Is Denying Common Grace a Novelty?
Dr. Jonathan D. Moore
Some people dismiss the denial of common grace as
being completely alien to historic Reformed theology. Rather than
indulge in wishful thinking, should we not become more familiar with
what leading Protestant Reformers actually taught?
Peter Martyr Vermigli (1500-1562) was undoubtedly the
greatest of all the Italian Protestant Reformers. He was an esteemed
friend of Heinrich Bullinger, Thomas Cranmer and John Jewel. At Oxford
he served as Regius Professor of Divinity and as Canon of Christ Church,
during which time he was consulted over the drawing up of the Book of
Common Prayer of 1552. He also held professorships in theology and
Hebrew at the universities of Strassburg and Zurich. In short, Vermigli
was a leading and influential Reformed theologian of international
Vermigli’s manual of systematic theology, his Loci
Communes, comprised over a thousand folio pages and by 1656 had been
reprinted over a dozen times. In his chapter on grace, Vermigli states
that grace has two senses in Scripture. Firstly, there is divine "good
will" and "favour." This is limited to "the elect." Secondly, there are
God’s "excellent gifts" but these too are given only to "his elect."
Vermigli admits that "naturall gifts, as pregnancie of wit, strength of
bodie, and such like are sometimes called graces" by certain people.
However, "We denie not, but that these things are freelie granted by
God; howbeit, we denie them to be graces," since graces "happen unto the
elect, through the redemption of Christ" (1st English edition, 1583,
Part 2, pp. 48, 52). It would appear that for Vermigli, grace was
strictly particular and never common.
The way some people talk today, Vermigli therefore
can’t really have been "truly Reformed." This is clearly a preposterous
notion, and can only be entertained by those who live in ignorance of
the breadth and depth of the Reformed tradition as forged by the
sixteenth-century Protestant Reformers. Lovers of that Reformed
tradition will be glad to know that Vermigli’s works are currently being
reprinted by the Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, Kirksville,