Common Grace
by Mitch Cervinka

What if God,
although willing to demonstrate His wrath
and to make His power known,
endured with much patience
vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?
Romans 9:22

The term "Common Grace" refers to the fact that, in this life, God treats all men, whether elect or not, far better than they deserve.  He sends sunshine and rain upon both the wicked and the godly.  It is called "common" because these blessings are given to elect and non-elect alike.  It is called "grace" because these blessings are undeserved.

Although the basic concept seems simple enough, there are controversies surrounding some of the finer points of this doctrine.  Does God show this grace to the non-elect because He loves them?  Did Christ purchase these common-grace blessings for all men through His sufferings and death?  Is common grace restricted to the material blessings that God gives to all men, or does it also encompass certain spiritual blessings as well?

The Motive behind Common Grace.

Why does God give such blessings to the non-elect?  Some would answer this question by saying "Because God loves all men".  However, in Romans 9:22, the inspired apostle gives us a much different answer.

Romans 9:22 - What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?
Here, Paul affirms that God shows the common grace of patience to the reprobate, yet he describes them as "vessels of wrath prepared for destruction" and affirms that "God is willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known" against them.  It is in spite of His anger toward them and His desire to destroy them that God "with much patience" endures these vessels of wrath.

In other words, God’s basic attitude toward them is one of wrath, yet He withholds His wrath for a time, enduring their insults with great patience.  The phrase "endured with much patience" is two-edged in its implications.  On the one hand, it teaches us that God is exceedingly kind and patient in the way He presently treats them.  On the other hand, it teaches us that God's wrath burns hotly against them for their rebellion and stubborn impenitence.  This passage teaches us that God labors to hold back His great wrath against the reprobate, while their wickedness daily cries out to be punished.  God's great goodness is manifested in postponing the fearsome wrath that daily grows more intense against them.

God's feeling toward them is anything but love.  However, He treats them lovingly, just as He commands us to do when He says that we must likewise love our enemies.

Matthew 5:44-45 - But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
When God says "love your enemies" here, He is telling us to do what He does—namely to treat our enemies in a loving manner that they do not deserve, just as He treats His enemies in a loving manner that they do not deserve, giving them the sunshine and rain they need to grow their crops.  In other words, "love" here is not a feeling, rather it is an activity—the bestowal of undeserved blessings.  To "love" one’s enemies is to display kindness to them despite their hostility toward you.

This is made quite clear by the parallel passage in Luke...

Luke 6:27-31 - But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it backTreat others the same way you want them to treat you.
The emphasis in this passage is one's treatment of his enemies, as expressed in his behavior toward them, as well as in praying for them.  The theme here is how you respond to their insults and abuses.

Consider how and why God blessed Pharaoh with an abundance of earthly blessings.  God blessed Pharaoh with great wealth, fame and power, and placed him as king over the greatest nation of his day.  Why? —So that God could demonstrate His great power in judging a powerful, wicked king and thereby obtain great fame for Himself.

The common grace blessings that God gave to Pharaoh were not given out of a sense of love toward Pharaoh, but out of a desire to use Pharaoh’s rebellion to magnify His own glory.  God "raised up" Pharaoh—making him a wealthy, powerful king over a great nation—for one expressed purpose:  namely, to demonstrate His own power and sovereignty in judging Pharaoh's stubborn rebellion—visiting severe and spectacular plagues upon the Egyptians and destroying Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea.  If God had not blessed Pharaoh with such power and wealth, and placed the Israelites under his authority, then the exodus would not have been such a profound display of God's own power and glory.  God's generous blessing of Pharaoh was an investment in His own glory.

In fact, God’s glory was so magnified by His judgment against Egypt, that when the Israelites prepared to attack Jericho, the people of Jericho were trembling because of what God had done 40 years earlier in leading the Israelites through the Red Sea and destroying the Egyptian army.

Joshua 2:9-11 - [Rahab] said to the men, "I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you.  For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed.  When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. …"
Not only that, but God's fame lives on today, as the story is retold time and again, not only in books, but also in movies and on television.  Even in our hi-tech age, the events of Exodus continue to fascinate us, and to display the glories of a holy, almighty God who lovingly cares for His people and who can easily destroy the mightiest of His enemies.

What is true of Pharaoh is true of others as well.  Each day that God graces a reprobate person with earthly blessings, that person becomes more guilty of his unbelief and rebellion.  God’s ongoing kindness to him results in an increasing indebtedness of sin and wickedness.  Each day that he receives more common grace from God, the non-elect person treasures up greater wrath for himself against the day of wrath.

Romans 2:4-5 - Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?  But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God
Thus, by withholding His judgment, and instead showing kindness to the non-elect, God thereby increases their guilt and vindicates His vengeance against them.  This will ultimately glorify our glorious God all the more, for it will manifest the rightness of His fierce wrath against them on the day of judgment.

In the same manner, the kindness that we show to the non-elect in this life will result in their greater condemnation on the judgment day.

Romans 12:19-21 - Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord.  "BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD."  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
The "common grace" blessings that we bestow on the reprobate—feeding them when they are hungry, or giving them a drink when they are thirsty—will increase their guilt and condemnation, and will magnify God's justice on the day that He executes vengeance against them.

God's ultimate purpose is that the reprobate should eventually be severely punished for abusing His goodness and rejecting His great kindness to them.  As the Puritan, William Gurnall, has written...

Truly, when I consider how the goodness of God is abused and perverted by the greatest part of mankind, I cannot but be of his mind that said maximum miraculum est Dei patientia et munificentia-the greatest miracle in the world is God's patience and bounty to an ungrateful world. If a prince hath an enemy got into one of his towns, he doth not send them in provision, but lays close siege to the place, and doth what he can to starve them. But the great God, that could wink all his enemies into destruction, bears with them, and is at daily cost to maintain them. Well may he command us to bless them that curse us, who himself 'does good to the evil and unthankful.' O what would not God do for his creature if thankful, that thus heaps the coals of his mercies upon the heads of his enemies!

