Monday, October 6, 2014
Common Grace: John Murray
The Biblical evidence to be adduced in support of the immediately foregoing propositions will have to be classified.
1. Creation is the recipient of divine bounty.
That the animate and inanimate creation, groaning and travailing in pain and made subject to vanity though it be, yet receives the showers of divine blessing is the theme of some of the stateliest lyrics we have in the Scripture. “By terrible things in righteousness wilt thou answer us, O God of our salvation; who art the confidence of all the ends of the earth, and of them that are afar off upon the sea: which by his strength setteth fast the mountains; being girded with power: which stilleth the noise of the seas, the noise of their waves, and the tumult of the people. They also that dwell in the uttermost parts are afraid at thy tokens: thou makest the outgoings of the morning and evening to rejoice. Thou visitest the earth and waterest it: thou greatly enrichest it with the river of God, which is full of water: thou preparest them corn, when thou hast so provided for it. Thou waterest the ridges hereof abundantly: thou settlest the furrows thereof: thou makest it soft with showers: thou blessest the springing thereof. Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness. They drop upon the pastures of the wilderness: and the little hills rejoice on every side. The pastures are clothed with flocks; the valleys also are covered over with corn; they shout for joy, they also sing” (Psalm 65:5–13). The majestic music is carried perhaps to even loftier strains in Psalm 104. “He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works. He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; and wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart. The trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted; where the birds make their nests: as for the stork, the fir trees are her house. The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the conies. He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down. Thou makest darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth. The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God. The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens. Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening” (vss. 13–23). It is this review of the riches of God's goodness in the work of His hand and of the wisdom of the provision and arrangements for each of His creatures that causes the psalmist to exclaim, “O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches” (vs. 24). The truth of all this as bearing upon our topic is very directly summed up in the words of another psalm, “The Lord is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.…The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing” (Psalm 145:9, 15, 16).
Lest we should entertain any doubt as to the character of this teeming bounty as one of grace and lovingkindness we need but be reminded of that psalm which, in the extolling of the praises of creation and redemption, ever reiterates the /p. 13/ refrain, “For his mercy endureth for ever”. At its conclusion we read, “Who giveth good to all flesh: for his mercy endureth for ever” (Ps. 136:25).
2. Unregenerate men are recipients of divine favour and goodness.
The witness of Scripture to this fact is copious and direct. Attention will be focussed on a few of the most notable examples.
In Genesis 39:5 we are told that “the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake”. Truly it was for Joseph's sake and for Joseph as the instrument through whom the chosen people were to be preserved and God's redemptive purpose with respect to the world fulfilled. But, just as we found already in the case of Abimelech, the reason for the blessing bestowed does not destroy the reality of the blessing itself.
Perhaps the most significant part of Scripture bearing upon this phase of our subject is the witness of Paul and Barnabas at Lystra in Iconium. “Who in the generations gone by suffered all the nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, doing good, and giving rains to you from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:16, 17). The “generations gone by” of this passage are the same as “the times of ignorance” mentioned by Paul in his speech on Mars' hill (Acts 17:30). Paul and Barnabas in this case are referring to the past of those who had served dumb idols. They expressly state that although God allowed them to walk in their own idolatrous ways yet God did not leave them without a witness to Himself. The particular witness mentioned here is that He did good and gave them rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness. This is the most direct and indisputable assertion that men, left to their own ungodly ways, are nevertheless the subjects of divine benefaction. God showed them favour and did them good, and the satisfaction and enjoyment derived from the product of rains and fruitful seasons are not to be condemned but rather regarded as the witness, or at least as the proper effect of the witness, God was bearing to His own goodness. And it would be wanton violence that would /p. 14/ attempt to sever this “doing good” from a disposition of goodness in the heart and mind of God. Paul says that the “doing good” and “giving rain from heaven and fruitful seasons” constituted the witness God gave of Himself. In other words, the goodness bestowed is surely goodness expressed.
The testimony of our Lord Himself, as recorded in Matthew 5:44, 45; Luke 6:35, 36, establishes the same truth as that discussed in the foregoing passage. “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you; that ye may be sons of your Father who is in heaven, for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust.” “But love your enemies, and do them good, and lend, never despairing; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be sons of the Most High: for he is kind toward the unthankful and evil. Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” Here the disciples are called upon to emulate in their own sphere and relations the character of God, their Father, in His own sphere and relations. God is kind and merciful to the unthankful and to the evil; He makes His sun to rise upon evil and good, and sends rain upon just and unjust. Both on the ground of express statement and on the ground of what is obviously implied in the phrases, “sons of your Father” and “sons of the Most High”, there can be no escape from the conclusion that goodness and beneficence, kindness and mercy are here attributed to God in His relations even to the ungodly. And this simply means that the ungodly are the recipients of blessings that flow from the love, goodness, kindness and mercy of God. Again it would be desperate exegetical violence that would attempt to separate the good gifts bestowed from the disposition of kindness and mercy in the mind of God.
