Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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January 2010  •  Volume XII, Issue 21


 The Psalms Versus Common Grace (1)

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 (5) and abhorrence (6). Jehovah’s hatred and abhorrence are not merely of the sin but also of the sinner: "thou hatest all workers of iniquity" (5) and "the Lord will abhor the bloody and deceitful man" (6). Moreover, it is not just some particularly bad sinners, but "all workers of iniquity" that God hates (5). God does not love the reprobate sinner but hate his sin; He hates the sin and the sinner (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" (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 (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" (7). The truth of God’s hatred for the wicked (4-6) does not hinder David in prayer or worship, but helps him in prayer (1-3) and worship (7).

David, the man after God’s own heart, professes particular grace, "mercy" to him and all the saints (7), but not to the wicked whom God hates (5). God views with "favour" and promises to "bless" the "righteous" (12), whereas He abhors the ungodly (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 (4-6). Psalm 5 denies common grace and teaches uncommon grace.

Next time, we shall consider more Psalms against common grace (DV).  Rev. Stewart

The Place of Children in the Covenant (3)

Question: "Are children in the covenant of grace upon baptism or are only the elect members after conversion? With whom was the covenant of works made? The visible or the invisible church? How does all that work out?"

I have been dealing with this question in previous articles, and have emphasized that God saves His people in the line of generations: believers and their seed. Children are not saved (brought into God’s covenant) by baptism; nor are they brought into God’s covenant by conversion when they reach adulthood; they are graciously and sovereignly brought into God’s covenant from infancy on.

Yet it is also true that not all the children of believers are saved; God’s sovereign decree of election and reprobation runs through covenant lines. We have the promise that God will gather His church from our children, but we have no promise that God will save all our physical children.

There is, however, a certain sense in which those within covenant lines who are not saved, but hear the gospel and receive the sign of baptism, are given special privileges. Paul speaks of this in Romans 9 when he refers to those in the Old Testament who were born in the line of the covenant. He writes that he has great sorrow of heart for his kinsmen according to the flesh who have rejected Christ, and goes on to speak of them as those "who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen" (Rom. 9:4-5).

So also do those born in the line of the covenant receive special privileges: a Christian home with believing parents, a Christian education in Christian schools, a church in which they hear the preaching and are taught in catechism classes, the fellowship of faithful saints, etc. When they turn their backs on these privileges their punishment is greater than the punishment of the heathen who did not receive such privileges.

It is no different with the preaching of the gospel. Those who come under the preaching are given the special privileges that come along with the preaching, for they are a part of the church as manifested here on earth, experience the communion of the saints, are instructed in the truth of God and are as Hebrews 6:4-5 describes them.  But they, when they reject the gospel, are held more responsible for their sin than the heathen who never heard the gospel. To whom much is given, from him shall much be required (Luke 12:48).

We may look at this matter from two points of view.

From our point of view, if we are born in the line of the covenant, baptized, come under the preaching, receive Christian education in the home, church and school, and yet turn our backs on it, God’s judgments are terrible. It will indeed be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah, and for Tyre and Sidon, than for us (Matt. 11:21-24).

But we must look at the whole matter from God’s point of view as well. God is always sovereign. It is true of baptism, as well as the preaching of the gospel, that it is a two-edged sword that cuts and divides. Election and reprobation control and determine those who are truly in the covenant and those who are not. And this sovereign determination, rooted in predestination, is worked by God through the preaching of the gospel and the sacraments that accompany the gospel. God saves through the means of Word and sacrament, but God also hardens in the same way.

While Scripture teaches that only the elect are truly in the covenant, many more are in the historical administration of the covenant. Many more than the elect are in the visible church and many more are, therefore, in the historical administration of the covenant of grace. The dragnet of the preaching catches good fish and bad (Matt. 13:47-50). The field of the world has in it good seed and tares (24-30, 36-43).

We may use a couple of illustrations from creation to make the point clear. The historical manifestation of God’s covenant of grace is like a mighty river that flows through history. Let us use the concrete example of the Amazon River in South America. It is illustrative of the historical manifestation of God’s covenantal work. As that river flows through the jungles of Brazil, other rivers flow into it and become a part of it. These feeder rivers immediately lose their individual identity when they become a part of the Amazon. So, throughout history, new generations are brought into the covenant by the mission work of the church. These generations lose their former identity and become a part of God’s covenant.

At the same time, much water from the river never reaches its mouth. It is evaporated by the heat of the sun; it is splashed onto the shore; it is taken out of the river by irrigation projects; it is caught in whirlpools and eddies. And so, though a part of the river for a time, this water is separated from the river and belongs to it no more. So in God’s covenant, many are born in covenant lines, but are eliminated from the covenant by God’s determination and their own unbelief.

Only when the river of God’s covenant reaches eternity are the elect brought into the full realization of God’s everlasting covenant of grace with His people.

The figure of a wheat field is also apt. The field is the historical manifestation of God’s covenant. In it are both wheat and weeds. On it the sun shines and the rain falls; the nutrients of fertilization cause the wheat to grow as wheat, but also the weeds to grow as weeds (Heb. 6:7-8). Only at the harvest are the wheat grains separated from the weeds (Matt. 13:40-43). But only a man totally ignorant of agriculture would call a farmer’s wheat field a weed field simply because he spotted some thistles in it. It remains a wheat field and to call it anything else is insulting. So also the covenant is God’s covenant and the people in it are God’s covenant people even though wicked persons are present in it. Its name is given in harmony with its purpose. A wheat field is a wheat field because the farmer’s purpose is to raise wheat. God’s covenant is God’s covenant even though there are wicked in its historical manifestation, because God’s purpose is to save His elect, covenant people.  Prof. Hanko

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