Common Grace: How God Blessed the Nations in the Age of Abraham

rainbowGod’s covenant with Noah is often described as the covenant of common grace, and rightly so. In the wake of God’s judgment on the earth, the heart of humanity remains unchanged (cp. Gen. 6:5 and 8:21), yet for God to bring redemption to the world, some measure of preservation must be granted. Therefore, with strong covenantal language—berith occurs 7 times (vv. 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, 17) in Genesis 9—God promises to uphold creation: “While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease” (8:22).

These promises to Noah envelope all creation and articulate God’s common grace—his universal beneficence towards a world filled with sin. In other words, common grace is common because it encompasses all humanity universally, not because it is mundane. Common grace is distinct from saving grace in that the former does not atone for sins or grant eternal life. Rather, it grants “grace” to the righteous and the unrighteous (cf. Matthew 5:45) and provides a historical context for saving grace to operate.

That being said, common grace is not equally apportioned. It is not like the periodic table, where every element possesses the same atomic weight. Rather, common grace is specific in that it often depends upon the saving grace given to God’s chosen people. In other words, just as common grace is promised through the Noahic covenant, so common grace continues to be mediated through other covenantal mediators. In Scripture, the first instance of this is Abraham.
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Eternal Security and Common Grace: Two Doctrinal Lessons from Acts 27

boatWhen Paul was taken to Rome, Luke describes the harrowing sea journey to Italy in Acts 27. Embarking on a ship from Adramyttium, a seaport in Asia Minor (v. 2), Paul crossed the Mediterranean. From Myra (v. 5), Paul and his guard found passage on a ship of 276 men, complete with many other soldiers (v. 31) and prisoners (v. 42). While Paul doubted the safety of the journey, based on the time of year (vv. 9–10), the centurion and the majority of the crew decided to head out (vv. 11–12).

This perilous journey sets up the dramatic events at sea, the near drowning of the passengers, and the eventual sinking of the ship. Verse 13 begins with gentle breezes as the ship sets sail, but all turns stormy in verses 14. Verses 14–20 recount the evasive actions taken by the crew (e.g., turning the ship out of the wind, lowering the gear, jettisoning cargo), and verses 21–26 introduces Paul’s “I told you so” coupled with gracious promise from the Lord.

21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.”

In these words, we find two doctrinal lessons—the first, an illustration of eternal security as Paul later tells the passengers they must remain on the boat to receive “salvation.” In Acts 27, salvation (defined as the preservation of life) is secured by means. Thus, it serves as handy illustration of how God provides eternal security through God-provided means. Or as Thomas Schreiner and Ardel Caneday explain in their book The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance, “Acts 27 illustrates well the fact that exhortations and warnings are a signficant means by which God moves humans to act so that his promises to them will be fulfilled” (212). This is the first illustration, well covered Schreiner and Caneday (pp. 209–212).

The second doctrinal lesson pertains to God’s common grace and the variety of ways grace is conveyed to unbelievers through the lives of Christians. I will consider this below. Continue reading

God’s Wise Restraint: Reflections on Common Grace

Common grace.  It is a term and idea that is helpful and necessary for understanding God’s relationship with a fallen world.  Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology defines common grace as “the grace of God by which he gives people innumerable blessings that are not part of salvation.”

However, it is more than just non-salvific blessings.  It is also the restraint of sin in the world.  So, in their treatment of common grace, J. van Genderen, W.H. Velema (Concise Reformed Dogmatics) maintain that common grace: (1) postpones full punishment for sin, (2) bridles the effects of the curse on nature and humanity, and (3) endows creatures made in God’s image to experience the richness and fullness of God’s world.

This week, I found another helpful articulation of all that God did in the very beginning to “bridle the effects of the curse on nature and humanity.”  Writing about God’s relationship with fallen humanity, Willem Van Gemeren lists seven ways that God works to restrain sin.  Each of these are explicated in the first 11 chapters of Genesis.

“God’s fatherly concern and love for his creation is also evidenced by his restraining the power of sin in the world.  In [Genesis] 3, 6, and 11, he (1) put ‘enmity’ between man and evil (3:15); (2) caused human beings to become occupied with their creaturely existence (vv. 16-19); (3) decreed a natural end to human physical existence (v. 19b); (4) expelled Adam and Eve from the garden so as to keep them from another offense; (5) reduced the human life span to 120 years (6:3); (6) instituted responsibility, justice, and the law of retaliation (vv. 5-6); and (7) broke up the solidarity of humankind by the introduction of languages (11:1-9)” (Van Gemeren, The Progress of Redemption86).

In all these ways, God sovereignly restrained the collective power and productivity of mankind.  God’s lovingkindness is not only seen in salvation; it is also seen in his sovereign rule over sinful humanity.  He has preserved the world in such a way as to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth (Matt 24:14; Acts 1:8).

May we give thanks to God for his saving grace, but may we also learn to worship him for his common grace.  And may we see how God’s common grace in the world is a means by which we can enter into conversation and dialogue with others about God’s saving grace.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss