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The Psalms Versus Common Grace

Rev. Angus Stewart



Common grace is, according to its theorists, a grace of God that is common: a grace of God for everybody, head for head, bar none, including the reprobate, those not elected nor redeemed nor effectually called in Jesus Christ. The advocates of common grace claim that God has grace, love and mercy for the reprobate, those whom God has eternally decreed not to save but to punish in the way of their sins.

There are many different doctrines of common grace, but all forms of common grace hold to two basic points. First, God has a favourable attitude towards the reprobate wicked, viewing them with grace and pity as objects of His lovingkindness and mercy. Second, all the good things which the reprobate wicked receive from God in this life come to them out of a love of God for them, as proofs of His grace and favour for them and instances of His blessing upon them.

Other advocates of common grace would go further, stating, third, that God inwardly and graciously restrains sin in the reprobate (contrary to the Bible’s teaching on total depravity). Fourth, God inwardly and graciously enables them to do works which are partly good in His eyes (contra Gen. 6:5; Rom. 3:12).

Yet others would take common grace further, claiming, fifth, that believers are to be friends with unbelievers (contrary to the truth of the antithesis; Gen. 3:15; II Cor. 6:14-18). Sixth, Christians should cooperate with non-Christians in building the kingdom of God on earth (contra II Chron. 19:2; John 3:3).

Others add, seventh, that God empathises with the ungodly, entering into (so as to share) their feelings (contra Josh. 11:20; Lam. 2:2). Eighth, most advocates of common grace link it with the free offer: a purported earnest and passionate, yet always resisted, desire of God to save the reprobate (contra Matt. 11:25-27; Rom. 9:17-18, 21-23).

In the next few issues of the Covenant Reformed News, we shall consider the two most basic elements of common grace (God loves the reprobate and out of this love gives them good things), for they are fundamental to all forms of common grace, and when these two elements are shown to be false, all the various common grace theories fall to the ground. Rather than canvas the whole of Scripture, we shall consider only the teaching of the inspired Psalms, in order to reduce our field somewhat.

We shall begin with Psalm 5:4-6:

[4] For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. [5] The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity. [6] Thou shalt destroy them that speak leasing: the Lord will abhor the bloody and deceitful man.

Notice God’s attitude towards the ungodly: hatred (v. 5) and abhorrence (v. 6). Jehovah’s hatred and abhorrence are not merely of the sin but also of the sinner: "thou hatest all workers of iniquity" (v. 5) and "the Lord will abhor the bloody and deceitful man" (v. 6). Moreover, it is not just some particularly bad sinners, but "all workers of iniquity" that God hates (v. 5). God does not love the reprobate sinner but hate his sin; He hates the sin and the sinner (vv. 5-6).

The ground of God’s hatred and abhorrence of reprobate sinners is their complete moral corruption or total depravity. Psalm 5 uses the words "wickedness," "evil," "foolish," "iniquity," "bloody" and "deceitful" (vv. 4-6) to describe the ungodly. Psalm 5:9, quoted in Romans 3:13 as proof of the total depravity of all fallen sinners outside of Jesus Christ, adds, "there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulchre." Since God is the kind of God that He is—righteous, holy and just—and since man is totally depraved, God hates the wicked outside of Christ: "For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. The foolish shall not stand in thy sight: thou hatest all workers of iniquity" (Ps. 5:4-5).

So what about the theory of common grace? According to common grace, God loves the reprobate wicked. According to Psalm 5, God hates the reprobate wicked. Which are you going to believe?

Perhaps you think this is too strong, a "hard saying," but Psalm 5 is the voice of God. It is sacred Scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit, and the Word of Jesus Christ who spoke by the Old Testament prophets (I Peter 1:11). Psalm 5, according to its title, was penned by David, the sweet Psalmist of Israel (II Sam. 23:1) and the man after God’s own heart (I Sam. 13:14). Psalm 5:4-6 is immediately preceded by David’s heart-felt petitions to his God (vv. 1-3) and immediately followed by his resolution to worship: "But as for me, I will come into thy house in the multitude of thy mercy: and in thy fear will I worship toward thy holy temple" (v. 7). The truth of God’s hatred for the wicked (vv. 4-6) does not hinder David in prayer or worship, but helps him in prayer (vv. 1-3) and worship (v. 7).

David, the man after God’s own heart, professes particular grace, "mercy" to him and all the saints (v. 7), but not to the wicked whom God hates (v. 5). God views with "favour" and promises to "bless" the "righteous" (v. 12), whereas He abhors the ungodly (v. 6). Psalm 5 does not teach a universal love of God for all, but a particular love of God for His elect people and a holy hatred for the reprobate wicked (vv. 4-6). Psalm 5 denies common grace and teaches uncommon grace.


Like Psalm 5, Psalm 11 opposes the idea that God loves everybody, including the reprobate—the core position of common grace. The key verses are 3-7:

[3] If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do? [4] The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men. [5] The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth. [6] Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup. [7] For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness; his countenance doth behold the upright (Psalm 11:3-7)

God’s attitude towards the ungodly is that of hatred: "the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth" (v. 5). When it says that God’s "soul" hates them, it means all that God is. He hates them in His inmost being, so to speak. Moreover, God hates not just the sin, but the sinner: "the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth" (v. 5).

We are also told the ground for God’s hatred of the wicked. Jehovah hates them (v. 5) and will destroy them (v. 6), "For the righteous Lord loveth righteousness" (v. 7). Jehovah’s perfect righteousness and justice blaze against ungodly rebels. He is the holy and just One, therefore "the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth" (v. 5).

God’s hatred of the ungodly in time issues in their terrible punishment in hell: "Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup" (v. 6). This is the ultimate and final expression of His abhorrence of the wicked: their everlasting agony.

Psalm 11 speaks of the reprobate wicked, for those whom God hates (v. 5) He will punish in hell (v. 6). The elect, prior to their conversion, live in sin. But it is not true to say that God hates them, even when they were in unbelief. God eternally loved His people in Christ (Rom. 9:13). Therefore, He brings them all to repentance (Jer. 31:3). We are under His wrath prior to our conversion (Eph. 2:3), but He never hated us, for His hatred is His resolute determination to thrust away from Himself and punish everlastingly.

According to the title, David penned Psalm 11. He is being persecuted by the ungodly in Israel, probably under Saul or Absalom. He asks, "If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (v. 3). Righteousness and justice are the "foundations" of God’s kingdom on earth. When these are subverted and undermined by wicked leaders so that the saints are persecuted, what can the righteous do? So David recalls the heavenly foundations of God’s church and covenant. No matter what wicked church leaders do, God is holy, reigning in glory; He sees all. "The Lord is in his holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men" (v. 4). His rule is perfectly just. He loves and tests the righteous (vv. 5, 7) but He hates the wicked (v. 5), whom He will cast into hell (v. 6). This is the moral foundation of the church and the universe: God’s holy love of His saints in Christ and His righteous hatred of the ungodly.

You see how common grace attacks the foundations? Common grace says that God loves the reprobate wicked. David, do you hear that? God loves Saul (or Absalom) who is hunting you as a partridge on the hills and seeking to kill you (vv. 1-2)! But what about God’s holiness and righteousness which He loves (v. 7)? What of His hatred of the wicked with all His "soul" (v. 5)? Common grace puts the world out of kilter; the foundations are moved! For God is not perfectly righteous, if He loves the reprobate who are wholly sinful.

Sadly, many Christians believe in common grace: God loves everybody, there is good in everybody (contra total depravity), God approves of some or much of the world’s activities (contra Prov. 21:4) and Christians should see moral good in just about everything that the wicked do. Thus there is good in the higher critics and their work, though they undermine the authority and inerrancy of Holy Scripture. Because of common grace, we can accept the ideas of the evolutionists (i.e. big bang cosmology, uniformitarian geology and macro-evolution from slime to humans), for they are good people, honestly searching for the truth (contra Eph. 2:1-3). The theories of secular psychologists on guilt, family relationships, etc., can be embraced and X-rated movies can be watched because of the powerful operations of common grace, some even dare argue.

Even sodomy! If God loves everybody, then God loves homosexuals—just as they are. There is some moral good in them and so we can learn from them, for they show us true love too. This line of reasoning regarding sodomy has been embraced by many in the churches in the Netherlands, the home country of Abraham Kuyper, the patron saint of common grace, as well as Kuyper’s disciples in Toronto, Canada, etc. The Christian Reformed Church (CRC) in N. America, which in 1924 expelled Herman Hoeksema, justified allowing a lesbian group, singing about lesbianism, at the CRC’s Calvin College on the basis of common grace (2002). Church of England bishops argue for homosexual church members and clergy using common grace: God loves homosexuals; they are in His image. The Presbyterian Church in Ireland, believing that God loves all sinners and under pressure from both homosexuals and political correctness both within and without the denomination, produced a "fudged" and compromised document on sodomy at its 2007 General Assembly (

If you deny that God hates the wicked and maintain that He loves them, you have destroyed the moral foundations of the church (Jehovah’s righteous and discriminating love for His people only in Jesus Christ) and the church is already falling. The cracks are appearing and will grow—even if this is not admitted or wanted.

(For a further explanation of Psalm 11:3-7, please listen to "The Moral Foundations of the Church" or download it from the CPRC website.)


Now we turn to Psalm 73, a Psalm of Asaph.

Asaph observed "the prosperity of the wicked" (v. 3). They enjoy good health (v. 4), experience little hardship in life (v. 5), "increase in riches" (v. 12) and "have more than heart could wish" (v. 7). Yet they are draped with pride and clothed with violence (v. 6) and they "speak loftily" (v. 8) and "set their mouth against the heavens" (v. 9), asking "How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?" (v. 11).

Asaph was jealous of them: "I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked" (v. 3). Listen to his lament: "Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency. For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning" (vv. 13-14). "I seek to follow the Lord," reasoned Asaph, "but all I receive is daily chastening. Why don’t I prosper and grow wealthy? Why should I bother living a godly life?" He nearly apostatized: "But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped" (v. 2)!

What was Asaph’s problem? He believed in common grace. Asaph thought that the material prosperity of the wicked meant that God loved them and blessed them, and, since he was not wealthy like them, he was not loved or blessed by God—at least not as much as he should be.

Notice where Asaph’s problem was resolved: "I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end" (v. 17). He began to think straight again when he met with the Holy One in His dwelling place. This happens today when foolish Christians envious at the prosperous wicked and/or confused by the false doctrine of common grace come to believe the teaching of faithful churches concerning God’s uncommon grace—His sovereign, particular and irresistible grace in the cross of Jesus Christ alone.

What was it that Asaph came to understand? "their end" (v. 17), where they were headed: eternal punishment in hell.

"Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors" (vv. 18-19).

The ungodly are like men walking on ice or "slippery places" (v. 18). All the good things that they receive from God in His providence (health, money, well-paying jobs, big cars, fine houses) are so many weights that they carry on the ice, making it all the easier to slip and fall into destruction. Notice too that it is God Himself who pushes them over and throws them into hell: "thou castedst them down into destruction" (v. 18). It all happens "in a moment!" (v. 19). How fearful!

Asaph now understood that their earthly prosperity did not prove that God loves them and blesses them. Instead, Jehovah "despises" them (v. 20)! The Most High sets them in slippery places until He shoves them and they fall into the bottomless pit. "How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors" (v. 19).

When Asaph came to his senses, he felt ashamed of his former unbelief and stupidity: "Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins. So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee" (vv. 21-22).