But think not, sinners, that you shall escape thus. God's mill goes slow, but it grinds small; the more admirable his patience and bounty now is, the more dreadful and unsupportable will that fury be which ariseth out of his abused goodness. Nothing blunter than iron, yet when sharpened it hath an edge that will cut mortally. Nothing smoother than the sea, yet when stirred into a tempest nothing rageth more. Nothing so sweet as the patience and goodness of God, and nothing so terrible as his wrath when it takes fire.
.. William Gurnall - The Christian in Complete Armour, Direction XI.

The Great Kindness of Common Grace.

Even though God's ultimate purpose for bestowing the blessings of common grace upon the reprobate is to magnify His glory in condemning unrepentant sinners, we must never suppose that God gives His common grace blessings in some sort of scheming or malicious manner.  God's kindness to the reprobate sinner is very real and it overflows in a lavish display of patience and goodness, for God's purpose is to demonstrate that the sole cause of the sinner's impenitence is the sinner himself.  If God treated the non-elect person in a cruel or devious manner, then the unrepentant man might imagine that his rebellion was justified.  However, God demonstrates the extreme evil of the reprobate heart by showering unrepentant men with an abundance of daily blessings, too numerous to count—a loving family, a daily supply of food, a rewarding job, a comfortable home, good health, beautiful sunsets, pleasant weather, etc.

Yet, some will object that there is much suffering in the world—how is this consistent with the thesis that God daily showers the reprobate with an abundance of undeserved blessings?  The answer, of course, is that even the most horrible sufferings of this present life cannot compare with the terrifying wrath that sinful men so thoroughly deserve.

Matthew 10:28 - Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

Hebrews 10:31 - It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Moreover, amid the sufferings of this life, God often gives many blessings that tend to soften the harshness of the sufferings themselves.  In the midst of searing summer heat, He often provides water to quench the thirst or shade to lessen the severity of the heat.
Jonah 4:6 - So the LORD God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant.
Although God allows men to be afflicted with disease or injury, yet He often sends healing to them, that they may regain their health.  Many of those who mourn are eventually comforted.  Many of those who witness the horrors of war are protected from its devastation and are preserved to see the return of peace.  How many of the unsaved can give accounts of how they were saved from fire, drowning, windstorms or other calamities?  In these and countless other ways, God shows kindness to the unsaved every day—a kindness that none of us deserves.

When we consider the surpassing holiness of God, and the way that His honor is daily so neglected, abused or reviled by the unsaved, we can begin to comprehend the seriousness of man's sin, and the severity of the punishment he deserves.  Against such a backdrop as this, is it not truly astonishing to think that Omnipotent Holiness should defer judgment, and should instead shower so many with an abundance of food, comfort and affluence, and daily protect them from war, famine, disease and other calamity?

The supreme goodness of the blessings that God gives is embodied by the use of the word "love" in connection with the common grace blessings God bestows upon saints and sinners alike.

Matthew 5:44-45 - But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
While this passage does not say directly that "God loves the evil and the unrighteous", it does say that the reason why we are to love our enemies is so that we can emulate our heavenly Father, who gives good things to His enemies.  We have already seen that God's purpose for showering the reprobate with earthly blessings is to increase their guilt and to magnify His glory at the final judgment.  The word "love" here describes the quality of the blessings, rather than the ultimate purpose for which they are given.  God gives the same sorts of material blessings to the reprobate that He gives to His own beloved elect people—showering the non-elect with great kindnesses, just the same as if He loved them as His own children.

We must never suppose, therefore, that there is any deficiency in the quality of the earthly blessings that God gives to the reprobate.  It is the very same sunshine that rises upon the evil and the good.  It is the very same rain that waters the crops of the righteous and the unrighteous.  God, in this life, treats the hated enemy in the very same way that He treats His own beloved children.  From all appearances, it would be most appropriate to conclude that God loves all alike, and this is what is suggested to us in Matthew 5:44-45.

However, when we step behind the scenes of earthly life and consider these things from an eternal perspective, we get quite a different picture—we get the picture described to us in Romans 9, where God raised up Pharaoh in order to obtain great fame for Himself by judging Pharaoh, and where God presently "endures with much patience" the "vessels of wrath, prepared for destruction".  God calls upon us to be heavenly minded, and to rise above the superficial view we have when we live totally in this world.

Colossians 3:1-3 - Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth.  For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.
To grow into the image of Christ, we must learn to think God's thoughts after Him—to see beyond what our senses tell us, and to believe what God has written in His Holy Word.  It is very natural for fallen humanity to suppose that God thinks well of all men, that He would be too loving to condemn them to everlasting hell, or that His greatest desire is that all men be saved.  Yet, Scripture teaches otherwise, and we must believe what God has written, even if it does not harmonize with the intuition of our fallen understanding.

Scripture plainly teaches these two facts, and we must affirm each without denying the other...

  1. God presently treats the reprobate with great kindness—showering them with abundant earthly blessings—just as though He loved them as His own children.
  2. God's purpose for treating the reprobate with such kindness is to fully manifest their guilt, in order to magnify His own justice on the day of judgment.
This second fact, representing God's purpose for blessing the reprobate, could not be properly achieved if the first fact—God's supreme kindness to His enemies—was not carried out.  This is why we must affirm both statements, for they harmonize perfectly, when properly understood.

Common Grace Blessings: A Means of Hardening Men's Hearts.

One of the great ironies of common grace is this:  The more blessings a man receives, the more complacent and unthankful he is likely to become.  We should remember that material blessings often lead to spiritual apostasy.  Moses gave this warning to the Israelites...

Deuteronomy 6:10-12 - Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Deuteronomy 8:16-17 - In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.'

