Archive for the ‘God is Gracious: Common and Special Grace’ Category


But this first period in the history of humankind also soon became marked by the most fearsome wickedness. The corruption of the best proved the worst; the extraordinary powers and gifts were abused in the service of sin. This period was ushered in with fratricide. The Cainites, separating themselves from the Semites, concentrated on dominating the earth (Gen. 4:20ff.) and found their strength in the sword (Gen. 4:24). But only when the two, the Sethites and the Cainites, intermingled did wickedness explode: the imagination of the thoughts of their hearts were continually only evil (Gen. 6:5). It was a period so full of iniquity as would never come again until its return in the days of the Son of Man (Matt. 24:37). In a calamitous flood this whole generation disappears, except for Noah’s family, which then becomes the nucleus of a second humanity. The period after the flood is essentially different from that before the flood. In the time from Adam to Noah, nature–the world of plants and animals–as well as humankind bore a very different character from that of the time following. Powerful and copiously supplied with gifts, the world was, as it were, left to itself for a time; but it soon became evident that if God did not forcefully intervene, the world would perish in its own wickedness. With Noah, therefore, a new period begins. The grace that manifested itself immediately after the fall now exerted itself more forcefully in the restraint of evil. God made a formal covenant with all his creatures This covenant with Noah (Gen. 8:21-22; 9:1-17), though it is rooted in Gods grace and is most intimately bound up with the actual covenant of grace because it sustains and prepares for it, is not identical with it. It is rather a “covenant of long-suffering” made by God with ad humans and even with all creatures. It limits the curse on the earth; it checks nature and curbs its destructive power; the awesome violence of water is reined in; a regular alternation of seasons is introduced The whole of the irrational world of nature is subjected to ordinances that are anchored in God’s covenant. And the rainbow is set in the clouds as a sign and pledge (Gen. 8:21-22; 9:9-17).

A humanity now appears that, by comparison with the preceding one, is much gentler in nature, diminished in power, and of a much shorter life span. The blessing of multiplication is again expressly stated (Gen. 9:1); the fear and the dread of humans is laid on every animal (v. 2); green plants and meat are given to humans for food (v. 3). Human life is safeguarded by the requirement of the death penalty for murder and by implication, in principle, by the institution of government (w. 5-6). And later when humanity in building the tower of Babel conceives a plan to continue to live together in one location and to start a world empire, God frustrates the plan, disperses it in peoples and languages, and in that way, too, counters the development and explosion of wickedness! The grace of God, accordingly, manifests itself much more forcefully after the flood than before. To it is due the existence and life of the human race; the expansion and development of peoples; states and societies, which gradually came into existence; religion and morality, which were not completely lost even among the most degenerate peoples; and the arts and sciences, which achieved a high level of development. Everything that after the fall is still good even in sinful humans in all areas of life, the whole structure of civil justice, is the fruit of Gods common grace. Granted, God did allow the Gentiles to walk in their own ways (Acts 14:16), but he did not leave them; he did not leave himself without witnesses to them but revealed himself to them through the works of his hands (Acts 14:16-17; 17:27-28; Rom. 1:19; James 1:17). The Logos illumines every human coming into the world (John 1:9). The Holy Spirit is the author of all life, power, and virtue, also among the Gentiles (Gen 6-17- 7:15; Pss. 33:6; 104:30; 139:2; Job 32:8; Eccles. 3:19). Humankind was led by this grace and under the dispensation of this covenant of nature before Christ and prepared for his coming. One can indeed speak in a positive sense of mankind’s education by God. A susceptibility for salvation was maintained and the need for it aroused.

Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker, 2004), 3:217-219. [Original footnotes not included, and underlining mine.] [For more on Bavinck and Common Grace, see his excellent article, Calvin and Common Grace.]


