Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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December 2010 • Volume XIII, Issue 8


Does Psalm 145:9 Teach Common Grace?

In my articles on God’s uncommon grace in the Psalms, we saw, first, how Psalms 5, 11, 73, 92 and 69 oppose this popular error (CR News XII:21-24). Second, we looked, in turn, at the first ten Psalms (except Psalm 5, which had already been covered) to see how each of them, in their own way, teaches or fits with particular, uncommon (but not common!) grace. The main issues we dealt with were the antithesis (Ps. 1), Christ’s rule of grace and rule of power (Ps. 2), Jehovah’s blessing (Ps. 3), the light of God’s countenance (Ps. 4), divine chastisement (Ps. 6), Jehovah’s anger (Ps. 7), the creation week (Ps. 8), God’s justice (Ps. 9) and divine abhorrence (Ps. 10)—see CR News XIII:1-4, 6-7. Lest anyone should think that I simply avoided passages from the Psalms that are appealed to by those who want common grace, we shall conclude our treatment of this subject by looking at Psalm 145:9, the number one text cited in this regard.

Psalm 145:9 states that God’s "tender mercies are over all his works." Advocates of common grace reckon that "all [God’s] works" here refer to everybody head for head, including the reprobate. But immediately the next verse declares, "All thy works shall praise thee" (10a). The reprobate do not praise God and so they cannot be the objects of God’s "tender mercies" (9b). According to Hebrew parallelism, "thy saints shall bless thee" (10b) defines God’s works here as His holy people created by His sovereign grace in Jesus Christ (cf. Isa. 19:25; 29:23; 45:11; 60:21; 64:8; Eph. 2:10), the citizens of the gracious kingdom of God, the subject of Psalm 145.

Let us have the Hebrew parallelism of Psalm 145:9-10 clearly before us:

[9a] The Lord is good to all:
[9b] and his tender mercies are over all his works.
[10a] All thy works shall praise thee, O Lord;
[10b] and thy saints shall bless thee.

"All" (9a) and "all [God’s] works" (9b, 10a) and God’s "saints" (10b) refer to the same group, God’s holy people who are new creatures in Jesus Christ (II Cor. 5:17; Eph. 2:10). The eternal, unchangeable and faithful Jehovah is good to "all" of them (Ps. 145:9a) and they are the objects of His covenantal "tender mercies" (9b). Knowing God’s goodness and tender mercies, all of His holy people "praise" (10a) and "bless" (10b) Him, and "speak of the glory of [His] kingdom, and talk of [His] power" (11).

Those unfamiliar with Hebrew parallelism should consider that the twenty-one verses of Psalm 145 say essentially the same thing in their two "halves."

Notice that Psalm 145 opens by extolling the ever-blessed God as "king" (1). Four times this Psalm uses the word "kingdom" (11-13) and once it refers to His "dominion" which "endureth through all generations" (13). God’s "kingdom" is glorious, majestic and everlasting (11-13). It is the topic of conversation and the subject of divine praise for "all [God’s] works" (9b, 10a), that is, His "saints" (10b) who "sing of" (7), "speak of," "talk of" and "make known" (11-12) the "glory" of God’s kingdom, yea, its "glorious majesty" (11-12). In this kingdom, God’s "power" and "mighty acts" (11-12) are known and revered. Similarly, Jehovah’s "works," "mighty acts," "wondrous works" and "terrible acts" (4-6) are also in the service of the divine "king" (1) and His kingdom (11-13), and are so many reasons for the church of all ages to worship Him (4-6): "One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts" (4). We bless Him for His "great goodness" and "righteousness" (7): "The Lord is gracious, and full of compassion; slow to anger, and of great mercy" (8). This is seen in Jehovah’s government of His "everlasting kingdom" (13), for He "upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all those that be bowed down" (14) and He "is nigh unto all them that call upon him, to all that call upon him in truth" (18). Thus He fulfils the desire of, hears the cry of, and saves those "that fear him" (19) and provides food for all, to serve the interests of His kingdom (15-16). In the whole of Psalm 145, David (preface) and "all [God’s] works," that is His "saints" (9-10), praise the divine king for the mighty acts and tender mercies shown in setting up and maintaining His kingdom. This is the same kingdom that Jesus Christ proclaimed and established in the blood of His cross and which He governs from His heavenly throne—the same kingdom more fully revealed in the pages of the New Testament. The context of Psalm 145, as well as the Hebrew parallelism in verses 9-10, ought to have kept some from reading common grace into Psalm 145:9.

Moreover, if we would follow the eisegesis of those who believe that "all [God’s] works" in Psalm 145:9 include every human being bar none, we would also be forced to conclude that the same would apply to "every living thing" in verse 16. But if we were to grant this, it would require us to believe that God satisfies "the desire" for food (15-16) of every human being in the history of the world. Yet we know that thousands have died, and still die, of hunger. Also, "every living thing" (16) is said to "wait upon" God for food (15). This may well include animals, birds and fish (cf. Ps. 104:21, 25-28), as well as God’s children who seek from Him alone their daily bread. But the reprobate are unbelievers; they do not truly wait upon or pray to God for food in faith!