Likewise, Solomon taught us to pray for neither poverty nor wealth...
Proverbs 30:7-9 - Two things I ask of you, O LORD; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.
This is a very real danger, for Pharoah, self-confident in his great abundance of wealth, prestige and power, said this very thing—
Exodus 5:2 - Pharaoh said, "Who is the LORD, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the LORD and I will not let Israel go."
This is why our Lord taught that it was so hard for a rich man to be saved.
Luke 18:24-25 - And Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!  For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
Thus, material wealth is a blessing in one sense, but can easily become a snare and a curse to depraved men such as ourselves.  While we should always be careful to give thanks to God for the material blessings He gives us, we should recognize that having material wealth is not necessarily a good thing—especially when we consider the spiritual hazards it represents.

We should note that the hardening of man's heart is not only a frequent effect of the goodness God shows to men, but is often the intended purpose for which He blesses men.  Look again at Romans 9:17-18.

Romans 9:17-18 - For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH." So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
The apostle acknowledges in this verse that God's great blessings to Pharaoh were actually an instrument of hardening his heart.  The passage begins by saying "FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP" and concludes with this observation "So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires."  The words "So then" link the first part of the verse to the second, to show us that God's purposeful "raising up" of Pharaoh is evidence that God "hardens whom He desires."

In other words, God "raised up" Pharaoh by showering him with an abundance of blessings, knowing that, in his sinful depravity, Pharaoh would respond by becoming self-confident and rebellious, hardening His heart against God.  This fulfilled God's purpose of having a powerful, rebellious adversary who would reject His demand to "Let My people go!".  This provided an occasion for God to demonstrate His great power and justice in judging Pharaoh, and His great faithfulness in delivering His people from Pharaoh's oppression.

Thus we conclude that, when God gives material blessings to the unsaved, it typically causes them to feel self-sufficient in their comfortable situation, and to despise Him all the more.  This is due, not to any defect in the blessings themselves, but to the wickedness and deceit of man's depraved heart.  Common grace blessings, then, while pure and good in themselves, are often used by God to harden the non-elect and to make them deserving of even greater judgment.

Common Grace: A Test of Man's Character.

God tells us that His goodness toward mankind is meant to lead men to repentance...

Romans 2:4 - Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
Yet, it does not result in their repentance, but in their increased rebellion against Him.  As we have seen, this hardening of man is also a purpose for God's goodness toward men.
Romans 9:17-18 - For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH." So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.
It was God's express purpose that Pharaoh's stubborn heart should become hardened by God's kindness to him—"... FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP ... He hardens whom He desires ...".

So here we have the dilemma of two seemingly opposite purposes in the kindness that God shows to the reprobate.  On the one hand, we read that God's goodness "leads [them] to repentance", yet Scripture also tells us that God's kindness is the means whereby "He hardens whom He desires".  How do we reconcile these two seemingly contradictory teachings?

Some would say that we should not even attempt to reconcile these passages, citing Ralph Waldo Emerson, who once said: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."  However, I am inclined to regard Emerson as more an advocate of postmodernism than a Biblical theologian.  Anyone who is acquainted with Emerson knows that he made no claim to being a Christian, but was an advocate of self-reliance, rugged individualism and pantheism.  He is hardly the one we should look to for divine wisdom.

Granted, there are some teachings of scripture which, due to the limits of our human understanding, retain an element of mystery and cannot be fully reconciled by reason alone (i.e. they must simply be accepted by a humble faith).  The tension between Divine sovereignty and human responsibility is a striking example of this.

On the other hand, our God is a God of reason and order, and we should make every effort to seek out a rational explanation for the apparent mysteries of Scripture—one that is consistent with all relevant Scripture passages.  To refuse to seek a solution for such mysteries is to captiulate to the postmodernist axiom that there is no ultimate truth, and that it is thus foolish and counterproductive to seek to be logically consistent.  Taking this to its "logical" conclusion (as most postmodernists do), Christianity has no exclusive claim on truth, since there is no ultimate truth, and therefore all religions are equally valid (or, more to the point, equally worthless).[1]  Certainly, this is not the way that God, in Scripture, teaches us to think.

So how, therefore, do we reconcile the teachings that (1) God's goodness is meant to lead men to repentance, and (2) God's goodness is meant to harden men's hearts?

Some might naively suppose that this is merely a contrast between God's purpose for the elect versus His purpose for the reprobate—that God's goodness is meant to lead the elect to repentance, and is intended to harden the hearts of the reprobate.  There are two problems with such a thesis.

First, it is not God's common grace that brings the elect to repentance.  Rather, it is God's special, quickening grace, accompanying the preaching of His Word.

2 Timothy 2:25 - with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth,
Second, this explanation does not do justice to the context of Romans 2:4.
Romans 2:4-5 - Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,
Romans 2:4-5 is addressing reprobate men who, in their stubbornness and impenitance, are storing up wrath for themselves.  It is to these stubborn, impenitent people that Paul says "Don't you realize that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?"  Obviously, God's kindness does not actually lead them to repentance, or else they would not remain stubborn and unrepentant, continuing to store up wrath against the judgment day.

So what is the correct way to understand these passages?  We need to see that Romans 2:4 is describing what ought to occur—the kindness of God ought to lead sinners to reconsider their rebellious ways and to acquiesce to God's benign sovereignty.  However, what ought to occur is not what actually occurs.  What actually occurs is that sinful man becomes more complacent and self-confident in the blessings God gives to him, and daily hardens his heart even more against God.

An analogy may be helpful.  Imagine that man's heart were like a ball of wax sitting in the sunlight of God's kindness.  As the wax is warmed by the kindness of God, it becomes softer and ultimately acquiesces to the will of God.  In contrast, imagine another ball—made of clay—that initially is just as soft and pliable as the ball of wax was before it was placed in the sunshine.  The two balls may seem very similar at first.  However, let the clay sit in the sunshine of God's goodness, and the clay hardens, eventually becoming as hard as a stone—thoroughly stubborn and rebelliously unyielding to God's authority.