2. Let us put things together, and take notice, that general grace and special are very reconcilable: For God may be so far willing of the salvation of all, as to be ready to shew mercy to them if they repent and believe; from which they are hindered by nothing but their own wilfulness: And yet he may be so much farther intent on the salvation of some, as to use effectual means to bring them to repent and believe, to will and run, that so they may be secured within the compass of his special mercy. The Scripture appears clear as to both; and where’s the inconsistency? why must we deny general grace to exalt that which is special? or deny and depress special grace, to advance that which is general? Is not the honor of God’s special grace and mercy sufficiently secured by our acknowledging that it is that that brings any of the fallen race of Adam to will and run, and so makes the difference between them and the rest of the world, who live and die in their unbelief and impenitency? and is not this very consistent with our owning that God so loved the world in general; as that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but might have everlasting Life? And on the other side, is not general grace sufficiently secured by our maintaining god’s love to the world, and his willing the salvation of all men, on condition they turn to him? And is not this consistent with our owning that a special divine excitation alone can bring any that are in a state of corruption, to will and run in the ways of God? And that he takes away the heart of stone, and gives an heart of flesh to all that become his real people? And why then should we go about to dash these truths against each other which are fairly consistent, and agree well together? Let us beware of extremes: and stand upon our guard, least for fear of one error, we fall into another.

Edmund Calamy, Divine Mercy Exalted: Or, Free Grace in its Glory (London: Printed for Tho. Parkhurst at the Bible and 3 Crowns in Cheapside; J. Robinson at the Golden Lion in St. Pauls Church-yard, and J. Lawrence at the Angel in the Poultry, 1703), 44–45. [Some spelling modernized; italics original; and underlining mine.] [The reader should keep in mind that this is not the Edmund Calamy of the Westminster Assembly, known as Edmund Calamy the Elder.]

Credit to Tony for the find.


Louis Berkhof (1873-1957) on the Grace of God

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism


c. The grace of God. The significant word “grace” is a translation of the Hebrew chanan and of the Greek charis. According to Scripture it is manifested not only by God, but also by men, and then denotes the favor which one man shows another, Gen. 33:8,10,18; 39:4; 47:25 ; Ruth 2:2 ; I Sam. 1:18; 16:22. In such cases it is not necessarily implied that the favor is undeserved. In general it can be said, however, that grace is the free bestowal of kindness on one who has no claim to it. This is particularly the case where the grace referred to is the grace of God. His love to man is always unmerited, and when shown to sinners, is even forfeited. The Bible generally uses the word to denote the unmerited goodness or love of God to those who have forfeited it, and are by nature under a sentence of condemnation. The grace of God is the source of all spiritual blessings that are bestowed upon sinners. As such we read of it in Eph. 1:6,7; 2:7-9; Tit. 2:11 ; 3:4-7. While the Bible often speaks of the grace of God as saving grace, it also makes mention of it in a broader sense, as in Isa. 26:10; Jer. 16:13. The grace of God is of the greatest practical significance for sinful men. It was by grace that the way of redemption was opened for them, Rom. 3:24; II Cor. 8:9, and that the message of redemption went out into the world, Acts 14:3. By grace sinners receive the gift of God in Jesus Christ, Acts 18:27; Eph. 2:8. By grace they are justified, Rom. 3:24; 4:16; Tit. 3:7, they are enriched with spiritual blessings, John 1:16; II Cor. 8:9; II Thess;. 2:16, and they finally inherit salvation, Eph. 2:8; Tit. 2:11. Seeing they have absolutely no merits of their own, they are altogether dependent on the grace of God in Christ. In modern theology, with its belief in the inherent goodness of man and his ability to help himself, the doctrine of salvation by grace has practically become a “lost chord,” and even the word “grace” was emptied of all spiritual meaning and vanished from religious discourses. It was retained only in the sense of “graciousness,” something that is quite external. Happily, there are some evidences of a renewed emphasis on sin, and of a newly awakened consciousness of the need of divine grace.

Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), 71-72. [Some spelling modernized; italics original; and underlining mine.]


Use 1.

How much to blame are those that dread not extremes? It is very common with men, when once they are fully convinced that there is a dangerous error on the one hand, to be careless how far they run to the other hand, and to entertain an error as dangerous, and maintain it to help against the other; though it may prove as incommodious to their souls, as once our predecessors found it to the State, when they fetch in the Saxons to drive out the Picts.

St. Austin tells us it was the great care of every orthodox teacher in his time, to take heed lest they should Grace, as to deny free-will; and lest they should so defend free-will, as to deny Grace: and a good care it was [lib. 2. de peccat. me ir. cap. 18.].

Some have spoken against free-will to good in any sense, have spoken without fear, of over-speaking of man’s impotency to Good, without any check or limitation; yea, and called it a Natural Impotency in the sense explained, that the most understand it  (without explication) of a Natural Impotency, which to affirm, is virtually to lay man’s destruction at God’s door, notwithstanding that Christ’s death and the Gospel, and to clear man. How sad it should be to us, that many have expressed themselves in such terms (though they did contradict it again virtually), that if wicked men had believed them (without doubt they had such checks of conscience, that they did not), they might have encouraged their hearts, as if their refusal of Christ and Grace was not their malignity and wickedness; was not a moral thing, but their weakness; a weakness opposed to willfulness, or however, different from it,  a “cannot” distinct from “will not;” which every one has a notion that a man may be pitied, but not blamed for. If any say I have spoken thus, and held thus; but now see it is an error subverting the very foundation:” but I did practically hold the contrary, or I could not have reproached others, or repented of my former sins: I readily believe you, and shall only say, “Learn charity to those that differ from you.”

Again, some have so defended free-will, that they have maintained that God gives to men only a power of choosing Good and Evil, and will go no further with any.  If any such are sensible that blasphemy to the Spirit is written on the forehead of this opinion, and that it makes the Spirit’s help needless to a man of sound intellectuals; having a sufficient objective evidence, and shall say, “I held this notionally; for I did pray, which I could not have done had I held it practically:” I shall say the same, I readily believe it, do you also learn charity.

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3. Another objection to the doctrine of common grace is that it presupposes a certain favorable disposition in God even to reprobate sinners, while we have no right to assume such a disposition in God. This stricture takes its starting point in the eternal counsel of God, in His election and reprobation. Along the line of His election God reveals His love, grace, mercy, and long-suffering, leading to salvation; and in the historical realization of his reprobation He gives expression only to His aversion, disfavor, hatred, and wrath, leading to destruction. But this looks like a rationalistic over-simplification of the inner life of God, which does not take sufficient account of His self-revelation. In speaking on this subject we ought to be very careful and allow ourselves to be guided by the explicit statements of Scripture rather than by our bold inferences from the secret counsel of God. There is far more in God than we can reduce to our logical categories. Are the elect in this life the objects of God’s’ love only, and never in any sense the objects of His wrath? Is Moses thinking of the reprobate when he says: “For we are consumed in thine anger, and in thy wrath are we troubled”? Ps. 90:7. Does not the statement of Jesus that the wrath of God abides on them that obey not the Son imply that it is removed from the others when, and not until, they submit to the beneficent rule of Christ? John 3:36. And does not Paul say to the Ephesians that they “were by nature children of wrath even as the rest”? Eph. 2:3 . Evidently the elect can not be regarded as always and exclusively the objects of God’s love. And if they who are the objects of God’s redeeming love can also in some sense of the word be regarded as the objects of His wrath, why should it be impossible that they who are the objects of His wrath should also in some sense share His divine favor? A father who is also a judge may loathe the son that is brought before him as a criminal, and feel constrained to visit his judicial wrath upon him, but may yet pity him and show him acts of kindness while he is under condemnation. Why should this be impossible in God? General Washington hated the traitor that was brought before him and condemned him to death, but at the same time showed him compassion by serving him with the dainties from his own table. Cannot God have compassion even on the condemned sinner, and bestow favors upon him? The answer need not be uncertain, since the Bible clearly teaches that He showers untold blessings upon all men and also clearly indicates that these are the expression of a favorable disposition in God, which falls short, however, of the positive volition to pardon their sin, to lift their sentence, and to grant them salvation. The following passages clearly point to such a favorable disposition: Prov. 1:24; Isa. 1:18; Ezek. 18:23,32; 33:11 ; Matt. 5:43-45; 23:37; Mark 10:21 ; Luke 6:35: Rom. 2:4; I Tim. 2:4. If such passages do not testify to a favorable disposition in God, it would seem that language has lost its meaning, and than God’s’ revelation is not dependable on this subject.

Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (London: Banner of Truth Trust, 1960), 445-446.