The interpretation of those who hold to common grace leads to absurdities in Psalm 145, both as regards verses 9-10 and verses 15-16, as well as misunderstanding the meaning of the Psalm as whole. Let us not isolate parts of verses to make them say what we want, but let us interpret Scripture with Scripture. If we do that with Psalm 145:9, we cannot but conclude that the theory of a common grace for the reprobate is not here at all. Instead, Psalm 145 praises God for revealing His might (4-6, 11-13), His goodness (7-9) and His nearness (14, 18-19) in His glorious kingdom. Verse 20 summarizes for us God’s attitude and will towards the two antithetical, spiritual peoples: "The Lord preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy." Why? The holy and unchangeable God of the kingdom "is righteous in all his ways" (17). Rev. Stewart

Teetotallers and Drunkards

Question: "Some Christians won’t touch alcohol, whilst others imbibe a little. Who is right?"

The issue of abstinence from alcoholic beverages or the proper use of them is a perpetual one in the church. It really ought not to be, for Scripture is actually very clear on the subject.

Teetotallers are of two kinds. Some refuse to touch alcoholic drinks of any kind out of Christian liberty. For one reason or another, they consider it wise not to make use of intoxicating drinks in their own lives. They do not consider drinking alcohol wrong in itself, nor do they condemn others who do drink alcohol, but they refuse to do so themselves.

I have known people like this. One instance comes to mind. When at dinner, we were discussing whether or not to have a glass of wine with our meal, this visitor at our table declined. I asked him if it was an offence to him for other diners to drink wine. He assured me that he would in no way be offended. He told us that his reason for not drinking was that he had been brought up in a home where his father was a drunk. He had learned from his doctor that there is a genetic tendency among some people to drink too much. He was fearful that this genetic tendency might be in him. And so, rather than run the risk of becoming a drunk, he had made a decision early in life not to imbibe any alcoholic drinks under any circumstances. It was for him a matter of Christian liberty.

Others who have been slaves to drink and who have escaped this awful bondage are aware of the fact that for them any use of alcoholic beverages at any time constitutes a danger, which must at all costs be avoided. They refuse to drink any alcoholic drinks; this too is with them a matter of Christian liberty. However, in many instances they prefer not to have others drink in their presence. They prefer this, not because they consider it wrong for others to drink, but because the drinking of others in their presence would constitute a grave temptation for them.

Those who know that they are in the presence of a delivered alcoholic must follow the rule laid down by Paul in connection with eating meats sacrificed to idols: "Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend" (I Cor.. 8:13).

Under such circumstances a teetotaller is not sinning.

But others consider any imbibing of alcoholic drinks to be sinful. These sin themselves by taking such a position.

Their reasons are many. A few of them can be mentioned. They argue that the abuse of drinking is so wide-spread and creates so many other problems that drinking itself is wrong. The abuse of liquor makes its use wrong. They point to men who under the influence of alcohol become abusive and impossible to live with. They point to skid row and show us there in the gutter is a former skilled surgeon, a professor with two PhDs, and a noted scientist. They remind us of the lost jobs, the broken homes, the abused children, the wrecks caused by drunken drivers and the enormous cost to society. They are quick to point out that partying is ingrained in our culture, that some young people drink themselves to death in colleges and universities, that drinking parties are the scandal of some young people of the church. They see the solution as total abstinence. And they work to get legislation passed to prohibit alcoholic drinks. Some even argue that the drinking of wine is wrong because converted drunkards will once again return to their bottle when they drink the wine that is served at the Lord’s Supper.

Nevertheless, this position of total abstinence is wrong. I know that those who favour a position of total abstinence argue that the Bible prohibits the drinking of alcoholic beverages, but this is a specious argument that twists Scripture’s teaching.

I mention a few points here. Wine in the Old Testament was a symbol of heavenly joy and blessing. Grapes in Canaan, a picture of heaven, were used to make wine that makes merry the heart of man. The list is long and impressive: Genesis 49:11, Psalm 104:15, Deuteronomy 8:8, I Kings 4:25, etc.; wine was used in the sacrifices (Num. 15:10; 28:14); vineyards were a cherished possession in Canaan (Song 2:13; I Kings 21:1-14). Further, our Lord made wine miraculously at the wedding feast of Cana (John 2:1-11) and wine was used in both the Passover feast and the Lord’s Supper.

It is argued that the wine referred to was not fermented grape juice but this too is specious reasoning, for the same word is used as the one used for wine when Scripture condemns its over use. The fact is that wine occupies an important place in sacred Scripture and nowhere is its use banned. Warnings are repeatedly made that over-use of it and drunkenness are heinous sins. But over-indulgence of any of God’s gifts is sinful. Scripture teaches us that moderation in all things ought to characterize the life of the Christian.

I said that prohibition of alcoholic beverages is sin. It is a sin to call the use of alcohol a sin. This truth is set down in I Timothy 4:1-5. Paul clearly states in that passage that "every creature of God is good" when it is "received with thanksgiving" and "sanctified by the word of God and prayer." To deny this fundamental truth is, says the apostle, the doctrine of devils and a departure from the faith. This makes such claims that alcohol is in itself wrong a denial of God’s goodness. God is good. His creation is good. The use of His creation is good, when it is used for His glory. This truth lies at the bottom of an important doctrine of Scripture that has consequences for the life of the Christian in the world.

All I have said does not mean that a believer is obligated to drink alcoholic beverages. He is no more obligated to drink them than he is to use a mobile phone. But never must we call unclean what God hath cleansed. That is wrong. Prof. Hanko

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