Ezekiel 36:26 - Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
God's goodness, like the sunshine, serves as a test of men's hearts to see whether they are like wax, that will ultimately become softer in the warmth of His kindness, or like clay that grows harder and more unyielding.  God's goodness reveals the essential character of man's heart.  If, as the Liberals claim, there were "a little spark of good in every man", then we would expect men to respond to God's goodness as wax in the sunshine.  However, if, as Scripture says, man's heart is totally depraved, we would expect men to respond to God's kindness like a ball of clay—becoming increasingly calloused and stonelike as it is exposed to the sunshine of God's common grace.
John 3:19-21 - This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.
When I say that this is a "test" of men's hearts, I do not mean to suggest that God is uncertain and needs to perform the test in order to find out who will soften and who will harden under the influence of His kindness.  On the contrary, this is a test designed to openly reveal what God already knows—namely, that unregenerate sinners have a heart of clay that will only grow harder under the influence of God's undeserved kindness to them.

So God's common grace kindnesses to men serve as a test of their inner character, but more than a test, for God has purposed it as a means of hardening their hearts that it might fully manifest the perfect justice of His treatment of them at the last judgment.  As we saw earlier, there is a legitimate sense in which God's common grace is designed to harden the sinner and make him more fit for hell.

Romans 9:18 - So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. You will say to me then, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, "Why did you make me like this," will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?
There is a profound analogy and contrast here with the way that God treats His own elect people.  We have observed that God sends earthly blessings to the reprobate for the twofold purpose of (1) manifesting their depravity and (2) hardening their hearts.  In like manner, God sends earthly afflictions to His elect for the twofold purpose of (1) manifesting their faith and (2) causing them to grow more Christlike.
Romans 5:3-4 - And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;

James 1:2-4 - Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

The following table summarizes this comparison.

The Recipients The Stimulus The Test The Effect
The Reprobate Earthly blessings Manifests their rebellion Hardens their hearts
The Elect Earthly afflictions Manifests their faith Conforms them to Christ

This, of course, runs contrary to the way most people think of blessings and afflictions.  Most people would expect afflictions to harden a man's heart, and would expect blessings to soften it.  But God wants us to see that it just doesn't work this way.  This misunderstanding stems from underestimating the depth of man's depravity, and likewise underestimating the greatness of God's power in transforming and empowering the Christian.  If man's heart and will were neutral, then we might expect him to respond as a flag blowing in the wind—becoming hardened by afflictions and softened by blessings.  But the human heart is never truly neutral.  The unsaved have a rebellious hostility against God, and the saved have an enduring love for God.

Perhaps the most profound feature of this comparison is the nature of the "stimulus"—what is it that God sends to men to test their hearts?  To those who are rebellious, God shows extreme kindness, to demonstrate that it is their own nature, not their environment, that is responsible for their rebellious attitudes and behavior.  To those who are faithful, God sends trouble and affliction, to demonstrate that their God-sustained faith will endure, even under the most hostile and adverse trials.

Job 1:9-11 - Then Satan answered the LORD, "Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face."

1 John 5:4-5 - For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is the one who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

Philippians 1:29 - For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,

Notice that Philippians 1:29 teaches us the vital connection between a God-given faith and the God-given suffering that God sends to His people.  God sends suffering to us to exhibit the faith that He gives to His people and to demonstrate the power of this faith to produce patient endurance through trials.  Both the faith and the sufferings that exhibit the faith are God-given.  The sufferings we face are like a backdrop of black velvet that allows the diamond of faith to display its full beauty and brilliance.

Faith and sufferings are necessary to one another, in order to display God's powerful grace working in our lives.  If the faith were not given and sustained by God, it would never endure through trials.  Genuine faith is like the powerful engine of a boat headed upstream against the current of sufferings.  Without a powerful motor, we could not advance against the current.

But, what if God did not send the trials?  It would be like placing the motorboat in a tranquil lake with no current.  In this case, there would be no opportunity to witness the full power of the motor, and to see what it is capable of accomplishing.  To see the power of God, we need both a God-given faith, and a stream of trials that can be overcome by faith.  We must always remember that God's ultimate purpose is to glorify Himself, and that one of the ways He does this is by displaying His powerful grace in the hearts and lives of His people as they persevere through difficult trials.

The Basis for Common Grace.

We all know that the special-grace blessings of salvation were purchased by Jesus Christ through His sufferings and death at Calvary.  But what about the various common-grace blessings that God gives to men?  Were they likewise purchased by Christ at Calvary?  Some expositors suggest that there is a temporal sense in which Christ died for all menwhether elect or notin order to spare them from being immediately cast into hell.

We should remember that God could have immediately cast Satan and his demons into the flames of hell the instant they sinned, but that He has postponed their judgment for a time.  God shows many undeserved kindnesses to fallen angels and even to Satan himself.  Yet, Scripture is clear that Jesus did not die to redeem angels...

Hebrews 2:16-17 - For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
It does not follow, therefore, that if God withholds judgment for a time, this postponement must have been purchased by Christ on Calvary.  If that were so, then He would also have had to die for Satan and the demons!

Also, we must remember this:  If Christ had genuinely died to provide these graces for the non-elect, then God could never require it of them at the last judgment.  If God's present kindness to the non-elect was purchased by Christ at Calvary, then it must be given in grace, with nothing expected in return.  But Scripture is clear that God will require it of them at the last judgment.  God's kindness to them now is treasuring up for them a vast reservoir of wrath against them for their impenitence.  God expects a return on His investment of goodnessand the unsaved accrue a greater debt each day that they remain impenitent.

