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
 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.  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
 If the foundations be
destroyed, what can the righteous do?  The Lord is in his
holy temple, the Lord’s throne is in heaven: his eyes
behold, his eyelids try, the children of men.  The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth
violence his soul hateth.  Upon the wicked he shall rain
snares, fire and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this
shall be the portion of their cup.  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
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
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 (www.cprf.co.uk/articles/pciandsodomy.htm).
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
(For a further explanation
of Psalm 11:3-7, please listen to "The
Moral Foundations of the Church" or download it from the CPRC
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 (www.cprf.co.uk/articles/freepresbyterianhymnal.htm)
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.