Chapter 18: Common Grace

The study of the work of redemption wrought by Christ is naturally followed by a discussion of the application of this redemption to the hearts and lives of sinners by the special operation of thy Holy Spirit. Before taking this up a brief chapter will be devoted to the general operations of the Holy Spirit, as these are seen in common grace.

1. Nature of Common Grace. When we speak of common grace, we have in mind either

(a) those general operations of the Holy Spirit whereby He, without renewing the heart, exercises such a moral influence on man that sin is restrained, order is maintained in social life, and civil righteousness is promoted; or

(b) those general blessings which God imparts to all men without any distinction as He sees fit.

In distinction from the Arminians we maintain that common grace does not enable the sinner to perform any spiritual good, nor to turn to God in faith and repentance. It can be resisted by man, and is always more or less resisted, and at best affects only the externals of social, civil, moral, and religious life. While Christ died for the purpose of saving only the elect, nevertheless the whole human race, including the impenitent and the reprobate, derive great benefits from His death. The blessings of common grace may be regarded as indirect results of the atoning work of Christ.

2. Means of Common Grace. Several means may be distinguished:

(a) The most important of these is the light of God’s general revelation. Without this all other means would be impossible and ineffective. It lightens every man, and serves to guide the conscience of the natural man.

(b) Human governments also serve this purpose. According to our Confession they are instituted to curb evil tendencies, and to promote good order and decency.

(c) Public opinion is another important means wherever it is in harmony with the law of God. It has a tremendous influence on the conduct of men who are very sensitive to the judgment of public opinion.

(d) Finally, divine punishments and rewards also serve to encourage moral goodness in the world. The punishments often check the sinful deeds of men, and the rewards spur them on to do what is good and right.

3. The Effects of Common Grace. The following effects may be ascribed to the operation of common grace:

(a) The execution of the sentence of death on man is deferred. God did not at once fully execute the sentence of death on the sinner, and does not do so now, but gives him time for repentance. (Romans 2:4; 2 Peter 8:9)

(b) Sin is restrained in the lives of individuals and nations The corruption that entered human life through sin is retarded and not yet permitted to complete its destructive work. (Genesis 20:6; 31:7; Job 1:12; 2:6)

(c) Man still has some sense of the true, the good, and the beautiful, appreciates this in a measure, and reveals a desire for truth, morality, and certain forms of religion. (Romans 2:14, 15; Acts 17:22)

(d) The natural man is still able to perform natural good or civil righteousness, works that are outwardly in harmony with the law, though without spiritual value. (2 Kings 10:29, 30; 12:2; 14;3; Luke 6:33)

(e) All men receive numerous undeserved blessings from God. (Psalm 145:9, 15, 16; Matthew 5:44, 45; Luke 6:35, 36; Acts 14:16, 17; 1 Timothy 4;10)


To memorize:

Passages proving:

a. A general striving of the Spirit with men:

Then the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, because he also is flesh; nevertheless his days shall be one hundred and twenty years.” (Genesis 6:3)

But they rebelled And grieved His Holy Spirit; Therefore He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them. (Isaiah 63:10)

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, (Romans 1:28)


b. Restraint of sin:

Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her. (Genesis 20:6)

“Yet your father has cheated me and changed my wages ten times; however, God did not allow him to hurt me. (Genesis 31:7)

He permitted no man to oppress them, And He reproved kings for their sakes: (Psalm 105:14)


c. Good works on the part of unregenerate:

The LORD said to Jehu, “Because you have done well in executing what is right in My eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab according to all that was in My heart, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.” (2 Kings 10:30)

“If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. (Luke 6:33)

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, (Romans 2:14-15)


d. Unmerited blessings on all men:

The LORD is good to all, And His mercies are over all His works. (Psalm 145:9)

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:44-45)

For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. (1 Timothy 4:10)


For Further Study:

a. Which are the three points emphasized by our Church as to common grace?


b. How do Matthew 21:26, 46; Mark 14:2 show the restraining influence of public opinion?

“But if we say, ‘From men,’ we fear the people; for they all regard John as a prophet.” … When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet. (Matthew 21:26, 46)

…for they were saying, “Not during the festival, otherwise there might be a riot of the people.” (Mark 14:2)


c. How do Romans 1:24, 26, 28, and Hebrews 6:4-6 prove common grace?

Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. … (26) For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, … (28) And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, (Romans 1:24, 26, 28)

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. (Hebrews 6:4-6)


Questions for Review:

1. What is common grace?
2. What is our view in distinction from the Arminian?
3. Does common grace have any spiritual and saving effect?
4. Is it in any way connected with the redemptive work of Christ?
5. By what means does common grace work?
6. What are the effects of common grace?

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