Romans 2:4-6 - Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?  But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS:
Hence, it is perhaps not technically accurate to refer to God's kindness to the non-elect as "grace".  Genuine grace is given freely, with nothing expected in return.  So-called "common grace" is given much as a creditor gives to a debtor—expecting to be repaid in full for his kindness.  We must never forget that a day of reckoning is coming, when the debt will come due, and the rebellious debtor will be handed over to the tormentors until he pays back the last penny...
Matthew 18:34 - And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.
In this present life, men are unable to repay the debt they owe to God.  Even if they could live a life filled with good works, it would not gain them any merit nor repay even the tiniest portion of their debt.  If, for the remainder of their lives, they committed no more sins, showed mercy and kindness at every opportunity, and were faithful in prayer and worship, they would not purchase any merit for themselves.  Instead, they would be merely "unprofitable servants" who were doing only what is required of them.
Luke 17:10 (NET Bible) - So you too, when you have done everything you were commanded to do, should say, ‘We are slaves undeserving of special praise; we have only done what was our duty.’”
But even though men cannot pay off their debt nor improve their situation in this life, there are many who vainly suppose that they can buy their way into heaven by their good works, or who keep thinking that they will someday repent and trust in Christ when they "get around to it".  Such semblances of self-confident hope will vanish when the day of judgment arrives.  If their doom is sealed today by their stubborn depravity, it will be doubly sealed on the day of judgment, when they will no longer be given any opportunity whatever to repent, believe or obey.

We must never suppose that Christ died in any sense for the reprobate.  The sufferings of Christ were substitutionary in nature—Christ suffered what we deserved that we might be eternally forgiven of our sins.  To say that Christ in some sense died for the reprobate would mean that He suffered some of their punishments in their place, and that they will be eternally forgiven of those sins for which He died.  Yet, such confusion of God's purposes and works for the elect and non-elect is wholly unwarranted.  Neither Scripture nor sound logic will support such a convoluted and unholy theory that would suggest that Christ's death was partly for the elect, and partly for the reprobate.

Such confused theories are usually based upon a misunderstanding of those passages where the sacrifice of Christ is said to have been given for "the world" or for "the whole world".  If, in the New Testament, the word "world" truly signified all people of all ages, then we might have good reason to argue that Christ, in some sense, died for all men, whether elect or not.  However, if you pull out a concordance and look up every single New Testament occurrence of the word "world" (Greek: kosmos), you will find none where the word plainly means "all people of all ages".

Instead, you will find a variety of meanings.  In some cases, it means the entire created universe "God who made the world and all things in it" (Acts 17:24).  Sometimes it refers to both men and angels "we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men" (1 Corinthians 4:9).  Sometimes it refers to the riches and blessings of this life "what does it profit a man to gain the whole world" (Mark 8:36).  Sometimes it speaks of the general public "show yourself to the world" (John 7:14) or "the world has gone after Him" (John 12:19).  Often, it refers to the evil world system that opposes God and the gospel "Do not love the world nor the things in the world" (1 John 2:15).

However, one usage is particularly relevant to the present discussion.  Paul writes to the church at Rome and tells them...

Romans 1:8 - First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, because your faith is being proclaimed throughout the whole world.
Notice that Paul adds the intensifiers "throughout" and "whole".  Paul is not simply speaking about "the world", but "the whole world".

If the word "world" here meant "all humans of all ages", then Paul would be saying that all men throughout human history have heard of the faith of the Roman church.  Surely that is not his meaning, for vast numbers have never even heard of Jesus Christ, much less of the faith of the first century Roman church, and surely no one living prior to the first century could have heard of the future faith of the Roman believers.

Neither does "world" signify "all the humans of Paul's day", for certainly, there were people in many places of the globe—the Americas, Central and Southern Africa, China, Australia, etc.—who had no knowledge that a city called "Rome" even existed, much less that there were believers in that city!

Nor is it likely that it means "all the people living in the Roman empire", for people in the ancient world depended upon travelers for news.  While news of the Roman saints had undoubtedly reached most of the major cities of the empire, it is virtually certain that there were numerous little remote villages throughout the empire that simply did not receive news on a frequent basis, and had not received word of the faith of the Roman saints.

The most likely meaning is simply that news of their faith had reached most of the major cities (and many of the smaller ones, especially on major trade routes), in many places throughout the then known world.  In other words, the word "world" is used here in a rather general way to speak of geographic extent—affirming that there were people in many diverse places who had heard of the faith of the Roman Christians.

This is very likely its meaning in such passages as John 1:29 "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!", John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." and 1 John 2:2 "and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world."  These passages are not claiming that Christ died for every single person in the entire world, but rather that He died for people in diverse places and countries of the world.  We should not jump to the conclusion that the word "world" denotes the specific individuals for whom Christ died, since this word is rarely used in Scripture to identify specific individuals.

Just as there is no Biblical basis to suppose that Christ died to save all the humans of all history, so also there is no Biblical basis to suppose that Christ died in order to procure earthly blessings for all the humans of all history.  Each passage which says that Christ died for "the world" also explains the reason and accomplishment of His death for them, and that reason is always redemptive.  Christ died only for those whose sin is taken away (John 1:29), for those who believe in Him (John 3:16), for those who shall never perish (John 3:16), and for whose sins He is the propitiation (1 John 2:2).  None of these things can properly be said of the reprobate, and hence it is totally unwarranted to try to find some sort of universal intent or benefit in the cross of Christ.

Instead, the blessings of common grace are on loan to the reprobate, and will eventually be paid by their own increased punishment on the day of judgment.  God's common grace blessings to the reprobate are not purchased by the sufferings of Christ, but by the eventual suffering of those who receive these blessings.

Common Grace versus Redeeming Grace.

It is important to remember that "common grace" blessings belong to this present earthly existence only.   God sends sunshine and rain upon the just and the unjust, but only on this side of the grave!

Matthew 5:45 - so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous

Luke 12:20 - But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?

Luke 16:24-25 - And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.'

Hebrews 9:27 - … it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,
Thus, we see that common grace differs from redeeming grace in that common grace is temporal, whereas redeeming grace is eternal.  There are several other profound differences between common grace and redeeming grace...
We should never make the mistake of supposing that redeeming grace is simply a greater grace of the same essential kind as common grace.  Redeeming grace is far greater, to be sure.  However, it is a wholly different sort of thing.  Redeeming grace differs from common grace qualitatively, not merely quantitatively.  The list above demonstrates that the motives, the purchase price and the benefits conferred are all qualitatively different—different in kind, not just different in degree.