Asaph’s faith is renewed and he testifies of God’s goodness to him. No matter if he is rich or poor, God is graciously present with him (v. 23). This is Asaph’s living hope: "Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory" (v. 24). Listen to his wonderful confession of trust and hope in the Lord: "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever" (vv. 25-26).

The opening verse of the Psalm sums it all up: "Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart" (v. 1). Jehovah’s goodness to Israel is His love, favour and grace towards them in Jesus Christ, irrespective of worldly wealth or poverty. Israel is further defined as those who "are of a clean heart" (v. 1) and not the prosperous wicked in Israel who "perish" (v. 27) and whom Asaph used to envy (v. 3). Christian ministers and all Jehovah’s people should emulate Asaph by drawing near to God in order to "declare all [His] works" (v. 28), including His work of providence in His justice (not grace) towards the prosperous wicked and His righteous destruction of them (v. 27).

For more on Psalm 73, I would strongly recommend Prof. David Engelsma’s fine book, Prosperous Wicked and Plagued Saints (available from the CPRC Bookstore for £6.60, inc. P & P), as the best and most thorough exposition of Psalm 73 that I have read.

The same point made in Psalm 73 is stated more briefly in Psalm 92:5-9. The wicked are flourishing, springing up like grass (v. 7): growing tall and green; growing fast; filled with life and vitality; healthy, beautiful and secure. Surely, common grace reckons, this is a proof and demonstration of God’s love for the ungodly: "When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is because God loves them and is gracious to them and is blessing them."

But what saith the Scripture? "When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever" (v. 7). This is God’s intention and purpose and goal when He gives His enemies material prosperity. He is preparing them for hell: "it is that they shall be destroyed for ever" (v. 7). "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:31). Tremble before Him! "For, lo, thine enemies, O Lord, for, lo, thine enemies shall perish; all the workers of iniquity shall be scattered" (Ps. 92:9). You who are unbelieving, turn to Jesus Christ or you will perish everlastingly!

Those who do not see God’s purpose and intention in giving good things to the wicked—namely, their eternal destruction—are spiritually senseless and ignorant: "A brutish man knoweth not; neither doth a fool understand this" (v. 6; cf. Ps. 73:22).

But the righteous who believe God’s Word, praise Him for His wisdom in destroying the wicked through their earthly prosperity: "O Lord, how great are thy works! and thy thoughts are very deep" (Ps. 92:5). In rejecting the false explanation of the prosperity of the wicked that is offered by the theory of common grace (v. 7), we justify the omnipotent, righteous, wise and eternal God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ: "But thou, Lord, art most high for evermore" (v. 8).


After considering Psalms 5 and 11 by David, Psalm 73 by Asaph and Psalm 92, a "Sabbath day" song, we return to a Davidic psalm, Psalm 69 and especially verses 20-28.

All agree that Psalm 69 is a messianic psalm. Verse 9a ("the zeal of thine house hath eaten me up") is quoted in John 2:17 with reference to Jesus’ first cleansing the temple. Verse 9b ("the reproaches of them that reproached thee are fallen upon me") is cited by Paul in Romans 15:3 regarding Christ’s sufferings. Verse 25 ("Let their habitation be desolate; and let none dwell in their tents") is quoted by Peter in Acts 1:20 against Judas, who betrayed our Lord. Verse 21 is alluded to in all four gospel accounts of Christ’s suffering on the cross (Matt. 27:48; Mark 15:36; Luke 23:36; John 19:28-30).

Read Christ’s amazing prayers to God (Ps. 69:22-28). "Let their table become a snare before them: and that which should have been for their welfare, let it become a trap" (v. 22). There is no common grace here! The physical good things of food and drink which are served at the "table" are not given to the reprobate wicked in love; they are given in God’s judgment, as a "snare" and a "trap" (v. 22). Jesus prays for the spiritual blindness of His reprobate enemies: "Let their eyes be darkened, that they see not; and make their loins continually to shake" (v. 23). Psalm 69:22-23 is quoted in Romans 11:9-10.

