such a moral influence on man through His general or special revelation, that sin is restrained, order is maintained in social life, and civil righteousness is promoted; or, (b) those general blessings, such as rain and sunshine, food and drink, clothing and shelter, which God imparts to all men indiscriminately where and in what measure it seems good to Him.”2

  • Common grace in scripture: 

    But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:35-36 ESV)

    Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. (Romans 13:1-4 ESV)

  • From  The Three Points of Common Grace, 1924:

    Point I 

    Concerning the favorable attitude of God toward mankind in general and not only toward the elect, the Synod declares that it is certain, on the ground of Scripture and the Confession, that there is, besides the saving grace of God, shown only to those chosen unto eternal life, also a certain favor or grace of God which He shows to all His creatures….

    Point II

    Concerning the restraint of sin in the life of the individual and in society, the Synod declares that according to Scripture and Confession, there is such a restraint of sin….

    Point III

    Concerning the performance of so-called civic righteousness by the unregenerate, the Synod declares that according to Scripture and Confession the unregenerate, though incapable of any saving good (Canons of Dordt, II, IV, 3), can perform such civic good….

  • From Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof, on the means by which common grace operates: 
  • 1. The light of God´s revelation. This is fundamental for without it all other means would be impossible, and even if possible, would fail to function properly. We have in mind here primarily the light of God´s revelation that shines in nature and lightens every man coming into the world. It is itself the fruit of common grace, but in turn becomes a means for the further manifestation of it, since it serves to guide the conscience of the natural man. Paul speaks of the Gentiles who do by nature the things of the law, “in that they show the word of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them.” ROM 2:14, 15. Calvin in commenting on this passage says that such Gentiles “prove that there is imprinted on their hearts a discrimination and judgment by which they distinguish between what is just and unjust, between what is honest and dishonest.”[15] In addition to this, however, it may be said that common grace in a more restricted sense also operates in the light of God´s special revelation, which is not itself the fruit of common, but of special, grace.

    2. Governments. Of these too it may be said that they are at once the fruit and the means of common grace. According to ROM 13 governments are ordained of God, to maintain good order in society. To resist them is to resist the ordinance of God. The ruler, says Paul, “is a minister of God to thee for good.” ROM 13:4. He finds support in the conscience of man (verse 5) and for the rest “beareth not the sword in vain.” On this point the Belgic Confession says: “We believe that our gracious God, because of the depravity of mankind, hath appointed kings, princes, and magistrates, willing that the world should be governed by certain laws and policies; to the end that the dissoluteness of men might be restrained, and all things carried on among them with good order and decency.”[16]

    3. Public Opinion. The natural light that shines in the hearts of men, especially when reinforced by the influence of God´s special revelation, results in the forming of a public opinion that is in external conformity with the law of God; and this has a tremendous influence on the conduct of men who are very sensitive to the judgment of public opinion. Naturally public opinion will be a means of common grace only when it is formed under the influence of God´s revelation. If it is not controlled by conscience, acting in harmony with the light of nature, or by the Word of God, it becomes a mighty influence for evil.

    4. Divine punishments and rewards. The providential arrangements of God, whereby He visits the iniquity of men upon them in this life, and rewards deeds that are in outward conformity with the divine law, serve an important purpose in curbing the evil that is in the world. The punishments have a deterring effect, and the rewards serve as incentives. By these means, whatever there is of moral goodness in the world is greatly encouraged. Many shun evil and seek that which is good, not because they fear the Lord, but because they feel that good brings its own reward and best serves their interests.

Learn more:

  1. Theopedia: Common grace
  2. Tim Challies: Common Grace
  3. Gotquestions.org: What is common grace?
  4. Tim Keller: What Is Common Grace? (pdf)
  5. John Murray: Common Grace
  6. James Montgomery Boice: Common Grace
  7. Loraine Boettner: Common Grace
  8. Louis Berkhoff: Common Grace
  9. S. Lewis Johnson: The Doctrine of Common Grace (mp3 and transcript)
  10. Wayne Grudem: Common Grace (mp3)
Related terms:

Filed under God’s Nature and His Work.

1From Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem.

2From Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof.

Do you have a term you’d like to see featured here as a Theological Term of the Week? If you email it to me, I’ll seriously consider using it, giving you credit for the suggestion and linking back to your blog when I do.

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