Likewise, redeeming love is qualitatively different from the common grace "love" that motivates God to bless the reprobate with material blessings. This is why we must be careful about extolling God's "love" for the reprobate.  Yes, He is definitely kind and good to them in this life.  However, if we choose to use the word "love" to describe God's kindness to the reprobate, it is important that we clearly differentiate it from the redeeming love that God has for His elect people.

If we do not maintain and openly confess these distinctions, we will encourage all manner of false teaching and error that deprives the saints of their assurance, gives a false sense of assurance to the unsaved, and deprives God of His proper glory.

It should be noted that Scripture is very restrained in suggesting that God loves all men.  There is no passage of Scripture which openly says that God loves elect and non-elect alike, although there are many which say that God's love is displayed in giving Christ to die (i.e. for His elect people), and in giving the Holy Spirit (i.e. to His elect people).  If we would maintain the emphases modeled for us in Scripture by Christ and His apostles, then we would do well to speak loudly and joyfully concerning God's electing, redeeming love, but show considerably more restraint when speaking of God's love for the reprobate.

While Matthew 5:44-45 does suggest that God loves all men, whether elect or not, we must note that the passage carefully qualifies this "love" by limiting it to the material blessings God gives to men in this life, such as sunshine and rain.  And, the passage does not state directly that God loves the just and unjust alike, but indirectly, by saying that we are to love our enemies so that we can be like our Father in heaven.

Matthew 5:44-45 - But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
What is clearly intended here is that God displays great kindness in His treatment of all men—whether elect or reprobate—the sort of kindness we would normally ascribe to a loving parent.  However, we know that it is not scripturally appropriate to speak of God as being the Father of the reprobate, nor to speak of them as His "sons".  The Father-son or Parent-child relationship is reserved for His eternal, only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and for all those who, by God's grace, are eternally united to Christ unto salvation.

The point is this:  We must be very circumspect in how we speak of God's love for the reprobate.  We should beware of confusing common-grace love with redeeming love.  We should likewise beware of exalting God's temporal, ineffectual, common-grace love above the eternal, effectual, redemptive love He has for His elect people.

The Extent of Common Grace.

While no one can seriously deny that God, in His goodness, provides many material blessings to elect and non-elect alike, there is some controversy over what spiritual graces, if any, God provides for the non-elect.  Here are some of the spiritual considerations regarding the blessings that God gives to the non-elect...

A temporary reprieve from the wrath of God.
God would be perfectly within His rights to pour out His fierce wrath upon every sinner the first time he commits even the smallest of sins.  Indeed, He would be righteous to condemn us even before the first sin we actually commit, since we are conceived in sin, already guilty of the sin of Adam.  But God patiently forbears pouring out judgment upon us.  Every day of our lives, and every breath we take, is a gift of God's kindness, and an amazing token of His goodness to the undeserving.

Restraining grace, whereby evil men are restrained from being as evil as they would otherwise be.
Certain men in history are notable for their evil brutality.  Hitler comes immediately to mind, but throughout history there have been many others equally as vicious and cruel.  The shocking fact of the matter is that every one of us has the potential of being just as evil as Hitler was.  The only reason why we do not descend to the depths of Hitler's hideous evil is that God provides various restraints that keep us from becoming as outwardly evil as we would naturally be if God did not restrain us.

Some of these restraints include:

God does not necessarily have to grant regeneration to a sinner in order to take control of the sinner's desires and decisions.  God will not cause anyone to sin or become more evil, but He can and does sometimes restrain the sinner from thinking and doing all the evil that he otherwise would.  Sometimes, He does this by awakening the sinner's conscience to the greatness of the evil he is contemplating.  Sometimes, He does this by distracting the sinner from his sinful thoughts.  He could, of course, strike the sinner with amnesia or dementia, so that he is not able to follow through with the wicked course he began.  No doubt, there are many other ways that our all-wise, all-sovereign God can overrule the decisions of men—even before they make those decisions!

A testimony of the glory, righteousness and power of God.
Creation daily exhibits the beauty, majesty and wisdom of its glorious Creator.  Whether it be the dazzling beauty of earth's forests, seashores, mountains and farmlands—the powerful majesty of a thunderstorm, the dazzling hues of an evening sunset, the quiet beauty of snowflakes falling gently on a soft blanket of new snow, the loving trust in a child's eyes, the mind-boggling immensity of the universe with its galaxies and nebulas, the intricate complexity and design of DNA molecules—or a million other things equally as fascinating and beautiful—all of creation gives powerful testimony to the greatness and goodness of the Creator.

Men often bask in the beauty and delightfulness of the creation, giving no thought to the fact that creation is merely mirroring the beauty and goodness of God who designed and created it.  The daily blessings of providence are likewise emphatic tokens of God's goodness and kindness, yet men greedily take the gift while despising the Giver.

The inevitability of death is a solemn reminder of the justice of God.  Men may sin for a season, but no one will ultimately escape the grave, and the judgment that lies beyond the grave.  This, too, is a testimony of the glory and purity of our holy God—who will not tolerate evil in the world He has created.  He may allow it to go unpunished for a time, but a day is coming when He will settle all accounts, and woe be to those on that day who have no Savior!

Convicting grace, whereby the consicences of the unsaved are awakened to their sinfulness.
The Holy Spirit may convict a sinner of his sin, without necessarily regenerating the sinner.  Men are sometimes convicted of God's coming judgment when they hear it declared to them in the gospel, yet they stubbornly refuse to savingly repent or trust in Christ.  This is a blessing, insofar as it ought to result in their repentance.  Fallen man unceasingly abuses God's blessings, but this does not make them any less a blessing.

A free offer of the gospel, whereby the unsaved are freely invited to come to Christ to receive the forgiveness of their sins.
The sacrifice of Christ, although given for the elect only, is of sufficient worth to redeem universes filled with Adam's fallen race.  The fact that Christ died exclusively for the sins of His own elect people in no way hinders our sovereign God from freely offering the superabundant benefits of the cross to whomever He pleases.  Christ did not die so as to restrict God's sovereignty, but so that God could remain both sovereign and just in showing mercy to whomever He pleases.