Psalm 69 opposes the free offer, an alleged desire of God to save the reprobate. In verse 24, Christ prays that the wicked be punished in hell: "Pour out thine indignation upon them, and let thy wrathful anger take hold of them." In verse 27, Jesus prays that they not be justified and forgiven: "Add iniquity unto their iniquity: and let them not come into thy righteousness." In verse 28, our Lord prays that they have no part in the roll of heaven: "Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and not be written with the righteous." Christ’s prayers are only for the elect: "I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine" (John 17:9). Christ’s prayers are only against the reprobate (Ps. 69:22-28).

Like Psalm 22, Psalm 69 is a song of the cross. Christ’s petitions to God (vv. 22-28) come just after verses in which He is reproached by His enemies (vv. 19-20), left without comforters (v. 20) and given vinegar to drink on the cross (v. 21). This passage teaches the biblical and Reformed doctrine of particular atonement. Especially since Jesus prays for the destruction of the reprobate (vv. 22-28), including Judas (v. 25; Acts 1:20), while He was on the cross, He did not die for everybody. As He bears God’s wrath against the sins of His people, Christ opposes the notion that God wants to save everybody (Ps. 69:23-24, 27-28). While suffering hellish agonies on behalf of His church, Christ even made time to pray against the reprobate wicked and oppose the error of common grace (v. 22). Thus Psalm 69 teaches Christ’s particular atonement, particular intercession and particular grace for the elect alone. It even presents Christ praying against common grace and the free offer as He is crucified (vv. 22-28).

The only way to know God’s love and blessing is through faith in Jesus Christ. Because of the fall, the human race is under the curse of God. By His effectual, saving death on the cross, the Lord Jesus bore God’s curse for His people so that God’s blessing comes to those who are in Christ. Any doctrine of a love of God or a blessing of God for the reprobate, not only denies God’s perfect justice—for how can God love and speak good about totally depraved, reprobate sinners?—but also slights the glory of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God. Christ alone mediates God’s love and blessing to believers! Thus, the philosophy that God loves and blesses people outside of Jesus Christ attacks the gospel. If God really loves them—and His love is divine: eternal, unchangeable and powerful—surely He will not allow them to perish in hell. Thus the advocates of common grace, especially as they go further down this line, are increasingly teaching that there is a sense in which Jesus died for everybody or even that Christ actually died for all men head for head. Believing in a love of God for all and a cross for all, it is more and more being suggested, and even affirmed, that those who remain in other religions or none may ultimately be saved.

The canonical significance of the book of Psalms is that it is the church’s song book, a book of worship, devotion, praise and prayer, as we lift up our hearts and voices in melody to God. Psalms 5 and 11 teach a hatred of God for some and oppose a love of God for everybody. Who would sing this? Psalm 73 and 92 are against the notion that the good things that God gives to the reprobate come out of a divine love for them. Many would not want to worship the Almighty using these inspired words. Psalm 69 contains the prayers of Christ on the cross against common grace and the free offer. Sadly, this Word of God in the church’s inspired song book offends many professing Christians.

Do you worship God singing these Psalms? David did. Asaph did. The church in the Old Testament and New Testament did. Many faithful churches do today. However, many slight the Psalms and especially those Psalms that we have been considering. Such Psalms would kill the supposed worship of many professing Christian churches. The number one heresy in modern, evangelical, uninspired hymnody is a universal love of God. Most hymnbooks are filled with it. John and Charles Wesley wrote their hymns to promote Arminianism’s universal love of God and to attack predestination. The Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster’s hymnal is riddled with Arminian ideas ( and most hymnals are worse. As a church departs, the Psalms are first slighted and then largely ignored; in come the Arminian hymns, designed to present a nicer, cosier god and to make people feel good. Let us return to the Psalms and their humbling presentation of the glory of God and His sovereign, particular grace in Jesus Christ, over against common grace and the free offer.