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