Calvin himself confesses this in his commentary on 1 John 2:2...

Here a question may be raised, how have the sins of the whole world been expiated? I pass by the dotages of the fanatics, who under this pretense extend salvation to all the reprobate, and therefore to Satan himself. Such a monstrous thing deserves no refutation. They who seek to avoid this absurdity, have said that Christ suffered sufficiently for the whole world, but efficiently only for the elect. This solution has commonly prevailed in the schools. Though then I allow that what has been said is true, yet I deny that it is suitable to this passage ...

John Calvin, Commentaries, at 1 John 2:2.
While Calvin denied that this was the proper way to understand 1 John 2:2, he nevertheless concurs that Christ's death is sufficient in value to redeem all men, whether elect or non-elect.

Our sovereign God freely offers salvation to all indiscriminately who hear the gospel, on the condition that they repent of their sins and trust in Christ as their sole righteousness.  The only thing that prevents the reprobate from responding in faith and receiving God's mercy is their own stubbornness and rebellion.  Of course, the reprobate are so rebellious that none will ever choose to repent and believe.  We see again that God's goodness to them demonstrates their exceeding wickedness in rejecting the kindness He shows to them.  This fulfills God's purpose that they should fill up the measure of their sins and show themselves to be fully deserving of the judgment that awaits them, to the glory of His impeccable holiness and uncompromising justice.

We must never imagine that God offers salvation to the reprobate thinking that some might actually respond in faith and repentance.  Scripture tells us repeatedly that unregenerate men are in rebellion against God, and indeed, that there is no one who seeks God (Psalm 14:2-3; 53:2-3; Romans 3:11).  God knows full well that the reprobate will never truly repent of their sins nor trust in Christ.

God's offer of salvation is free in the sense that there is nothing hindering a man from receiving the benefits of salvation except the man's own sinful depravity.  However, the depravity of man is such that he will never exercise true faith in Christ or repentance from sin unless God takes the initiative and converts the man.

God takes this initiative only for His elect people, and we do no honor to God to suggest that He has a desire for the salvation of the reprobate.  If He had such a desire, He would have chosen them unto salvation and given them the grace needed to come to Christ.  In short, if God truly desired their salvation, then they would not be reprobate—God would have chosen them and saved them.  But Scripture is very clear that He does not choose all, nor does He save all.  In light of His absolute sovereignty, this is proof enough that He does not desire the salvation of all.

Our Responsibilities to the Unsaved, in Light of Common Grace.

God uses us as intruments of His goodness toward unbelievers.  It is important for us to understand that God's purpose for the reprobate is to magnify His justice by condemning them for their sins.  Yet it is equally important for us to understand that, during this life, it is God's purpose to treat the reprobate with the utmost  kindness and goodness.  It is this latter truth that is to govern our actions toward the unsaved, for when God tells us how we are to behave toward unbelievers, He tells us to "love your enemies" and thereby fulfill God's purpose of showing them exceeding kindness in this life.

Moreover, we don't know which unbelievers are elect and which are not.  So, even if it were appropriate for us to treat the reprobate unlovingly, we have no way of infallibly identifying them or distinguishing them from elect unbelievers.  To base our appraisal of them on mere outward appearances would be highly prone to error.  In Jesus' day, most people naturally assumed that the Pharisees were closest to God.  Yet our Lord made it clear that the repentant harlots and publicans were closer to the kingdom than were the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees.  Conversely, Saul of Tarsus cruelly persecuted the church, and most Christians of his day might have reasonably concluded that Saul was a reprobate man, yet God, in His surprising omnipotence, reached down and saved this, His chief antagonist.

We need to understand that, God can distinguish the elect from the non-elect.  Nevertheless, with respect to earthly blessings, He treats both the same—showing them exceeding goodness—and calls us to follow His example.  God does not want us to treat the non-elect with hostility, nor to withhold kindness from them.  He does not want to give them any excuse for their impenitence and unbelief.  Therefore, it is important that we behave with the utmost kindness and respect toward them, living our own lives in honesty and purity, that God's name might be honored in us.

God calls us to proclaim His gospel to all men alike, with great compassion and urgency.  This, too, is a display of the goodness of God, even if the men to whom we preach lack ears to hear or hearts to embrace the invitation that God sends to them.  On the day of judgment, God wants to make it clear that their condemnation was their own fault—that, when faced with an opportunity to believe and be saved, their wicked hearts rejected the Savior presented to them.  Even though they are guilty whether or not they hear the gospel, yet rejection of Christ increases their guilt and will vindicate the perfect justice of God.

We should never imagine that we have some sort of obligation to tell unsaved men that God loves them.  Neither our Lord nor His apostles ever preached "God loves you" as the gospel.  The only place where scripture ever records that they spoke to unbelievers concerning the love of God is John 3:16, where Jesus spoke to Nicodemus regarding the new birth.  Here, Jesus does not say to Nicodemus "God loves you, Nicodemus".  Rather, He says "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son...".  In other words, our Lord did not try to impress upon Nicodemus a personal love that God had for him in particular.  Instead, our Lord speaks in general terms concerning God's love for "the world", and then particularizes it by identifying those who are benefited by God's love gift:  "...  that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."  This would be good news to Nicodemus only if He trusted in Christ.  Otherwise, Nicodemus would have no reason to believe that God loved him in particular.

It is entirely possible that Jesus' discussion with Nicodemus ends in verse 15, and that verses 16-21 are John's inspired commentary on verse 15.  Some commentators take this position, and, if this is true, then there is no passage in the New Testament where unbelievers are explicitly told about God's love.  In any case, the modern-day dogma that says that "we must tell the unsaved about God's love for them", or that "we must drive home God's love for them, and make it personal" is thoroughly unbiblical and destructive of genuine biblical evangelism.