Finally, we may appeal to Luke 16:25, “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now here he is comforted, and thou art tormented”. The rich man was reprobate; but the gifts enjoyed during this life are nevertheless called “good things”.
It is without question true that good gifts abused will mean greater condemnation for the finally impenitent. “To /p. 15/ whom much is given, of the same shall much be required” (Luke 12:48). But this consideration, awfully true though it be, does not make void the fact that they are good gifts and expressions of the lovingkindness of God. In fact, it is just because they are good gifts and manifestations of the kindness and mercy of God that the abuse of them brings greater condemnation and demonstrates the greater inexcusability of impenitence. Ultimate condemnation, so far from making void the reality of the grace bestowed in time, rather in this case rests upon the reality of the grace bestowed and enjoyed. It will be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrha in the day of judgment than for Capernaum. But the reason is that Capernaum was privileged to witness the mighty works of Christ as supreme exhibitions of the love, goodness and power of God.
The decree of reprobation is of course undeniable. But denial of the reality of temporal goodness and kindness, goodness and kindness as expressions of the mind and will of God, is to put the decree of reprobation so much out of focus that it eclipses the straightforward testimony of Scripture to other truths.
3. Good is attributed to unregenerate men.
We have no reason to suppose that Jehu truly feared and served the Lord God of Israel. We are told that “from the /p. 16/ sins of Jereboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin, Jehu departed not from after them, to wit, the golden calves that were in Bethel, and that were, in Dan” (2 Kings 10:29). Yet we are told that the Lord said to Jehu, “Because thou has done well in executing that which is right in mine eyes, and hast done unto the house of Ahab according to all that was in my heart, thy children to the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel” (2 Kings 10:30). Jehu did what was right in God's eyes in executing vengeance upon the house of Ahab. He did what was good, and for this good temporal reward was administered to him and to his house.
Because of his defection after the death of Jehoiada there is good reason to doubt that Jehoash truly feared God. Yet we are told that he “did that which was right in the sight of the Lord all his days wherein Jehoiada the priest instructed him” (2 Kings 12:2).
In the context of passages already discussed Jesus says to His disciples, “For if ye love them that love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?” (Matt. 5:46), “For if ye do good to them who do good to you, what thanks have ye? Sinners also do the same” (Luke 6:33). Here love, at least of some sort, love as bestowed upon fellow-men, is attributed to publicans, and sinners are said to reciprocate in doing good to one another. It is indeed true that the form /p. 17/ in which the exhortation to the disciples is cast implies a low standard of motivation among the publicans and sinners of whom Jesus speaks, and upon the disciples He enjoins the disinterested love worthy of children of the Most High. But even recognising this to the fullest extent the fact still remains that sinners do become the beneficiaries of a love and a good that sinners bestow upon them. This must be recognised and appreciated for what it is.
The statements of the apostle in Romans 2:14, 15 have been the occasion of much discussion anent the subject of common grace. Admittedly the text offers difficulties in the matter of exact interpretation. And such difficulties it is not the purpose of this article to solve. So far as the thesis of the present subdivision of the subject is concerned, it is not dependent upon Romans 2:14, 15 for its establishment. But this text does add to the evidence in support of the thesis and it presents certain propositions wholly pertinent to that thesis.
Paul is, no doubt, speaking in this text of those who are outside the pale of special revelation. They do not have the law written upon tables of stone. But while ignorant of this special revelation they are not without the work of the law. In other words, they are not entirely removed from the operation of the law. The law has another way of making its demand and influence felt, and the law makes its impact upon these Gentiles in that way. Hence they are affected by it.
The following propositions may readily be elicited from the text. (1) The Gentiles are the subjects of the work of the law. (2) They are the subjects of this work because it is written in their hearts. The work of the law is engraven upon that which is constitutive and determinative of their personal life. (3) As a result they do by nature the things of the law. In other words, they evince, to some degree at least, a certain conformity to the law. Their conduct is characterised to some extent by the things required by the law. (4) Their consciences bear joint witness. This is just saying, in effect, that the work of the law is not something that escapes consciousness. The work of the law rather pushes itself into their consciousness and registers itself there in the attestations of conscience. That the work of the law is not mechanical but drawing within its embrace the conscious /p. 18/ functions of personality is further confirmed by the presence of self-accusing and self-excusing reasonings or judgments.
All of this has important bearing upon that phase of the subject we are now discussing, to wit, that relative good is attributed to unregenerate men. Romans 2:14, 15 lays the basis for such predication. The norm of moral good is the law of which Paul is speaking. It is only in relation to that norm that any predication of moral good can be made. The text we are now discussing establishes the fact that that precise norm is operative in men to the end of producing conduct that in the sense and to the extent intended by the apostle may be said to be conformable to it. The divinely established norms of conduct have relevance to, and even effect upon, those who are outside the pale not only of redemptive grace but also of that special revelation that is the medium of its application in the hearts and lives of men.
4. Unregenerate men receive operations and influences of the Spirit in connection with the administration of the gospel, influences that result in experience of the power and glory of the gospel, yet influences which do not issue in genuine and lasting conversion and are finally withdrawn.
There are a few passages in the New Testament which so plainly attest the reality of such influence and resultant experience that no detailed exegesis is necessary.
We have spoken of this experience on the part of unregenerate men as that of the power and glory of the gospel. In the parable of the sower those who are compared to the rocky ground are those who hear the word and immediately with joy receive it. This implies some experience of its beauty and power. Yet they have no root and endure but for a while. When tribulation and persecution arise they just as immediately stumble and bring forth no fruit to perfection. The passages in Hebrews 6:4–8; 10:26–29 refer to experience that apparently surpasses that spoken of in the parable of the /p. 19/ sower. At least, the portraiture is very much more elaborate in its details and the issue much more tragic in its consequences. The persons concerned are described as “those who were once enlightened and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come” (Heb. 6:4, 5), as those who had received the knowledge of the truth and had been sanctified by the blood of the covenant (Heb. 10:26, 29). We shudder at the terms in which the experience delineated is defined.23 Yet we cannot avoid its import, nor can we evade the acceptance of the inspired testimony that from such enlightenment, from such participation of the Holy Spirit and from such experience of the good word of God and the powers of the age to come men may fall away, crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, put him to an open shame, tread the Son of God under foot, count the sanctifying blood of the covenant an unholy thing and do despite to the Spirit of grace. Here is apostasy from which there is no repentance and for which there is nought but “a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries”.
It is here that we find non-saving grace at its very apex. We cannot conceive of anything, that falls short of salvation, more exalted in its character. And we must not make void the reality of the blessing enjoyed and of the grace bestowed /p. 20/ out of consideration for the awful doom resultant upon renunciation and apostasy. As was pointed out already in other respects, it is precisely the grace bestowed in all its rich connotation as manifestation of the lovingkindness and goodness of God that gives ground for, and meaning to, the direful judgment that despite and rejection entail.
The teaching of such passages is corroborated by others that are to the same or similar effect. Peter in his second epistle devotes a considerable part to similar instruction and warning, and concludes with what is clearly reminiscent of the teaching of the epistle to the Hebrews. “For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Pet. 2:20–22). And Paul in his first chapter of the epistle to the Romans portrays for us the process of inexcusable abandonment of knowledge and of worship by which the heathen nations had lapsed into idolatry and superstition. But the knowledge they had relinquished is plainly represented as good, as that which should have been jealously cherished and as that for which they should have been thankful.
5. The institution of civil government is for the purpose of restraining evil and promoting good in the whole body politic.
Civil magistrates are sent by God “for the punishment of evil-doers, and for the praise of them that do well” (1 Pet. 2:14). Notwithstanding all the miscarriage of justice and all the faults that have characterised civil government in the course of history, the purpose of this divine institution has not completely failed. The Roman state in the days of the apostles was characterised by gross corruptions that defeated the very end for which government was instituted. Yet it was of such government that Paul could say, “For rulers are /p. 21/ not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good” (Rom. 13:3, 4). While particular governments do themselves often perpetrate the grossest injustices, yet the testimony of Scripture and of experience is that apart from the restraints imposed and the order promoted by civil government the condition of this world would be one of moral and economic barbarism.
Civil government as such is not a redemptive ordinance. But it provides, and is intended to provide, that outward peace and order within which the ordinances of redemption may work to the accomplishment of God's saving purposes. It is on this basis and to the end of fostering in believers the recognition and appreciation of it that Paul says to Timothy, “I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, be made for all men; for kings, and all that are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Tim. 2:1, 2).
The tranquillity and order established and preserved by the ordinances of government are benefits enjoyed by all. This blessing arising from divine institution we must regard therefore as a common blessing and therefore as one of the institutions of common grace.
The evidence drawn from Scripture, then, compels the conclusion that the world as a whole, though subject to the curse incident to sin, receives the showers of manifold blessing, that men who still lie under the divine condemnation of sin, including even those who will finally suffer the full weight of that condemnation in perdition, are the recipients in this life of multiple favours that proceed from God's lovingkindness, that of unregenerate men is predicated moral good that externally or formally is that required by the law of God, that unregenerate men who come into contact with the revelation of God's grace in the gospel may even taste the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and that in the institutions of civil righteousness and order we have a divine provision that insures even for the ungodly restraint upon their evil works and outward tranquillity and peace. So that viewing God's government of this world, even from /p. 22/ the aspect of His common or non-saving grace, we may say, the earth is full of the glory of the Lord and all peoples see His glory.
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