God's love is a theme for those who are already saved, to give them peace and assurance.  Those who are unsaved need to know that God is angry with them for their sins and that they will experience His eternal, unrelenting wrath if they do not appeal to Him for mercy, repenting of their sins and trusting exclusively in Jesus Christ for their salvation.  To tell the unsaved that God loves them often merely lulls them into complacency, as they reason (correctly!) that God would never punish them in hell if He truly loves them.  The unsaved instead need to be awakened to the great danger they face and to their desperate condition apart from Christ.

Matthew 5:44-45 is virtually the only passage that suggests that God loves the reprobate.  Here, Christ exhorts us to "Love your enemies", and implies that God shows love to the reprobate whenever He sends common grace blessings to men.  Yet, it was not our Lord's purpose in this context to make this aspect of God's love a part of our evangelistic message.  Instead, His purpose was to encourage Christians to treat the unsaved with kindness.  Those who want to make the love of God a part of their gospel message to the unsaved simply have no Biblical warrant for doing so.  We would do well to follow the Biblical examples of evangelism modeled by Christ and His apostles, as set forth in Scripture.

One of the chief ways in which we are to show kindness to the unsaved is by praying for them.  This is the activity spelled out in the "Love your enemies" text...

Matthew 5:44 - But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you ...
Luke gives us an expanded version of this...
Luke 6:27-31 - But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either.  Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back.  Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.
Here, our Lord gives us concrete examples of what it means to "love your enemies".  It involves doing good to those who hate you, blessing those who curse you, praying for those who are abusive, etc.  Whereas "doing good" and "blessing" may be outward, evident exercises of love toward them, prayer is not necessarily such a public display of kindness.  We are to be kind-hearted toward those who hate us, even to the point of praying for them.

We should never suppose that prayer for them is pointless, for we do not know whether they are among God's elect or not.  We ought to pray for their salvation, confident that our sovereign God is fully able to save whomever He pleases.  While God would assuredly be glorified in condemning such a man to eternal judgment, He would also be greatly glorified by saving an abusive, hateful sinner.  We should be satisfied with whichever outcome God has ordained, but we should avoid drawing a hasty conclusion about any particular unbeliever, as to whether he is elect or not.

We need only remember how abusive and rebellious Saul of Tarsus was before Christ confronted him on the Damascus road.  It would have been easy to conclude that this self-righteous Christ-hater was a reprobate man who would one day burn brightly in hell.  Who could have anticipated the great miracle that God would perform in turning this zealous persecutor into a loving, pastoral apostle of His church?  Surely, God achieves great glory for Himself when He makes such a profound transformation in the life and character of a sinner.  This is why we should never assume anyone to be reprobate until they die in unbelief.

God calls us not only to love our enemies, but also to forgive them.  We must never forget that God had mercy on us when we were sinners, just as wicked as they.  Thus, the redemptive mercies that God has shown to us should overflow into common grace mercies that we show to others in this life.

Colossians 3:12 - So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.

Matthew 6:14-15 - For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

This demonstrates a link between God's kindnesses to His own elect people, and the kindness He shows to the reprobate.  Many of the spiritual blessings that God gives to His own people are so abundant and good that they spill over as temporal blessings to benefit the non-elect as well.

This is true, not only directly, in the kindnesses we show to the unsaved, but also indirectly.  For example, when a large segment of the population has been saved by God, there is less crime, greater justice, more expressions of kindness and mercy, and everyone benefits. In fact, this blessing may endure for many generations.  The blessings that America has enjoyed for over two centuries are due, in large part, to the faith of the Pilgrims, Puritans, Baptists and others who fled religious persecution in England and established just laws, started colleges and faithfully proclaimed the Word of God.

It is a great privilege, in this life, to be used as an instrument of God's kindness to the unsaved people around us.  We should endeavor to show exceeding kindness to all men, remembering the great kindness God has shown us.  We should pray for their salvation, and should bring the gospel to them, with the hope that the Lord may be pleased to save them.  Even though we cannot change God's eternal decisions by praying for a man's salvation, yet God often gives His people a prayerful spirit for those whom He has chosen to save.  When we pray earnestly for an unbeliever,  it is often because God has chosen that person to be saved, and has placed a great burden for that individual within our hearts.  In any case, God calls upon us to be filled with mercy and compassion, and to pray for our unsaved family members and neighbors—and, He gives us great hope that He may grant our requests.


God's "common grace" blessings display His great goodness and kindness to the undeserving.  Yet, we should never forget that God's purpose for giving such blessings to the reprobate is to increase their guilt and magnify His great justice on the day of judgment.  Although these blessings are very good in and of themselves, yet, because fallen men respond to them by becoming more self-confident and rebellious, these blessings actually increase man's guilt, and serve to harden his heart.  This is precisely the purpose for which God sends them, as He plainly tells us in Romans 9.

It is important, in this life, that we diligently strive to show unreserved kindness to the unsaved—doing good to those who hate us, blessing those who curse us, praying for those who persecute us—in order to follow the example of our heavenly Father, and to magnify His glory when He someday judges them for abusing His great goodness toward them.  Let us learn daily what it means to "Love your enemies" and to "do good to all men".

[1]It is ironic that the postmodernist violates his own thesis by appealing to logic to show that logical consistency is invalid.  If it is invalid to insist upon logical consistency, then the postmodernist cannot validly appeal to logic to support his position.  By appealing to logical argument and insisting that his opponents acquiesce to his reasoning, the postmodernist is violating the very principle he is advocating!

The postmodernist position is self-contradictory by claiming that "there is no ultimate truth".  The assertion "There is no ultimate truth" is itself a statement that claims to represent an ultimate truth, thus denying the very claim it makes.

The postmodernist apparently means "There is no other ultimate truth except my denial of ultimate truth".  But who is the postmodernist to insist that his so-called "truth" is ultimate truth?  On what grounds could he possibly base such an assertion?  He has no right to simply assert this as "ultimate truth" without providing some rational basis for it.  Of course, if he could provide a rational basis for it, then it would have to follow from other more foundational truths, contradicting his claim that the denial of ultimate truth is the only ultimate truth.

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